Penny Campbell retired from the faculty of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Middlebury College in 2014 after 29 years of teaching, learning, and co-chairing the Dance Program. She is best known for her work in improvisation as a performing art. During her career she has been a performer, a choreographer, and a teacher with a special interest in contemporary perspectives on composition/choreography, movement invention, creative process, and cultural studies. Improvisational performance is her professional specialty. Over the years she has developed and articulated training practices aimed at raising the level of dance improvisation taught in the classroom and performed on stage.
Penny co-founded Work in the Performance of Improvisation, an intensive training for professional and pre-professional dancers at Bennington College, and The Giants of Sciants, an improvisational performance group of musicians and dancers. Both of these ventures included long-time colleagues Susan Sgorbati, Arthur Brooks, Terry Creach, Peter Schmitz, Sue Rees, and Michael Chorney, among others. Early on, she studied with many of the dancers and choreographers of the modern and postmodern traditions in the US, most notably Jane Dudley (an early member of the Martha Graham Dance Company), Merce Cunningham, and Judith Dunn, a founder of the Judson Dance Theatre in NY in 1962. While at Bennington College as a student in the late 60s, she was profoundly moved by the work of Judith Dunn and musician/composer Bill Dixon, who she credits with legitimizing improvisation as an independent performing art for her. She has taught and performed in Japan, Italy, Germany, and Cuba in addition to many cities in the U.S. Since 2007, she has developed ties to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic and toured there with the Dance Company of Middlebury 2010. The group performed their own work, offered workshops for dancers of all ages, inaugurated the stage at Teatro Escuela Iván García, and performed in Matarile* with Grupo Bálsamo (Arisleyda Beard, director) in the Parque Central. Penny is also very interested in the carnival traditions of Taimáscaro in Puerto Plata and Carnaval Romántico and Recorrido 47 in La Vega.
Some of Penny’s writings have been published in Contact Quarterly, a dance journal, and she has been interviewed by many other magazines dedicated to contemporary dance. The intention is to publish more writing on on her archive/blog, Performance Improvisation:
When she is not in Puerto Plata, Penny lives in Shoreham, Vermont, a small, rural community near Lake Champlain where she maintains a small farm with gardens and animals. She is also a textile craftsperson, a sailor, and a student of Spanish. She also continues to teach occasionally and is available to consult at any time. It is important to her to support the on-going struggle for democracy, civil rights, and social justice in art and in life.