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Dance Professor Honored with Graves Award

Rosalynde LeBlanc Loo, assistant professor of dance, has won the prestigious Graves Award in the Humanities to create an interdisciplinary, core curriculum class at Loyola Marymount University that examines “the interconnectedness of dance, culture and history.”

The award includes a $12,000 stipend to support her research, which will focus on the work and methods of renowned choreographer Bill T. Jones. In particular, she will examine his work, “D-Man in the Waters,” the dance he created in 1989 about the AIDS epidemic at its height.

The Arnold L. Graves and Lois S. Graves Awards, administered at Pomona College, encourage and reward “outstanding accomplishment in actual teaching in the humanities by younger faculty members.” It is given to about a dozen teachers biennially, with applications accepted from about 40 private, liberal arts universities on the West Coast.  LeBlanc Loo is a recipient for the 2013-15 cycle.

As noted in the LMU application – which includes nominating letters from President David W. Burcham and Dean Bryant Keith Alexander of the College of Communication and Fine Arts – LeBlanc Loo is popular and respected among colleagues and students.

“Professor LeBlanc Loo’s scholarship and teaching,” Burcham wrote, “exemplify well the teacher-scholar model of transformative education, articulated in LMU’s new strategic plan, which promotes faculty who ‘conduct research and creative work that contributes to the larger body of knowledge while setting an example for the importance of lifelong learning.’ ”

Before joining the faculty, LeBlanc Loo was a professional dancer and a member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. In recent years, Jones has limited his teaching, entrusting LeBlanc Loo and a very few others to impart his choreography, style and technique to future dancers.

The dance, “D-Man” is named for Demian “D-Man” Acquavella, who was a member of the Jones’ troupe when the dancer was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988.  Acquavella died at 32 in 1990.

“Demian’s personal story is subtly, but indelibly, inscribed in the dance,” LeBlanc Loo said in her grant application. His story underscores the appropriateness and timeliness of her research, explaining that the “absence of AIDS from current political and social discourse in this country has left successive generations without any way to contextualize the spirit and intensity of the art made in response to it.

“Therefore, it is against the backdrop of Jones’ ‘D-Man in the Waters’ that I see a valuable opportunity to integrate my larger research agenda of narrative and dance into an immersive and multi-faceted experience in the classroom.”

LeBlanc Loo will do research at the Performing Arts Library in New York City, which has extensive records on Jones and contemporary dance, including video archives. The only taped interview that Demian gave about his connection to “D-Man in the Waters” is part of the archive. She will also interview family and former colleagues of Acquavella.

At the same time, LeBlanc Loo expects to utilize the research to complete a documentary about Acquavella, the troupe and the impact of AIDS on their art. “As a scholar and teacher, I investigate ways in which personal, cultural and historical events inform choreography. I try to situate movement in its larger context, stressing the fact that dance can be, and often is, a beautiful repository for narrative.”