America to China and Back

By Leisa DeCarlo (BFA 2014)

Initiated by a State Department Grant obtained by Bob Eckhart, faculty member of the Department of English and director of Wuhan University, Ohio State Center of Cultural Exchange, a contingent of four Ohio State dancers received the opportunity to travel across the globe to the Chinese cities Changchun, Shanghai, Wuhan and Beijing. I was chosen, along with Alice Bacani (BFA 2014), Tammy Carrasco (MFA 2015) and Kelly Hurlburt (BFA 2014), to participate in the 10 day China tour under the direction of Chair Susan Van Pelt Petry.

For eight months, we worked vigorously to prepare eight pieces that would be performed in China. Designed to be a mosaic journey through the evolution of western modern dance, the program included work choreographed by a variety of faculty, including Susan Hadley’s Just Add Water, Rodney A. Brown’s DOTS, Abby Zbikowski’s Then This, Ann Sofie Clemmensen’s Glacier [39N116E] and Susan Van Pelt Petry’s O’ Mortal. In addition, Israeli guest artist Noa Zuk dedicated a week of intense rehearsals to composing and reconfiguring an earlier work commissioned by Ohio State Dance to enhance the repertory with Nothing III, inspired by her training in the Gaga technique, accompanied by the music of Ohad Fishof. Including the early beginnings of American modern dance, we worked closely with Professor and Associate Dean Valarie Williams and lecturer Rachael Riggs Leyva, to read Yvonne Rainer’s Chair/Pillow (1969) and Anna Sokolow’s Rooms (1955), from Labanotation score. In fact, in order to perform Rooms, we were required to attend a rigorous training under the artistic director of the Sokolow Dance Foundation, Lorry May. The varied repertory manifested an hour long performance, articulating a wide spectrum of ideas and movement concepts. These ranged from movement encompassing the historical resistance of the 1960s, explorations in speed and the embodiment of meditative practices such as Yoga and Tai Chi, scientific theories such as the pedagogy of HIV education and the intricacies of the human immune system, and even the highly physical athleticism of exertion juxtaposed with the gentle, emotive quality of breath.

Upon traveling the globe and being introduced to the intricate and beautiful culture China offers, the experience proved much more than an opportunity grounded in performance, as increasingly we encountered moments of cultural exchange and connection. In 10 days, we performed and taught at six different venues in four cities.

Working with Chinese students from various universities, in a space where linguistic communication proved vastly limited, I was stunned by the communicative power of art itself. Although we could not communicate with language, dancing with many of these students through numerous improvisational, technical and choreographic workshops was immensely rewarding in creating an unspoken connection. I was amazed by the trust and beauty that can emerge when the voice is forced to submit to the speech of the body.

I have again fallen in love with this art form, as a lesson in exchange, adaptation and exploration. My body continues to relish the memories of what I can only describe as a moment of sincerely living. The experience of learning about another person through dance, liberated from the clutter of words and formality of introduction, is one that I will not soon forget. In fact, it is one that I never want to forget, as often it is these moments, so fragile and difficult to grasp, that enrich and give meaning to our otherwise regulated lives.

Four students in orange raise their arms overhead while white paper falls from above.

Trip Schedule

September 2013

  • Greater Columbus Arts Council, Susan VP Petry & Ray Hanley Award Ceremony, Columbus

December 2013

  • Wittenberg University, Springfield

February 2014

  • Indianola Informal Elementary School, Columbus
  • Duxberry Park Alternative Elementary School Columbus
  • The Barnett Theatre, Ohio State University, Columbus

March 2014

  • Ullens Contemporary Art Center, Beijing
  • Central Minzu University, Beijing
  • Beijing Dance Academy, Beijing
  • Northeast Normal University, Changchun
  • Wuhan University, Wuhan
  • Shanghai University, Shanghai

April 2014

  • Studio II Theatre, Riffe Center, Columbus

America to China and Back Blogs

Expanding Boundaries, a blog by Leisa DeCarlo and Alice Bacani

The Performing Mind and Body, a blog by Kelly Hurlburt