The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts' Jerome Robbins Dance Division is pleased to announce the 2023-24 Dance Research Fellows, focusing this year on Martha Graham, as her dance company celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Ranging from dancers and choreographers to multidisciplinary artists and researchers, the 2023 Dance Research Fellow cohort represents a wide array of interests sparked by Martha Graham and her work. Michael Byrne, Kim Jones, Alexandra Kamerling, Lloyd Knight, Virginie Mécène, and Alexa West have been chosen to embark on a six-month fellowship at the Library for the Performing Arts. Their projects will help shed light on Graham’s extensive career and legacy, and include a closer examination of the sculptures, some designed by Isamu Noguchi, critical to Graham’s choreography; experimentation with immersive technologies to activate Graham’s work against fascism; connecting Graham’s lost works with the lost Korean dance artist, Choi Seung-Hee; a self-exploration by one of the foremost performers of Graham’s work today; and a reimagining of the lost solo works of Graham, Immigrant and Revolt.
In addition to supporting research utilizing the Library’s resources and archives, the Library will grant each fellow a $10,000 stipend, and the fellows will present their work at the Dance Division’s concluding symposium on January 26, 2024.
The Jerome Robbins Dance Division’s Dance Research Fellowship was created in 2014 to support scholars and practitioners engaged in graduate-level, post-doctoral, and independent research using the division's unmatched holdings.
One year before the beginning of World War II, Martha Graham created American Document in response to rising fascism in 1930s Europe. Today, current events offer an uncanny resonance, embedding Graham’s historic work with a recursive sense of futurity and prescience. Michael Byrne, Creative Lead for Tech, Arts & Culture at Cornell Tech, will use his fellowship to ask: how can we vivify Graham’s ongoing spirit of innovation through the intersection of technology, performance, and archival practice? Leveraging American Document as an anchoring case study, Byrne will draw upon his background in dance, volumetric motion capture, and other digital technologies to bring to life the creative mission set forth by Graham for future audiences.
Michael Byrne works at Cornell University’s technology campus in New York City, Cornell Tech, researching the collisions between dance, history, and immersive applications. He is a Research Associate of the Digital Life Initiative, and also co-leads the Milstein Summer Program in Technology and Humanity. Byrne completed his undergraduate design degree in South Africa, before continuing his performance studies at the Royal Academy of Music, King’s College London, RADA, and the University of Cambridge. For over a decade he appeared within the narrative works of The Royal Ballet, and in several touring productions for the Mariinsky and Bolshoi Ballet companies.
As a former member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, UNC Charlotte Associate Dance Professor Kim Jones centers her research and choreography on the “lost” elements of modern dance history. These elements include both the work of Choi Seung-Hee, a Korean artist not seen after the division of Korea following the Korean War, as well as Martha Graham’s lost 1935 dance, Imperial Gesture, known only in photos and reviews, costumes, and music. These two artists were mysteriously intertwined: during a recent visit to the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, Jones found a program that listed Choi Seung-Hee (Sai Shoki) and Graham on the same program in New York City. Jones uses artistic and scholarly methods, as well as her personal background, to reimagine, reinvigorate, stage, and disseminate works of the 20th century, and she will research more about these “lost” elements of dance to reinvigorate their history.
Choreographer, dancer, and native New Yorker Kim Jones is an associate professor of dance at UNC Charlotte, a régisseur for the Martha Graham Resource Center, and founder and artistic director of Movement Migration. She danced with the Martha Graham Dance Company. Jones's newest research project is an investigation into the choreography of Korean dancer/choreographer Choi Seung-Hee (1911-69). Widely regarded as Korea’s first modern dancer, Choi lived an eventful life through the Japanese occupation of Korea and the Korean War. Jones also re-imagined Martha Graham’s Imperial Gesture (1935) for the Graham Company and reconstructed Paul Taylor’s Tracer (1964) as research with permission by Mr. Taylor, currently included in the Company repertoire. In July 2022, Jones was invited to Chicago for the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute: Making Modernism: Literature, Dance, and Visual Culture in Chicago, 1893-1955 at the Newberry Library.
In 1940, Martha Graham choreographed a dance about Emily Dickinson entitled Letter to the World. Poet Alexandra Kamerling studied ballet and contemporary dance from an early age, and for her, the relationship between the two art forms has always offered a lens to process ideas about temporality, perception, and relationships. Learning about Graham’s dance dedicated to Dickinson sparked an immediate interest, and Kamerling wondered what affinity the choreographer felt towards the poet, and did Graham see something inherently choreographic in her poems? Kamerling will explore this and more by focusing on Graham’s work around Dickinson’s intellectual and emotional life. Kamerling will present her research as a hybrid critical and poetic text with the intention of expanding her current poetry manuscript, rooted in elements of dance.
