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Students, officials pay tribute to late RWU president Donald Farish

RWU%20Farish%20Ceremony.jpgBRISTOL — Donald J. Farish, the president of Roger Williams University who died in July, was remembered fondly Wednesday as a leader who welcomed diversity, reached out to the world beyond the campus gates, and

was a daily presence at campus events.

Farish, the university’s 10th president, died from a sudden illness after a five-decade career in academia. He was 75 and had planned to retire next June.

Best known for freezing tuition at Roger Williams in 2014, Farish was a humble man who rarely missed a campus event, whether it was a poetry slam, a play or a homecoming game.

One of his biggest contributions was expanding the size of the university’s presence in downtown Providence, opening a new campus at One Empire Plaza, the home of Roger Williams’ School of Continuing Studies.

He was also deeply committed to increasing diversity among the university’s students, demonstrating “a steadfast

belief in the power of higher education to transform lives,” according to a statement from the university following his death.

“The Rev. Roger Williams, with all of his strengths and vulnerabilities, was enlivened on this campus through Don’s heartbeat,” said the Rev. Nancy Soukup, the university’s multifaith chaplain, who gave the invocation before a crowd of almost 1,000 people in the Recreation Center on the Bristol campus. “Williams’ firmly held values for tolerance of all ideas and beliefs, legal fairness and civic dialogue, have become embedded in our lives. Because of Don, we now bridge those four centuries between Roger Williams and today.”

During what was billed as a chance to “Celebrate President Farish: His Life and Legacy,” students remembered Farish as a natural leader who always recalled a name, who wasn’t afraid of speaking out against injustice, and who recognized that the university had a role to play in the greater community.

“He always believed that everyone had a chance,” Monsurat Ottun, a member of the class of 2016, told the gathering. “He believed in the continuous pursuit of inclusion.”

Farish was a man of many interests — among them, the study of insects. One colleague said he never learned anything about bugs during their many conversations, but he did learn a lot of about dance.

“He attended every single dance and theater event we had,” he said. “He even knew the names of every work students performed.”

Phoebe Thaler, an RWU senior, said Farish was very supportive during her transition from male to female.

“I always felt safe to be out and proud,” she said. “As a transgender woman, I know that I mattered to President Farish.”

DeWolf Fulton described how deftly Farish handled a campus controversy surrounding a student’s writing piece that many found offensive. Farish not only accepted the writer’s apology, he asked him to stay at Roger Williams. He also reached out to one of the students who felt most aggrieved.

“This was Don’s truth,” Fulton said. “To honor civil discourse and to find acceptance in the middle.”

As a reflection of his commitment to the arts, Farish’s life was celebrated by tribal drumming and spoken word poetry, by song and dance.

Two students said it best:

“He led by love,” said students Nicola Alexander and Dani Alva. “He listened and learned and he practiced what he preached. He was one of a kind.”

By Linda Borg 
Journal Staff Writer 

Posted Sep 12, 2018 at 8:49 PM

Updated Sep 12, 2018 at 9:02 PM

Caption: Members of the Roger Williams University Dance Theatre on Wednesday perform “Mandorla,” a dance piece choreographed by Jenny Rocha, Class of 1996, as a tribute to Donald Farish, the RWU president who died in July. [The Providence Journal / Kris Craig]


Dancing in the Big Apple: RWU Dancers Perform at the Jack Crystal Theater in New York City

The performance, choreographed by an alumna, gave RWU dancers the opportunity to shine in the big city

Students in NYC
Eight RWU dancers performed a piece choreographed by RWU alumna Christina Jane Robson ’09 over the summer at the Jack Crystal Theater in New York City. From left to right they are Emily Bartnicki ’20, Kaylee Mahan ’20, Emilee Olivari ’18, Makaila Corridori ’20, Shaelyn LeLievre '20, Layne Willis ’18, Abbie Dougherty ’19, Erin Saunders ’18, Christina Jane Robson ’09.

