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An American in Salzburg: Susan Quinn extends the modern tradition.

A big white hangarlike structure, nestled into a small light-industrial complex just off a main artery that runs through the Salzburg subdivision of Elsbethen, is home to the Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance (SEAD). Since its opening in 1993, SEAD (pronounced "seed") has quickly become the primary contemporary dance center in this historic city of Mozart. The academy's founder, director, and moving force, Susan Quinn - a member, during the eighties, of my own Solomons Company/Dance and later of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company - has modeled its program after that of her alma mater, New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Regular training includes daily ballet and modern technique, composition, dance history, yoga, and tai chi, and workshops in improvisation, anatomy, and music for dance. It's a rigorous schedule, which builds dancers' endurance, but in a supportive, noncompetitive atmosphere. Although neoexpressionism is the prevailing aesthetic in European contemporary dance, the philosophy of SEAD is based on that of Cunningham and John Cage: abstract movement carries its own message.

Full-time faculty comprises Quinn and Donna Jewell, a 1993 Tisch School graduate for modern; and Jonathan Kane and Eric Assandri for ballet. These four are supplemented by regular part-timers and guest lecturers, who this year included noted critic Deborah Jowitt, also a Tisch faculty member. In addition to running the Academy, Quinn teaches a full schedule of classes at the local university, which, although free to residents, does not offer a degree in dance. Students who want SEAD's more intensive dance training must pass an audition and pay tuition to attend the three-year program. Not only do the students get superior technical training, their choreographic talents are developed and their individual artistic growth is fostered. The center also offers classes for children and recreational dance training for the community, including jazz and tap. And many local choreographers, independent teachers, and troupes rent the spacious, well-equipped studios for workshops, seminars, and rehearsals.

Renovation of the huge, twenty-foot-high open space into attractive, gleaming white studios was bravely undertaken as an ambitious, largely do-it-yourself project. It was done by the energetic Quinn and her devoted - and versatile - husband, Josef Eckart, a full-time solar energy contractor (with his own new business) and a part-time farmer on his family's land just across the border in Germany. Half the space is a mirrored studio about fifty feet square. The other half is split between a smaller studio and a student lounge with an office loft above it. Adjacent to the reception lobby, dressing rooms and bathrooms feature state-of-the-art plumbing, with showers.

Last July, following the regular school term, there was a two-week intensive program for year-round students and for novice to professional dancers from the area. The summer school ran simultaneously with the Salzburg Summer Szene Festival, a more progressive "fringe" alternative to the traditional Salzburg Music Festival, which is staged annually in the city's major cultural centers. Produced by Michael Stolhofer, the Szene featured an array of local and international dance, theater, and performance art attractions at various theaters, cabarets, and site-specific venues around the city.

Several Szene performers lectured and led workshops at SEAD, exposing the students to a broad spectrum of artistic points of view and expanding their aesthetic insights. Postmodern choreographer Vicente Paez, who brought his company from Madrid, taught a series of classes in his springy, energetic style. England's Laurie Booth, who does contact improvisation in performance with his partner, had the dancers flopping and bouncing off the floor with athletic abandon in his master class. Performance artists Ea Sola from Vietnam (who spent several months in twelve-hour-a-day rehearsals turning fourteen middle-aged women and a young boy from her country into eloquent performers), and San Francisco's politically controversial Guillermo Gomez-Pena, a MacArthur "genius" Fellowship recipient, discussed their work with a rapt student body who could then compare the artists' philosophical assertions with their onstage artistry. Reduced-price student tickets were available for festival shows.

In a few brief rehearsals I created a ten-minute on-site performance piece, in which the dozen students in repertory class scrambled all over the concrete stair-sculptures in the plaza adjacent to the theater and interacted with unsuspecting Statkino theatergoers who were waiting outside for entry into the auditorium. The normally staid Austrians were surprised by the ubiquitous dancers' requests to relocate themselves, but they obeyed with good-nature and were amused when the dancers incorporated imitations of their pedestrian actions into the dance. Passersby stopped to gawk at the proceedings. Some of the workshop's other participants had the opportunity to perform in a more elaborate site-specific work by local performance artist Hubert Lepka which occurred after my stay ended. Plans are afoot to further expand the connections between the Szene Festival and the SEAD summer session.

The nearly two dozen full-time students are talented, intelligent, serious, and eager. Although the school receives a small grant from the city's government, it is almost entirely self-supported. In Austria, as elsewhere, there's a chronic paucity of male students, but the school's spreading reputation for quality, combined with modest scholarships, should soon attract more men. The academy is filling dancers' needs for fine training, and Quinn is turning her long-held dream of training fine dancer/artists into reality, as she expands the school's size, scope, and depth of programs. SEAD is a welcome addition to Salzburg's cultural scene and, in this city of classical traditions, it is an important contemporary artistic force.
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Title Annotation:special section: Summer Study; Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance
Author:Solomons, Gus
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1997
Words:898
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