Choreographer and director Pavel Zuštiak and documentary filmmaker Pacho Velez have been named Princeton University Arts Fellows for 2015-17 and will begin two years of teaching and community collaboration in September.

The Princeton Arts Fellows program provides support for early-career artists who have demonstrated both extraordinary promise and a record of achievement in their fields with the opportunity to further their work while teaching within a liberal arts context. The Mellon Foundation awarded Princeton a $3.3 million challenge grant in September 2012 to endow and launch the program, which was matched by an anonymous alumnus. The program is also supported by the $101 million gift of the late Peter B. Lewis, a 1955 alumnus, which established the Lewis Center for the Arts.

Fellows are selected for a two-year residency to teach one course each semester or, in lieu of a course, to undertake an artistic assignment, such as directing a play, conducting a student music ensemble, or choreographing a dance with students. Fellows are expected to be active members of the University’s intellectual and artistic community while in residence; in return, they are provided the resources and spaces necessary to their work.

Zuštiak and Velez were selected from a large, diverse, and multi-talented pool of over 500 applicants from dance, music and visual artists – the fields targeted for 2015-2017. “As has been the case in the first two years of the program, the competition was fierce,” said Michael Cadden, Chair of the University’s Lewis Center. “Reading through the applications, the selection committee was yet again amazed by the rich diversity of the contemporary arts scene. Pavel and Pacho emerged as the most remarkable of a remarkable lot.”

pavel zustiak

Photo by Jan Hromadko

Pavel Zuštiak is a director, choreographer, performer, and founder/artistic director of the New York City-based performance group Palissimo Company. Born in Czechoslovakia, he trained at the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam. His work, often described as both human and humane, merges the abstract aspects of dance with nonlinear qualities of “theatre of images” and cinematic mise-en-scène. His approach results in work that is rich in evocative imagery, strong emotional resonance, and non-narrative/nonverbal content, and it strives to provide both creators and spectators with innovative, transformative insight into the human condition. The New Yorker observed that, “a vivid, often anguished imagination shines through in [Zuštiak’s] work” and The New York Times critic Claudia La Rocco wrote, “Mr. Zuštiak, a striking performer who projected an exquisite, unknowable vulnerability.”

Themes explored in Zuštiak’s work include sensory deprivation (Blind Spot, 2003), gluttony and obsession (Itch in the Stitch, 2007), death and sex (Le Petit Mort, 2007), and joy and terror (Weddings and Beheadings, 2009). One of the recurring motives in many of his projects is the interplay between performers and audiences. While occasionally using a traditional proscenium seating, Zuštiak often experiments with perception-changing spatial and perceptual arrangements – as in Le Petit Mort, where the confining interior of P.S.122’s theater imposed a sense of claustrophobia, or in the surprise ending of Weddings and Beheadings, with performers and audience seated together, watching their reflections in a wall of mirrors. Investigation of perceived roles of the watchers and the watched continued in HALT! (2009) – a site-specific work for Staten Island Ferry Terminal in which dancers moved freely among travelers awaiting their daily commute. His five-hour trilogy The Painted Bird, inspired by Jerzy Kosiński’s novel, received a 2013 Bessie Award nomination for Outstanding Production.

Zuštiak’s work has been presented in the U.S. at Wexner Center for the Arts, Performance Space 122, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Abrons Arts Center, Legion Arts, Performance Art Dance Lab (PADL) West, and internationally at Archa Theatre (Czech Republic), Bratislava in Movement dance festival, Slovak National Theatre, Bytom International Dance Festival (Poland), and KioSK Festival and State Theatre Kosice (both in Slovakia). His upcoming 2015 work was co-commissioned by New York Live Arts, Walker Arts Center, and Legion Arts.

Zuštiak has been an artist in residence at the Grotowski Institute in Poland, Stanica in Slovakia, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Abrons Art Center, Vermont Performance Lab, and Maggie Allesee National Choreographic Center.

He is the winner of three Princess Grace Awards and is a recipient of 2013 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council President’s Award for Excellence in Artistic Practice, a 2012 New England Foundation for the Arts/National Dance Project Award, and a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship.

pacho velez

Photo courtesy Pacho Velez

Pacho Velez is a documentary filmmaker who works at the intersection between ethnography, contemporary art, and political documentary. Velez completed his M.F.A. at California Institute of the Arts in 2010. He now lives in New York City and teaches filmmaking at Bard College and design ethnography at Parsons The New School For Design. He is an affiliate of the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University.

In a review of Bastards of Utopia (co-directed with Maple Razsa in 2010) American Anthropologist stated, “In the best ethnographic tradition, Razsa and Velez take the worldview of their interlocutors on its own terms and use that perspective to challenge taken-for-granted assumptions of potential viewers… the film refuses easy narratives of redemption or dismissive narratives of youthful naïveté.”

His current project, Reagan Years, explores a prolific actor’s defining role: Leader of the Free World. Told entirely through a largely unseen trove of archival footage, the film captures the pageantry, pathos, and charisma that followed the 40th president from Hollywood to the nation’s capital.

Velez’s last film, Manakamana (co-directed with Stephanie Spray), won a Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival and was shown at venues from around the world, including the Whitney Biennial and the Toronto International Film Festival. His earlier film and theater work have been presented at venues such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, and on Japanese National Television. He won Best Director at the RiverRun International Film Festival this year for Manakamana. He was also the recipient of the Best Documentary award for two consecutive years at the Ivy Film Festival — in 2002 for Occupation and in 2003 for Orphans of Mathare.

In a review of Manakamana, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times noted, Velez “…doesn’t try to control your viewing experience or steer your gaze — there are no cutaways to trembling lips or close-ups of fluttering eyes…[Velez’s style is] as ethically radical as it is formally rigorous: By refusing to reduce his characters to a documentary prop, Mr. Velez affirms both the limits of his own knowledge…and the ethical obligations that come when people become subjects.”

“We are very pleased to welcome Pavel and Pacho to Princeton and look forward to what they bring to the table,” Cadden said. “They both have distinguished themselves in pushing the boundaries of their art forms in ways that will challenge our students, faculty, and the larger Princeton community. The arts thrive on challenge.”

The next round of Fellowship applications, which will be open to artists in all disciplines, will begin in July with a mid-September deadline. Guidelines posted here. For questions about the Fellowship program write to: lca-fellowships@princeton.edu.

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