Renaissance a tribute to Susan Allen

Trait Court Rouge


Vanessa Nowitzky

      All the music students at CalArts loved Susie. As associate dean she was our den mother, but at CalArts that was like being the den mother of a hundred mythological beasts. She was so genuinely enthusiastic and supportive of each and every one of us. Her name was legend, and upon meeting her, she was immediately recognized as a Goddess. We were of course already fantastically lucky to be there; to have been chosen among hundreds as the most promising creative young minds in avant-garde art. Susie thoroughly impressed all the incoming students right away by giving a performance, and she was an absolutely stunning performer, a brilliant inspiration, a master of her craft; and her commitment to her students knew no bounds. So we paid rapt attention to her and soon learned, as loving and as intellectually rigorous as she was, what surprised us the most was her foul mouth. She was not only our guardian angel of music and teaching, she was a demonic force. The flames of hell shot out of her ass when she defended music and her students, when the political landscape of the day was less than supportive. She was never without a glass of wine in her hands at parties, she was an eternal best friend to all the young women, and she attracted the admiring company of dozens of younger men even in her later years. She taught a class, Composing for Harp, which told us how to, and how not to, write for harp. When a piece of music was legitimately too hard for a harpist to play, she would demonstrate why, show us, and call it a "pig fucker." In improv class, she encouraged us to let go of our mental barriers by saying "Play anything! Play shit!"

      Susie's very being was a paradox that unified heaven and earth, body and spirit, angels and devils. She was Kali, goddess of creation and destruction. She was Beauty and the Beast. This fecund mysticism was in fact the perfect environment for the seed in my mind. Sheltered in the foothill of her volcanic majesty, I drew the inspiration I needed for the idea I had come to nurture: singdancing, a combination of singing and dancing in which movement affects vocalization to create melodic potentials which the ear can specify. This involved hours of me rolling around on the ground vocalizing and letting my movement affect my voice. I sounded and looked like a dying animal.  Susie supported me. She let me use my singdancing voice-in-body as my instrument in our improvisation class. She let me perform with everyone.

      I eventually developed singdancing to be an artform I could choreograph and compose in, but I continued to use improvisation as a vital tool in my practice, and one time I returned to CalArts to visit and Susie Allen invited me again to improvise in a group performance, generously and spontaneously providing me the opportunity to show my technique in its further development.

      Susie praised my work with eloquence and recommended me often; once in a letter she said she wished she could live as long as I so that she could recommend me "for life"...


sing the body!

Cherish Nature. Forever.

The Flower Duet from Lakmé (1883) by Léo Delibes,
singdanced live by Vanessa Nowitzky on her infinity ring.

First draft edit. Filmed and synced by Sangye Ince-Johannsen.
May 2017. Emigrant Lake, Ashland, Oregon.

A singdance improvisation by Vanessa Nowitzky

Produced and directed by Jacques Burtin
Director of Photography: Kristan Kelly Williams
Sound / Editing: Ross Williams
Co-Producer: Françoise Murillo

Filmed at Emigrant Lake
Ashland, Oregon (USA)
October 2018

Trait rouge

Vanessa Nowitzky is the innovator of singdancing. She has composed and choreographed several works for singdancing ensembles, and performed both original singdances and classical songs on trapeze and her infinity ring, which she designed. Growing up with Renaissance musician parents gave her a solid ear for a cappella music, and her actor certificate training at the Pacific Conservatory for Performing Arts (PCPA) taught her storytelling and the power of intention.

Vanessa also studied music and dance at SOU in Ashland and Cornish College in Seattle, and in 2000 she earned her BFA in music (emphasis composition) from CalArts (California Institute of the Arts, Valencia), where she studied music composition and Icelandic folk song with Lucky Mosko and harp and music improvisation with Susan Allen. In her hometown Ashland, Oregon, she learned dance with Suzee Grilley and performed five seasons with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Before devoting herself to the development of singdancing, Vanessa performed in many plays and musicals, and wrote two original musicals and several choral pieces, including a composition for a poem by Icelandic artist Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson, which was aired on the radio in Reykjavik.

Winning the Alden B. Dow Creativity Fellowship in 2005 enabled Nowitzky to compose and choreograph “Rosary”, a singdancing quintet which she presented the following year at Ballet Rogue’s 22nd Annual “Ballet in the Park” in Ashland. She also created “The Creek”, a singdance solo which she performed frequently to raise awareness of the need to preserve Ashland’s watershed and the purity of drinking water. Learning aerial arts from Peggy Paver empowered Vanessa to compose and perform the trapeze madrigal “Emerging Light” in collaboration with Peggy as choreographer. In 2009 Vanessa was commissioned by Hollywood producer Fred Caruso to cowrite a third musical, for animation, The Rainforest (awaiting production). In 2012 she translated, stage-directed and sang soprano in Bach’s Peasant Cantata for Jefferson Baroque Orchestra. By some hilarious twist of fate in 2015, she played Lord Edgar and Jane in The Mystery of Irma Vep at the Randall Theatre.

Vanessa enjoys a 95-100% raw vegan diet, to save animals, her health, and the planet. All her feats of strength are plant-based! She chooses to live in the small town of Ashland, Oregon, where she revels in trees, bodies of water, and viriditas (the greening power of nature).

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