Faculty Q & A with Jennifer McQuiston Lott
August 10, 2016
This semester, Jennifer McQuiston Lott joins the USC Kaufman BFA faculty as an assistant professor of practice in ballet and contemporary dance. Founder of LottDance and cofounder of Traverse City Dance Project, she comes to Los Angeles from New York to lend USC Kaufman her extensive experience.
What is your background in dancing and in teaching dance?
I have spent most of my career dancing for a number of companies and choreographers in Cleveland and New York City, and freelancing as a performer, teacher, choreographer and producer. Very early on, at my home studio and then during my undergraduate studies in Indiana University’s ballet department, I was offered opportunities to teach and choreograph, and to collaborate with musicians and other artists. This continued from my first jobs in Cleveland all the way through my most recently company job, with Gibney Dance Company. I’ve become hooked on this multi-faceted approach to my art – toggling between training, performance, collaboration and mentorship – so I’ve never really stopped. I eventually started making dances for camera and music videos, in addition to my stage works. In 2010, I founded LottDance, and later the Traverse City Dance Project, to facilitate my explorations, and to bring dance to places and people where it is less known or accessible. I’ve taught and staged works at universities and schools in the States, Europe, and South Africa. I also teach GYROTONIC® and GYROKINESIS®, methods which have helped lengthen my own career.
How do you feel about joining the faculty at USC Kaufman?
I am thrilled, and can’t wait to get started! Transitioning from New York to USC, and from the world of professional dance to university – it will be an adjustment, but I know I’ll have help navigating. I am so honored to be counted among such an incredible faculty.
What do you hope to communicate your students at USC Kaufman—do you have a particular teaching philosophy?
I believe that every student brings something valuable into the room, and everyone has something to learn in any situation. Beyond my background in classical ballet and modern dance, my teaching is influenced by popular culture, music, mythology, storytelling, modernism, technology, efficiency, the politics of the body… anything that is relevant to the students can be fodder for creative and physical exploration. I am constantly seeking to approach a dance-based version of composer Richard Wagner’s concept of gesamtkunstwerk, or “total art.” Through an ongoing synthesis of disparate elements and influences, we find opportunity for new movement and dialogue, and for meaningful relationships on and offstage.
You cofounded Traverse City Dance Project. What experiences from Michigan will you bring with you to USC Kaufman?
The Traverse City Dance Project has helped me become a better collaborator, connector, and a facilitator of creative process. It’s also taught me to trust other people, and to go with the flow. Dance, for me, is very much a communal art form.
I hope that I bring all of that to USC Kaufman. Our time in pre-professional training tends to be self-focused, and as professionals we always need to maintain a disciplined personal practice. But I find that the most well-adjusted, interesting and successful professional artists tend to see themselves as part of their community beyond the walls of the dance studio and theater.
Can you tell us about the most recent dance project you’ve worked on?
I am currently finishing up the fourth season of the Traverse City Dance Project. As the Artistic Director, I choreograph, pair composers with choreographers, and seek out masterworks for our season. This year, we are performing Karole Armitage’s song cycle Ligeti Essays and a really fun men’s duet to Pavarotti singing O Sole Mio. For my own work, SuperMoon, I used new music by my husband Ryan Lott, recorded by the chamber ensemble yMusic. It’s bombastic and physically demanding, and I’m privileged to work with an extraordinary group of dancers, who are just killing it.
Is there anything in particular you hope to achieve with your students while teaching at USC Kaufman?
There is a revolution happening at USC Kaufman. These students are building a movement vocabulary and creative palette that past dancers could only dream of! As professionals, they are going to change the dance world, and I want them to have long, healthy careers. As a contemporary and ballet teacher, I aim to help them find a home base in their technical practice and in their bodies.