By Darwin Manning
Elephants will be ruling the dance department this semester, continuing with the theme from Dance Ensemble’s performance last semester. Celeste Miller, who is here at Grinnell on an interim position as Professor of Dance, is the leader of the group and director of the performances.
Miller brings definite qualities to her teaching style, as she not only tries to assist her students in reaching their potential physically, but also in terms of creativity and originality. She believes that building community though dance at Grinnell can allow for the many tenets of the Grinnell culture to shine. Miller sees dance through a liberal arts lens by incorporating a variety of disciplines.
“My whole philosophy to thinking about dance is that you can study it as an art form, but it is also a political, cultural act, a way to embody ideas and belief,” Miller said. “Grinnell is a place that can understand and embrace dance, allowing it to unfold in a way that I see it functioning for humanity.”
Last fall, Miller had the chance to teach a class on ‘Choreographing Gender and Sexuality’ in which she learned as much from her students as they learned from her. Through critical conversation about identity and shifting gender roles, she believed the class partook in a national dialogue.
“Dance can become part of a national conversation in the liberal arts education, not just exclusive to movement,” Miller said. “The work that I do with dance in the world is about multi-ability work and realizing that there are students here who embraced that was inspiring.”
Miller is currently embarking on a sequel to the elephant theme, which will be both an extension and deepening of the work that Miller and students completed last semester and will feature a combination of returning and new students.
In order to form her ensemble, Miller hosted several workshops at the beginning of the semester in which she invited students to play off of foundational ideas for the piece. Miller was more interested in students who had a drive to build off the ideas she had formed than their technical ability.
“I do a workshop instead of an audition, because the latter sets up a kind of hierarchy, and as a director I am more interested in giving a couple ideas and then having folks explore those ideas,” Miller said. “All I’m looking for are people that are passionate. I will bring my ideas and my full sense of self and we will work together.”
The inspiration for the production this semester stems from her love of elephants, consideration of what might be the unspoken elephant in the room and a fascination with the Vaudeville performers.
“Metaphorically, I am interested in the elephant in the room: if you don’t pay attention, it is liable to crash through and make you,” Miller said. “Also, I am interested in a woman who at the turn of the 20th century was a trapeze artist—she is one of many Vaudeville performers.”
The production will continue to evolve as new ideas are brought forth by Miller’s collaborators—Justin Thomas, Theatre, and the ensemble. Miller is also planning on hosting a few community dance workshops that would allow for all members from the community to participate in this process.
“I’m thinking of doing a community dance workshop on a regular basis, as I am interested in people coming in and playing with ideas, truly improvising,” Miller said.