Portrait of Dr Freya Vass

Dr Freya Vass

Lecturer in Drama and Theatre
School Deputy Director of Education

About

I bring a specialisation in dance, physical theatre, and interdisciplinary cognitive studies to the Drama & Theatre department, which I joined in 2013. I founded and lead the Kent Embodied Research Collective (KERC) and am currently Deputy Director of Education in the School of Arts. Prior to Kent, I instructed at the University of California Riverside, Saint Mary's College of California, the Frankfurt University of Music and the Performing Arts, and Hollins University’s European Study Programme in Dance. 

My professional dance experience from 1982-97 includes corps de ballet and soloist engagements with the Ballet Nacional de España (Madrid), Tulsa Ballet Theater (USA), Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz (Munich), Salzburg Landestheater (Austria), and as a guest artist with the Teatro Massimo do Palermo (Italy) and the Theater des Westens (Berlin). My training includes classical/neoclassical ballet, modern/contemporary dance, and musical theatre (under Lee Theodore at the American Dance Machine), and my repertoire spanned classical and neoclassical ballets (Petipa, Balanchine, Tetley, Massine and others), modern and contemporary works (Jooss, Cullberg, Limón, Linke and others), and musicals including Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, and Annie Get Your Gun. From 1995-98 I was Ballet Mistress and Choreographic Assistant at the Salzburg Landestheater and staged works for the Theater Mecklenburg Vorpommern, as well as choreographing freelance for dance ensembles, musical theatre productions, and the cabaret stage in Germany and Austria. From 1984-2003 I was also a freelance ballet instructor and master teacher for companies and professional development programmes in Germany, Austria, Italy, Norway and the US. 

Following my dance career, I earned a BA cum laude in Linguistics and Cognitive Science at the University of California, Los Angeles (2001) before completing an interdisciplinary PhD in Dance History and Theory from the University of California, Riverside with the dissertation Audio-Visual Stress: Cognitive Approaches to the Perceptual Performativity of William Forsythe and Ensemble. From 2011 to 2015, I was an Associate Researcher with the Dance Engaging Science workgroup of the Motion Bank project (The Forsythe Company, Frankfurt). 

From 2006-13, I served as Dramaturg and Production Assistant to choreographer William Forsythe, collaborating closely with The Forsythe Company on over a dozen works including Heterotopia (2006), Angoloscuro (2007), The Defenders (2007), Yes We Can't (2008/2010), I don't believe in outer space (2008), The Returns (2009), and Sider (2011). I am also a freelance Dramaturg for choreographers including David Dawson (2007-8, 2020-21) and was dramaturgical consultant for the Corpus experimental dance ensemble in Copenhagen (2016-17). 

My research has been published in William Forsythe and the Practice of Choreography (Routledge), Theater Without Vanishing Points (Alexander Verlag), Dance Dramaturgy: Modes of Agency, Awareness and Engagement (Palgrave), The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet, The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Dance, Dance Chronicle, and Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices. Forthcoming research includes a guest-edited issue of Performance Research (jointly with Pil Hansen) and a monograph focused on William Forsythe’s works and working methods. 

I currently serve as Secretary on the Executive Committee of the Society for Dance Research. I have previously served on the Board of Directors of the Congress on Research in Dance and I participate in working groups on dance and science, dramaturgy, and scenography with numerous dance and performance research organisations.  

Research interests

My research interests include cognitive dance and theatre studies, postdramatic physical theatre practices, visuo-sonority and the expanded scenography of contemporary dance, physical and perceptual dramaturgies, improvisational and devising practices in dance/theatre, performative installations, dance history and practice, embodied ethnographies, social dance practices, musical theatre dance, and arts/sciences interdisciplinarity. A further critical research strand examines the interdisciplinary interfaces and metacritical terrain between dance research and scientific research.

Teaching

I teach across the Drama curriculum with particular focus in physical practices and interdisciplinary studies.

Introduction to Musical Theatre Dance (DR684) 
Musical Theatre Dance 2 (DR686) 
Two modules focused on the development of musical theatre/jazz technique as well as period dancing styles ranging from the early 20th century until today. Readings and discussions on race, culture, class and politics ground the dance practice firmly in theory. DR684 is based in repertory performance, while DR686 supports students in theatre dance choreography. 

Psychology of the Arts (ART520) 
This interdisciplinary School of Arts-level module enhances interdisciplinary literacy across the arts and sciences by examining research on the creation, perception, and reception of visual and performing arts, music, film, and architecture. Topics include empirical, philosophical, and socio-cultural perspectives on aesthetics, arts-experimental design, perception of art, meaning in art, the psychology of the creative process, social and cultural issues, and the ramifications of arts-sciences research. 

Current and previous teaching includes:

Graduate:

  • Physical and Vocal Training for Actors (DR891) 
  •  Solo Acting: Composition and Performance (DR895) 
  • Dissertation Project: MA-T (DR995) 
  • Ensemble Devising and Performance (DR880)

Undergraduate:

  • Performance Skills (DR324)
  • Making Performance 1 and 2 (DR338/DR339)
  • Physical Theatre I (DR663)  
  • Creative Project (DR678)  
  • Independent Project (ART500)  

Supervision

I welcome discussion of PhD project proposals relating to: 

  • cognitive dance and theatre studies
  • contemporary dance- and theatre-making practices 
  • postdramatic dramaturgies 
  • scenography, sound, and vocality in dance/theatre 
  • performativity from historical or contemporary perspectives 
  • arts-sciences interdisciplinarity and sci-art 
  • physical theatre 
  • ballet studies 
  • musical theatre dance studies 
  • social dance histories and cultures 

Current supervisions: 

Maya Moore Adamidou, Choreographic Disembodiment: Towards Performance, Visuality and the Mediatization of the Body (supervisor) 

Niall Billings (Courtauld Institute of Art), Balletomane: an exploration of dance and the body during interwar Britain (co-supervisor) 

Past supervisions: 

Philippa Strandberg-Long (2019), Beyond Repetition: Investigating How Sanford Meisner’s Training Process Diminishes Self-consciousness and Enhances Spontaneity in Actors (co-supervisor) 

Lindsey Drury (Freie Universität Berlin/Kent, 2019), Three Imagined Dances: The Somatics of Early Modern Textual Mediation (co-supervisor) 

Sarah Passfield (2018), Affective Dramaturgies in Dance Theatre: Leaky Encounters and Turbulent Spectating (co-supervisor) 

Robbie Wilson (2018), Towards a Ludic Ecology: Popular Participatory Peripatetic Performance (co-supervisor) 

Judita Vivas (2016), The Pageantry of Western Bodies: Material Practices, Recycled Intercorporealities, and Dramaturgical Configurations in the Twenty-First Century (co-supervisor)  

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