Morgan Holder’s Journey from ASSURE Grant to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Desktop News | January 2024

Morgan Holder, a dual major in dance and English with a minor in the Blount Scholars Program, emerged as a standout recipient of the 2022 ASSURE grant. This financial support became the launchpad for her journey to the esteemed Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where she showcased her original piece, “Unstuck With You.”

“Unstuck With You” gracefully transcends conventional dance boundaries, delving into the intricate relationship between space and human connection. Holder’s choreographic exploration, inspired by the revelations of the James Webb Space Telescope, artfully revolves around the death of stars and the formation of black holes.

The ASSURE grant played a crucial role in providing essential support for Holder’s travel expenses to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, enabling her to present a collaborative research project with Yonder Contemporary Dance Company in August 2023.

Reflecting on the experience, Holder shared, “At the Edinburgh Fringe, we had an eight-show run at the Emerald Theater in Nicholas Square. Each night, we experienced a remarkable turnout, consistently surpassing the average audience size for Fringe shows.”

For Holder, the ASSURE grant marked a transformative chapter in her academic and artistic career. Beyond facilitating her participation in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it imparted invaluable lessons in grant writing—a skill set Holder recognizes as crucial for her future career success.

Holder describes her ASSURE journey as:

“Inspired by the recent discoveries made by the James Webb Space Telescope, my research examined the relationship between deep space and interpersonal connections through dance. My choreographic research was centered around the death of a star and formation of black holes. This research was a portion of a greater collaborative project which culminated in the creation of an original work entitled Unstuck With You.

I applied to the ASSURE program to receive funding to aid my travel expenses for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where I presented a collaborative creative research project with Yonder Contemporary Dance Company in August 2023. The entirety of my award money was put towards my study abroad tuition which reduced it from $1350 to $350. At the Edinburgh Fringe, we had an eight-show run at the Emerald Theater in Nicholas Square. We had a remarkable turnout each night with audience sizes consistently well over the average audience size for Fringe shows. In addition to the Fringe, we also embarked on a regional tour across Alabama and Tennessee where we performed and taught classes as a part of our outreach. I, along with another company member, taught an improvisational dance class.

During my research, I formulated and utilized improvisational dance scores centered around the idea of energy expanding from within. I also crafted movement phrases which expressed the dynamic qualities of the movements of ions in a star. In addition to the choreographic developments, I also tasked my dancers to execute the movement phrases within a circle of white rope which gradually shrunk throughout the course of the dance. This element represented the gravitational forces that push on the matter of a star and eventually forces the star to collapse into a black hole. The rope was then used to form constellation-like patterns which represented the expelling of matter into space. This matter, which is primarily carbon and nitrogen, is often the formational elements of the human body, and thus connects deep space to humanity.

The major change in my initial research proposal was changing the work from a trio to a solo. This change was made after an injury in our December preview show left the work with only two dancers. After watching the work with only two dancers, our artistic director and my ASSURE faculty mentor recommended that the work be changed to a solo. In order to adapt the dance, I worked one-on-one with the soloist to tailor the dance to highlight her best abilities. While it was not my original conception of the work, changing it to a solo was an excellent alteration. The solo allowed the choreography to read strongly and offered a balancing contrast to the group works that preceded and followed the solo. Focusing on one person also helped bring forth the human connection in such a conceptual work. Finally, the soloist’s strong execution of the demanding choreography showcased her technical prowess and earned a special highlight in reviews of the show. The EdFringe Review described the soloist as, “A stand-out performer …whose passion and strength shine through in both solo and group sections. Her performance is truly beautiful to watch.”

My faculty mentor was Sarah M. Barry who is also the artistic director of Yonder and the chair of the dance program. Throughout this process, I worked extremely closely with Sarah who offered feedback and encouragement at every step of the process. Sarah and I have developed a very close working relationship in part because of Yonder, and I have often reached out to them for feedback and mentorship outside of this research project. Sarah was also highly instrumental in my receiving of this grant. ASSURE was my first foray into grant writing and Sarah’s expertise helped me present my research in the best way possible. 

I would recommend the ASSURE to other students, especially students with creative projects. The financial assistance provided by ASSURE allowed me to travel to Europe and participate in the largest international arts festival in the world as an undergraduate student for a small fraction of the original cost. Participating in the ASSURE grant process also offered me valuable learning experience with grant writing, which will play an integral part in my future career success.”

For more information on the 2024 Spring ASSURE Call for Proposals, visit