USC hosts West Coast premiere of Monica Bill Barnes & Company: The Running Show

Renowned choreographer and dancer Monica Bill Barnes and writer Robbie Saenz de Viteri are bringing their latest high-energy performance to Los Angeles with the help of students at the USC Kaufman School of Dance.

With just four days between auditions and the final show to learn the choreography and the creators’ vision, USC Kaufman students — most of whom are freshmen — have been working tirelessly to bring the vision of Barnes and di Viterbi’s New York City-based dance company vision to life.

“Dancers are some of the few artists that will sign up for something kind of insane,” Barnes said. “The invitation is in five days to learn an entire show, and then perform it on a big stage, and that’s a lot to ask of people.”

The show, Monica Bill Barnes & Company: The Running Show, makes its West Coast premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday in USC’s Bovard Auditorium. The performance — presented by USC’s Visions and Voices series — will feature 13 dance students from USC Kaufman and provides an authentic look into the life of a dancer as a new kind of sports hero.

‘You don’t really know the outcome’

“It came out of a real desire to steal something from sports, which is that you don’t really know the outcome,” Saenz di Viteri said of the show using new performers in each city. “It’s the thing that I think sports really has over theater in a lot of ways.”

Freshman Simone Peterson admits that she doesn’t know much about sports, but as a USC Kaufman dance student, she said she understands movement and pushing her body to the limit, which is what prompted her to audition for the show.

“I think I actually understood sports a little bit better because this dance is heavily geared towards sports,” Peterson said. “Hopefully people will see dance more through a sports lens instead of the opposite.”

The performance made its debut in July at the American Dance Festival. Each performance teams with local artists ranging in age from 12 to 80 years old to develop a new version of The Running Show in each city.

“It both sort of celebrates dance and it really questions what it is to commit your life to something physical that you know has an expiration date,” Barnes said. “This week is about challenging students but also really supporting and encouraging them and bringing them along in this process.”

Though there are differences among the performances, the show always features rigorous athletic movement from Barnes and the students accompanied by witty play-by-play commentary and narration delivered by Saenz de Viteri from his “press box” on stage. Through the course of the rehearsals leading up to the performance, Saenz di Viteri will interview the cast and then incorporate their stories and voices into the show.

The Running Show: ‘A physical live documentary’

“I call it a physical live documentary about the life of a dancer,” Saenz di Viteri said. “It takes audiences through what it means to like fall in love with dance when you’re 7 years old … and then what it means to decide to pursue that as a career in college, and then what that means 20 years after that when you’ve dedicated your life to this physical thing.”

The quick turnaround between auditions and performance was part of the appeal to USC sophomore Avery Zerr.

“That’s the fun thing about it,” Zerr said. “It’s almost like a little game of seeing how quickly you can pick up things and how detailed you can be with the work that you’ve been given.”

Both Barnes and Saenz di Viteri said that the intense atmosphere brings the performers closer. The four-day process provides both dancers and choreographers with a new way of looking at their craft. The hope is that this approach can offer a fresh perspective for the audience.

“I think it’s almost an appreciation of athletics and the tedious work that goes into that,” Zerr said, “and how it’s almost a little bit hilarious how much time we spend doing these things, and how hard we work at them and how much we push our bodies, which is the same for dance.”

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K-pop takes center stage at USC concert, dance competition and academic forum

More than 3,500 USC students and community members on Friday attended the university’s first K-Pop Festa. The day’s events featured a free concert by Korean mega-star Sejeong Kim and chart-topping boy group Kingdom, an international K-pop cover dance contest and an academic forum analyzing the global phenomenon of K-pop with USC faculty, graduate students and a leading entertainment industry executive.

 

 

 

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Julia M. Ritter installed as dean of the USC Kaufman School of Dance

The USC Town and Gown ballroom was abuzz with excitement — especially in the back two rows. There, dozens of USC Kaufman School of Dance students, seated with perfect posture, joined university faculty and staff to enthusiastically welcome the school’s new dean, Julia M. Ritter.

“She sees interdisciplinary collaboration as the ultimate dance expression, and she’s worked with professional dancers, students of all ages and self-described non-dancers, including people who are unhoused or incarcerated,” said USC President Carol L. Folt, who hosted Monday’s installation ceremony.

Addressing the lively crowd, Ritter — an acclaimed public artist and academic leader — discussed the undeniable and unforgettable power of movement.

I view dance as an immersive way of being in the world.

Julia M. Ritter, USC Kaufman dean

“I view dance as an immersive way of being in the world,” Ritter said. “To paraphrase performance studies scholar Rebekah Kowal, ‘dance does things,’ and I’ll add to that — that dance does things that matter.”

