BIODANCE Artistic Director Missy Pfohl Smith was nominated and featured for City News Rochester 10: Rochesterians Doing Great Things Behind the Scenes in December 2015.
Text excerpt copy from City News, Dec. 30, 2015:
DANCE: Missy Pfohl Smith
Missy Pfohl Smith, the artistic director of the local modern dance company BIODANCE, has a unique talent for creating socially-conscious works — works that reflect on our interactions (or lack of) with others. Her dance pieces are challenging and thought-provoking, nudging audiences toward self-reflection.
Over the last year, she and her company have presented Pfohl Smith’s “Social Justice Series,” a body of work that addresses injustices in today’s society and comments on inequalities. The 10-member dance company has performed in libraries, senior centers, and other community venues, particularly reaching out to seniors to help them tell their stories.
A good example of what she is accomplishing with this series was “Compartmented,” a site-specific, multimedia, pop-up event co-curated by Pfohl Smith and Evelyne Leblanc-Roberge, assistant professor of art and lens-based media at the University of Rochester. The event took place in early December in the former Sunday school space located in the back of what is now the Lyric Theatre on East Avenue. The pop-up was created specifically to be performed in this unique space (the former home of First Church of Christ, Scientist) which has rounded walls separated into 20 tiny reading rooms on two levels.
This installation piece featured the work of 17 artists and included video sculpture, performance art and storytelling along with dance. Artists were isolated in the reading rooms; their performances reflecting their inner musings. Senior citizens from Community Place — the downtown Rochester center where Pfohl Smith offers movement classes and leads discussion circles for the occupants — appeared in the show, literally telling their own stories while BIODANCE interpreted the tales through movement.
“Our elders truly have so much wisdom to share,” Pfohl Smith says, “but we rarely pay attention to them in our culture. I wanted to give them an opportunity to be seen and listened to.”
Part of the work Pfohl Smith is doing with BIODANCE has to do with intimacy, she says. “I think we’re losing understanding of human to human intimacy. We’re exploring that.”
At 45, Pfohl Smith has had her own company for nearly 10 years. She originally formed BIODANCE in 2002 in New York City where she spent more than a decade dancing and traveling with Randy James Dance Works, a company whose work incorporates elements of both modern dance and ballet. After relocating to Rochester, Pfohl Smith re-established BIODANCE by 2006.
“I’m interested in contact improvisation,” she says. “Improv is big in my creative process. I’m working not just with myself but with eight other artists. What is created comes not just from my body but from their bodies, too. People I work with have been with me from the beginning. You really understand each other’s language.”
Last fall, BIODANCE appeared at the Rochester Fringe Festival’s Friday on the Fringe event with Grounded Aerial in front of 13,000 audience members. While the modern dance and aerial arts company scaled the side of the One HSBC Plaza building downtown, BIODANCE performed atop the “Tribute to Man” sculpture in Manhattan Square.
That wasn’t the first major project for BIODANCE at the Fringe. In 2013, the company presented “Anomaly,” a site-specific work performed in the four-story dome of the Strasenburgh Planetarium in collaboration with Sound ExChange and W. Michelle Harris, a media artist and associate professor of Interactive Games and Media at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
BIODANCE has also appeared in many festivals and locales outside of Rochester: The Yard in Martha’s Vineyard; The Heidelberg New Music and Dance Festival in Tiffin, Ohio; University Settlement in New York City; and Danspace at St. Mark’s Church in New York as part of the Remember Project. They have also performed at many colleges and universities.
Pfohl Smith started dancing as a 3-year-old in Buffalo, where she grew up, but entered her freshman year at SUNY Geneseo on a pre-med tract. Once she switched to Brockport the following year she changed course.
“I realized that dance was such a way bigger field than I had thought, and I decided to major in it. At first I thought maybe dance therapy, but I was performing and doing well so I decided that dance was my path.”
When she moved back to Rochester, Pfohl Smith started teaching at the college level, and has held classes at Brockport, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and The University of Rochester — where she is now the director of the Program of Dance and Movement.
By Casey Carlsen