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New MFA in Dance program launches in Missouri this fall

Washington University in St. Louis

A new dance-focused graduate degree program is coming to the midwest this year. Last month, the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis announced its new Master of Fine Arts Degree in Dance. Set to launch this coming fall, the program is in collaboration with COCA-Center of Creative Arts, one of the nation’s foremost community arts schools.

Dance show at Washington University in St. Louis

Student dancers perform ‘Steps in the Street’ as choreographed by Martha Graham. Photo by David Marchant.

PAD dance professor Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal will lead the new MFA program. She says the basis of the program is “to offer an innovative approach to dance training, composition, improvisation and production.”

She adds, “It involves an energetic interplay of studio work with professionally distinguished dance educators, seminars with faculty who are experts in their field and independent studies in choreography. The overarching goal of this program is to develop each dancer’s personal artistic practice while encouraging a global perspective on dance studies, performance, pedagogy and choreography.”

With 20 years of experience from companies like American Ballet Theatre, the National Ballet and the Cincinnati Ballet, Knoblauch-O’Neal will offer her own meaningful expertise.

Washington University in St. Louis

Student dancers perform ‘Fandango’ by Antony Tudor, as re-staged by John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow, répétiteurs of The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust. Photo by Jonathan R. White.

“The first half of my career was spent following my dream to be a professional dancer,” she shares. “I was lucky to have worked with Frederic Franklin and Ben Stevenson in the National Ballet and Antony Tudor in American Ballet Theatre. I’ve trained with some wonderful teachers from Michael Simms in St. Louis, my hometown, to Maggie Black and David Howard in New York. And, early in my career, I worked in summer stock at the St. Louis Municipal Opera, and later performed in the international touring company of A Chorus Line as Kristine. After my dance career, I fulfilled a promise I made to my parents by finishing my education. I have an A.B. from Smith College, a M.A.L.S. from Wesleyan, and now hold a Ph.D. from Texas Woman’s University. So much like our MFA program, I also have a solid footing in dance and performance and research and scholarship.”

Joining her will be former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater stars Antonio Douthit-Boyd and Kirven Douthit-Boyd, who were named COCA’s co-artistic directors of dance last summer.

Washington University in St. Louis

Photo by Lexy Copithorne.

Speaking toward the new program and collaboration, Antonio Douthit-Boyd says, “This is an exciting time for COCA due to the fact that it will give our students a chance to see and be a part of what’s to come after high school. This is just another way we at COCA are reaching beyond our walls to reach the St. Louis community. COCA is the first community arts-based program that I can think of that will have such a close partnership with a major university, and I can’t think of a better place than Washington University to team up with. I do believe this is just one of many ways we want to collaborate in the arts here in St. Louis, making us the hub of dance in the midwest.”

MFA candidates will also have the opportunity to perform with The Slaughter Project, the PAD’s professional company-in-residence, and to work with a variety of contemporary guest choreographers and répétiteurs.

“The dance program of the Performing Arts Department has a long history of supporting residencies with professional master choreographers and répétiteurs,” Knoblauch-O’Neal explains. “As an example, most recently Dr. Thomas F. DeFrantz worked with our tap students for our annual student concert, Washington University Dance Theatre. Alumnus David Dorfman has worked with our students, and we have restaged masterworks by master choreographers George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Paul Taylor and Antony Tudor. This tradition will continue, and the MFA students will have the opportunity to work with professionals, either as cast members or by assisting in the creation or restaging of the dance.”

Dancers at Washington University in St. Louis

Student dancers perform ‘Tensile Involvement’, choreographed by Alwin Nikolais. Photo by David Marchant.

Knoblauch-O’Neal says this new MFA program is unique because the curriculum is balanced between the traditions of the MFA in conservatories and the traditions of the research-based university. “The sense of critical thinking and analysis is blended, and equal, in the making of dances or published works,” she adds. “The program exists with one foot solidly, and creatively, embodied in each academic experience.”

Therefore, the MFA program will most benefit the “dance student or professional whose interests are at the intersection of research and performance, formal scholarship and artistic expression.”

Overall, the new program, which is now accepting applications, combines faculty and studio resources from the PAD’s undergraduate Dance Program and from COCA’s nationally recognized dance division – a rare and exciting collaboration indeed.

For further information, visit https://pad.artsci.wustl.edu.

By Chelsea Thomas of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): Dancers of Washington University in St. Louis perform Lugeo, choreographed by Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal. Photo by Jonathan R. White.

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