Have arts, will travel

Traveling this summer? You may bump into a VCUarts student, or their work, as they perform, attend summer residencies and more.

By Dina Weinstein, VCUnews

Research, learning and professional development are in full swing this summer for Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts students who are taking their talents on the road, many with passports in hand. Enriching opportunities are taking them around the U.S. and abroad to advance their crafts. Summer residencies, festivals and jobs are providing research, performance and professional development opportunities around the globe for academic credit, personal challenge or the chance to network.

This story highlights a handful of their summer plans – dancers taking to stages in Paris, Maine and New York City, a theater student stage managing with the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, and photography students capturing stunning landscapes in Canada and Ireland.

Performing on stages from Brooklyn to Maine

This summer, dance and choreography major Holly Trenbath will have the chance to expand her repertoire, augment her portfolio and stage works for choreographers she admires on professional stages.

A dancer who is trained in classic modern dance with undertones of modernism, and an avid lover of postmodernism, Trenbath will take part in a movement residency with The Red Project in New York City for its inaugural fellowship program under the direction of VCUarts alum Johnnie Cruise Mercer. Trenbath describes the opportunity as a chance to come into herself through dance and to gain experience with creative projects. There is a public performance on June 12.

Dance student Holly Trenbath (right) performing in fellow student Casey Gutenberger’s staged Capstone project titled Apple Jacks. Photo courtesy of Holly Trenbath.

“It’s a really great opportunity to network with people in New York City,” said Trenbath, who is set to graduate in December 2023. “It’s super exciting to be able to perform there.”

And then from July 3 to Aug. 9, Trenbath will travel to Lewiston, Maine, to mentor younger dancers at the Bates Dance Festival on the Bates College campus, producing and putting on the work of the professional choreographers and dancers that attended the program.

“People come from all over the world to participate either in performance or in the training programs that they hold,” said Trenbath, who hopes to gain more skills in production. “I’m really excited to be staging works by people that I wish to work for in the future. By going to Bates, I’m getting all of these skills that I have never received before.”

Photographing coastal landscapes in Canada

Armed with a VCUarts Dean’s International Research Grant, photography majors Barrett Reynolds and Jack Fox are focused on capturing the landscapes, people and shipwrecks off Nova Scotia for a week in June. 

The friends like to go on excursions to neighborhoods around Richmond to explore photography. Camping trips around the state and a road trip to Texas showed them that they were compatible travel companions.

To Canada, they’re taking enough 120 mm analog film to shoot eight hours a day.

“We looked for unusual places with mysterious characteristics, so that we could create a photographic narrative based off of that, because we really enjoy exploring strange, weird things through photography,” said Fox. “The excessive fog that led to a lot of shipwrecks also leads to a lot of folklore in Nova Scotia, and a lot of speculation as to why there’s so many shipwrecks.”

Photography majors Barrett Reynolds (left) and Jack Fox pose at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia. Photo courtesy of Barrett Reynolds.

While photographing puffins is part of their plan, Fox and Barrett’s favorite photographers emphasize spontaneity.

“A lot of our work is predominantly landscapes, but we also try to explore a lot of different aspects of photography as much as possible — anything that’s in the current moment that we find really interesting and captivating,” said Fox.

The aim is to create a successful body of work of stunning images to add to their portfolios, captured through new experiences, while exploring a place they’ve never been to before. 

Studying dance and culture in Paris

The Dance in Paris Summer Program is the perfect melding of Ashanti Brantley’s dance and choreography major and her minor in French. She’s one of six VCUarts students attending the monthlong program through the University of South Florida that focuses on technique, composition and history.

Ashanti Brantley posing on a rainy day in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Ashanti Brantley.

To help Brantley achieve her goal of studying abroad, she won one of the U.S. Department of State’s Gilman Scholarships, which allows students of limited means to study or intern abroad.

The multidisciplinary dancer with training in ballet, modern and jazz is also interested in hip-hop and street styles like salsa.

“The VCU dance program really makes intelligent movers, and people that understand movement and what encompasses it in a profound way. I think having that understanding can really help in our applications,” said Brantley.

“I feel like the dance program in Paris is going to skyrocket me and help me formulate what I want to do post-grad in my career and help me get comfortable in a new space and make new connections. It’s invaluable.”

Being in Paris will also help Brantley communicate effectively and confidently in French.

“I want to push myself out of my comfort zone with the different dance styles that are being offered and the amazing choreographers that I’m going to get to learn from,” said Brantley. “And just take it all in.” 

Managing the Shakespearean stage in D.C.

Theater major Angela Mae Vivaldi learned about the opportunity to work as a stage manager this summer at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting in Washington, through Sharon Ott, an associate professor in VCU’s Department of Theatre, who is directing one of the plays there.

Angela Mae Vivaldi. Photo by Liza Hazelwood, VCUarts Class of 2021

For Vivaldi, the opportunity to join the company as one of three stage managers is important for the hands-on experience and the networks she is forming.

“Coming out of the pandemic, working in the world of theater and the arts in general has been really tough as the arts got hit really hard. Broadway got shut down for a long time, as were many other regional theaters. So being able to actually do an in-person show with an audience, with actors without having to wear masks, is really exciting for me because I haven’t really done that in a long time because of COVID,” said Vivaldi. “The other thing that I’m getting out of it is making connections in D.C., which is super awesome.”

Vivaldi is stage managing a production of “Hedda Gabler” and assistant stage managing a production of the Jacobean revenge tragedy “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore.” She’s also learning management as the COVID-19 safety officer.

“I have a sound design minor and so I have the ability to talk with the sound designers for these shows and understand what they’re saying and collaborate even better because we are talking the same language,” said Vivaldi. “I was really lucky that VCU offered me that opportunity to begin with.”

Documenting glaciers’ paths in Ireland

Photography major Lily Hobart credits snagging a Burren College of Art Artist Residency to her photography professor Caroline Minchew. Armed with the advice to continuously apply for residencies and opportunities, Hobart studied professional artists’ biographies to see how they developed in their careers. She spotted the Burren residency, which takes place in the northwest coast of County Clare in Ireland, on Minchew’s biography page.

Lily Hobart photographing landscapes in the field. Photo courtesy of Lily Hobart.

The residency, which runs from July 17 to Aug. 12, is doubly affirming for Hobart because her trip is supported with a VCUarts Dean’s International Research Grant. She hopes Burren will give her insight into what life will be like as a working artist after she graduates next year. 

As a young photographer drawn to landscape photography that can show the concept of time, Hobart is excited to set her own path of independent artistic experimentation. Her plan is to home in on the area’s unique landscape, which features rocks swirled into soft hills that clearly show glaciers’ presence and movement, to highlighting the geological time that has passed with medium- and large-format film.

“I’m hoping to paint a picture of the necessity of a human relationship with the [geologic concept of] deep time and how that can be impactful with climate change, because I think it’s hard to understand that the Earth will hopefully always be able to repair itself,” said Hobart.

Lead image and graphics from VCUnews.