Life » Culture

ROCHESTER TEN MISSY PFOHL SMITH

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Age: 53
Occupation: Director, Program in Dance and Movement and the Institute for Performing Arts, University of Rochester; artistic director of BIODANCE
Current residence: Pittsford, NY
Hometown: Buffalo, NY


BIODANCE is a name that has been synonymous with the Rochester dance community for almost 20 years, and those who have seen a performance will recall expressive choreography and a diverse group of dancers with impressive technical skills. But what makes BIODANCE stand out as a company is its mission, driven by artistic director Missy Pfohl Smith.

“Bio means ‘life’ and dance is how we are as humans, navigating this increasingly polarized, complicated life,” Smith said. Since its inception in 2002, BIODANCE has performed works centered around relationships – in particular, the relationship between humans and the environment. They frequently emphasize this mission through site-specific work; pieces are created for a particular space, such as the Strasenburgh Planetarium, outdoor parks around the city, and the Memorial Art Gallery.

W. Michelle Harris, a professor of Interactive Games & Media at Rochester Institute of Technology, has collaborated with Smith on numerous site-specific works. She said Smith’s innovative use of space is one of her choreographic strengths, along with the collaborative aspect of her creation process.

“I especially admire her creativity and insight,” said Harris. “It’s a back-and-forth process that’s often guided by trying to say something on a human level, and she can activate the space in all sorts of different ways.” Harris creates mixed visuals that are usually projected behind the dancers, creating the setting for the work. The duo’s most recent collaboration, “Elemental Forces,” was created in concert with Dave Rivello Ensemble and premiered at Rochester Fringe in 2021.

But Smith doesn’t limit her collaborative relationships to fellow artists; she also works regularly with community groups across the city of Rochester. As part of a community engagement class she teaches at the University of Rochester, Smith and her students work alongside individuals at Jennifer House and the Senior Center at Community Place of Greater Rochester. The class emphasizes the impact dance can have on a community, which Smith feels is extremely important. Before teaching this specific course, Smith taught limited mobility classes and also arranged for BIODANCE to perform regularly for those communities.



RAFAEL RODRIGUEZ
  • RAFAEL RODRIGUEZ
Outside BIODANCE and her full-time faculty position at the University of Rochester, Smith is pursuing her PhD in human development at Warner School of Education and is a member of the Rochester Fringe Festival board.

Beyond that, the dance world outside of the greater Rochester area has also acknowledged Smith’s dedication to the art form. She was recently invited to write a chapter for an EcoSomatics Reader by Routledge textbooks, which will be published in 2024. The book, “Geographies of Us: Ecosomatic Essays and Practice Pages,” will highlight the relationship between the human body and the environment. This past spring, Smith was also named as a member of the New York State DanceForce, a group dedicated to increasing dance creation across New York State. She will receive annual funding to support dance residences which will bring dance artists from around the country to upstate New York.

Between her work at the university, BIODANCE, and in her numerous roles, Smith will continue to support fellow artists and engage Rochester audiences. She hopes her creations are thought-provoking and offer audiences a moment of human connection.

“The people that are dancing in our pieces are from different parts of the world, different races, different genders, different ages,” she said, “And we’re working together in such a way that we trust each other and love each other. I hope … that has an impact.”