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History of the Dance Department

Dance courses were first offered at the University of Colorado as part of the physical education program.  The courses included such things as rhythmic fundamentals, modern dance technique, international folk dance, square and ballroom dance.

With the introduction of modern dance into the curriculum in the early 1920′s a modern dance performing organization was developed.  This group was organized, functioned, and was called Orchesis after the University of Wisconsin model of the same name.  The group presented a spring concert and appeared from time to time in other University theatrical productions.

Early in the development of modern dance on this campus the importance of seeing and studying under professional dancers was understood.  However, there were few opportunities.  There were occasional master classes offered whenever a professional modern dancer was in this area.  The very nature of this state as being a cattle raising and agriculturally oriented area and the University being scientifically concerned with high altitude and space exploration seemed to deny the development of the arts in general.  Outstanding professional modern dancers were seldom seen until the summer Creative Arts program was established in the late 1940′s and these artists tended to attract an elitist audience not closely related to the community as a whole.

Even though viewing and studying modern dance with professional performers was limited the interest in modern dance began to grow and by 1946 [48] there were enough dance courses being offered in the Department of Physical Education for Women that a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education with emphasis in Dance was approved. (first graduate, Virginia Wilson Ely)  This degree was designed to train dance teachers for the secondary schools and led to a certification to teach in the public schools. With the introduction of this degree program, the quality of dance on campus began to improve and consequently the offerings of the student dance group were much more mature and began to create an interested local audience.  The choreography for these programs was primarily that of the teachers with only an occasional solo, duet, or small group dance done by student choreographers.

Students were encouraged to stay during the summer to study with the professional dancers who were in residence.  This contact resulted in more intense interest in dance and a desire for more technical training.  Ballet training was added to the course offerings and the curriculum, in general, began a subtle change.  The summer contact also resulted in some CU students going to New York following graduation and being able to hold their own in that very competitive center, some even succeeding in dancing with artists like Jean Erdman and Pauline Koner.

It was obvious with the growth of interest in performing that the B.S. degree was not providing sufficient training.  So after some struggle with the administration of the College of Arts and Sciences who failed to see dance as anything other than a physical activity, a Bachelor of Arts degree was approved in 1962. [63] (first graduate, Jamie Kellam Redmond)  With this degree it was possible to increase the number of hours spent in technique classes though the credits received remained the same (l cr. per semester).  It was also possible to develop the courses in composition, music, history, methods, performance techniques, etc.  As the course offerings increased it was also possible to increase faculty.

With the B.A. offerings also came increased activity in performance and touring.  Even in the days of the B.S. degree the dancers had toured in a minor way in the state and on two or three occasions as far away as Oklahoma and New Mexico, mostly because someone had a friend in cities in those states who would sponsor the tour.  By this time, the student performing group had become The University of Colorado Dancers and most of the choreography for the annual concerts was being done by students. Occasionally, faculty did choreograph for the students and once in a great while would choose to do an entire program of faculty and graduate students’ works.

As modern dance developed there was also an increased interest in ballet and jazz.  In the late 40′s and early 50′s the Department of Communication & Theatre, dance, and the College of Music began to do musical comedies which were usually presented in the summer.  Gradually this very valuable experience was extended into the theatre offerings on campus during the regular school year.

With the development of the B.A. program came a growing demand for work at the graduate level.  The Master of Arts degree was approved in 1969. [68]  It was and is the only Masters degree in dance in the state of Colorado.  Other colleges and universities offer graduate work offered through physical education.

At the time of the approval of the Masters degree other changes were taking place on campus.  The dance program had been lucky enough to find space of its own outside the physical education facilities that provided more opportunities for the overall growth of the program.  The men and women’s department of P.E. were asked by the university to merge into one program.  The theatre program was asking to move out of the Department of Communication and Theatre into a department of its own.  All of this meant that the dance faculty had to take a good look at the goals they hoped to achieve and at the future prospects for dance on the campus.

After much discussion, the dance faculty elected in 1972 to pull out of P.E. and join the theatre. The major stipulation of the move was that Dance should appear in the title of the department to indicate equal status and that one area was not subservient to the other.  The resulting structure of this merger was to elect a chairperson of the entire department of Theatre and Dance every three years; to elect Academic Directors of Theatre and of Dance every 2 years; to appoint a Production Director to supervise the publicity, scheduling, technical management, etc. for the entire department.  The people in these positions could be re-elected any number of times.  Charlotte York Irey created the dance curriculum in P.E. and was the Academic Director of Dance in the Department of Theatre & Dance until her retirement in 1988.

