by Barbra Alan
If you mistake Amanda Whitworth for a student, no one could blame you. Beyond her youthful appearance is a boundless energy, vivacious personality, and eagerness to change the world—all qualities that will serve her well in her new role as director of– PSU’s dance program.
It’s a role not altogether unfamiliar to Whitworth, who has served as interim director of dance for the past year during founding director Joan Wiegers’ sabbatical. During what she characterizes as a “crazy but wonderful year,” Whitworth introduced several innovations and collaborations that have enhanced the dance program.
Last fall, she worked closely with students Jason Smith, Caitlin Lowe, Heather Dusty, and Lindsay Jarvis to establish a new campus organization for student choreographers. “It’s a collaborative effort among student artists,” Whitworth explains. “Student choreographers and dancers initiate a work, then reach out to other sectors of the University to build and develop the work. The emphasis is on the process, rather than the performance; that’s how they grow as artists.” These collaborations are performed at the end of each semester.
New collaborations were also introduced to the Contemporary Dance Ensemble, PSU’s dance performance company. “Last spring, we put on a collaborative concert where student choreographers worked with faculty members and students from other departments, and even community members, to perform original work,” says Whitworth. Among the highlights of last spring’s CDE was adjunct dance instructor Lisa Travis’s collaboration with the student a cappella group Vocal Order. “I was so proud,” says Whitworth of the CDE performances. “It showed hard work and maturity.”
Another distinction of last spring’s CDE was the fact that Whitworth and the dance faculty limited the number of student pieces for the concert and set new standards for the acceptance of student work. “We feel that [submitting work] should be a privilege,” Whitworth says. “By adjudicating student work, we are trying to get students to think more deeply about their work, and what they choose to put on stage … it makes for more mature artists and more interesting performances.”
The Plymouth State University Dance Premiere was also reworked. The premiere is a one-day event that gives dancers at PSU and throughout New England the opportunity to work with professional choreographers in master classes in a variety of dance styles from modern dance and hip hop to ballet and jazz. “This year, I worked with two students to revamp the program,” Whitworth says. “We brought in professional dancers from Boston and New York City, and hosted more than 200 dancers from all over New England.” The event culminated in a gala performance in Hanaway Theatre where talented dance students of all ages performed alongside the pros.
Whitworth believes that giving dance students more opportunities to work with other students and faculty throughout PSU, as well as with professionals throughout the region and beyond, gives them a well-rounded educational experience. “Collaborations are exciting [for students], because they provide them with opportunities to think about things in a new way, or to explore something they may never have realized they were interested in or thought they could do,” says Whitworth.
Show of Support
Whitworth and dance adjunct instructor Lisa Travis While she was initially hesitant to introduce so much change to the dance program as interim director, Whitworth notes that her ideas were always welcomed and often embraced. “Everyone has been really supportive of me coming in and making changes,” she says. “I have been given so much freedom and trust.”
Most important to Whitworth is the patience, enthusiasm, and collaborative spirit of her colleagues in the dance program, including Lisa Travis, Lois Hanks, Lenore Sousa, and Aaron Tolson. “The program could not have moved forward without their support,” explains Whitworth. “We truly worked as a team.”
Wiegers—who announced her retirement during her sabbatical—couldn’t be more pleased that the dance program she founded and developed over the course of her 22 years at PSU is in such capable hands. “Amanda is an exceptional educator, a stunning technical dancer, and most importantly, an intelligent, caring person,” she says. “I know that she will continue to guide the dance program toward new heights and be there for each and every student.”
Looking ahead, Whitworth is excited to keep the momentum going. “Dance at PSU is growing, and I’m growing as an educator,” she says. “Joan [Wiegers] built a really wonderful foundation—her students are so passionate, so fantastic. I just want to build on that foundation.”
Jonathan Santore, chair of the Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance, believes that Whitworth’s many strengths will enhance the department’s mission. “During the past year, my colleagues and I were deeply impressed by the depth of Amanda’s passion and talent as a teacher, choreographer, and performer,” he says. “Most exciting of all is her commitment to interdisciplinary work, which is central to our department’s mission. We’re thrilled to have Amanda helping us advance this mission.
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