Although modern dance is comprised of many styles and genres, a look at three eponymous schools of movement and technique developed during the first half of the 20th century can provide insight into the heart of its expression: Graham, Horton, and Limón. Graham, named for the often touted “mother of modern dance, ”Martha Graham, is based on “contract and release, ”where dancers use different parts of the body in opposition to create dramatic tension and convey emotion. Lester Horton developed his technique concurrent with Graham, but 3,000 miles west of the epicenter of modern dance, New York City, in California. This physical and creative distance allowed him to freely incorporate folkloric elements from around the world into his style, which approaches dance as an unrestricted expression of movement. Jóse Limón, also a contemporary of Graham and Horton, based his principles of dance on “fall and recovery” where dancers use the floor as a launch pad from which to rise, fall, and rise again, creating gravity defying and theatrical gestures.
The dance program at Cal State Fullerton is fortunate to have each these significant innovators of dance represented in three of its core faculty: Lisa Draskovich-Long (Graham-based), Debra Noble (Limón), and Alvin Rangel (Horton). The depth and breadth of their professional experience enriches the educational training of their students and contributes to the artistic clarity of the dance program. Each of these faculty members has their own extensive professional background with which to draw from: Rangel has danced professionally in companies from his native Puerto Rico to Mexico to numerous companies across the United States. He also performs with his company, In-Version Project, and was awarded Best Dancer by the Austin Critic’s Table for the 2011/2012 season; Noble, a highly regarded dancer whose choreography has been lauded by Dance Magazine and National Public Radio (among others) has 30-years in the field as a dancer and choreographer. She directed her own dance company, In Forward Motion, for 10 years and choreographed work in the video for musician Dave Matthews’ Grammy® nominated song, Crash; Draskovich-Long danced professionally for over a decade with Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and studied with the legendary David Hochoy, former rehearsal director for Martha Graham and now artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company. She has also choreographed several Off-Broadway productions and locally at Rogue Machine Theater in Los Angeles. In interviewing all three professors of dance, one point was consistently –and independently –brought up in each conversation: that the dance faculty at Cal State Fullerton has a unified, student-centered vision based on a passion for the art form, dance technique, and academic rigor. For Alvin Rangel, the goal is to effectively teach historic repertory in order for students to physically and intellectually articulate the tenets of modern dance. This also holds true for Lisa Draskovich-Long. She notes that training in modern dance takes time explaining, “Martha Graham once said that it takes ten years to make a dancer” She also adds that many of the students “start from zero”in terms of modern technique. Since many of them come from competition-based dance studios where modern dance is not taught, they learn these foundations during their time in the program. Another strength of the program comes from its rigor, which is due in part to Debra Noble. Like Rangel and Draskovich-Long, Noble advocates for a strong basis in the language of dance. For her, this basis provides a framework from which students will eventually build their own aesthetic vocabulary, adding that in order to inform your craft, it is essential to stay open to all ideas. Having come from the “dance meccas” of Chicago and New York, her extensive artistic and administrative background enabled her to see the needs of the program with what she calls “a different eye” when she was hired in 2000. She was instrumental in creating assessment-based criteria with an emphasis on training, advisement, and exposure to professional practices. Part of this exposure includes guest artists who teach rigorous workshops, many of whom are internationally recognized. This can lead to professional opportunities after graduation, and many alums have gone on to accept full-time dance contracts right out of school. Rangel often hears from these alums, who thank him and the faculty for having such high expectations of them during their time in the program, a work ethic they have applied as professional dancers, choreographers, and instructors in the field. Noble points out that the comprehensive nature of the faculty is unique among universities. While many dance programs tend to be comprised of faculty with very similar training, the styles of dance represented by faculty at Cal State Fullerton range from ballet to modern.
Draskovich-Long, Noble, and Rangel bring round out this program with their vast depth of experience and knowledge. Through them, the next generation of dancers stands ready to share their gift, inspire, and innovate, much like Martha Graham, Lester Horton, and Jóse Limón did before them.