Montclair State University: Partnerships
Wayne McGregor|Random Dance
Creative Learning: www.randomdance.org/creative_learning
In a multipart residency throughout 2010-2011, Wayne McGregor|Random Dance (WM|RD) participated in workshops, public discussions, and small-group dialogues that focused on the company’s Choreographic Thinking Tools (CTT) and their connection to the Creative Thinking project. During this period, choreographer Wayne McGregor and the company were using the CTT in the creation of FAR, a new full-length work co-produced by Peak Performances and Sadler’s Wells, London. The CTT, developed by WM|RD’s R-Research and Creative Learning units in collaboration with cognitive scientists, serve to examine and reinvigorate the company’s choreographic process. R-Research, directed by Scott deLahunta, organizes collaborative partnerships with scientists to support the company’s creative process and further the understanding of creative thinking in general. Creative Learning, directed by Jasmine Wilson, develops the company’s techniques and practices for use in a range of educational settings. At Montclair State, deLahunta also consulted with the Creative Thinking course Working Group on course development, providing insight and expertise based on the company’s work on the CTT.
A centerpiece of the residency was a research and education week that featured Brainstorm: A Symposium on Creative Thinking on April 12, 2011. Spearheaded by R-Research, the afternoon explored cognitive tools for accessing creativity and pursued the same question as the then-emerging Creative Thinking course: How do we define creativity in such a way that it becomes accessible to thinkers in any discipline — not just artists — as a tool for learning? Cognitive scientists David Kirsh (UC San Diego) and Philip Barnard (formerly of the Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK) discussed their collaboration with WM|RD, and Barnard and deLahunta participated in a panel discussion on creative methods with composer Michael Gordon, choreographer Elizabeth Streb, and visual artist Robert Whitman. The week also included CTT-based workshops and discussions with dance, theater, mathematics education, and visual art students.
WM|RD completed its residency in conjunction with the American premiere of FAR at Montclair State in October 2011. To further extend the previous year’s interactions, Wayne McGregor participated in a roundtable discussion with students and faculty, including members of the course Working Group, and WM|RD dancers led additional CTT-based workshops. The breadth of interactions spanning two academic years created a dynamic and shared environment of inquiry that spurred a campus-wide dialogue on creativity and supported deeper engagement with the artists’ work. The residency was equally fruitful for R-Research and Creative Learning: Feedback and reflection by students was incorporated into their ongoing development of the CTT. deLahunta commented:
This research collaboration with MSU has proven to be extremely valuable. The CTT workshops were an invaluable context for testing out the potential of the choreographic/creative thinking tools… Our interaction with the work group has been very stimulating, and we have directly benefited from participating in a discussion of creative thinking that steps outside of artistic practice.
As part of the pre-production work for Passport, a new multisite work by visual/performance artist Robert Whitman co-commissioned by Peak Performances and the Dia Art Foundation, students from Montclair State’s College of the Arts collaborated with Whitman on the physical elements of the production. Over the four months preceding the April 2011 world premiere, Whitman worked closely with students in the Art and Design and Theatre Studies programs on creating video projections that were an integral part of the performance; two of the students also were incorporated as performers. Students in the Broadcasting department participated as archivists of the development and rehearsal process and in creating a documentary on the project. One student wrote afterward, “Being inside this vanguard event has had an irreversible effect [on] my artistic personality.”
Passport’s development coincided with the broadening campus dialogue on creative thinking in spring 2011. Prior to the premiere, Whitman took part in the Brainstorm symposium, discussing his long history of innovating art and performance and providing insight into his creative process and early inspirations for Passport.
The initial offering of the Creative Thinking course was scheduled to take advantage of on-campus workshop rehearsals for Zinnias: The Life of Clementine Hunter, a new chamber opera being created by Robert Wilson in collaboration with Bernice Johnson Reagon, Toshi Reagon, and Jacqueline Woodson. Wilson met with students in the Creative Thinking course to talk about his way of working and inspirations that have guided him during his career. The students then visited a workshop rehearsal of Zinnias to observe Wilson in action during the making of the piece. In addition, students in the College of the Arts participated as design interns during the three-week workshop period. In January 2013, in preparation for the world premiere of Zinnias at Montclair State, these students and others will have additional opportunities to participate during final rehearsals of the production. One student wrote, “Meeting Robert Wilson was an interesting experience, but watching him do what he does best in the preparation of a performance/show was humbling…Watching the rehearsal for Zinnias has made everything I’ve learned in this course about creativity a concrete confirmation.”
