ASU choreographers to showcase work in Emerging Artists dance series

November 16, 2016

Cooking. Car maintenance. Dance techniques. There’s a video tutorial on YouTube for almost anything, giving us one more reason to depend on the internet. And for third-year MFA in Dance student Katherine Dorn, this easily accessible knowledge exacerbated potential feelings of “imposter syndrome” as a graduate student and is the crux of her solo piece “You Are Here,” one of two performances featured in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s MainStage production Emerging Artists this weekend.

“Imposter syndrome is when you feel like none of your accomplishments are actually from your own talent — everyone else actually earned the right to be here whereas I’m just pretending,” she said. “The fact that there’s so many ‘how-to’ videos on the Internet and on YouTube [means that] we have this place where we can reference and say to ourselves we don’t actually know how to do anything, we just have the internet all the time.” Katherine Dorn dance MFA in Dance student Katherine Dorn will showcase her piece “You Are Here” in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s MainStage production Emerging Artists. Photo by Tim Trumble Download Full Image

Dorn, who has been dancing since she was 3 years old, calls her piece a choreographic memoir exploring anxiety in the YouTube generation.

She says dancing is her life, but in grad school she decided to also pursue her talent for writing, merging the two fields. In her time at ASU she has presented pieces that deal with the physical movement of words and writing as well as dancing to recorded stories. For Emerging Artists, her multidisciplinary postmodern dance production incorporates these ideas with the tools authors use when writing memoirs.

“I took some creative writing courses, worked with some specifically memoir writers and actually used their tools and their teaching methods as part of my choreographic process,” Dorn said.

She hopes when audiences see her choreographic memoir on stage, they see the potential power that dance has to ease any anxiety from living digital lives. 

“What I hope to communicate is the power of dance to basically help ground you in reality, especially when more than half of your life is online and intangible,” she said. “Dance can save you from that — make you feel more real when you don’t.”

Yingzi Liang also hopes people experience the power of dance with her piece, “INK.”


Liang, another MFA in Dance student who is featured in the Emerging Artists show, says her work is more abstract, and she often uses metaphors “to create a bridge of communication between cultural differences” she experiences as an international student from China.

Her piece started as an exploration into why she loves black-and-white photography.

“At the beginning I was kind of overwhelmed because there is a lot of theory about how whiteness means goodness and blackness means badness,” she said. “Then I realized what I believe is that people are born as a blank paper.”

Liang says this could be a black sheet of paper with white writing or a white sheet of paper with black writing. The color of the paper and the color of the writing don't matter. What matters is the writing itself, the details we add to the paper as we grow.

“I made my decision to explore my personal perspective about growth, like how my family raised me and how I went to school and all of the training that shaped my movement, and then how I created this piece,” Liang said. 

Using a cast of six dancers plus herself, Liang’s piece looks at that growing process as drawing on that blank paper.

“If I imagine the whole space in the studio as a blank paper, I’m the person, or the environment, or the context, that’s pulling the ink onto the blank paper,” she said.  

To do this, she focuses a lot on the production of the show, including costumes, the set, lighting design and multimedia aspects. The piece also includes video installations in the lobby.

Liang said because her work is abstract, people might have to guess what she’s doing, but that’s not the point.

“If you could just enjoy the piece, that would be great,” she said. “I respect all different understandings.”

What she does hope people get out of the show is that dance is a powerful art form that is more than movement. 

“I always want more audiences to realize dance is not just movement,” she said. “I’m presenting a whole creative process.”

How to watch 

When: Emerging Artists will be held at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 and 19 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 20.

Where: Dance Laboratory in the Nelson Fine Arts Center, Room 122, on the Tempe campus.

Admission: $16 for general admission; $12 for ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 for seniors; $8 for students. Purchase tickets online or call the Herberger Institute Box Office at 480-965-6447.

