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  • JoAnna Mendl Shaw

The Equus Projects in Ithaca, NY

The Equus Projects launches its multi-year plan to Bring the Arts to Rural America with residencies in Western New York State.

There is not much about The Equus Projects that conforms to the traditional dance company format and it’s June 2018 tour to Ithaca, NY was no exception.

Equus dancer Kat Reese and Horse

For the initial research phase of a new project being developed by New York State Council on the Arts’ Dance Force presenter Jim Self invited Equus Projects Artistic Director JoAnna Mendl Shaw and her dancers Ray Hinds and Kathryn Reese to spend four days at a small horse farm in Newfield, NY, owned by recently retired Ithaca College Theater faculty, Norman Johnson.

Norm is a lifetime horseman and owns five beautiful Iberian horses. He has been following the work of The Equus Projects for several years and, when approached by Self about developing a performance project with Equus, Norm was all ears. During their four days on Norm’s farm, The Equus dancers spent time moving with Norm’s horses, sharing some of their techniques for creating kinetic dialogue with an equine partner and discussing plans for how they might engineer one of the company’s iconic performance works with Norm’s horses.

The convening at Norm Johnson’s also included seven Buffalo dancers to Ithaca, members of a growing community of movers who are interested in The Equus Projects’ unique inter-species approach to devising performance. While in the Ithaca area the company also taught a Master Class for local area dancers and presented a lecture demonstration with some of Norm’s horses.

The Newfield residency at Norm Johnson’s farm is part of a larger Equus projects vision to bring the arts to communities in rural America. Equus has been developing several projects for Western NY State since early 2017, when the company was one of the keynote presenters at the 2017 Creative Problem Solving Institute’s annual conference at the University of Buffalo last June. This June they returned to teach at the CPSI Conference, taught a master class at Buffalo’s Wasteland Studios, convened 10 Buffalo dancers at a magnificent property on the shores of Lake Erie where they shot a series of short dance films.

The Equus Projects’ teaching and choreographic process is based on Physical Listening, a movement practice that that focuses on deepening our relatively untapped human capacity for multi-sensory communication. When horses move each other in the herd, they use spatial or tactile pressure to move each other. Equus dancers use these same techniques to communicate with the animals as well as with each other, lending the choreography a compelling sense of inter-species sensitivity. The Equus dancer’s horsemanship training functions in tandem with their dance technique, their priority being compassionate, effective leadership and an ability to make strategic decisions in the moment. Leadership strategies are based on the personality of each individual horse. Essential skills when working with horses, these techniques and strategies also relate directly to effective human communication. The company’s Physical Listening workshops teach choreographic methods but also find relevance in the social justice arena.

Buffalo Dancer, Rachel Keane

Rachel Keane

In the weeks to come, we're excited to hear from Rachel Keane, a Buffalo dancer who has brought her photographic eye to several Equus Projects events in the past and a participant in the Ithaca workshops. Rachel comes on board as The Equus Projects’ social media advisor, bringing a fresh voice to the unique Equus Projects journey !"

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