For Thomas F. DeFrantz, dance is more than movement on a stage. Race, sexuality and politics are also integral to his performances.
In his SLIPPAGE laboratory at Northwestern, DeFrantz takes an innovative and interdisciplinary approach as he explores connections among performance, history, theatre and emergent technology.
DeFrantz, a professor in the School of Communication and a fellow in the Segal Design Institute at the McCormick School of Engineering, is overseeing one of 26 projects sharing more than $12 million in new grant funding from the Mellon Foundation through its inaugural Higher Learning Open Call for civic engagement and social justice-related research.
As principal investigator on the grant awarded to Northwestern, he plans to use the University’s share of the funding — $500,000 — to expand a research project examining Black dance practices across the U.S. and how those practices help represent African American identity and Black freedom.
“We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for supporting this project, which represents the intellectual labor of some 325 researchers affiliated with the Collegium for African Diaspora Dance, a SLIPPAGE project,” DeFrantz said. “We will continue to explore how Black dance matters and how its variegations of place predict an abundance of performance method and dance styles.”
“We will continue to explore how Black dance matters and how its variegations of place predict an abundance of performance method and dance styles.”
– Thomas F. DeFrantz
SLIPPAGE: Performance|Culture|Technology, founded in 2002 at MIT, has engaged global audiences in productions and performances staged in India, France, Japan and South Africa. At Northwestern, the lab where teaching and research will take place is under construction in Louis Hall on the Evanston campus. DeFrantz also plans to stage projects and events in the Wirtz Center for Performing and Media Arts inside Abbott Hall on the Chicago campus.
As artistic director of SLIPPAGE, DeFrantz builds on the need for intentional, critical and timely interaction among artists, researchers, audiences, engineers, faculty, students and the public in the arts.
By taking a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to his teaching, DeFrantz exposes his students to new ways of expression and creativity. In some performances, for example, special cameras, sensors and drones follow a dancer’s movements to help create unique projections that further tell a story.
“Working with a post-doctoral fellow, we will be able to produce a range of gatherings and situations of study that allow us to consider how dance is operating for Black people and those who care towards our lives and creative expression,” DeFrantz said.
“We are so fortunate to have Thomas DeFrantz’s visionary scholarship here at Northwestern, and this recognition from the Mellon Foundation will go a tremendous way in furthering the scale and scope of his work,” said E. Patrick Johnson, dean of the School of Communication. “This award validates our leading-edge research and collaborative creation in the Black arts and will help as we continue to champion underrepresented voices.”