Senior Wins Prize in France on Campus Award Competition

Exploring slavery in the Caribbean through choreography
Lisa Lacher

Taylor Watts ’16, a French and anthropology major, recently received second prize in the 2015 France on Campus Award competition, sponsored by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. 

 “The France on Campus Award competition is open to all U.S. colleges and universities, so Watts’ second prize is proof of the strength and creativity of her proposal,” says David Harrison, professor of French. 

Applications for the France on Campus Award were evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Demonstrated interest in expanding the reach of France and French culture on campus.
  • Originality and creativity of the project.
  • Potential to reach a broad audience, including university students, professors, and other organizations on campus and beyond.

Watts’ proposal, “A Choreographic Exploration of the ‘commerce triangulaire,’”combines her study of dance with her study of French literature. The choreographic piece is inspired by, and set to, a series of texts in French that discuss the impact of slavery on the Caribbean. 

 “Subjects such as these need to be brought to light because they continue to affect the world today,” Watts says. “I believe knowledge and understanding are the only ways to move forward.”

To design and develop the choreography for her proposal, Watts is completing a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) under the direction of Celeste Miller, assistant professor of theatre and dance.

 “Taylor’s ‘Choreographic Exploration’ is a rich example of how dance, because of the undeniability of the body, can be a powerful and visceral use of the arts to examine complex and difficult topics,” Miller says. “It is a choreographed embodiment drawn from research into both her topic and the aesthetic of the art form of dance.”

Watts’ project draws from her off-campus study experience in Nantes, France, once one of the most important slave-trading ports in Western Europe. The methods she is using for her choreographic approach began with a summer MAP in Atlanta, also directed by Miller, working with theatre and dance companies whose work addresses social justice issues.

Watts studied Nantes’ role in the French slave trade, then took a seminar at Grinnell about French Caribbean literature from Gwenola Caradec, assistant professor of French. The works read in this seminar inspired Watts to transform the words into movement with a cast of Grinnell students.

Watts says she also was inspired by the campus visit of choreographer Olivier Tarpaga, hosted last winter by Miller. Tarpaga, from Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, incorporates historical speeches and other spoken words into his choreography to explore the history of decolonization in Africa.

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy, in partnership with Kickstarter and OrgSync, have established the France on Campus Award, under the patronage of film director Wes Anderson, to discover, celebrate, and support initiatives that explore France in new and creative ways. 

Watts will perform her work at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, in Flanagan Studio Theatre in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. As part of her award, she also will receive mentoring from the French Embassy and from Kickstarter to raise funds that will enable her to perform the work on other U.S. college campuses. 

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