Nicole Harris: Unfortunately, it seems that lately so many programs like the Green Street Studios Emerging Artists Program are having to fold due to lack of funding, lack of resources or simply a lack of understanding as to why they are so important. As someone who has supported programs like this in the past I was wondering if you could take a minute and send me your thoughts on mentoring and why it is important to keep these programs alive.
David Parker: I serve as mentor to dancers and choreographers on many levels. Being a mentor, as I understand it, goes beyond teaching and extends to providing opportunities and strategies for success including more personal things like how one speaks, dresses and carries oneself and assessing what kinds of psychological barriers may be providing interference. It’s a much more intimate role.
I learned how to be a better person, a better man, from my mentors rather than just how to make my dances better. I try to offer the same to those I mentor in my own company. I want their presentation of self to reflect the best values we all share which is why we are a company and not a pick-up group.
Choreographic mentorship like at Green Street Studios or at Juilliard where I serve as mentor to selected Senior choreographers is a bit more discreet. I try to uncover where their actual aesthetic values lie and to make them aware of what it is they’re really doing and what potential it has. I also try to evaluate how successfully they are doing what they do and provide them with a means to get closer to what they’re doing.
As a teacher of dance composition I do different things. I try to give them choreographic strategies and structures that they would never normally use on their own. I don’t need to know their actual aesthetic values, I only need to give them more. I try to expand their range of choices available to them by giving them assignments which challenge and stretch their own preferences even to the point of contradicting them. This is, in some ways, at odds with mentorship but there is some overlap. In a mentor-mentee relationship the mentee is offering something of this own and the mentor is using it and extending it. My mentoring of my own dancers is good for my art and my company. In teaching, I’m at once more controlling and more at the student's service.