The merger also resulted in a move to another facility that worked well except for the fact that it was removed from the campus.  Dance moved into the Academy Building in 1969, the first year Nancy Spanier was on the faculty.  It was an old Catholic girls school and the chapel and gymnasium were converted to dance studios.  There were faculty offices and one classroom, room 36, in the basement. It did have the advantage of having a studio performing area in the Chapel.  These facilities offered opportunities for performances by small traveling groups and for more studio concerts for the students which included the Choreolab productions and undergraduate and graduate concerts.  The annual productions increased to one formal concert each semester in the University Theatre and one Choreolab production each semester in the Chapel Studio along with the presentation of one or two student projects in the studio theatre.

The merger also resulted in the dance being able to have a costume designer and better technical help along with a publicity director, box office, etc, in conjunction with the theatre program.  It also resulted in more integration of the two areas through the development of the Colorado Dance Caravan in 1978 (touring group, currently the CU Moving Company) and the Summer Music Theatre Workshop.

In the late 70’s the dance offerings included the new BFA degree that offered two tracks; one in performance and one in technical theatre for dance.  The latter was possible with the merger of theatre and dance.  The first BFA, Dana Strong, graduated in May of 1979.  The tech theatre in dance was never used and was dropped.

The number of students in the dance program remained fairly steady over the years until around 2004.  Generally there were about 50-60 undergraduates, now 70-80, and the masters classes have grown from about 6-8 to 10-15.  In 86/87 the MA was changed to a 48 credit hour MFA with Lynn Wenning Banka being the first to earn this degree.  In 91/92 the MFA was changed to a 60 credit hour program.

In 1981 the Academy Building burned due to arson.  The Intensive English Center and Continuing Education offices were burnt out but the dance facilities suffered only slight smoke and water damage.  The program was left in the building with plywood walls dividing the useable portion from the burnt portion.  All personnel were in Room 36, the basement classroom, which served as a group office.  The adjoining vending machine room was used as the Director’s office.

In 1983/84 a new dance wing was opened which was built on the west side of the University Theatre Building on campus.  A Gala Concert to name the wing after Charlotte York Irey was held February 23-25, 1984.  The Charlotte York Irey Studio/Theatre serves as the same capacity as the Chapel in the Academy Building.  Classes are held daily and the space can covert into a 160-seat theatre with full technical support.

In the late 70’s the CU dance program co-sponsored and hosted the Boulder Dance Festival created and directed by Marda Kirn.  In 1982 it became the Colorado Dance Festival and CU remained allied with CDF during its existence.  The Festival offered their last festival in 2000.  In 1978 two former CU students, Lara Branen and Michael Geiger, created the Boulder Jazz Dance Workshop.  CU continues to host the workshop annually and awards credit for some of their courses.  In 1995 CU began accrediting the dance courses at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp in Steamboat Springs, CO.

In May of 1988 Charlotte Irey retired.  Connie Kreemer and Mel Wong were named Co-Directors and stayed for 1988-89.  Mel took a job at Santa Cruz and they left after one year.  During 88/89 Nancy Spanier was on sabbatical and Nada Diachenko was a visiting artist covering her classes.  When Mel and Connie left Nada was appointed interim Director.  In 1990 she was hired as tenured Associate Professor and named permanent Director of Dance and Associate Chair.  She stepped down in 2001 and David Capps took over the position.  David left campus in May 2006 and Toby Hankin took over the Directorship.

In 1991/92 Bob Shannon was hired as half time faculty to teach Production classes and serve as dance technical director.  This assured dance of having continuous technical support and expertise. The position was upgraded to 3/4 time in 98/99 and full time in 2002/03.  Jesse Manno served as staff Musical Director until 2003 when his position was changed to a 1/2 time faculty line.

During the spring of 1991 CU Contemporary Dance Works summer graduate student touring company was formed.  The company members are paid to create a program and tour the state teaching classes and performing.  CUCDW is part of the campuswide CU This Summer program sponsored by the university President’s office.  In the late 90’s the group began to do residencies in one town rather than tour the state.

