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Skidmore College
Dance Department
Debra Fernandez

Debra Fernandez (Retired 2021)


Debra Fernandez is a director/choreographer and dance educator. She comes to the dance world through classical training, is self-taught in the jazz vernacular and somehow developed a sustaining interest in experimental theater. She moved from New York City to Saratoga Springs in 1990 to join the Dance Faculty of Skidmore College where she is currently a full professor and Chair of Dance. She teaches Ballet III, Workshop, Choreography I and II and Performance Elements. Since moving to upstate New York in 1990, she has created over seventy dance pieces for the dancers at Skidmore College. Her dances have toured throughout the state of New York and have also been seen in diverse venues, such as The Yard (Chilmark, Ma.) P.S.122, DIA, Suny Purchase, The Frances Tang Teaching Museum and The Arthur Zankel Music Center.

In 1994 she was invited to work at The Williamstown Theater Festival and she remained a member of the Festival for seven years. While there, she formed several important relationships with directors who would influence the direction of her work. Six collaborations with director Phil Soltanoff (founder of mad dog experimental) have been staged at WTF. Their 1996 festival production of  ‘to whom it may concern’  subsequently ran for two months in New York at gAle gAtes, et. al. The Village Voice called it a “taut, site specific piece” that “casts a mesmerizing spell”.  In 1997, the show was invited to be part of the Belgrade International Theater Festival (BITEF) in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Their 2001 show, “Strange Attractors”, premiered at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) and was again performed at the Obie Award winning space, Five Myles, in Brookly, New York. In 1999, she was choreographer for The Virginia Opera’s production of “ORFEO AND EURIDICE”, under the direction of Darko Tresjnak. The Richmond, Virginia Times-Dispatch had this to say: “Stage Director Darko Tresjnak and choreographer Debra Fernandez have created a dreamy, almost hallucinatory conception. Singers move as if dancing in slow motion and dancers express musical ideas as resonantly as musicians.” Her collaboration with director David Pilot and composer Joseph Diebes, “The Malleus Maleficarum”, was presented at The Ontological Theater in New York.

In 2000, the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery opened at Skidmore College and Debra established a close and lasting relationship with the museum. Since it’s opening, she has made four evening length works which have allowed her to focus on the museum as an interactive performance space. Commissioned for the 2000 grand opening of The Tang, “TangO” was a collaboration with David Porter (pianist) and Margo Mensing (visual artist) that centered around a live performance of John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. Using a map constructed in nine unfolding sections, the audience was encouraged to experience the performance through a series of interactive instructions and suggestions. “BALLS”, a collaboration with painter Paul Henry Ramirez, acclaimed percussionist Glen Velez and composer Carl Landa was performed in November of 2002.  Named as one of the ‘year’s ten best’ by Metroland, “BALLS” was described as an “unabridged thesaurus” of dance, “compelling, odd and beautiful”.   In 2004, she collaborated again with Margo Mensing and David Porter. Their 2004 production, entitled “MAK  3”, was an evening of dance, theater, music, art and film constructed and created to illuminate the live performance of George Crumb’s masterwork, Makrokosmos III.  Recently, she teamed up again with painter Ramirez for The Newark Museum’s bicentennial celebration.  “Zero Point Zero” was a dialogue in dance with Ramirez’s exhibition, Blackout. It was performed at the Newark Museum (Newark, N.J.) in March of 2010.  In June of 2010 she returned to pure dance and produced  “Swan Song”, to a score by Richard Danielpour. The work was commissioned by The Saratoga ArtsFest and was performed in June and October of that year in the Arthur Zankel Music Center.

Her most recent piece and third collaboration with David Porter and Margo Mensing, “Keeping Company With Cage” was performed at the Zankel Music Center in April of 2012 and was repeated as one of the highlights of Artsfest 2012.  The Albany Times Union said, “Framing “Sonatas and Interludes” with movement, video imagery and artful lighting, they succeeded in creating a mood — enigmatic, abstract and atmospheric — that gracefully complemented and enhanced the music without detracting from it or trying to render it more conventionally accessible or entertaining.” In October of 2012, “Swan Song” was presented again as part of Saratoga Dances II, curated by NYCB dancer and choreographer Justin Peck. The Albany Times Union’s Tresca Weinstein said, “Debra Fernandez’s “Swan Song”, choreographed specifically for the Zankel in 2010, painted the most magical and mysterious images of the evening. NYCB dancer Abi Stafford, along with Skidmore seniors Alison DeFranco and Victoria Stroker, floated and curved across the stage to the bittersweet strains of Richard Danielpour’s “Apparitions”, played live by the string quartet. Again and again, Stafford returned to the windows, watching for something—and then, on the other side of the glass, a man in white (Andrew Scordato) could be seen approaching. He appeared and disappeared in the waning light, until at last Stafford ran into the wings, and then emerged amid the trees to join him, her abandoned sisters wistfully watching her go.”

Debra has twice served on the choreography panel for The New York State Council for the Arts and also served in 1994 as a panelist for the New York State Foundation for the Arts. An avid advocate for dance, she was chosen as one of the first Artists-in-the-Schools for The Yard, a colony for choreographers in Martha’s Vineyard, and was asked to return as the first teacher in their Junior Theater/Dance workshop program. Debra has also received choreography fellowships to The Djerassi Resident Center for the Arts in California and The Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. Since 2008 she has served as head of the scholarship committee for Saratoga City Ballet and has raised over $15,000 to help students in need further their dance training. She is a long time yoga practitioner and her yoga workshops are well known in the Capital Region. Debra would like to thank all her teachers along the way who helped shape her work and her life. She is profoundly grateful to them.