MFA in Dance Class of 2024

Congratulations to Julia Piper
MFA in Dance, Class of 2024

Please join us in congratulating ecofeminist artist Julia Piper on her successful completion of Duke’s one-of-its-kind terminal degree in dance and performance research. Julia will graduate this spring with an M.F.A. in Dance: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis. On behalf of the entire faculty and staff, we proudly lift up Julia’s commitment to pursuing movement-based research engaging crucial issues and discourses in and beyond the arts.

Julia’s thesis, entitled portal obscura, offered the campus community a space to move, witness, and reflect on their relationship to ecological entanglements. As her solo performance anchored the space, her body illuminated by shards of shadowy light, participants were led down soil pathways and invited to traverse piles of fabric and blowing sheets of plastic. Julia’s deft integration of dance and design elements transformed the Ark, Duke’s legacy home for dance performance since the 1980s, into an other-than-human dream space. Julia’s pursuit of eco-centric movement worlds was cultivated through close mentorship from Duke Dance Professors Michael Kliën and Ava Lavonne Vinesett and complimented by the ecopolitical expertise of Ralph Litzinger, Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology. In scale and ambition, Julia’s ecofeminist dance praxis affirms the potential of dance and movement to amplify the most vital issues of our time.

She inspires us all with all that she sees, senses, and shares through performance-based research.

On behalf of the faculty and staff, I want to offer Julia heartfelt congratulations on this accomplishment. We stand in total support of her whole-hearted commitment to ecofeminist dance and art-making. Onward!

—Sarah Wilbur

Director of Graduate Studies, MFA in Dance: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis
Associate Professor of the Practice in Dance
Duke University Dance Program

MFA Dance Student: Julia Piper. Photo by John West | Trinity Communications
MFA Dance Student: Julia Piper. Photo by John West | Trinity Communications

Dance as Radical Relationality – Julia Piper’s Artistic Research

Julia came to this program with an expressed wish to combine her interest in ecology and dance, often positioned surprisingly far apart in the Western world. This was a complex proposition and required meticulous considerations. In fact, if one wanted to be truly ecological, to deeply align with a larger world of humans/non-humans around them, a lot of our current knowledge was insufficient, or unhelpful. As Julia embarked on this research, she realized that there is not one thing that needs to change, not one choreography to reframe or restage upon this damaged world. In fact, everything had to be found, discovered, uncovered, and constructed afresh. Julia’s research challenged how we think about creativity, productivity, methodology, audience, work, sets, lights, social relations, words, and even program books. All had to change. Not from a reactionary impulse, but from a deeply felt urgency to not only find answers but in Roberto Unger’s words, to be brave enough to ‘face the answers:’ to go where one’s awareness might lead, to listen to the most expansive world possible, to hear the minor voices, the quiet stirrings of other creatures as well as one’s own faint thoughts.

The result is nothing short of stunning. It stuns. It abandons, without destruction, what was commonly thought of as the safe path, and charts other movements and relations, that are no less engaging or masterly, but full of mystery, beauty, and potential. Such ecological dance, as brought to life over the past years won’t change the world in an instant. This longing is exactly what Julia resists, yet, her dance harbors fruits, and thus more seeds, of new relationalities to come.

MFA Dance Student: Julia Piper. Photo by John West | Trinity Communications

About Julia Piper

Julia is an intersectional environmentalist and choreographer. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in Dance: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis from Duke University, and her BA in Dance and Environmental Studies. At Duke, she was a Climate Communications Fellow and a Fellow in the Laboratory for Social Choreography.

Julia has been an educator for more than ten years across disciplines including language arts, performing arts, and the sciences. She is the director of dance at Baltimore Actor’s Theatre Conservatory where she instructs ballet, modern, jazz and tap techniques, dance history, and dance composition. She is on summer faculty at The Dance Conservatory at the St. Pauls Schools for whom she has choreographed many award-winning dances. Most recently, Julia has been serving as an Americorps member and curriculum specialist for Duke Jumpstart, a Pre-School literacy program.