CU hosted its first regional ACDF with 300 participants in spring 1995 which was not a year with a national concert.  Adjudicators were Donald McKayle, Hannah Kahn, Marda Kirn.  We hosted ACDF again in 2004 with Bill Young, Brenda Dixon-Gottschild and Fran Holend serving as adjudicators.

Also in 1995 dance hosted the first Roser Visiting Artist by bringing Liz Lerman and 2 of the members of Dance Exchange to campus.  The fund was endowed by Rebecca and James Roser and the CU Chancellor at the time, James Corbridge.  Many artists have come to campus to teach and set work on the students through this program—Dana Reitz, Sean Curran, David Dorfman, Joe Goode, Gabriel Masson, Bebe Miller with her full company, Susan Marshall and 2 company dancers, Kevin Wynn, Art Bridgman & Myrna Packer, Rennie Harris, Heidi Henderson, Kathleen Hermesdorf, and Darrell Jones.  Additional funding for Gabe Masson came from the National College Choreographic Initiative; additional funding for Bebe Miller’s company residency (?)  Additional Roser artists Melissa McCorkle and Shelley Senter reconstructed Heretic by Martha Graham and Set and Reset by Trisha Brown, respectively, for the Legacies concert that opened the 2004 ACDF

A body therapies track was added to the MFA in 1997, offering concurrent certification through the Pilates Center and intensive work in Alexander technique.  The track was folded into the masters degree as one of the options for the secondary area of emphasis initiated about 2004.

In the undergraduate degrees, a BA with an emphasis in Ballet and in World Dance & Culture was established in fall 2001.  The emphases were folded back into one BA with flexibility in technique class selection in 2005.

In 2002 BFA Yuki Ojika’s work was invited to the National ACDF from the regional festival at U of Michigan.  CU hosted the Central Region ACDF March 10-13, 2004 titled Legacies, Dance in the 20th Century…and beyond.  The opening night concert included Heretic and Set and Reset.  Works by Onye Ozuzu and MFA Jennie Pitts were selected for Gala Concert and Jennie’s Pink Sink and Cotton Underwear was one of 3 dances selected to go the National ACDF in June, 2004.  In 2006 MFA student Amy Slater’s solo “Exposed Layers” was invited to the National and Amy was the Central region’s nominee for both best choreographer and best performer.  In past years students Lynn Banka, Judy Bejarano and Steven Fetherhuff as well as faculty member David Capps had work invited to the national ACDF.

A curricular shift occurred around 2007-2009.  The technique requirements included modern, ballet, jazz and African at the undergrad level with strong encouragement to take all forms at the masters level.  The required, daily 10:00 technique class began to have rotating dance forms, not simply modern-based courses.  Modern, jazz, ballet and hip hop were offered at all levels.  The history area of the curriculum was reconfigured and taught via a global and contemporary perspective as opposed to a simple linear occurance of events.  These classes included Intro to Dance & Culture, History & Philosophy of Dance, Looking at Dance, and Graduate Dance Seminar.

History of the Theatre Department

1897 - As part of Commencement ceremonies, graduating seniors perform a Shakespeare play under the direction of the Professor of Oratory and Dramatic Expression, a practice that extends until 1916

1899 - The University Dramatic Club begins a tradition of theatre producing student groups that includes the Player’s Club (1913-1942) and continues to this day with OnStage

1904 - The current University Theatre building opens as the Buckingham Library

1916 - Old Main Chapel converted to a theatre

1919 - George F. Reynolds hired as head of the Department of English Literature.  Believing that the study of dramatic literature entails theatre production, Professor Reynolds founds “The Little Theatre,” later known as “The University Theatre,” with the assistance of fellow English Professor Francis Wolle.  Shows are staged in Old Main Chapel Theatre

1924 - Modern dance student group “Orchesis” presents the first of its annual concerts

1927 - The University Theatre moves to a renovated gymnasium called “The Lecture Theatre” previously used as a laboratory by the Chemistry Department

1936 - The Mary Rippon Theatre dedicated

1938 - First undergraduate degree in dance, a Bachelor of Science in Women’s Physical Education with an emphasis in Dance

1939 - The Lecture Theatre razed to make room for the construction of Norlin Library

1940 - The renovated Buckingham Library reopens as the University Theatre building: it features a proscenium arch theatre with 696 wood seats, and offices for Fine Arts faculty and English Department faculty specializing in oral interpretation and dramatics

1944 - Romeo and Juliet is the first Shakespeare performance in the Mary Rippon Theatre, directed by James Sandoe

