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Interlochen: A World of Art

By Emily Yewell Volin.

Interlochen Arts Academy is a fine arts boarding high school that has earned a reputation of quality arts and college preparatory instruction since its founding in 1962.  Celebrating 50 years in 2012, the school offers areas of study in creative writing, dance, motion picture arts, music, theatre arts, visual arts and comparative arts.  The dance program has alumni working as choreographers and dancers “all over”, says Cameron Basden, Director of Dance, Interlochen Center for the Arts. And she’s not exaggerating.  Interlochen is proud of its excellent reputation for college placement and celebrates its graduates who are currently in positions as university faculty members, dancing and directing on Broadway, as well founding and dancing for renowned concert companies.

What makes an Interlochen graduate so successful?  “Interlochen brings together dancers, musicians, visual artists, writers, filmmakers, and actors. Dancers are immersed in their own discipline and develop technical skills but there is a tremendous benefit that comes from their exposure to and collaboration with creative students in other disciplines.  Ultimately, it helps our dancers become better artists,” explains Basden. Chris Hintz, Interlochen’s National Marketing and Communications Manager, adds “Students may be roommates with a musician or with an actor. [The community] is supportive in a sense that everyone is always working hard towards the same kind of artistic goals.”

'Mercurial Shades' choreography by Thang Dao, music by Vivaldi: Gloria in D, RV 588

Furthermore, “the arts and the academics support each other at Interlochen,” Hintz says. “A lot of students’ parents express surprise at our academic program; it’s college preparatory.  The idea is that a student could leave here and go into any discipline they want and get accepted into a very competitive school in any major. We want to be sure we are opening as many doors for them as possible.  All our academic faculty knows that every student in their class is an artist so they are able to teach in a way that captures their imagination.  They are used to more of that right brain type of learner than you have in a standard class. For example, the physics professor will have a dancer and explain the laws of physics from a dance perspective and how they act on a dancer making a particular movement.  He’ll talk about acoustics and the properties of sound and he’ll put it into the perspective of the violin. [Students are] seeing their instrument in a whole new light and seeing physics in a whole new light”, Basden adds. “Not only do you excel in your art form, you excel in your academics.”

Dance students at Interlochen perform three fully produced concerts per year and regularly work with guest artists.  Performances take place in a 1000 seat theater and there is a full costume shop. Basden adds that regardless of these polished productions, “It’s not always about the performances. A lot of times it’s about what happens in the studio on a day-to-day basis. We make a big effort to make collaboration a part of what we do; not only in performances but in our days. Visual artists coming in to draw the dancers, dancers going into the visual arts department, writers watching dancers move and writing about what they see and why they are moving and dancers reading things and moving according to what they read.  This encourages students to be creative and think outside the box.”

A recent example of collaboration in the dance department was last year’s work with Austin, TX based Gina Patterson and her Voice dance company.  Basden recounts, “visual artists were in the studio moving with the dancers and one visual arts student created a sculptured dress that was danced in.  Gina’s dancers worked with comparative arts students, ESL students and Spanish students and all of this went into choreography that was created for her dancers and the Interlochen students.  All of it inspired by chocolate!”

Interlochen Arts Academy students in the studio

The dance department at Interlochen accepts 40-45 dance majors a year.  Basden says she does not want classes to get too large because the program is “very individual and the faculty tend to have a very one-to-one relationship with the students.  We look for students with coordination, musicality, a passion for what they do and the potential and commitment to implement the knowledge that is given to them.  The dance world today is so diverse. If a dancer is really driven to be a part of it, there is usually a fit for them, and we want them to have options to find the best fit.”

Interlochen also offers one, two, or three-week summer dance programs.  Basden describes the programs as “very encompassing” and a “wonderful way to experience Interlochen.  It is a healthy and challenging environment where all students are there to learn as much as they can from the instructors and each other – and they do.  It’s amazing what happens over the course of a summer.  Both ballet and modern students work in three levels to study ballet, modern, jazz, repertory and conditioning. The modern students take composition and the ballet students have pointe and variations.  All students culminate the summer with a performance in our new outdoor theater.  They not only grow as dancers, but they grow and mature as people and as artists.”

Futhermore, Interlochen offers a week-long summer dance workshop for adults that immerses participants in current trends and practices in dance.  Basden describes this new program as “geared to the post high school student who wants to continue his or her training with classes each day, but the majority of the focus will be on choreography and exploration.”

Interlochen will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Arts Academy with an all alumni reunion weekend set for May 23-27 and touring performances taking place all over the country during the next several months.  “The irony,” adds Hinz, “is that Interlochen is rather secluded here in northern Michigan, though we have students from around the world.  It’s important for us to leave our home every now and then and go out to where our students come from.  That’s what this 50th is all about.”

Learn more about Interlochen at

Watch Interlochen Arts Academy’s 2011 Nutcracker:

Article published by Dance Informa dance magazinedance news, dance auditions & dance events.

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