Tuesday, February 7, 2012

All the campus a stage, and all its men and women merely players of many parts

Minneapolis, Minnesota

When Minnesota's outside temperature hits 52º in January, we do not waste the opportunity. While walking through the University of Minnesota's East Bank campus in Minneapolis last month, I took extra time to explore corners to which I had not returned since graduating in 1983.

Scott Hall, situated behind and west of the Northrop Memorial Auditorium, first inspired me when, as a high school thespian, I attended a play there, directed by a former colleague. Scott's use as a theater pre-dated the present-day Rarig Center and West Bank Arts Quarter.

A bit further west, the much more familiar Elliot Hall occupies an expanse along East River Road atop the Mississippi River bluff. I attended numerous classes in this old bastion of behavioral psychology while nailing down a degree in the subject. In relative terms, Elliot was a new campus structure 30 years ago. Today, it has an older, more settled appearance, hemmed in by mature trees of recent vintage and by the much older Burton Hall just to the north east. I had no reason to go inside.

I was present for the better part of a week in Burton Hall as a delegate to the Japan-America Student Conference in August 1974. Students from throughout the United States and Japan gathered for lectures, forums, and roundtables on culture, government, politics, and economics. We resided in East Bank dormitories, made a swimming trek to Amery, Wisconsin, held late-night conversations on the shores of Lake Nokomis in south Minneapolis, and closed with a day-long picnic on the shores of Lake Independence in the western suburbs. A highlight was an evening address by Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey.

The campus structure holding the greatest significance for the course of my life, however, was Norris Hall, tucked between Elliot and Burton halls at 172 Pillsbury Drive. When I walked by last month, bulldozers were tidying up debris from the building's demolition and filling in the depression where the swimming pool had been.

Norris Hall served as a resource for the Department of Physical Education in which the University's dance program had been housed for nearly 60 years. In 1982 and 1983, a few hundred other students and I attended modern dance classes in the Norris gymnasium with its wood-over-concrete floor. One class, in the summer of 1982, was taught by guest dance artists, Rob Esposito and Marcia Weadall-Esposito.

Rob and Marcia assigned us to attend dance performances and submit written papers about them. In those days, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board sponsored free, open-air dance performances at the Nicollet Island Amphitheater. To save money, most of us went to the Island for our assignments. These performances provided my first introductions to the New Dance Ensemble, the Rezone Dancers, and the Just Jazz Dancers. The latter two subsequently merged to form the Zenon Dance Company which I joined as co-manager four years later.

When, in 1983, the University moved to abolish the dance program for cost-cutting reasons, Nadine Jette – who had been my first modern dance instructor – marshaled the forces that moved dance to the Department of Theater Arts (and Dance), and began the fund drives for endowed professorships and for the new building that opened in 1999 as the Barbara Barker Center for Dance.

Campus buildings serve as mere stages for some of the scenes from our lives. One can only wonder what today's dance students will find and recall when walking through 30 years hence!

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