You might think that having a world-class performer stage her U.S. debut at Swasey Chapel would be enough reason to bring Dada Masilo to Denison—and you would be right. But Vail Series director Lorraine Wales and Professor of Dance Gill Wright Miller ’74 realized that this also was a real opportunity to bring a global point of view into classrooms all over campus.
So the South African artist didn’t just dance at Denison (though that was spectacular enough, drawing gasps and lengthy applause from a packed and appreciative crowd), she also engaged students across disciplines in conversations about gender, race and racism around the world for the better part of two weeks. Masilo was joined at Denison by fellow South African artist Lulu Mlangeni, who not only danced in the Vail performance, but also contributed in classes and rehearsals.
Masilo’s revolutionary choreography is a result of her personal vision, formed by complex issues she has encountered as a black woman in South Africa. The deep reflection that she brings to her work was relevant in classes from “Issues in Feminism” to “Political Black Thought,” and more.
In Associate Professor Joanna Grabski’s art history class, “Visual Life in Cities,” for example, Masilo discussed life in Johannesburg and other African urban areas. “People want to move forward—to work hard, get an education, live a better life,” she said. “Apartheid isn’t an excuse anymore for my generation. We are moving beyond.” She added, “Our parents struggled so we could have things easier. It’s our job to get up and work.”
Masilo also worked with students to bring her innovative version of “Swan Lake” to the Denison stage. The full concert will take place nightly from April 18 through 21 at the Doane Dance Performance Space (231 West College St.), but if you stop by Doane at 2:30 p.m. this Sunday, Feb. 12, you’ll get a sneak peek.
Dada Masilo’s performance and on-campus residency were supported by the Vail Series, the Spectrum Series, the Laura C. Harris Symposium, and the Department of Dance. The Spectrum Series fosters exploration across the liberal arts based on an annual theme—this year’s theme being “Migrations.” Emphasizing the pioneering spirit of women at Denison, the Laura C. Harris Symposium enhances educational and career opportunities for the college’s female students.