Alexandra Kamerling is a Brooklyn-based writer. She received her BA in English from Mills College and her MFA in Poetry from Brooklyn College. She previously trained in dance at the Alonzo King LINES Training Program in San Francisco, and held choreographic residencies through the ODC Pilot Program and SAFEhouse Arts. She is currently an adjunct lecturer in the Brooklyn College English Department.
Born in England and raised in Miami, Lloyd Knight is a Principal Dancer for Martha Graham Dance Company, and has been dancing with the company since 2005. Knight is intimately familiar with Graham, her technique, and many of her performances. Through his fellowship at the Library for the Performing Arts, Knight will explore his youth, his experience as a young principal dancer, and what drew him initially to Graham from an early age. The research will result in the production of a new piece by Knight laying bare what it takes physically and psychologically to pursue this type of career.
Lloyd Knight was born in England and raised in Miami. Has a BFA from the New World School of the Arts under Artistic Director Daniel Lewis. Knight joined the Martha Graham Dance Company in 2005 and was promoted to Principal in 2014. He has had ballets choreographed on him by Nacho Duato twice, Andonis Foniadakis, Larry Keigwin, Doug Varone, Lar Lubovitch, Kyle Abraham, Liz Gerring, Michelle Dorrance, Anne Bogart, Pontus Linberg, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Pam Tanowitz, Hofesh Shechter and Mats Ek. Dance Magazine named Knight as one of the “Top 25 Dancers to Watch” in 2010.
While Martha Graham created 181 performances, several early works not performed for decades are considered lost. Among them, some have no traces other than their titles, and others appear only in books, mentioned in interviews, shown in pictures, or even captured in fragmented footage. Choreographer, coach, pedagogue, program director, regisseur, and dancer at the Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance, Virginie Mécène will use the Martha Graham Archive to research and assemble fragmented parts of such dances, using interviews and writings. She will reimagine, embody, and actualize several of Graham's lost works, notably two solos from the late 1920s, Immigrant and Revolt, relevant to today's social and political climate.
Virginie Mécène is a former Principal Dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company (1994- 2006). Director of Graham 2 since 2007 and Director of Program at the Martha Graham School, her direction has focused on training the next generations of dancers for the Martha Graham Dance Company and other companies around-the-world, and the next generations of Graham teachers through her pedagogic instructions. She was the Director of the Martha Graham School from 2007 to 2015, maintaining and developing the School curriculum. Mécène has re-staged, reconstructed, and directed numerous works of Martha Graham at universities and dance companies, as well as taught the Graham TechniqueTM at multiple national and international conferences. In 2017, she reimagined the concept and choreographed Graham’s lost solo, Ekstasis, for the Martha Graham Dance Company. Mécène’s choreographic work includes several acclaimed commissions at venues such as New York City Center and The Joyce Theater in New York City, and many others. She received a LP degree in Artistic and Cultural Management from the University of Bourgogne, France.
Objects and sculpture feature prominently in many of Martha Graham’s performances—as in Appalachian Spring, where a minimalist frame by Isamu Noguchi acts as a divider of the space. These set pieces function as more than just props: they inform the movements performed, and help communicate the strong American body language. Alexa West, who moved to New York at age 19 to train professionally at the Martha Graham School, developed a collaborative relationship with objects as a dancer, and eventually trained in the sculptural visual arts as well. West will use the Martha Graham archive to create a comprehensive overview of the sculptural set design of Graham’s oeuvre, in performances like Maple Leaf Rag and Acrobats of God. Her research at the Library for the Performing Arts will conclude with the production of a set piece, a prop, and a choreographed dance that activates the objects.
Alexa West is a dance artist based in Queens, NY. West studied in the professional training program at the Martha Graham School before receiving her BFA from the Cooper Union. Her work has been presented in spaces around New York, New York and Houston, Texas. She is a co-director of PAGEANT in Brooklyn, NY.
The Jerome Robbins Dance Division’s Dance Research Fellowship was created in 2014 to support scholars and practitioners engaged in graduate-level, post-doctoral, and independent research using the division's unmatched holdings. Past fellows include Harriet Jung and Reid Bartelme, Claire Bishop, Emily Coates, Silas Farley, Alastair Macaulay, Gus Solomons Jr., Pam Tanowitz, Tara Aisha Willis, and Netta Yerushalmy.
The 2023-24 round of the Dance Research Fellows is made possible through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation