One of a Kind M.F.A. in Dance: Design and Production

The First M.F.A. of Its Kind in the United States, and It’s at Saint Mary’s College of California

MFA students producing a show in LeFevre Theatre

In June of 2014, Saint Mary’s College of California launched a Master of Fine Arts in Dance program. What makes the M.F.A. at Saint Mary’s unique is that there are two tracks to the program. There is an M.F.A. in Creative Practice which focuses on choreography, technique, somatic movement studies, theory and pedagogy. The other track, M.F.A. in Design and Production encompasses design for dance, production, digital media, and theoretical studies specific to dance performance. and is the first of its kind in the United States.

CatherineMarie Davalos, the director of dance at Saint Mary’s College remarks that M.F.A. discussions began back in 2010. At the time there was only one option for an M.F.A. in Dance in the Bay Area and that was at Mills College in Oakland. “I didn’t want to compete with other programs out there. I had to ask what we at Saint Mary’s College could do differently than Mills College so that we weren’t in competition for students.”

Also, Davalos wanted to make sure the program was reflective of the current state of dance in the United States. “A professor of dance is in charge of teaching everything in a very small dance department and as a result one professor may be in charge of teaching multiple techniques, choreography, critical pedagogy and dance education, and dance history," Davalos said. In the process of developing the multidisciplinary program, both of the M.F.A.s in Dance emerged.

Linda Baumgardner, director of the Design and Production program said, “Specifically in the dance world, designers and technicians have been self-taught.” While there are many graduate programs for technical theater, those wishing to go into dance production often have to do their own training to adapt their theater skills to dance. “In order to participate in dance, you need to have a well-rounded background. In most cases you’re not doing only one thing. You might be the stage manager and the set designer. Or the lighting designer and the costume designer,” said Baumgardner.

In most M.F.A. programs in Technical Theatre and Design, students focus on one specific area of the field such as stage management or lighting design. Students in the new M.F.A. program study all of the general areas encompassed in technical theatre and design through the lens of dance including set design, costuming, lighting, and stage and production management. “Our program appeals to a unique group of students," said Baumgardner. "There are a lot of people out there, just like me, who come from the production side of theater but really have a passion for dance. There have been few resources for those looking to study the technical production side of dance.”

Davalos notes that there have been students who switched tracks after coming to Saint Mary’s. “We have had students who come to us and say they love dance but don’t really like performing anymore. They take a technical theater class and realize that they want to be a lighting designer or a costume designer.” The M.F.A. in Dance: Design and Production at SMC allows students to explore all technical aspects of building a dance performance with emphasis on the technical theatrical aspects on what goes into bringing a dance performance to life on stage.

Visit the M.F.A. n Dance website for more information on the M.F.A. in Dance: Design and Production.

Read more about both tracks of study in the MFA in Dance at Saint Mary's in Dance M.F.A. Takes Off

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