After a decade engrained in the Rochester dance scene as a teacher, choreographer, and performer, William Evans, 74, is retiring from The College at Brockport and relocating to Providence, Rhode Island. He has accepted a teaching position at The School of Dance at Dean College. On Saturday, July 5, Evans will present a farewell concert with his company, Bill Evans Dance Company, which has developed a strong following in Rochester using a mix of skilled contemporary dance and jazz, high entertainment, and often, very funny works.
The concert, "An Evening of Dance and Performance Art" will feature guest artist Claire Porter, and promises to be a fitting showcase for the company's talents. Porter, an acclaimed dancer, choreographer, writer, and performance artist, and 2013 Guggenheim Fellow, has created one work and re-staged another for Evans and Don Halquist, Evan's husband and a leading dancer of the company for 29 years. A new piece Porter created for participants of the annual Evans Teacher's Intensive will be premiered, and she will perform her humorous solo "Happen Chance."
Evans will present two solos he has choreographed to spoken excerpts from T.S. Eliot poems — "Portrait of a Lady" and "Where You Are Not." Falon Baltzell and Hilary Denison will also be performing. Lighting is by Benoit Beauchamp.
"It's amazing what Bill has brought to the dance community here," said Heather Roffe, Program Director of Dance and assistant professor at Nazareth College, and a founding member of Futurpointe Dance. "He is the most dedicated person to his art form that I know. His life is his dance. He's going to be sorely missed."
Roffe, a certified Evans teacher, studied under Evans at Brockport, graduated with her MFA in dance in 2007, and performed with his company several times. She said she counts herself lucky to have helped administrate for several years running his annual summer intensives in Brockport.
"He's quite well known internationally," she said. "People come from all over to participate in his summer intensives. And he travels overseas at least once a year himself to guest teach or give a keynote speech. He gets around; people know him."
Roffe raves about Evans as a teacher.
"He's very knowledgeable and just so . . . inspiring, I guess, but that doesn't really cover it. You feel rejuvenated after class with Bill. He sees not only intellectually, but senses your feelings and emotions and where you are at that day," she said.
"His is a very somatic approach to movement. He appreciates the interconnect between mind and body that most Western cultures don't acknowledge. It is more a part of our popular culture now, but back when he started teaching that way it was really sort of groundbreaking."
Evans has developed a specific style of movement and dance instruction. His modern dance is influenced by his training in "Laban Movement Analysis, which, basically, is a scientific way of breaking down dance into common denominators which originated from the work of Rudolf Laban. That provides a shared dance vocabulary, a way of talking about movement and space — similar to a musician grounding himself in music theory," Roffe said.
Kathy Diehl, another dancer who studied and worked closely with Evans and holds her MFA from Brockport, also shared her insights.
Diehl performed with Bill Evans Dance Company, is certified in Evans Technique, and has performed at Jacob's Pillow, arguably the most noted annual dance festival in the Northeast. She will be part of the faculty for the Evan's workshop in Fort Worth, Texas, later this month.
"I discovered my dance identity through my work with [Bill]," she said. "Prior to training with him and dancing with his company, I never really understood what it meant to be honestly expressive during performance and did not comprehend the notion of sensing movement from the inside out. I became open to new sensory experiences and realized my full potential as a moving body and artist with him. "
Evans has mixed feelings about leaving Rochester. He expressed sadness at leaving colleagues, friends, and what he sees as a burgeoning dance scene, but excitement at the new challenges and opportunities ahead.
"I loved teaching at Brockport," he said. "And I will miss the dance community here. I'll miss the collaborations I participated in.
"Brockport has graduated so many dancers who choose to stay in the community. Rochester has an abundance of dancers for a small city. Very few cities this size have such a vibrant dance community."
One thing that Evans said he believes is lacking here is an appropriate venue for small dance companies to perform.
"Right now, there is no perfect venue," he said. "Geva's Nextstage is small. Hochstein lacks lighting. Nazareth's theater is too big. We need a 150-seat theater with a big stage and good lighting. That would be a catalyst for continued dance growth."
In September, Evans will begin his new position as Artist in Residence/Professor of Dance in the Joan Palladino School of Dance at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts. By that time he will be Emeritus Visiting Professor of Dance/Guest Artist at The College at Brockport where he taught for 10 years.
"One of the main differences between Dean and Brockport is that Brockport focuses mostly on modern dance," Evans said. "Dean gives equal credence to ballet, tap, and modern. The goal is to teach well-rounded students which, I honestly think in today's world, is necessary. Young dancers need to be prepared to go in many different directions."
Don Halquist is also leaving his position at Brockport where he served as Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Education and Human Development. On August 1, he will assume the position of Dean of the Feinstein School of Education and Human Development at Rhode Island College in Providence.
The College at Brockport is honoring Evans by establishing a scholarship in his name. According to the college, The Bill Evans Award for Embodied Scholarship will recognize undergraduate and graduate students who explore the philosophical and pedagogical ideals which Evans values and promotes through his technique. The scholarship is meant to carry on Evan's legacy by making it financially possible for a deserving student to continue with their dance studies.