Sarah A. McCarty

Communications and marketing coordinator, School and Film, Dance and Theatre, Herberger Institute


A picture and a thousand words

ASU anthropology student is equipping the community to identify and preserve personal places of meaning through photography

November 16, 2016

Anthropology student Ryan Bleam is using photography to capture how the act of volunteering at local nature preserves can improve Arizona residents’ relationships with nature and the community by helping them identify what he terms a “sense of place.”

To demonstrate this concept, Bleam, a PhD candidate in Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change, recently asked 18 volunteers at the nonprofit McDowell Sonoran Conservancy to each take 10 photos of places that were meaningful to them, including in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, itself, or anywhere else in their communities. photo of Sonoran Desert taken by study participant A photo of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve taken by project participant. Its accompanying quote is, "I feel like I am Paradise Trail… It's the trail that my new house—the property line—connects to. If I leave my house and come up here and my feet are on this trail, I feel good… Because I'm a steward. I feel like I have a responsibility, like it's a child." Download Full Image

Each volunteer picture may indeed be worth a thousand words, but as Bleam explains, the stories behind the photos were the key ingredient of this project.

“Academically, we can understand the many different reasons why places are meaningful, but our lives are really full of stories, interactions and symbols, and they come together to make a meaningful environment,” Bleam says. “For example, one volunteer told me, ‘Some of my most meaningful places are just a pile of rocks. You want me to take pictures of that?’ And I said, ‘Yes! Absolutely! Try to get the best photo that captures that place, but the meaning behind it is most important.’”

That particular conversation inspired the eventual title of Bleam’s exhibit, “My pile of rocks,” which displays the volunteers’ photos and the accompanying stories behind them to reveal the surprising and personal relationships that Phoenix residents have with their communities.

photo of anthropology PhD candidate Ryan Bleam

Anthropology PhD candidate Ryan Bleam

Bleam’s ultimate goal with the project is to see how these volunteers’ sense of place changes over time as they engage with the land during their work and then use that information to identify best practices for use both in the preserve and by other conservation nonprofits nationwide.

One initial finding revealed so far is that, in many cases, people’s important places aren’t always tied to fixed locations on a map. Instead, they can also be areas that symbolize ideas that are significant to the person.

For example, several participants in Bleam’s project chose to take pictures of desert plants that, in their minds, represented the perseverance of life in the Sonoran Desert.

It may come as no surprise that Bleam’s own first experience in building a sense of place occurred through interacting with his local landscape. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he got a job through AmeriCorps to teach at an alternative high school in Oregon, where classroom learning was mixed with camping trips and conservation work projects. He and his students worked for a year to build a hiking trail, and on the last day of school they all hiked it together.

“It was really special to see the pride in the students and staff. I felt a deep connection there, and it inspired me to study how conservation volunteerism builds a sense of place,” he says.

After he completes his PhD, Bleam wants to either continue teaching and researching with a career in academia, or work with an organization like the U.S. Forest Service, where he could conduct more social science research on how park visitors interact with the environment. For those also considering a degree in anthropology, he has a few words of wisdom.

“Make sure you get involved in research projects and get experience in different kinds of data collection and analysis techniques,” Bleam says. “Then think about how to apply anthropological thinking and methods to issues in your own community.”

For Bleam, doing research that gives back to the community is at the heart of this project. In that spirit, he will give a public lecture on Tuesday, Nov. 22, to discuss his research and examine some of the common themes in the meaning and geography of the places photographed by his project participants. Visitors will also be able to view the exhibit “My pile of rocks.” See below for additional information on the talk and exhibit.


In Scottsdale... 

What: “Exploring ‘Sense of Place’ Through Photography of McDowell Sonoran Conservancy Volunteers” lecture

When: Tuesday, Nov. 22, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Where: Scottsdale Mustang Library auditorium

Details: Free and open to the public. Visit the event page for more information.


See photos from Bleam's project ...

What: “My pile of rocks” exhibit

When: Now through the first week of January 2017

Where: Scottsdale Mustang Library auditorium

Details: Free and open to the public. Visit the event page for more information.

Mikala Kass

Editorial Communications Coordinator, School of Human Evolution and Social Change