John Passafiume remembers Summer Dance Lab founder Charles Bennett as many things: pioneer, artist, visionary, but most of all, mentor.

“He used me in a way that was well-suited to my sensibility and kinesthetic; he understood what I had to offer and I appreciated what he could give me and what he had to offer,” Passafiume said.

It’s precisely this sort of personal interaction with professionals that Passafiume works to foster as director of Summer Dance Lab, which celebrates its 40th summer on the Whitman campus in 2010. The dance lab is a pre-professional program that targets pre-teen to college-age students. The two-, three- or five-week intensive program selects 90 to 125 students every year during an annual audition tour throughout the Northwest and Alaska.

For more information, visit the Summer Dance Lab Web site.

When the program began, students had the opportunity to work directly with Bennett’s ballet company, which had danced internationally in a variety of disciplines.

When Passafiume became director in 2003, he sought to recreate the same opportunity to work with quality faculty and created the apprentice guest residency program. By bringing in a variety of perspectives, classes of 15 to 20 students learn the core values of ballet without the “affectations or stylistic enhancements” that would come with working only with a particular company, he said.

Passafiume also strives to maintain Bennett’s vision that the program would expose students to a wider definition of dance. Rather than only studying ballet, students spend six hours a day exploring four different disciplines: American theater, ballet, modern and jazz dancing, and also may take supplemental elective courses that “introduce other things emerging in the art form,” such as contact improv.

Students have the opportunity at the end of the summer to perform alongside the visiting dancers. The 40th Annual End of Summer Performance is July 23, 2010.

— Story by Eleanor Ellis ’13. Photo by Greg Lehman