Reprinted from the Summer/Fall 2017 Issue of The Tartan
A professional dancer and choreographer born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Ben Munisteri joined the Alma College dance faculty in fall 2016, bringing with him an interest in interdisciplinary contexts for dance. Early in his career, his own ensemble of dancers performed to critical acclaim on numerous New York City-area stages. More recently, he has shifted his focus to education. At Alma, he teaches a full class load, co-directs the dance performance program and oversees the annual Student Choreographers’ Concert.
Prior to Alma, you were the “choreographer-in-residence” at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania as part of a program funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Tell us about that experience.
“This was a tremendous grant award, a total of $450,000, and we used it for several things. We brought in dance companies to perform, teach and give demonstrations. A few even held creative residencies where they created works while on campus. Several also did cross disciplinary work where artists and professors collaborated on how to use dance to teach and learn other disciplines. It sounds crazy, I know! One such guest worked with a paleobiologist, and together they came up with ways to represent speciation, deep time, natural selection and various mutations through physical movements.”
How did that experience impact your thought process for teaching and curricular development at Alma College?
“I love reaching across disciplines to other careers and subjects. Alma has an advantage here that lies within the students. They have an intense curiosity, a desire to perform and delve deep into dance, but they also are looking at other possibilities. Our students self-select Alma College when many are worthy of a conservatory education. Some will go on to stage careers while others may go on to practice law or medicine. They are blessed with advanced technique and artistic curiosity, which fuels the program. The intensity and advanced skill that they possess drives me to innovate and meet their needs.”
What are some specific examples of ways dance can be incorporated across disciplines?
“I have joined Teaching Religion Across the Liberal Arts, a group chaired by Kate Blanchard in Religious Studies. It has helped me to see how spirituality and devotional dance can fit into dance history and choreography classes. I also am working with the Art and Design Department on doing something for Alma Art Prize next year. One idea is that we will have site specific dances in juxtaposition to the art installations.”
How has the growth of digital media affected the dance profession?
“As a boy I recall making stop-motion animation films with my Star Wars figures. And at New York University I saw how new media can be part of the live performance in capturing a 2D product or dance film. These days you can be a dance artist who doesn’t have live performances. Rather you can produce dance films with relatively few resources including editing software and an internet connection. This is really exciting for dance.”
You have indicated that you would like to bring David Leventhal, the program director and founding teacher for the Dance for Parkinson’s Disease program, to Alma’s campus. Why?
“I love what he and other dancers have done with patient populations. They partner with researchers to see how dance helps to ameliorate the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Not to mention, their work allows for insight on how engaging with the arts can be a standard of wellbeing and quality of life.”
Alma is far away from Brooklyn, both geographically and culturally. How do you balance that divide?
“I go back to New York occasionally to create and show new work and gauge the response. I still have half a foot in New York City, but one and a half feet are in Alma!”