Student reflects on collaborations with choreographers from noted dance companies

Mason Gross BFA Dance student Robert Burke was among the dancers who collaborated withRobert Burke visiting artists Banu Ogan of the famed Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Benoit-Swan Pouffer, artistic director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet; the subsequent performances were part of the 2010 DancePlus Fall program. Both pieces were presented at the Dance Department’s Rutgers In New York performance at The Joyce in May 2011. Here, Burke shares his thoughts about the Mason Gross collaboration with two illustrious artists:

I had the honor of experiencing both the game of chance that exemplifies Merce Cunningham’s work and the contemporary edginess of Benoit-Swan Pouffer’s style.

I have become a stronger, clearer, more intelligent dancer by working with Banu Ogan on the Cunningham MinEvent, a piece created with excerpts from Cunningham’s repertoire. With the death of Cunningham in 2009, it was a chance to learn the Cunningham technique from someone who had worked with him directly before the company is disbanded. Ogan challenged the cast to break old habits and to work through the distinctive aesthetic approach and technique that Cunningham developed.

While working on a new piece called for all of us with Pouffer, I found myself adhering much more closely to my own natural inclinations as a dancer. The work was still a challenge; I found myself working intensely and rigorously as Pouffer pushed us to dig deeper into the movement by reminding us that we will never know the piece perfectly. Pouffer’s rehearsal process led me to understand that it is an amazing gift to realize that each performance is a chance to learn from the imperfections that we find along the way, and to constantly improve.

My experience with these two iconic works has helped me to grow into not only a virtuosic dancer but also a more sensitive artist. Both Ogan and Pouffer are remarkable leaders who have imparted knowledge about the professional field of dance that will stay with us for the rest of our artistic lives.

Photo by Larry Levanti