Mikael Mulugeta, Office of Strategic Communication, 319-384-0052
Dance Gala’s Factor factor
Dance Gala’s Factor factor
Dance Gala’s Factor factor
Jesse Factor first saw the Martha Graham Dance Company perform in 1996, when he was in high school.
What he saw on stage that night inspired him to pursue a career in dance and later join the company.
Graham, widely considered the most influential performer and choreographer in modern dance, founded the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1926. Based in New York City, the company trains dancers who have performed both classical and contemporary works in more than 50 countries.
Today, Factor is a second-year MFA dance student at the University of Iowa. He is re-staging a part of one of Graham’s later works, “Ritual to the Sun” from Acts of Light, for the 2016 Dance Gala. In addition to Acts of Light, Dance Gala, which runs from Nov. 3–12 at Space Place Theater, also features five performances created by UI dance faculty. After the performances on Nov. 3, Nov. 5, and Nov. 12, Factor is hosting a post-show discussion about Graham’s legacy and his experience as a dancer with the company.
Jesse Factor spent three years at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, the official school of the Martha Graham Dance Company, learning the Graham technique. Now he’s teaching it to students in the UI dance program. Photo by Tim Schoon.
Acts of Light explores the theme of being intoxicated by light, Factor says.
“Acts of Light is a very pure presentation of the Graham technique,” says Factor. “Graham was born in Pittsburgh, a coal mining town that she describes as being very dark. She later moved to California, and she talks about running along a ridge and being intoxicated by the light and the sunshine.”
Factor, who was born in Mercer, Pennsylvania, says Graham was an inspiring artistic influence. His mother, who danced in college, and his father were passionate about the arts and often took him to see live dance performances. Two performances in particular had a profound impact on him.
“Two of the ones that really stuck with me were Cats on Broadway, which I saw in middle school, and the Martha Graham Dance Company in high school,” says Factor. “When I was sitting in the audience at those performances, I felt stunned and excited in a way that I hadn’t felt before.”
During middle school and high school, Factor attended summer camps that focused on dancing and acting and reaffirmed that he wanted to pursue a career in the arts. Factor then earned a BFA in drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. After finishing his degree, he danced in the North American tour of Cats from 2002 to 2006.
“When I finished Cats, I put my professional career on hold and went back to New York to become a student again,” says Factor. “I got a scholarship and began attending the Martha Graham School, which was a very transformative experience.”
Factor spent three years at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, the official school of the Martha Graham Dance Company, learning the Graham technique and refining his skills. His first year consisted mostly of training and studying, while his second year featured more performance work. By the end of his third year, he was invited to join the company.
At the start of his second year with the Graham Company, an injury suspended his dancing career.
“I was injured during a tour in Europe, which put my career with the company on hold,” says Factor. “But I had trained to teach the Graham technique, and I had done a pedagogy workshop while I was in school there. When I came back from my injury, I realized that I enjoyed teaching and my passion for dance was still stimulated by teaching. The career of dancer can be really short, so I wanted to find a way to stay engaged with that world beyond a performance career.”
While Factor was teaching dance at a high school in New York City, he was encouraged by former colleagues from the Graham Company, who had received MFAs in dance, to pursue one himself. He applied to the UI in the fall of 2014 and enrolled in 2015.
Once here, Factor wanted to give students an opportunity to experience what he had with the Graham Company.
“Every three years, the company has a program called the University Partners Showcase where selected universities will bring students who have trained with a Graham artist to perform at the Joyce Theater in New York,” says Factor. “The Joyce Theater is a popular venue for modern dance in New York.”
He first approached George de la Peña, then chair of the UI Department of Dance, about getting the UI involved in the program and then finalized planning the department’s involvement with current chair Rebekah Kowal.
“Being invited to perform at the Joyce Theater is a tremendous endorsement of our dancers’ skills,” says Kowal. “It gives high visibility to our department, and our dancers have earned the opportunity.”
Factor began instructing UI dancers—13 undergraduate and four graduate students—during the 2016 spring semester to perform for the fall Dance Gala and then in February 2017 at the Joyce Theater.
“I started by introducing the students to the basic principles of the Graham technique,” says Factor. “The second step was to slowly teach the piece to the students. I continually assess how to best engage with and rehearse the piece since I want the process to stay in a world of discovery, excitement, and joy. And for me, dancing is a joyful experience.”
In addition to his instrumental role in organizing the partnership with the Graham Company, Factor has been patient and generous with his time instructing students, Kowal says.
“He is a model student in our department,” she says. “His depth of knowledge, his curiosity, and professionalism are all things that faculty members, myself included, are very proud of.”