Lecturer and alum Rich Ashworth reflects on choreographing piece for Springdances

Rich Ashworth leads a room of dancers during a summer intensive for young artists.
Rich Ashworth, an alum of the Dance MFA and now a lecturer, is seen leading a room of dancers during a summer intensive for young artists. | Photo by Christal Wagner

The PSOA Department of Dance is set to present Springdances: Surfacing, an evening of original choreography by Dance faculty members and guest artist Vershawn Sanders-Ward. Among the choreographers is Dance MFA alum Rich Ashworth ’21 (Lecturer, Dance)

Ashworth will present a piece that incorporates tap and body percussion to celebrate the working class, conveying themes of craftsmanship and connection. Ashworth recently took the time to reflect on Surfacing and his time as a PSOA graduate student.

Tell us about the piece you choreographed for Springdances 2024.

My piece is entitled Form and FUNKtion. It uses tap dance and body percussion to highlight and celebrate the working-class upbringing I had in rural New England. I grew up with a lot of folks who worked with their hands and took a great deal of pride in the craftsmanship of what they produced. This piece celebrates the rhythm of the workday, shifting from the getting ready routine, to the hum and pulse of production, and the celebration after a hard day’s work. It’s a multi-sensory piece that requires dancers to listen and lock into each other’s groove. 

Did any memorable moments surface while working with PSOA students?  

This is one of the largest and most ambitious works I’ve done in years, given the use of risers and floors. There are a lot of moving parts compared to what I am used to. One of the most memorable moments for me was seeing and hearing how the different surfaces added to the industrial, factory aesthetic. The back ledge of the theatre, the risers we are using, and the dance floor itself all react to the impact of the dancer’s body percussion differently. The ledge has a rattle due to the heating duct underneath. The risers squeak and rumble given the feet stomping on them. When the dancers move from one surface to the other, the sounds of the surfaces create depth and authenticity. I was hopeful this would happen but it’s even better than I anticipated. 

You graduated from the MFA Dance program. What sticks out about your time at the Peck School?

I hadn’t experienced higher education for about a decade. It was jarring to get back into the swing of academic reading, writing, and the physical demands of the classes. Ultimately, it allowed me to develop a language that was not only informed by the technical side of my practice but the historical and cultural side as well. I’m humbled to be a part of this department after having gone through the MFA program. It has allowed me to connect with the students on a level beyond what I expected by making connections as peers, not simply teacher-student.  

What highlights of your education at PSOA came to mind when working with PSOA students?  

I enjoyed the process of pulling people out of their comfort zone. With this piece, we’re not only dancing the choreography, but we’re dancing the musical composition of the work. This can be overwhelming for folks who have not experienced that type of coordination before. It’s like learning a new language or memorizing an area in a language that’s not originally yours. It was the Peck School of the Arts that allowed me to create a safe space for people to work past their comfort zone in a way that was challenging but constructive.  

Have you seen all the pieces in Springdances? If so, what can audiences expect? 

I think the show really highlights the diversity of our program and the well-roundedness of each performer. There is something for everyone in the show, but more importantly, each piece allows the audience to deepen their perspective beyond their idea of what a dance concert can be. Some pieces have built-in excitement through feats that defy gravity. Other pieces give into the gravity of movement that is deeply human and connected to the ground. There are multi-sensory experiences where the music IS movement and vice versa. It’s a deeply moving and enlightening experience for everyone to enjoy. 

Springdances: Surfacing runs through May 5 in Jan Serr Studio at Kenilworth Square East. It features original works inspired by Lake Superior, the ways we connect with one another, craftmanship, and how one might be their own superhero. Additional choreographers include faculty members Daniel Burkholder and Mair Culbreth.

More info and tickets are available on the PSOA events calendar

Story by Jason McCullum ’25