Student collaboration at UB discovers Buffalo through art

Students give birth to a new creative project at UB


Deja Stevens saw a disconnect between performance artists and media students at UB and got inspired.

She organized Fusion UB Dance & Photography, a collaborative project among UB’s artistic students. The project highlights the beauty of UB’s campus in an artistic format by connecting dancers and actors with photographers and filmmakers to create an in-depth project about UB, the first of its kind at UB.

Fusion Dance held its first production on Sept. 20 and drew over 40 dancers and photographers from UB who spent an entire day collaborating across North Campus. Photographers and dancers spent an hour at a time with each other and using everything from high-quality cameras to phone cameras, they shot from Baird Point to the Academic Spine.

Stevens, a junior dance major, said the event was designed to bring together different artistic communities in Buffalo and at UB.

“I feel there aren’t enough collaborations and I wanted to make it easier for people to have these collaborations to create,” she said.

Cody Holland, a sophomore dance major, was among the many students who collaborated with Stevens.

“Being a performer, and a [dance] major, our best ability – besides to dance – should be to promote oneself as an artist/performer,” Holland said. “What I learned specifically from the event is how much communication, relaxation and just pure fun is important with the process.”

Beyond networking, Stevens said her inspiration was creating a project that tied together the experience of living in both UB and Buffalo – not just finding a community of local artists and performers.

“Buffalo is misunderstood. My life goal is to revitalize Buffalo to the city that it was,” she said. “Buffalo is a gem.”

Stevens, born and raised in Buffalo, has danced at various studios around the Buffalo area and was mentored by some of Buffalo’s more prominent dance professionals, including one of the original founders of the krump dance movement, Jimmy “BigRook” Hawkins.

“You have to create your own opportunity,” Stevens said. “I believe in entrepreneurship. I believe if you want to be a dancer or an artist, you can be many things but one of those things is an entrepreneur.”

The project forces participants to be the leaders of their own projects, which one of Stevens’ dance professors, Kerry Ann Ring, hopes will spawn more like it. In keeping with her belief of creating opportunities, Stevens approached Ring for feedback on her idea and got the full support of her professor.

Seeing the finished product of her shoot opened her eyes to how important it is for the creative mediums to intertwine, she said. It also helped many artists expand their horizons creatively.

“The point of the event is to feel good, I wanted to share the feeling that I had when I first took performance pictures with a photographer. I had a desire to recreate that feeling,” said Stevens.

Comprised fully of undergraduate students, the event mixed students with varying levels of experience and skill. As a multi-faceted event, it also was a way to learn and refine skills alongside peers.

“I am usually behind the camera, I like to capture moments that are unique and genuine. Getting to be in front of the camera was very different,” said Samantha Pfeiffer, a fifth year senior dance major. “I had to create a story with my body, facial expression and energy. At first I felt a little like a fish out of water, but it got easier. And it definitely helped that I was working with such laidback people.”

Holland, like a few other performers, had previous experience working in front of a camera. He said he was fully able to appreciate the doors that can be opened when you combine media with your craft.

In a digital world, blending a craft with media is not so much encouraged as it is a necessity. To make significant gains in any career in this digital world, one’s craft has to be made ready for digital consumption as a product.

“It’s a great way to learn how to feel comfortable in front of cameras and small numbers of people, as well as great self-promotion and advertisement,” said Holland.

Stevens said she was first inspired to create this project over the summer when she began shooting with a colleague of her mentor Jimmy “BigRook” Hawkins after a video shoot they worked together on.

“I had never taken professional pictures, especially not dance pictures, and we took pictures all over Buffalo. They were the most beautiful pictures, I wanted to cry – I felt so good,” said Stevens.

Taking inspiration from every facet of her home city, Stevens said she is able to superimpose what she sees in Buffalo onto social issues and themes. She said she plans on using Fusion UB to educate people on the intricacies of Buffalo. On a deeper level, Stevens said she is trying to address the racial divide that the City of Buffalo suffers from.

“I love the sculptures [at the Utica metro rail station]; they mean a lot to me,” she said. “When you look at the sculptures, they’re obviously black men. When you look at the one holding the mirror it’s almost saying, ‘You’re a reflection of me,’” she said.

Participants called the first installment of Fusion UB Dance & Photography a success. The project gave a new understanding of each collaborator’s craft and forced individuals out of their comfort zone.

As Stevens intended, participants realized the value of such an experience, hoping that this could be something that can be expected for more than just a semester.

“I thought the event was such a great opportunity for dancers,” said Jessica Miller, a sophomore theater major. “I think theater majors and dance majors would really benefit from this becoming a regular thing. I am extremely pleased with how well the photos and the event turned out.”

Stevens doesn’t intend to stop here. She wants to make Fusion UB a bi-annual event, and she said she intends for the spring edition of Fusion UB Dance & Photography event to be a “Tour of Buffalo” where dancers and photographers make use of various parts of the city.

Stevens is adamant that this is more than just a “networking” event. She stresses that the event is also supposed to remind people that they love to create and to facilitate collaborative endeavors.

“We’re so afraid to reach out to people to send letters to people and say, ‘Do you want to work on a project?’” said Stevens

She said her ambition is to leave her mark on not only the City of Buffalo but UB as well.

“I wanted to create something that’s just as big as [UB’s Zodiac Dance Company]. There’s more to life than what you see in front of you. I want to show that there’s more out there,” Stevens said. “I want to bring back Buffalo through art and dance – that’s my life goal, that’s my piece of the puzzle. Obviously there are more pieces, but that’s my piece.”

Kenneth Kashif Thomas is an arts editor and can be reached at