The 21st Century Dancer
UMS' 21st Century Artist Internships give students a one-of-a-kind experience
Claire Crause was beaming as she walked over the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City to catch the subway on her way home from the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn to where she stayed in East Harlem.
“This could be my life,” she said as she put her arms up and leapt through the air toward the skyline of the city.
Crause was in New York on a nine-week internship with the Mark Morris Dance Group last summer as part of an innovative 21st Century Artist Internship program established by the University Musical Society and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) in 2015, and funded by a U-M Third Century grant.
Crause, a current senior studying dance and movement science at SMTD who hopes to dance professionally after graduation, had an integrated internship experience that took place both in the studio and in the administrative offices of the company.
She spent her summer taking company ballet classes, copying scores, arranging itineraries, booking flights and working on marketing initiatives connected to Mark Morris’ fall tour of “Layla and Majnun” with the Silk Road Ensemble.
“I really didn’t expect to love the office work so much,” she said. “Not only is it good to know that I have other career options that are connected to my art, but I think it’s really important to understand and appreciate what goes on behind the scenes—it makes me a better dancer.”
The right place, the right time
The 21st Century Artist Internship is meant to provide students with a range of opportunities connected to their craft. Crause’s internship started with MMDG’s two-week dance intensive, an experience many companies offer in the summer months that serves both as a learning opportunity and an introduction between dancer and dance company.
There, she took yoga, strength training and dance classes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, while also getting an introduction to Morris’ approach to teaching and choreography.
“More than anything, I was really grateful for the opportunity to connect with Mark Morris and others in the company as a dancer before anything else,” Crause said. “It is really how I communicate best.”
After a few of weeks handling day-to-day, behind-the-scenes work within the MMDG offices, she was unexpectedly invited to take a morning ballet class with company dancers.
“I had never imagined that scenario—I mean, Mark Morris was one of the first choreographers I learned about in my freshman composition class, and here he was, correcting me,” she said. “I was incredibly nervous and intimidated, but I just went for it.”
Following her first invite, Crause started every morning at the ballet bar for the final three weeks of her internship before heading back to work to retrieve lunch orders, make copies, answer phones and organize tour itineraries.
The Big Apple
When she wasn’t dancing at the Mark Morris Dance Group, Crause went on frequent runs through Central Park, attended other dance classes around the city, and took in shows like “Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Celebration” at the Joyce Theater and “Cats” on Broadway.
She began and ended each day at the Music and Mentorship House, a charming 19th century home located in Harlem that is owned and operated by acclaimed American soprano, Lauren Flanigan.
Over the years, nearly 150 student artists from all disciplines who have come to study, audition or transition to living in New York City have stayed with her.
Flanigan pointed out that the house is meant to be a collaborative, safe place for the residents. She keeps the rent—which includes two home-cooked meals each day—affordable, and best of all, her advice is free.
“Lauren’s friendship and guidance was such an important part of my experience,” said Crause. “The nine weeks that I’ve spent here have given me the confidence to know that I want to come back to pursue a career in this city, which isn’t something I was completely sure of before.”
Back to Ann Arbor
Crause’s internship will come full circle when the Mark Morris Dance Group arrives in Ann Arbor Oct. 13–15 to perform “Layla and Majnun” with the Silk Road Ensemble as part of the University Musical Society’s 2016-17 season.
“I learned so much about the story and the music, and I spent a lot of time working on components of the tour,” Crause said. “It will be exciting to see the show, to personally have met the dancers and to know that I contributed to making it happen.”
“Layla and Majnun” presents a lyrical and musical translation of a Persian poem that originated in ancient Arabia. It is the dance of a tragic love story about two people who are not allowed to unite, set to live music from the Silk Road Ensemble, who will accompany singers Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova.
In addition to the three ticketed performances, there will be an artist Q&A following the opening night’s show, and MMDG and UMS will host a “You Can Dance” workshop for curious adult movers that’s open to the public at 2 p.m. Oct. 15.
Crause will assist in facilitating the dance workshop and will attend many of the class visits and master classes that members will conduct while they’re in Ann Arbor.
Grooming artists of the future
According to Jim Leija, director of education & community engagement at UMS, the 21st Century Artist Internship is designed to be a “360 degree experience” for students, for UMS and for participating companies.
Based on what each student studies, they work to pair them with theater, music or dance companies that UMS will present during its upcoming season.
Students then have the opportunity work at the company’s headquarters during the summer, and when the company visits U-M’s campus to perform during the school year, students act as liaisons and have the opportunity to participate in educational programming components as well.
Leija notes that the idea was born out of fully funded experiential-learning internship opportunities that are prevalent in the sciences.
“In the arts, we find that unpaid internships are kind of the norm,” said Leija, who graduated from the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance in 2002. “It was something that I was very interested in doing as a student here, but it was never a possibility for me to work without getting paid over the summer.”
The program was put into motion by a grant awarded from U-M’s Third Century Initiative, created to develop innovative, multidisciplinary teaching and scholarship approaches.
After a competitive application process, each selected student is awarded a $5,000 stipend to cover transportation, room and board, food and extracurricular activities for the duration of each internship, which typically lasts five to eight weeks.
The students are also provided with guidance from UMS staff, who assist in finding housing, connecting them to local resources in the internship location, and checking in throughout throughout the process.
Though many students who participate in the program are studying to be professional performing artists, the work performed at each internship is generally a hybrid of arts administration and related educational opportunities.
“Today’s artists need to be able to speak dynamically about their work and their inspirations, share their creative processes, provide interactive experiences for novice audience members, and transmit themselves and their artistry through any number of media platforms,” Leija said. “It is really important that they approach their careers from an entrepreneurial standpoint in order to learn all sides of their business, including the the day-to-day challenges of a nonprofit arts organization.”
This year’s artist internships were awarded to four students from the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance:
- Claire Crause, Mark Morris Dance Company (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
- Shenell McCrary, Ping Chong + Co. (New York City)
- Teagan Faran, Jazz at Lincoln Center (New York City)
- Zoey Bond, Druid Theatre Company (Galway, Ireland)
The program is currently accepting applications from U-M students for its third program cohort until Nov. 4, 2016.