1945 - Orchesis modern dance concert first presented in the University Theatre

Charlotte York Irey hired to teach dance in the Department of Women’s Physical Education

1958 - The Colorado Shakespeare Festival opens with a production of Hamlet in the Mary Rippon Theatre directed by CSF Executive Director Professor Jack H. Crouch of the Department of English and Speech

1960-1961 - The Department of Speech and Drama splits from the Department of English Literature

1961 - University Theatre production of Bells are Ringing tours U.S. military bases in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines

1963 - Direction of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival moves from the Department of English Literature to the Department of Speech and Drama with Professor of Drama Albert Nadeau as Executive Director

1964-66 - Renovations to the University Theatre include an enlarged stage, 421 plush seats, and replacement of a light dimmer board it took eight people to operate

Fine Arts faculty relocated to what becomes the Muriel Sibel Wolle Fine Arts building, named in 1978 after Muriel Sibell who began designing stage sets and costumes for University Theatre productions in 1927, married Professor Francis Wolle in 1945, and headed the Fine Arts Department from 1927-1947

1967 - “Theatre 300” is up and running in what will become the Loft Theatre; it is a workshop/studio production series like the current “Theatre 509” series in the Acting Studio (C240)

1969 - The Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology (the predecessor of Speech Language and Hearing Sciences) splits from the Department of Speech and Drama

1971 - The Department of Speech and Drama renamed the Department of Communication and Theatre

1973 - The dance program, headed by Charlotte York Irey, splits from the Department of Women’s Physical Education and, with the theatre program, forms the new Department of Theatre & Dance

The Department of Communication becomes its own academic unit

CU alumna Patricia Elliott wins the triple crown of New York theatre for her performance in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music: a Tony Award, a Theater World Award, and a Drama Desk Award

1976 - The Colorado Caravan Touring Theatre is founded, the first outreach project for academic credit in the Theatre & Dance Department and the start of a tradition that continues to this day with the CU Moving Company, CU Contemporary Dance Works, and Theatre Outreach projects

1980 - As yet little known actress Annette Bening plays Princess of France in CSF production of Love’s Labor’s Lostdirected by Professor of Theatre and CSF producing artistic director Daniel S. P. Yang; B.F.A. graduate and future CSF producing artistic director Philip Sneed plays the role of Dumaine

1983 - The dance wing, featuring the Charlotte York Irey Studio, is added to the University Theatre building.

1985 - Actress Celeste Holm stars in the University Theatre production of The Trojan Women, directed by Professor of Theatre James Symons

1987 - Renovations to the University Theatre building include new scene shop and classrooms/rehearsal studios

1989-1991 - Professor of Theatre and Department Chair James Symons serves as President of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education

1992 - The Colorado Shakespeare Festival wins the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts under the direction of Professor of Theatre Richard Devin

Theatre alumnus Jim Doyle wins Oscar for Technical Achievement (for design and development of the Dry Fogger) though he is better known for designing the water fountains at the Las Vegas Bellagio Hotel and the knife-claw glove worn by Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street films

1993 - Denver Drama Critics Circle awards “Best Season for a Company” to the Department of Theatre & Dance

1995 - Associate Professor of Theatre Margaret (Lee) Potts and Professor of Dance Nancy Spanier teach “Performing Voices of Women,” the first theatre class explicitly designed to address social justice issues through performance

1999 - Theatre alumnus Trent Dawson makes his first appearance in his still-running role as Henry Coleman on the TV soap As The World Turns

Inspired by Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre, Rebecca Brown (Adelman) and Trenton Norman found the Interactive Theatre Project at CU; many undergraduate and graduate Theatre students will become involved in this social justice performance project operating under the auspices of the Division of Student Affairs

2005 - Drama alumna Roe Green founds the Roe Green Distinguished Theatre Artist Residency program with residency of playwright Lee Blessing

2006 - Professor James Symons elected Fellow of the American Theatre

Theatre alumnus Philip Sneed appointed producing artistic director of The Colorado Shakespeare Festival

2010 - Professor Emeritus Richard Devin receives Honorary Lifetime Member Award from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, having served as USITT President (1988-90) and Fellow.  He is only the 11th recipient in USITT’s 50 year history

2010-2011 - The Department of Theatre & Dance celebrates the 50th anniversary of Speech and Drama’s split from the Department of English Literature