Visiting artist Adrienne Hawkins draws choreographic inspiration from personal history

The department of theatre and dance is hosting guest artist Adrienne Hawkins, artistic director of the Impulse Dance Company in Boston, for a three-day residency Oct. 29-31. During the residency, she is working with assistant professor of dance studies Mark Broomfield to create an original dance work. The piece is a three-way collaboration between Hawkins, Broomfield and visiting artist Nathan Lee Graham. While Hawkins and Broomfield have a long history of teaching and assisting each other on performances, this is their first time working together on a dance piece. The Geneseo Dance Ensemble will perform the finished choreography at its spring 2014 review, “46Live: New Voices Bold Moves.”

“We’re trying to coordinate something between the three of us in three different places to bring together a piece for the dance companies with three different basic kind of processes,” Hawkins said.

The choreography she is creating for Geneseo is influenced by her life experiences − the major societal and cultural changes Hawkins has witnessed in America.

She grew up during the protest movement of the 1960s and participated in the March on Washington in 1963.

“To see the social change over such a long period of time gives you a different perspective on what was now and what was then,” she said.

Hawkins sees these changes reflected in the evolution of social dance, from “the jitterbug, what was the things like the twist, the pony ... to twerking, which is like a whole different set of connotations of how we view ourselves and how we view our interaction with our partner, and how it is that we deal with the space around us,” she said.

She further developed her historical perspective on dance through her graduate work at Connecticut College, where she published a thesis focused on the history of social dance in America since the 1860s.

“What I always think of dance is that [it should be] looking at something and being reflective, instead of trying to say something; looking at what is instead of how we see ourselves progressing forward,” Hawkins said.

The ascendance of visual media in American culture, which Hawkins tracks through her academic research as well as her own personal experiences, has also reshaped the expectations of modern audiences.

“Our ability to be entertained is faster. And in that ability, our attention span is a lot quicker ... it’s easier for us to look away,” she said.

Hawkins has adapted her choreography designs to complement such changes in the modes of cultural consumption.

“If you want something to happen, you have to understand the amount of time it takes to make that happen,” she said. “And you can change it, and force people to actually catch something [happening], to be intense about it.”