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History, Dance Production on Ellis Island Immigrants Topic of UW President’s Speaker Series

September 4, 2018
head portrait of a woman
Marsha Knight

University of Wyoming Department of Theatre and Dance Professor Marsha Knight’s research and the production of her original stage work “Six Songs from Ellis” is the topic of the fall semester President’s Speaker Series Wednesday, Sept. 12.

Knight will discuss the voices of immigrants in one of the greatest human migrations of all time and how she developed “Six Songs from Ellis” for the stage in her free public talk at 4:10 p.m. on the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts main stage. A reception follows in the Performing Arts Center lobby after her talk.

Last spring, “Six Songs from Ellis” -- Knight’s multimedia dance-theater work that centers on the oral histories of the immigrants and refugees who passed through Ellis Island -- was performed at UW. Excerpts of that performance will be presented during Knight’s discussion. She choreographed and co-directed the stage production.

Millions of immigrants and their stories entered the United States through the gates of Ellis Island during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Knight says. Today, more than 40 percent of Americans can trace their ancestry to this period of relatively open immigration through New York’s harbor.

Knight was so affected by the opening of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in 1990 that she began to consider the possibility of creating a work about the immigrant experience. She conducted research at the Oral History Museum at Ellis Island, which alone houses more than 2,000 oral histories.

During a recent yearlong sabbatical, Knight’s subsequent extensive research of approximately 500 oral histories resulted in a broader glimpse into possibilities for her piece, with 88 individuals represented to date.

Excerpts from the 2018 production include themes of economically forced separation, quotas, genocide, exclusion, location (Syria and Ukraine) and religious bias, and also reflections on freedom, access, economic contribution and American identity.

Knight, who received both her B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees from the University of Utah, teaches ballet, historical dance and period movement for actors at UW. Her experience also includes choreography for numerous short works and musical theater productions. Among her UW awards are the Alumni Association's Outstanding Faculty Member Award and Ellbogen Award for Meritorious Classroom Teaching.

The President’s Speaker Series encourages and honors individual faculty members who have successfully balanced the research, educational and service goals of the university. The series calls attention to individuals who have made important, well-rounded contributions to the university’s standing.

A committee, composed of the series’ previous honorees, nominates candidates, and the selected faculty member is asked to prepare a public presentation on a topic of national interest. The criteria for selection include a long-term national recognition for research or creative activity and the ability to communicate with all members of the university community.

For more information, call the UW Office of Research and Economic Development at (307) 766-5353.


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