Choreographer Liz Lerman joined Scott deLahunta for a meeting with the Faculty Working Group in fall 2010; Liz and Scott consulted with the group on a strategy and framework for developing course content during the initial stages of the project. For the pilot version of the Creative Thinking course, Liz returned to lead a two-day session on the theme “Harvesting Intuition.” She guided the students through a series of physical and thought exercises intended to help them examine their own methods of working by challenging habits and paradigms of thinking. Of Liz’s lessons, one student wrote, “She made me realize how important it was to not be ashamed of the way I approach my creative process. Instead, she urged me to find ways to balance analysis and spontaneity. For that, I’m forever thankful.” Another wrote, “Liz is a great teacher, but she does not instruct, she helps you instruct and understand yourself.”
Iain Kerr is a founding member of the international transdisciplinary collective spurse and an adjunct professor in Montclair State’s Visual Arts MFA program. His engagements have taken him into and across the fields of philosophy, emergent architectures, evolutionary ecology, developmental systems theory, clothing design, labor practices, and foodways, among other things. With a focus on challenging theories that privilege moments of individual insight as the primary source of creativity, Iain met first with the Faculty Working Group in fall 2011. In May 2012, he spent two days teaching in the pilot version of the Creative Thinking course. His approach offered the faculty and students tools that focused on creation as a collaborative process within a system, rather than “creativity” as a mysterious, intangible element. A student wrote that Iain’s “discussions helped me view the material in the course as applicable to almost any endeavor.”
The core campus partners were the Office of Arts and Cultural Programming and the Research Academy for University Learning (RAUL):
The Office of Arts and Cultural Programming (ACP) is the University’s presenting arm under the banner Peak Performances (www.peakperfs.org), providing a place for innovative artists to create and present works across multiple disciplines. Artists include established and up-and-coming creators on a national and international level, as well as members of the University campus from the College of the Arts. ACP’s role in the Creative Thinking project was to identify and support the artists working in the project, to spearhead project-related marketing and communications, and to provide administrative and documentation support during course development.
The Research Academy for University Learning (www.montclair.edu/academy) is a unit within Montclair State that focuses on student learning and how best to create an environment that stimulates its development. RAUL seeks to approach teaching and learning in a scholarly manner by exploring the existing research and theoretical literature on what it means to learn, how best to foster learning development, and how professors and students can best understand its meaning and progress. ACP partnered with RAUL as academic support for the Creative Thinking project: to oversee the development and evaluation of the Creative Thinking course itself and to oversee evaluation of the process and the project.
A multidisciplinary Working Group of Montclair State faculty was established to build and structure the course and to provide teaching and support. Members of the Working Group (and their respective departments) included:
Dr. Ashwin Vaidya (Mathematical Sciences – Physics)
Dr. Jerry Fails (Computer Science)
Dr. Mika Munakata (Mathematical Sciences)
Dr. Tiger Roholt (Philosophy and Religion)
Dr. Debbie Saivetz (Theatre and Dance)
Dr. Marissa Silverman (Music Education)
Dr. Yawei Wang (Marketing)
Robyn Flatt, Baker Idea Institute
The initial inspiration for the Creative Thinking course was the “Integration of Abilities” approach developed by visionary theater director Paul Baker during his tenure as a professor at Baylor and Trinity Universities. Baker’s ideas were seen as effective for developing students’ full creative potential and as applicable across disciplines. Robyn Flatt, Baker’s daughter, is director of the Baker Idea Institute, which creates curricula and special programs based on Baker’s methodology. Flatt conducted an Integration of Abilities workshop with the Faculty Working Group in fall 2011 and then provided constructive criticism and feedback on the emerging plans for the course at a midpoint in course development.