The Provost’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) invited Eryn Rosenthal, 2018 Visiting Artist at the Residential College (RC) and 2017 King-Chávez-Parks Visiting Professor and Artist in Residence for Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives, to present on her work integrating movement and the body with diversity programs at the May 9 convening of the DEI Leads of all 49 units of the University of Michigan. Rosenthal (MFA Dance ’15) is an international choreographer and performer originally from Michigan whose innovative work is based on research and collaboration with democratic activists in South Africa, the US and Spain. In her address at the annual luncheon, Rosenthal spoke about the role of the arts in building meaningful reflection and multi-layered discussion on the complex issues of our day. She also spoke about the Residential College as a hub for cutting edge, interdisciplinary scholarship, and the new course she developed this semester for the RC’s Arts and Ideas in the Humanities program, Personal, Present and Immediate*: Making Performance on Socio-Political Questions. She then invited student Aly Charfauros (BFA ’21) to perform her final project from the class.
Rosenthal’s course, a hybrid humanities seminar meets interdisciplinary creative workshop, brought together undergraduate and graduate students from different cultural backgrounds and areas of study within the university, and was cross-listed for graduate credit with the School of Social Work (SSW) and the School of Music, Theatre and Dance (SMTD). As part of the experimental course, students examined the relationship of the body to performance in a very expansive way: studying works of visual art alongside more traditional understandings of performance in theater, dance and film. Questioning assumptions of performance, genre, audience and politics, students played with a wide variety of media in their weekly creative études: from poetry and drawing to movement, text, games and installations. They also studied methodologies for investigating and talking about complex, often contradictory subject matter, and ways that performance can engage and consider contradictions without immediately feeling the need to resolve them. The course culminated in original student performances and installations in the Keene Theater in East Quad in April.
For her final project, rising sophomore Aly Charfauros combined movement, gesture, poetry and theater in an arresting solo work, entitled "Scrubbing." Bravely facing an audience at the luncheon of over 100 people including provosts, the university president and high level administrators, Aly took the stage in a towel and underwear to poignantly relive her early years of wishing she could scrub away her dark skin to achieve her then-desired state, described in the final words of her piece: "I was porcelain... or at least, I wanted to be." Her powerful performance, both riveting and personal, brought the house down.
Speaking with Aly shortly after the performance, she reflected on how, walking off the stage, she realized—“Not anymore!” Aly cites Personal, Present and Immediate as giving her “more insight into how other artists make performance on socio-political questions, and ways she can make her craft representative of her ethnic heritage and cultural background.” It is clear that Aly’s experience in the course empowered her to examine her own identity formation, and incorporate her personal experiences into larger interrogations of narrative, history, power and citizenship. Eryn hopes that Aly and all her students continue to courageously apply their learnings in other scholarly work and throughout their future careers.
Brava, Aly, on your stunning and brave performance, and congratulations, Eryn, for being recognized for your innovative work at the intersection of performance, social justice, and scholarship.
* “Personal, present and immediate”: From Murray v. Maryland (1935), one of the precedents to the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
Photography by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography
For more information on the course, visit www.erynrosenthal.com