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Artist Spotlight: Megan Murdock and Jun Shepard

By Victoria Lin, Contributing Writer

Megan G. Murdock ’14 and Jun Shepard ’14 both began dancing at the tender age of three. Now Emerging Choreographers for the Harvard Dance Program, the two will be dancing this week in the Harvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company’s spring production. Before their show, the two sat down with The Crimson to talk performance, school, and life after graduation.

The Harvard Crimson: To start off, let’s have some background. How did you first get into dance?

Jun Shepard: I started with creative dance when I was three, which is essentially throwing ribbons around and catching scarves and things. But later on I went to the Alvin Ailey School ; I went to high school at LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, where I was a dance major—so throughout high school, I thought I was going to pursue dance professionally, and then I came to Harvard!

Megan Murdock: I also started when I was three, with Kinder Combo and ballet and tap. I trained at a studio in New Jersey from then, doing ballet and modern and jazz and tap and all of that.

THC: How do you feel about the dance scene at Harvard, in terms of both extracurricular and course offerings?

JS: Dance at Harvard has become very big.

MM: In the last few years especially. We have one or two credit courses in dance each semester through the Dance [Program] or Music Department. But there are also extracurricular classes...and there are all the student groups. I think there’s a very wide range of people who dance, from people who go on to dance professionally to people who just want to take a dance class or perform in a piece—spend two hours a week just moving around. And that’s really exciting, really great. The dance program has expanded a lot in the last few years since we got a new director, Jill Johnson.

JS: She’s brought in a lot of really famous, exciting new guest choreographers and master teachers…. They’re kind of like our stars, dance stars, and she just invites them.

THC: Speaking of famous dancers, do you have any role models within the dance and choreography world?

JS: I feel that every choreographer I’ve worked with has shaped my choreography in some way. It’s really interesting to see how much your choreography changes based on whom you’re working with at that moment.

MM: I feel like everybody I’ve worked with has taught me something. Most recently, I got to perform in Dwight Rhoden’s piece with Jun in the Dance [Program] performances last weekend, and that was incredible...to experience his process of creating a new piece and learning from that as a choreographer.

THC: Is it a challenge to balance schoolwork and dance?

JS: Some may say that my grades have suffered slightly because of my dancing. [Laughs] When performance season is in full swing, we end up in the dance studio at least five hours a day, and that takes a toll both intellectually and physically. It’s difficult because dance requires that amount of time. There is a way to be efficient, but there’s a threshold of efficiency.

MM: You have to spend the time doing it. There’s no way around it.

JS: That’s why dance needs to be seen more as a varsity sport, where the academic instructors understand that there is a tremendous time commitment to this extracurricular activity that actually plays a huge part in the intellectual development of a student. It’s not just a hobby, really; it’s a continuation of a lifelong process and training.

THC: Any idea as to what role dance will play in your future after you graduate?

JS: I’m going to Cambridge next year for a Masters’ program in environmental economics, but I’m hoping to...see the choreographic process of various choreographers.

MM: I am going to be moving to New York, probably, and dancing professionally—focusing on performance rather than choreography, but maybe eventually choreography will become more of a focus.

THC: Are you excited?

MM: I am! It’s really scary because you just have to show up and be like, “Take me!” It’s all about connections and knowing other dancers and who’s looking for people to dance for them.

JS: But Megan’s going to bring something new to the table. Her dancing is very different from any other dancing I’ve ever seen…. She knows that pure movement doesn’t need to have this strange emotional thing attached to it. You don’t have to be overly emotional to have stage presence. [Many] dancers that I’ve seen have this commercial edge that Megan does not have at all. And it’s really, really refreshing to see that. She’s a pure contemporary modern dancer.

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