The new dean discussed the rich history of dance in Los Angeles and Southern California.

“Within the Los Angeles area, almost any kind of dance can be found doing things that matter: connecting past to present, generating cultural presence, supporting spiritual experiences, producing economic benefits, fostering democracy, improving health and staving off decline, researching the possibilities of movement, discovery and expression, and of course, excelling in artistry,” Ritter said.

USC Kaufman dean sees school’s unique positioning

“Thus, the [USC Kaufman] School of Dance is distinctly positioned as a central intersection of this creative city and global hub. I’m thrilled to join this very special school to build upon foundations that honor diverse heritages and techniques.”

Ritter also emphasized myriad benefits of dance, including its ability to reinforce the human connection and champion greater diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Dance supports the cultivation of identity and autonomy, as well as a communal sense of belonging. For these reasons, dance is a productive realm for biopsychosocial research toward health and human development,” Ritter said. “This means that dancing generates both diversity and connection as a methodology for empathy for all participants: performers, audiences and passersby.”

New USC Kaufman dean: a history of accomplishments

The new dean comes to USC from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, where she served as chair and artistic director of the department of dance for more than a decade. There, she launched a wide range of academic initiatives, established two new graduate degrees, created multiple study abroad programsand implemented numerous community engagement projects.

Her many accolades include the inaugural Rutgers Presidential Outstanding Faculty Scholar Award in 2021 and three Fulbright Scholar awards for choreographic research.

Ritter also thanked the USC dance school’s founder, Glorya Kaufman, “for envisioning a school where dancers are supported to be risk-takers and adventurers.”

She continued, “I’m excited for Kaufman’s future as it grows in eminence as a global leader of artistic achievement and exemplar of intercultural dance education, and I look forward to the possibility of engaging each of you as a partner in dance to do things that matter.”

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Julia M. Ritter named dean of the USC Kaufman School of Dance

USC has named dance scholar Julia M. Ritter as dean of the USC Kaufman School of Dance, effective July 1.

Ritter is currently a professor of dance at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, where she served as chair and artistic director of the department of dance from 2010 to 2021. At Rutgers, she launched wide-ranging curricular and programmatic initiatives, establishing two new graduate degrees, multiple study abroad programs and numerous community creative engagement projects.

“Throughout her career, Julia Ritter has championed dance not only as a means of self-expression, but as a way to communicate and connect with others,” USC President Carol L. Folt said. “She is a creative, compassionate leader who cares deeply about students and helps them develop lifelong careers in dance.

She is a creative, compassionate leader who cares deeply about students and helps them develop lifelong careers in dance.

Carol L. Folt, USC president

“At USC, she will work closely with Kaufman students, faculty, staff and alumni to strengthen our vibrant arts community — and build even broader and deeper ties with our campus partners, Los Angeles and the world.”

An award-winning dance artist and scholar, Ritter has worked at the intersection of the arts, humanities and sciences to engage with social justice and community building. Her 2021 book Tandem Dances: Choreographing Immersive Performance examines the role of dance in the emerging field of immersive theater and performance.

“Over the past several years, the USC Kaufman community has created a program of education and performance that is changing dance as a creative discipline. The progress is nothing short of remarkable,” USC Provost Charles F. Zukoski said. “We now aim higher. We have found the leader who will enable us to achieve our aspirations. We can build on that foundation to strengthen our global leadership in the dance world, recruit the best students and train them to flourish in challenging and satisfying careers.”

Founded in 2012, USC Kaufman is known for its innovative New Movement educational model, which combines rigorous dance training with interdisciplinary studies and cross-campus collaboration.

“I am so excited to join USC Kaufman because of what has already been established here, including the stellar faculty and students, the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center and the New Movement curriculum,” Ritter said. “I know that there is an incredible amount of innovation happening across USC right now, and I feel there are no limits to how we can ideate and collaborate.”

New USC Kaufman dean: a commitment to interdisciplinarity

Crossing disciplines has been the hallmark of Ritter’s career. “During my undergraduate training at Rutgers, I was lucky to study with faculty who prioritized collaboration,” she said. “I studied with people like Don Redlich, who exemplified how to build partnerships with musicians, costume designers, set designers. Coming from that lineage helped me understand the interdisciplinary nature and potential of the arts.”

While earning her Master of Fine Arts at Temple University, Ritter studied with Brenda Dixon Gottschild, a leading scholar of African diasporic dance forms. “She introduced me to even more collaborative processes and ways of thinking about dance from different cultural lenses,” she said.

