Taking a unique, formalist approach to dance and choreography, Visiting Artist in the Department of Theater and Dance Laura Peterson offered students an interesting look behind her own creative processes when she arranged a lecture demonstration by her company, Laura Peterson Choreography.

Peterson is teaching three classes this spring: “Choreography for Dancers: Improvisation and Invention,” “Modern III: Technique” and “Modern III: Repertory and Performance.” Open to current dance students, the Wednesday event in Wish Theater was a valuable supplement to the curriculum. 

“The kind of trend right now is much more towards a nonlinear, earthbound sort of emotive form of dancing which has proliferated in the last 20 years or so,” explained Chair of the Theater and Dance Department Paul Sarvis. “Laura’s work is more linear, but it’s also more austere—that’s something that students just don’t have a chance to see that much anymore.”

According to Sarvis, Peterson’s work, which is influenced by the minimalist artists of the 1970s, expresses a unique style of old and new that is rare in the current dance world.

“I think [Peterson] would describe herself as a formalist—so someone who approaches dance making from a standpoint of disinterested curiosity about the material and the fact of the movement,” said Sarvis. “She deals with form, and she has a lot of elaborate—often mathematical—scores that she uses to make her dances.”

Alessandra Laurent ’18, a student in Peterson’s “Choreography for Dancers: Improvisation and Invention,” appreciated the opportunity to see excerpts from Peterson’s final choreographed work that reflect the improvisation techniques done in the class.

“In terms of set choreography, it was interesting just to see a lot of the stuff she’s talked about physicalized and to recognize a lot of the phrases we learned in class in the excerpts that they performed,” said Laurent. “Basically what we’ve been working on in our class, which is improvisation with a score.”

Three dancers from Peterson’s company performed a series of lectures and demonstrations of three works from the company’s repertory: “The Atomic Orbital,” “The Futurist,” and “Forever.”
“[The dancers] gave a debrief of each dance right before they showed it, so we got to hear what goes on behind the curtain—how the dance is conceived and produced—before it is performed,” said Gina Fickera ’18, one of Peterson’s students. “When audiences come, they form their own opinion on it, but it’s nice to hear the dancers’ own perspective because they are the ones who are working hard up on the stage.”

Sarvis admires Peterson’s approach in constructing performances, from the meticulous research to the creation of a singular architectural space that has captivated audiences from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. to venues all over the world.
“[Peterson’s] work values physical effort in a sense that taps almost a romantic strand of the artist that’s sort of sacrificing themselves for an audience,” he said. “She highlights the physicality and endurance aspects of dancing.”

Fickera thought that seeing the potential of simple movements generated in Peterson’s class to become a full show was an inspiring experience.

“She does a lot of site-specific work, so she takes the space and uses a part of that as a frame for the body,” said Fickera. “We use the architecture and the landscape and the texture of a space to inspire our movement, and we’ll take pieces from that generated improv and expand on that little piece into a full show.”

“The way that [Peterson] does it, there’s set choreography that tends to be very specific and very geometric and analytically thought-out,” added Laurent. “It was very interesting to see that embodied in an actual touring company.”