May 16, 2001:
herself up in knots
Dancer Jill Sigman 89 *98 challenges audiences to think
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herself up in knots
Jill Sigman '89 *98 challenges audiences to think
For Jill Sigman '89 *98,
the world is literally a stage. The multitalented, New York--based
professional dancer, performance artist, choreographer, and teacher
has danced on mussel shells on the bottom of a drained outdoor swimming
pool in Manhattan. She has dangled from the lower branches of a
very prickly tree in the Bronx, wearing fatigues and carrying a
fluorescent plastic water gun. And she has performed in an abandoned
socialist printing house in Belgium. "Dance can happen anywhere,"
says Sigman. "It is not about place or form but about bringing
to people something they need....I want to bring people dance that
makes them think."
Sigman arrived at Princeton
a self-professed "bun head," having studied classical
ballet for 11 years at the Ballet Center of Brooklyn and the Joffrey
Ballet School. A Brooklyn native, Sigman had no intention of studying
modern dance in the Program in Theater and Dance, but she signed
up when she couldn't find any ballet classes. Ultimately she experienced
an "aesthetic revolution," crediting her professors Ze'eva
Cohen and James May with "changing the way I looked at dance.
Ballet didn't sustain me" anymore, Sigman explains. "I
shaped my artistic voice and being at Princeton allowed me to do
Sigman's diverse interests
and life experiences have further shaped and refined her expression.
The undergraduate and graduate philosophy major has supported herself
at various points in her career as an art conservationist, a tour
guide in Belgium, and a tutor in Croatia. She lived in Belgium for
a year and has traveled and performed extensively throughout Europe,
including the Netherlands, Croatia, Hungary, and Slovenia. She founded
her own company, jill sigman/thinkdance, in 1998, the year she completed
Since then Sigman has
been performing and teaching consistently. She describes her performance
style as being informed by European dance theater. "I'm interested
in dances with emotional impact, dances with edge . . . and ways
that ordinary objects can be transformed into the unusual or surreal,"
says Sigman. She relies on bold images, props, and lots of movement
metaphors to convey her message. "I do tie myself up in knots
a lot," she says, laughing. Sigman prefers to work solo, although
she has choreographed numerous group pieces. Above all, her work
is thought-provoking. "I believe in making dances that challenge
audiences to question and interpret," she explains. "My
dances are not just pretty or decorative but are almost always about
Sigman has returned on
numerous occasions to Princeton's Hagan Dance Studio in the building
at 185 Nassau Street. Last November, at the invitation of her teacher
and mentor Ze'eva Cohen, she showcased her work, including a preview
of her latest project, entitled "Vision Begins," an ambitious,
multimedia, semiautobiographical interpretation of the legacy
of the feminist movement. It includes, among other things, the theme
from the Mary Tyler Moore television show, audio footage of the
Roe v. Wade trial, and a black and white video of suffragettes.
Of her student, Cohen says, "She is truly an original artist."
By Kathryn Levy Feldman
Kathryn Levy Feldman
is a freelance writer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.