THE SCHIFF DANCE COLLECTIVE
The weekend of June 23rd and 24th, The Schiff Dance Collective (TSDC) joined seven other Colorado dance companies in The Newman Center for the Performing Art’s Byron Theatre for the inaugural Presenting Denver Dance Festival. TSDC, led by Artistic and Executive Director Jenny Schiff, presented the world premiere of The Ghost of My Ancestors, a work exploring inherited trauma in Jewish culture.
Unlike much of TSDC’s previous work that tells stories pulled from the community at large, The Ghost of My Ancestors is autobiographical for Schiff who sees that the time has come, personally and politically, to tell this story. “The first thing that made me feel different from other people was my Jewishness,” she says. Set to her favorite Hebrew song since childhood, the work seeks to embody, process, and ultimately alleviate the physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional turmoil of antisemitism. The work combines elements of jazz, modern, and ballet along with a distinct sense of theatre.
The story Schiff wants to tell is one of healing and she sees dance as a powerful storytelling device. “It’s about accessing the stories that live inside ourselves,” she says, “and manifesting them through movement. It’s so easy to disembody in the world we live in.” Schiff believes dance can remedy this dissociation from both one’s body and inner life. “The body is speaking and we need to be able to listen,” she says. Listening to the body for Schiff involves close observation of the body’s sensations, which she says leads to the subconscious. “About 95% of the brain is subconscious,” Schiff notes. “The subconscious is the key to being whole.” Schiff describes this internal listening as determining what’s calling her. She allows it to metabolize through her which brings forth the movement. This process is the basis of Schiff-ting, an improvisational technique Schiff created that uses the breath to access the inner self and be more empowered. Schiff-ting takes vulnerability as the launch pad for truth through movement.
Schiff seeks dancers who are interested, first and foremost, in being of service to the audience by sharing their “cellular information” with others. She sees this sharing as the natural element of dance and it factors into her creative process. Schiff gives her dancers room for improvisation that helps them find a way into the piece, even if they may not have firsthand experience with the story being told. Weekly rehearsals with the company allow for organic choreographic developments enabled by a collaborative process between choreographer and dancer that provides space for interpretation. Schiff sees collaboration as inherent to dance unlike other art forms. “If you’re a painter,” she says, “your canvas isn’t talking to you.”
With such a visceral, powerful story to tell, TSDC may have exorcised more ghosts than intended at the Presenting Denver Dance Festival. Some audience members left Schiff-ted in more ways than one.
Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from Regis University and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She currently sits on the board of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and was previously involved with CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared in DailyServing, Quaint Magazine, and Scintilla. She is currently at work on a collection of essays about family dynamics in addition to editing a newspaper/zine about happiness for Denver Theatre District’s Happy City project with U.K. artist Stuart Semple.