Root Vegetables

U-M First year dancers with photos of themselves in first grade. Vegetables by first grade sculptors at Haisley Elementary (Photo: Shelby Polisuk)


The centre does not necessarily
have to be located at the imperial centre,
the centre can be shifted
ideologically through imagination
and this shifting can recreate history.
— Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies


Root Vegetables:

On groundedness, growth, and expanding definitions of beauty

The Root Vegetables Project was one of the culminations of my residency on dialogue building, diversity and inclusion initiatives on the University of Michigan’s campus.  It comes out of reflection on larger questions of institutional and departmental culture, and ways of productively shifting micro-environments toward being more inclusive and welcoming for people from diverse backgrounds. 

The actual performance of Root Vegetables is a joyful repertory piece for 18 first year university dancers. Because the work toured to hospitals, senior centers, high schools and elementary schools in central and southeastern Michigan, the performance was designed to be inviting and legible for audiences new to dance and contemporary performance.

Before our process began, first year dance students brought me photos they liked of themselves in first grade, which I blew up and taped across the studio mirror at eye level before every rehearsal. As new college students in a conservatory dance program, students undergo intense social and academic scrutiny under exposure to other people’s conceptions of beauty and body image, at a moment when they are newly uprooted from their family and familiar surroundings. I wanted to give the dancers a deeper soil-level experience to examine diversity in their own field: seeding agency, groundedness and other creative tools to examine and expand their own aesthetic understandings, and build space for future growth and inquiry in their careers. As part of the project, first year dancers reconnect with their remembered and recorded senses of self, and reflect on their own received and developing notions of beauty. The rehearsal process involved written reflection, drawing activities, a heightened sense of play, and physical, movement-based creation as part of an interdisciplinary, “centre-shifting” work.  The performance ends with the students approaching the audience with one arm extended, sharing the younger photos of themselves. The project also involved collaboration with local first grade sculptors from Haisley Elementary School, and root vegetables research with local farmers market Argus Farm Stop.


Root Vegetables

Choreography: Eryn Rosenthal, in collaboration with the dancers
Concept and research: Eryn Rosenthal
Music: Zap Mama, So Percussion, Caroline Shaw
Root Vegetables made by first grade sculptors in art teacher Alex Vinter’s class at Haisley Elementary School

Work commissioned by the First Year Touring Company (FTC), University of Michigan Dance Dept.
FTC Director: Professor Robin Wilson
Assistant director: Nicole Reehorst

Featuring FTC dancers:  Alexa Guidotti, Alexa Miller, Alexander Yakovenko, Brendan Ryan, Cameron Ely, Caroline Brown, Catherine Lesha, Courtney Ziegelmeyer, Emily Van Duinen, Gabriel Needle, Katherine Mousel, Katie Pierson, Kayla Fiore, Le’Elle Davis, Lydia Dunn, Mariah Stevens, Nicolas Hopkin, Sara Fox, Sophia Montalvo, Taylor Valadez, Victoria Briones, and Zachary Morris

Performed live at U-M Hospital, Glacier Hills Senior Living Community, Skyline High School, Haisley Elementary School, and the Betty Pease Theater in Ann Arbor, Michigan and at the Carr Center/ King High School in Detroit from April 5-16, 2018.

Background research for this work was inspired by the recent U-M dissertation of psychologist Dr. Courtney McCluney, an experiential case study of African American clergywomen and sense-making of marginality, positive identity construction, and leadership. I am also grateful to Professor Tabbye Chavous, Dr. Ching-Yune Sylvester, and Program Manager Laura Sánchez-Parkinson of NCID (National Center for Institutional Diversity), as well as to Dr. Kevin Goodman at UMass-Amherst’s program in Social Justice Education, and activist and Professor Yazier Henry at U-M’s Ford School for Public Policy for key critical discussions and insight that helped me articulate this work.

Funding: This project was made possible through funding from the Alvin and Louise Myerberg Family Foundation; the U-M School of Music, Theatre and Dance’s (SMTD) Michigan Artist Citizen (MAC) Award and the Meta Weiser EXCEL Fund; and the U-M Department of Dance.

Special thanks to Kevin Goodman, Amy West, Karen Davidov, Courtney McCluney, Jonathan Kuuskowski, Natasha Shaffer, Jessica Fogel, Shelby Polisuk, Robin Wilson, Nicole Reehorst and Alex Vinter and his fabulous first grade sculptors.

Special shoutouts as well to Argus Farm Stop for donating root vegetables and agricultural expertise to our original research.


Photos by Zachary Morris


Photos at Haisley by Eryn Rosenthal, Shelby Polisuk and Sean Hoskins


Video by Sean Hoskins

Note: Performance starts at 2min 29sec., after intro by Prof. Robin Wilson.


© Eryn Rosenthal, 2018. Please share with artist credit and link to this page.

Root Vegetables | 2018 | Projects