By April Federico '19

New York City, N.Y. With the buzz of the city surrounding them, eight RWU dancers took the stage at the Jack Crystal Theater to dazzle the New York City crowd with a ten-minute piece that incorporated electronic rhythms and movements.

Called Multiplex, the RWU dancers glided and performed with all heart and soul on that stage at the Jack Crystal Theater.

The performance gave the RWU dancers the opportunity to perform at a prestigious venue in New York City where some of the most accomplished dancers in the world have performed, said Associate Professor of Dance Gary Shore.

The RWU dancers – Emily Bartnicki ’20, Makaila Corridori ‘20, Abbie Dougherty '19, Shae LeLievere ‘20, Kaylee Mahan ‘20, Emilee Olivari ‘18, Erin Saunders ‘18, and Layne Willis ‘18 – said the opportunity gave them not only the chance to show off their technical skills as dancers but the opportunity to display the quality of the RWU dance program.

“I think of the dance program at Roger Williams University as a hidden gem,” Willis said. “But this performance put us on the map!”

“It was a great honor to be chosen for this performance,” Saunders said. “To dance alongside some successful dancers already in the business was amazing, I came offstage and felt proud to be from RWU.”

The piece the RWU dancers performed was created by RWU alumna Christina Robson ’09, who is a member of the Jones/Zane Company in New York. Recently, the dance was recognized by the American College Dance Association and selected as an alternate to be performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as part of the association’s national gala. Robson came to RWU in October 2017 and showcased Multiplex to the dancers.

Robson worked with the students for two days to prepare the students for the performance. Robson says there is nothing that the dancers won’t try. If there was a suggestion that came up on how to improve the performance, the dancers were willing to do whatever it took to get the movement right.

“The students are so malleable and willing,” Robson said. “My trust in them is so full.”

Robson, who is a frequent visiting guest artist with the dance and performance studies program at RWU, specifically wanted RWU performers for the event because she is familiar with the talent and technical skill of the dancers trained in the program, she said. She could think of no better group of dancers to bring her piece to life.

“The RWU dance program cultivates artists,” she said.



dance3.jpgRWU Dance and Performance Studies has been awarded high honors by the American College Dance Association by placing into the top four of the adjudicator's picks for best choreography and dancing!

Congratulations to the piece, Multiplex, choreographed by RWU alumna Christina Robson, and student cast members: Emily Bartnicki, Makaila Corridori, Abbie Dougherty, Shae LeLievere, Kaylee Mahan, Emilee Olivari, Erin Saunders, and Layne Willis.

This year's New England conference (Feb. 15-18, '18) had 36 colleges and universities participating - and 44 adjudicated pieces total. The adjudicated pieces were judged by the following panel of professional dancers and choreographers from diverse stylistic backgrounds:

Gretchen Alterowitz is Professor of Dance at UNC Charlotte, teaches ballet, choreography, and dance history - and dance2.jpgresearches the social and cultural impact of democratic approaches to choreography and pedagogy.

Sean Curran is Chair of the Dance Department of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Artistic Director for Sean Curran Dance Company, and longtime member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company - and fun fact...Sean started his modern dance training right here at RWU!

Gesel Mason is Artistic Director for Gesel Mason Performance Projects, Professor of Dance at University of Colorado Boulder, and a longtime member of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and Ralph Lemon/Cross Performance Projects.

Our 4th place ranks us Second Alternate in the possibility of bringing our work to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Bravo RWU!



Audition for RWU’s Dance Theatre Company:

September 4, 5:30pm


RWU Dance Theatre auditions taking place in the Performing Arts Center (The Barn) Dance Studio.  Everyone is welcome.  Dance majors are required to audition.

Auditions for the Dance and Performance Major:

Early Action:
Mon Oct 23
Mon Nov 6
Mon Nov 20

Regular Decision:
Mon Feb 5
Tues Feb 20
Mon Feb 26

For program auditions, please contact Tom Durigan in Admissions at


Alive! Arts Series


September 8 - 16


Sayer Mansfield


Sayer Mansfield in residence teaching classes and choreographing for the RWU Dance Theatre. 




