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Dance Professor returns to NYC

Professor in Dance at the U of I Sara Hook recently returned to New York City to perform the duet Bored House Guests.

Hook lived and worked in New York City from 1984-2000 before moving to C-U to raise a family and teach. This performance was the first time Hook has been in New York City in over a decade, and she said it felt like a homecoming.

Hook performs the duet with Paul Matteson, Assistant Professor of Dance at Amherst College and Mount Holyoke College. The two met when they were both on the faculty at the Bates Dance Festival in 2012. They soon became friends, having daughters of about the same age, and were drawn to each other’s movement. Hook says she was drawn to Matteson’s athleticism while Matteson was drawn to elements of her choreography they later coined “aesthetic of the tempt.”

When they decided to work together to create a piece, they began by defining some basic values. The first was to push themselves physically by creating choreography that was almost impossible to achieve. Reviewer Deborah Jowitt noticed, describing moments as “daringly physical”.

The second value was allowing themselves to dip into their dance history and training by allowing themselves to be extravagant.

Hook has a lot of classical modern dance in her background while Matteson comes from a strong improvisation background.

As they began to choreograph, they realized it reminded them of a modern take on the classical pas de duex. The pas de duex is a very structured ballet piece performed by a male and female. They capitalized on this structure but added their own contemporary twist.

The pair began choreographing last December. During this period, they met up many times to work together in cities across the country. They met up in New York City a few times, in Champaign, Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Every time, they would do a work-in-progress showing to get audience feedback and gain experience performing. By the time they reached the big apple, Hook says they were very confident in the piece.
Hook says the piece wasn’t created to have any specific meaning or convey a specific idea. She says they picked the title Bored House Guests because it has some specificity but also an element of mystery. It allows the audience to bring their own experiences to the interpretation, especially because the relationship between Hook and Matteson is never clearly defined.

The duet was part of the Soaking WET festival, a series of evenings dedicated to choreography curated by David Parker. Parker, who is Hook’s former colleague, wanted to support her work and invited her to perform. The Soaking WET festival takes place at the West End Theater that reviewer Jowitt describes as “intimate”. Hook says many of her former students, Illinois alumni, attended the performance.
According to Hook, the audience was very open and content, intently watching the performance. The reviews have so far been positive.

“Sara Hook and Paul Matteson have an extraordinary duet, Bored House Guests, that TV writer/actress Lena Dunham might have applauded for its deadpan struggle with intimacy and communication. Embarrassingly awkward, timid, and/or frustrated, the duo are brilliant and brave, though relentless, in their exploration of all that is not expressed in a balletic pas de deux,” wrote Deirdre Towers for the Dance Enthusiast

“Both accomplished dancers, their pairing was finely wrought with technical prowess and wry sensibilities. From Nikolais to Bill T., these two hold serious dance pedigrees and it shows in their creative constructs as well as their kinesthetic sensibilities,” wrote Maura Donohue for

Hook is not the only Professor in Dance to take on New York City this month. Professor Jennifer Monson performed in the Live Dancing Archive from October 15-18. Professor Cynthia Oliver performed a duet called BOOM! from October 23-25.

Hook says performing again has helped her reconnect with her students.
“I’m happy that this gave me empathy again for what it’s like to put yourself out there,” says Hook.

Hook teaches contemporary modern technique and creative process classes in choreography.

She says she now finds herself stealing bits of Matteson’s style in her own work and has been inspired by him to stay very physical.

Hook says she and Matteson are hoping to perform in other cities and tour the piece. They are currently working on getting in touch with other performing arts theaters across the country.

Photos of Sara Hook and Paul Matteson in Bored House Guests.

Photos by Jessica E. Stack (used with permission from Sara Hook).

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