Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Mover and Shaker in Her Own Way

Sidra Bell '01, choreographer, master teacher (SBDNY photo)

Conventional? No. Traditional?  No.  Different? Yes.  Innovative? Yes. Unique? For sure. Provocative? No doubt.  With Yale roots? Of course.  Sidra Bell '01, a New York native and Westchester resident, runs her own boutique dance company, Sidra Bell Dance New York.  She is also a master teacher, adjunct professor and choreographer, whose work and performances have appeared all over the world. To read how others describe the company's art form is to digest a list of odd, glowing, singular descriptions:

"A slick, in-your-face intensity," a New York Times reviewer once noted.  "Garish costumes, jet-speed movement, blank stares and emptier smiles," Dance Theater Workshop observed a few years ago.  "A deconstructor, a hyper-articulator that makes her dancers look inhuman," a New Yorker magazine writer once said of Bell. "Creepy and comical," a Washington Post reviewer wrote.

There is more. Arts reviewers and reporters have described Bell's work as inhuman, haunting, emotional, darkly romantic, daredevil and powerful. One reviewer described performances as "a mysterious, couture circus." 

Bell once told a Pittsburgh journalist, "I want to push the boundaries of movement with each work and not repeat what I have done before." 

Bell has had commissions and company performances in New York, Chicago, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Vancouver and many places around the world.  Her work has been performed also in Germany, Korea, China, Austria, Turkey and Denmark. Last year, she was the choreographer for a released dance feature film TEST, which has been screened in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and in the past month New York. 

This fall, she has scheduled performances and workshops in Pennsylvania, New York and Atlanta. She is also an adjunct professor in dance at Barnard College.

Bell's path to choreography and forming her dance company weaved its way through Yale, where she pursued, not dance, but history.  Instead of going to an arts school or remaining in New York to continue with dance (as she had done in high school), she picked Yale. She immersed herself in Saybrook College and a life of college, history papers, and long nights in Cross-Campus Library after graduating from the Spence School in Manhattan.

"I had a push-pull with academia and art," she says in an interview posted on the company's website.  Going to Yale was that "one time to do college in a certain way, the opportunity to study with world-class people in the academic world."

She connects the dots from majoring in history in New Haven to her dance profession and passion:  "(Studying liberal arts at Yale) informs my work in just being open and being able to communicate my ideas." She adds, "I've always been interested in culture and language and writing. Literature (at Yale) I loved, as well."

While in college, she says, "Dance was waiting for me on the other side." Beyond Yale, she wanted to be a "mover and shaker" in her own way. (Along the way, she earned an MFA degree from Purchase College.) With her dance company, commissions, workshops, master classes and choreography, she is not just moving and shaking parts of the dance world, but leaving stark, memorable impressions.

She explains in the interview, "I like complex movement. I like making virtuosic phrases.  The intelligence behind choreography is important to me, so I do a lot of writing."

Her work "Nudity" had its New York premiere this past summer.

"It's not about the steps," Sidra says about her approach to dance, "but the ideas behind the steps."


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