Using dance and modern technology to shed light on the Black experience

When investigating the overlaps between performance, history, theatre, and cutting-edge technology in his SLIPPAGE lab at Northwestern, DeFrantz adopts a fresh, multidisciplinary perspective.

Professor of Communication and Segal Design Institute fellow at McCormick School of Engineering DeFrantz is directing one of 26 projects receiving a total of more than $12 million in new grant funding from the Mellon Foundation’s inaugural Higher Learning Open Call for civic engagement and social justice-related research.

As the grant’s primary investigator, he intends to use Northwestern’s $500,000 allotment to expand a study of Black dance practises in the United States and how they contribute to the representation of African American identity and Black freedom.

The Collegium for African Diaspora Dance is a SLIPPAGE project, and DeFrantz expressed gratitude to the Mellon Foundation for funding the effort. We will keep investigating the significance of Black dance and the ways in which regional differences in dance style can be used to foretell a wide range of performance approaches.

The Collegium for African Diaspora Dance is a SLIPPAGE project

SLIP: Since its inception in 2002 at MIT, Performance|Culture|Technology has captivated audiences around the world with productions and performances in India, France, Japan, and South Africa. The lab where classes and experiments will be conducted is currently being built in Louis Hall on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. DeFrantz also intends to use the Chicago campus’s Wirtz Center for Performing and Media Arts, located within Abbott Hall.

DeFrantz, in his role as artistic director of SLIPPAGE, expands upon the importance of thoughtful, critical, and timely communication between artists and researchers, audiences and engineers, educators and students, and the general public.

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DeFrantz encourages his students’ imaginations and originality by introducing them to a wide variety of disciplines and methods of instruction. There are performances where the dancer’s movements are tracked by a combination of cameras, sensors, and drones to create one-of-a-kind projections that add depth to the story being told.

DeFrantz said, “By collaborating with a post-doctoral fellow, we will be able to create a variety of gatherings and study situations that allow us to consider how dance is operating for Black people and those who care about our lives and creative expression.”

Dean of the School of Communication E. Patrick Johnson remarked, “We are so fortunate to have Thomas DeFrantz’s visionary scholarship here at Northwestern, and this recognition from the Mellon Foundation will go tremendously toward expanding the scale and scope of his work.” “This award will help as we continue to champion underrepresented voices by validating our cutting-edge research and collaborative creation in the Black arts.”

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