Her doctoral studies at Texas Woman’s University focused on immersive performance, an emerging field that bridges theater, dance, film and digital media. “As I’ve been studying these new ways to collaborate throughout my career, I’ve seen a real hunger from both faculty and students to build institutional and creative infrastructures that support those kinds of interactions,” she said.

While leading the Department of Dance at Rutgers, she pioneered projects with other schools, including environmental and biological sciences, engineering and the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice. She also co-founded the Integrated Dance Collaboratory, which brings together artists and scientists to explore the full spectrum of dance’s unique rehabilitative, therapeutic and expressive potential. “Producing projects that have an impact across campus and beyond is part of my DNA,” she said.

Exploring choreography and society

In recognition of her interdisciplinary excellence, Ritter received the inaugural Rutgers Presidential Outstanding Faculty Scholar Award in 2021. Other significant recognitions for Ritter include three Fulbright Scholar awards for choreographic research. Her work has been additionally funded by a host of state and national organizations committed to the role of arts in society, and she has presented her scholarship and choreography at conferences and arts venues across the globe.

Ritter’s book Tandem Dances “explores how choreography functions as a structural mechanism for mobilizing audiences during immersive live performances,” she said. “We’re living in an experience economy: People don’t want to simply watch something on the stage; they want to be in that world. We can now understand choreography as the composing of dancers’ movements and as a mechanism for organizing the kinesthetic experience of the spectator.”

Ritter notes that choreography can also be used in building diverse and inclusive communities through dance.

“One way to do that is through curriculum — to help our students build a literacy of different dance and choreographic forms through historical and cultural understanding,” she said. “I’m looking forward to brainstorming with USC faculty about creating platforms for USC Kaufman that are inclusive across all communities.”

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Robert Cutietta awarded Presidential Medallion for advancing USC’s values in the field of the arts


Every year from 1983 through 2020, USC has awarded the USC Presidential Medallion to one or two people who have brought great honor and distinction to the university community. Last year, all USC staff, faculty and health care professionals were awarded the Presidential Medallion after their continued work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, for their work to advance the university’s overall mission, three members of the Trojan Family were honored by USC President Carol L. Folt at the 41st annual Academic Honors Convocation on Tuesday. USC News is profiling all three winners. Today’s honoree: Robert Cutietta, dean of the USC Thornton School of Music and the USC Kaufman School of Dance.

Robert Cutietta had no idea USC would start a dance school when he came to the university in 2002, much less that he would become dean of it.

Cutietta originally was chosen as the dean of the USC Thornton School of Music, and almost a decade after arriving on campus, he was tasked with starting and helming the USC Kaufman School of Dance, the university’s first new school in 41 years. That service to the arts has earned him one of this year’s USC Presidential Medallions.

I’m a bass player at heart. And what that means is that I stay in the background, I provide the foundation, and I let other people take the solos in the leads.

Robert Cutietta, Presidential Medallion recipient

“I have to admit, I had to gear myself up for this,” Cutietta said of his dance school assignment. “I’m a bass player at heart. And what that means is that I stay in the background, I provide the foundation, and I let other people take the solos in the leads. I feel I’ve been that way with being a dean, too.”

Cutietta, a longtime academic, was the director of the School of Music and Dance at the University of Arizona before coming to USC. He has performed and composed music for movies and TV, including the television series Lost Legends of the West, and has published a range of articles and books on music education, notably Raising Musical Kids: A Guide for Parents and Who Knew? Answers to Questions About Classical Music You Never Thought to Ask, both published by Oxford University Press.

Robert Cutietta: introducing innovative degrees

At USC, Cutietta introduced innovative degrees, including groundbreaking popular music performance program that Rolling Stone called “the cutting-edge department that’s become the site of Los Angeles’ most productive new music scenes.”

“The popular music program is still pretty much the only one that’s out there,” Cutietta said. “We expanded that into production and EDM [electronic dance music] — I mean, what schools can you major in EDM creation?”

He applied that same innovative approach to the programs at the USC Kaufman School.

“What started to emerge was a school where you’re not really training dancers,” he said. “You’re creating artists who are dance makers.”

Double duty as dean of USC Thornton School of Music and USC Kaufman School of Dance

Cutietta, who has pulled double duty as dean of USC Thornton and USC Kaufman since the dance school opened, will retire at the end of the 2022 academic year. For the last few years, Cutietta has assisted in the search for two new deans.

“The worst thing that could happen to any institution is it starts stagnating, and it’s hard to keep innovating when the same people are in charge of everything,” he said. “Someone has to come in and shake it up with new ideas. For the good of the schools, it really is the time for new deans.”

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