Sat, September 15, 7:30 PM: Dance Basement Series Event

Sayer Mansfield and members of The Roger Williams University Dance Theatre.  

Sayer is a former member of the internationally renowned Pilobolus Dance Theatre.

Free and Open to the Public


September 24 - 30 Christina Robson is in residence teaching classes and choreographing for the RWU Dance Theatre. 

Christina is a member of the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Company




Sat, Nov 10, 7:30 PM: Dance Basement Series Event

Katie McNamara, Olase Freeman and members of the Roger Williams University Dance Theatre

Freshmen Company.

Olase Freeman formerly danced with Jane Comfort & Co.

Katie McNamara’s work has been shown at Philadelphia’s Painted Bride Art Center, Galapagos Art Space in New York, the Projekt

Theatre (Dresden, Germany) as well as during the Silesian Dance Festival (Bytom, Poland).



December 6,7, and 8 @ 7:30pm and Dec.9 @ 2:00pm RWU Dance Theatre in Concert:  New and Innovative Works by Guest Artists, Faculty, and Student Choreographers


New and innovative works by guest artists, students and faculty.


April 9 - 16

Mary Ellen Beaudreau

in residence residence teaching classes and choreographing for the RWU Dance Theatre. 


Mary Ellen Beaudreau is the Producer for Performance & Residencies at GIBNEY in New York and former Director of the Brooklyn Ballet School and Dance Chair of Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts in NY. She holds an MA in Choreography from Laban Conservatoire and a BFA in Dance from The Juilliard School. Mary Ellen performed with San Francisco Ballet, Pilobolus Dance Theatre, Charlotte Ballet, and RUBBERBANDance Company. Her choreography has been presented at Festival Ballet Providence, Classic Stage Company, Royal College of Music, American Players Theatre, Charlotte Ballet, Fort Wayne Ballet and Judson Church. Mary Ellen is proud to be returning to her roots in RI to create new work with the students at Roger Williams University.



Feb 5 - 10

Raphael Xavier

Raphael Xavier guest artist residency Feb. 5-10 - culminating in a public performance Feb. 10, 2pm: featuring Raphael Xavier solos and an original piece constructed for RWU students. 

Raphael Xavier

Originally from Wilmington, Delaware,  Raphael Xavier is a self-taught Hip-Hop dancer and Breaking practitioner since 1983, Raphael has forged an exceptional approach to improvisation. Brenda Dixon Gottschild deemed Xavier, ‘A fine rhythm technician who transforms a bravado dance style into an introspective meditation.’ A self-described Innovative Movement Conceptualist, Xavier creates new ways to expand the vocabulary of the dance form. He draws not only upon the culture but also his equally important visual background as a Hip Hop magazine photographer and musical artist. As the sound designer for his works, Xavier’s understanding of movement and musicality allows him to structure beats, noises and sounds into captivating music that draws upon emotion and coincides with his choreography. His extensive research in the Breaking form has led to the creation of Ground-Core, a Somatic dance technique that gives the practitioner a better understanding of the body within all dance forms. As an active alumnus of the world-renown Hip Hop Dance Company, Rennie Harris Puremovement, his solo and ensemble choreographic dance works have been performed worldwide. His dance works include: The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching Performance, Point of Interest and Sassafrazz: Roots to Mastery, which will premiere in Spring 2019 and he is currently developing as part of New York Live Arts’ Live Feed Artist Residency. His works have been performed at REDCAT Los Angeles, Kennedy Center in Washington DC, ART (American Repertory Theatre in Boston), Dance Theatre Workshop in NYC, the Dance Center at Colombia College Chicago and Painted Bride in Philadelphia, PA among others. He currently lives in Philadelphia and is a Guest Lecturer in Dance at Princeton University.