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Visiting Teacher Gives Students a Reason To Dance

By Allie R. Murray, Contributing Writer

Dancer Mary Cochran turned to the 20 students warming up on the Rieman Dance Center stage.

“Let’s add sound!” she exclaimed.

But Cochran, a 12-year veteran of the internationally acclaimed Paul Taylor Company, doesn’t want just any sound—the precise noise she wants the students to make as they bend forward is, “Thpbthpbthpb.”

At first, the students seemed hesitant.

“If I can do it, you can do it,” Cochran said as they joined in. “Sometimes, words don’t even matter. It’s about sensing energy.”

Cochran brought this message to a handful of Harvard dancers who participated this week in a series of master classes she led, sponsored by the Dance Program at Harvard’s Office for the Arts (OFA).

The tempo and themes of the class varied from day to day—from “water” to “fire” to “earth.”

On the first day of classes, participants performed a three-minute segment from Paul Taylor’s 1988 dance entitled Speaking in Tongues. By the end of the two-hour lesson, they had learned a series of stream-of-consciousness motions from the piece and adapted them to their liking.

The class moved on to Taylor’s 1961 piece Junction, which Taylor describes as taking place “as pedestrians cross at the intersection of Tranquility Street and Turmoil Boulevard.”

“A lot of people think that what dancing is about is an external copying of something,” Cochran said. “It’s really not. It’s about training your inner sense.”

One participant, Manuela L.F. Zoninsein ’05, said the master classes showed her new interpretations on “how movement can be.”

The OFA sponsors master classes like this a few times a year, open to all Harvard affiliates.

“You see a lot of people who just want to try something new,” said Zoninsein, who dances with Harvard’s jazz company. “There are so few opportunities at Harvard to be exposed to professional dancers. Any chance I get, I try it.”

Choreographer Adrienne Minster ’04, who co-directed dance show Ex-Rated in November, has participated in Paul Taylor Company the last two summers and said she particularly appreciated the Harvard appearance.

“It’s nice to have this experience during reading period,” she said. “For me, this type of work feels very familiar.”

Taylor, celebrated as a living legend in dance and a master of archetypal imagery, has choreographed 118 pieces during his 48-year career.

Cochran was a principal dancer in his company from 1984 to 1996 and directed Taylor II during its 1998 to 1999 season. She is also an established choreographer in her own right, with her works having been performed both in America and abroad.

Cochran, now an assistant professor in the Dance Department of Mills College in Oakland, California, is a natural teacher, with contagious enthusiasm.

“Sometimes, I just get to sit back and watch,” she says. “I always get something new. This is my research.”

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