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CMS 497 A: Special Topics in Cinema and Media Studies

Meeting Time: 
MWF 2:30pm - 4:20pm
SAV 164
Joint Sections: 
Alethea Alexander

Syllabus Description:

Dance 490A/CMS 497A

Dance History and Popular Cinema:

Imagined Conversations between William Forsythe and Quentin Tarantino (and others)


Spring 2018                                                                                                                              Instructor: Alethea Alexander

Savery Hall 164                                                                                                                        Office Hours: Th/9:30-10:30

Monday/Friday 2:30-3:50   - 3 credits                                                                                                        - MNY 59J         

Wednesday 2:30-4:20                                                                                                             Email:

Course Description                                                                                     

What are the choreographic tools available to a dance maker? What are the "choreographic" tools available to a filmmaker? In this class we will look at the ways that creators in these two mediums explore and express artistic ideas in similar ways. Dance and film have long been catalysts for and a response to changes in popular, political and sociocultural movements. This dance history course will situate eight choreographers (mostly American and European) in their historical cultural context, pairing the thrust of their body of work with a popular culture film that explores similar structures and values. In a seminar-style learning experience, we will look at changes and trends in twentieth and twenty-first century (dance) history by examining specific choreographers' bodies of work, using popular film to magnify or elucidate the specific contributions of each. The course will not highlight dance on film or filmed musicals, but instead will examine non-dance specific film genres and techniques and compare them to choreographic practices.

Course Objectives:

By the end of the course, students will have:

  • engaged in conversation and written reflection that explicitly situates contemporary dance choreographers in their political, social, cultural and personal histories
  • practiced drawing connections between dances and cultural movements of the past with contemporary politics, culture and art
  • considered and discussed shared uses of form, function, rhythm, narrative and structure between contemporary dance and popular cinema
  • developed a deeper understanding of contemporary and modern dance history

Course Content and Structure:

Students will do readings, viewings and engage in discussions about the lives, historical contexts and works of eight contemporary dancemakers and engage in critical thinking to find connections between choreography and popular cinematic forms. The class will involve group discussions, selected primary materials regarding reception of dancemakers in their time, reading critical theory, group viewings of contemporary films, written reflections and a final paper.

Assignments and Grading:

Class Preparation & Participation: 10%

Wednesday Film Viewing Reactions: 20%

Selected Reading Response Short Essays: 30%

Final Project / Paper Presentation: 10%

Final Project / Paper: 30%


Course Outline

WEEK 1: Syllabus, Introductions & Framing Dance and Cinema

Monday March 26th                   Syllabus and general introduction

Wednesday March 28th           Conversation: Why does art matter? What do we get by participating?

Friday March 30th                      Cinema and Dance clip warm-up game


WEEK 2: Pearl Primus: radical art and political activism

Monday April 16th                     Pearl Primus lecture

Wednesday April 18th              watch Coogler’s Fruitvale Station (2013)

Friday April 20th                         Compare and discuss


WEEK 3: George Balanchine: neoclassicalism & “ballet is woman”

Monday April 2nd                       George Balanchine lecture

Wednesday April 4th                 watch Glazer’s Under the Skin (2014)

Friday April 6th                           Compare and discuss


WEEK 4: William Forsythe: deconstructing form & the neo-Baroque

Monday April 9th                       William Forsythe lecture

Wednesday April 11th              watch Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994)

Friday April 13th                        compare and discuss


WEEK 5: Hijikata Tatsumi: imagination, identity, crisis and rebellion

Monday April 23rd                    movement workshop with Diana Garcia Snyder [HUTCH 208]

Wednesday April 25th             watch Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990)

Friday April 27th                       compare and discuss


WEEK 6: Merce Cunningham: formal modernism, chance, cause and effect

Monday April 30th                   Merce Cunningham lecture

Wednesday May 2nd               watch Tykwer's Run Lola Run (1999)

Friday May 4th                          compare and discuss


WEEK 7: Pina Bausch: expressionism and performing “bodies”

Monday May 7th                        Pina Bausch lecture

Wednesday May 9th                  watch Almodóvar's Hable con Ella (2002)

Friday May 11th                          compare and discuss


WEEK 8: Trisha Brown: avant-garde and improvisation

Monday May 14th                      Trisha Brown lecture

Wednesday May 16th                watch Cassavetes' Shadows (1959)

ASSIGNMENT DUE: Please turn in a brief document that details which artist and personal/community issue you have chosen for your final project. Please include a brief personal reflection on why you have chosen your artist and issue.

Friday May 18th                          compare and discuss


WEEK 9: Elizabeth Streb: visceral communication & technology

Monday May 21st                       Elizabeth Streb lecture

Wednesday May 23rd                watch Jenkins' Wonder Woman (2017)

Friday May 25th                          compare and discuss


WEEK 10: Recap & Project / Paper Presentations

Monday May 28th                       –no school: Memorial Day—

Wednesday May 30th              course overview and Choreographer Conversations

Friday June 1st                           Informal student project presentations

Catalog Description: 
Varying topics in cinema studies. Offered by resident or visiting faculty.
Department Requirements Met: 
Cinema & Media Studies Elective
GE Requirements Met: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:12pm