Deacon Profile: Janice Lancaster

For most dancers and choreographers, classical training is the best way to initiate their career trajectory. However, for the newest dance department faculty member, Janice Lancaster, her career began differently.

Starting with a recreational study that allowed her to begin choreographing solos as early as middle school, Lancaster always excelled in choreography, but she struggled with technique.

It was not until her junior and senior years of college when she caught up technically with the other dancers.

Now, an established choreographer and dancer, Lancaster has joined the Wake Forest Dance Department with a desire to embrace students’ eagerness to dance.

So, I know this is your first year teaching dance at Wake Forest. How has the transition been?

I like it. I like the balance of life because I came from New York City. I’m originally from North Carolina so I know what it is to live here. I’m driving a car, I’m not on the subway. I have a back porch and trees to enjoy. I have a living room I can dance in, where all these things were smaller. I miss the energy of New York City, there’s a performance every night, but I’m tapped into campus life and I feel like there’s a cultural event every night.

You had a piece performed in the most recent dance performance, right?

Yes, the piece is “The Call and Throw of the Next Wave.”

Can you talk about your ideas and inspiration for the piece?

I wanted to make a gentle dance. I fell into wanting a hand low on the torso and then one hand high on the heart, it’s like being cradled she demonstrates. And then the group falls in step so that the hips are swaying, so that skirts sway in unison. Hopefully for the audience, it has a calming effect. To exaggerate this, the first section is noise laughs. It’s like waves of the mind, that turbulence, then the calm.

How did you go about developing this piece? What was your process?

It began with Bela Fleck and Oumou Sangare’s collaboration on their song “Djorolen”. It’s been one of my favorite songs since I first heard it in 2010. Maybe because of my experience with the turbulence of my own mind, and the desire for calm and peace, I felt ready for my journey with the process of mindfulness, ready to choreograph this dance. Needed to, perhaps.

I created a dance that called in the energy I wanted to facilitate for myself and because of a lot of life transitions. You can have a lot of doubt, you can have a lot of noise and questioning in your mind and once that clears, you have purpose. You have clarity.

What are your thoughts on the progress and development of the piece with the show being this week?

I think it’s come so far. At first, there’s this push where I’m the only one in the room, and I’m intuitively creating the architecture of the dance and no one really knows why yet. Then, you get enough of it there and you run it enough that it reveals itself, it reveals itself more to my conscious mind and it reveals to the dancers. 

Everyone just starts embodying in this meaningful way and it’s just been beautiful to see everyone grow into it. There was this moment in our spacing rehearsal where I became more aware of one of the spatial arrangements. I had made it and I had asked the dancers to take these directions, but not until being on the large stage did I have this vantage point where I could fully appreciate it and trust my instincts.

Can you elaborate on how this specific moment enhanced the development while spacing?

At first, I’m like, “Ah, just do this. I don’t know why, my intuition says so” and then it’s hard to accomplish, but when the dancers start doing it because they understand their path better, we’re finally in a big enough space, and I’m out in the house, I can see it. I don’t know that I was thinking of it geometrically, I was thinking of it energetically.

I know you are involved in activist efforts with your dancing, how does the piece you choreographed for this show display those activist ideas?

In a very quiet, simple way, it’s not allowed activism, it’s more where people witness the noise and maybe it puts them on the edge of their seat or the edge of their comfort or it wakes them up or it’s a palette cleanser for the whole evening.

So when they go and see a quiet dance, the second section, they’re not sleepy about the quiet dance. They’re more open to being calmed by it.

What kind of thoughts do you hope the audience takes with them after watching your piece?

I hope they feel something about their own gentle voice. Dance operates on a nonverbal level, so thoughts are almost preverbal, like we can have verbal thoughts, but first we have mood and feeling and dance or performance can be a catharsis for that preverbal energy.

So, if anyone’s carrying noise, maybe it’s transpersonal and can be released as like a whole audience. That’s my hope. My hope is that people remember the lullaby. It’s such a loud, loud world, what about the gentle sway, the gentle cradle, the gentle voice?