S. Ama Wray

The University of Wisconsin–Madison Arts Institute, the Art Department, and the Departments of Art History, Dance, Afro-American Studies, and African Cultural Studies welcomed Performance Architect Dr. S. Ama Wray as the Spring 2018 Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence.

During her residency Dr. Wray taught “The Art of Improvisation: From Phronesis to the Production of Practical Knowledge.” The course is characterized as a theoretical seminar/writing class and will begin with an examination of race to develop an understanding of its historical construct. Examining history and our intersectional, national, and global identities, it also included participatory research, video research, and production. She also incorporated the Art of Improvisation dance technique Embodiology®, informed by Ewe (West African) knowledge. Embodiology® is for a wide range of participants and provides opportunities to examine improvisation through contemporary dance, visual art, neuroscience, specific African and Asian cultures, theatre, and technology.

Dr. Wray focused on interaction with students and their growth as interdisciplinary scholars, and her guest artists engaged with students and participate in public lectures. The semester culminated in a final student performance that was free and open to the public. This plethora of engagement challenged collaborators and audiences alike with new levels of awareness, extending beyond the scholarly realm to inspire creative living.

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About the Artist

Sheron Wray striding image courtesy of the artist

Dr. S. Ama Wray is an associate professor of dance at the University of California, Irvine. She is a former UK NESTA Fellow (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts, similar to the MacArthur Awards) and improviser, choreographer, director, teacher, and scholar. As a result of her 4-year NESTA fellowship, dance of the African diaspora, jazz, and improvisation intersect in her concept of digitally enabled improvisation, which manifests in the award-winning “Texterritory.” Wray self-titles as a Performance Architect, and received her PhD from the University of Surrey where she developed her theory and practice of Embodiology®, a neo-African approach to contemporary dance improvisation. Her 2012 TED talk articulates its distinctions and philosophy. Currently, her improvisation practice is extending into clinical research with UC Irvine Medical Center, using her dance improvisation methods as a form of therapy for patients who suffer from chronic diseases.

As a performer in the United Kingdom, Wray danced with London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Rambert (formerly Rambert Dance Company) between 1988 and 2001. In London between 1992 and 2004, she was artistic director of JazzXchange Music and Dance Company, collaborating with musicians including Gary Crosby – OBE, Julian Joseph, Wynton Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin, and Zoe Rahman. Wray is widely known for her role as the leading performer and legal custodian of Harmonica Breakdown (1938), choreographed by Jane Dudley, which she continues to re-stage globally.


UW–Madison Art Department logo UW–Madison Dance Department logo

S. Ama Wray’s residency was presented by the UW–Madison Arts Institute and hosted by the Art Department with Associate Professor Faisal Abdu’Allah as lead faculty. Co-sponsors include the Departments of Art History, Dance, Afro-American Studies, and African Cultural Studies. Additional funding for Fleeta Chew Siegel’s visit was provided by the Brittingham Visiting Scholars Grant.

The UW-Madison Arts Institute has hosted world-class artists in residence since 1995 and formally launched the Interdisciplinary Arts Residency Program (IARP) in 1999. The IARP is made possible by funding from the university’s Office of the Provost.

Guest Artists

Mojisola Adebayo headshotMojisola Adebayo has worked in theatre, radio, and television on four continents over the past two decades; performed in over fifty productions; wrote, devised, and directed over thirty plays; and led countless workshops, from Antarctica to Zimbabwe. Adebayo’s publications include her plays in Mojisola Adebayo: Plays One (Oberon), 48 Minutes for Palestine in Theatre in Pieces (Methuen), and The Theatre for Development Handbook (with John Martin and Manisha Mehta, available through pan-arts.net), as well as numerous academic publications.

Fleeta Chew Siegel headshotFleeta Chew Siegel is a multifaceted media practitioner who has directed and co-produced a wide range of projects over the past fifteen years. He specializes in digital and interactive media, but has recently turned his focus to film and video production. Chew Siegel has extensive experience teaching and working with a variety of digital technologies in performance and design. Since 2004, he has collaborated with S. Ama Wray on the innovative “Texterritory,” which uses mobile phones and SMS technology to allow interactions between the audience and performer.

Daniel Kodzo Avorgbedor headshotDaniel Kodzo Avorgbedor is currently on a post-retirement teaching and research contract at the Institute of African Studies and in the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana, Legon. Major research and teaching areas include performance theories, African Diaspora studies, and rural-urban dynamics in reconstructing Ewe cultural and musical identities. In addition to frequent international speaking engagements, Dr. Avorgbedor has published essays in several journals and entries in encyclopedias and was the editor of The Interrelatedness of Music, Religion, and Ritual in African Performance Practice, 2003.

Resources + Media Mentions

  • Click here to view photos from the final residency event, “Embodiology® at Work: Embodiology® at Play” at the Chazen Museum of Art.
  • Emergent Art Space reported on Ama Wray’s class, culminating in a performance at the Chazen Museum of Art. Read the article here.
  • Watch a video clip of students holding open rehearsals and practicing Embodiology® in the Chazen Museum of Art, taken by guest artist Fleeta Chew Siegel.
  • View photo galleries from Dr. S. Ama Wray’s residency on SmugMug!


The Art of Improvisation: From Phronesis to the Production of Practical Knowledge

Sheron Wray seated in a dance studio teachingCourse: Integrated Arts 310 / Integrated Arts 610
Day/Time: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 3:30 – 5:10 pm
Location: 510 Lathrop Hall
Credits: 3
Limit: 20 students across any discipline
Prereq: None
Description: This course is for artists, engineers, practitioners, and activists. It will reveal how to apply improvisation methodologies to enable productive interdisciplinary collaborations, while also showing how to tap into your personal creativity within everyday life. Students were expected to form an active and integrated web-based community to facilitate group research and sharing of resources. The class combined practice-based workshops, interdisciplinary guest lectures, fieldwork, journaling, and performance.

The course focused on cross-disciplinary engagements with improvisation as a methodology. Innovative design processes, public speaking, teaching methodologies, art-making, music, medical practitioners (working in emergency surgery), and dance practices introduced students to a range of approaches to improvisation, both in theory and practice. Guest lecturers from these fields introduced specific methodologies that harness spontaneity and dynamic responses to the current moment as it presents itself. The class also engaged deeply with somatic and mindfulness practices alongside an emphatic dedication to rhythm that is present in every encounter, when awareness of it is made tangible.

At the heart of the writing class is the modern world’s construction of race and how it reinforces a false reality that has produced masses of art and critical thought.

Download the course flyer (PDF).


  • Watch the highlights video from Dr. S. Ama Wray’s residency by clicking here!
  • Dr. S. Ama Wray and her students will hold open rehearsals in the Chazen Museum of Art lobby every Tuesday through April from 3:30 – 4:45 pm. Drop by to catch a preview of the final residency event! All are welcome.
  • Dr. Wray will participate in a Pan African Master Class on Friday, February 23 from 5:00 – 7:30 pm in 349 Lathrop Hall. Experience the African contribution to American dance and music culture through West African technique and Afro-Caribbean traditional dance forms at this free workshop, open to the public!
  • Calling all engineering students! Collaborate with students from S. Ama Wray’s course to form the Embodiology® Research Group. Your innovations could be translated to a live performance in May. Sign up at the makerspace on Tuesday, March 6 at 5:00 pm. Download the flyer (PDF) here.


Visiting Artist Colloquium with Mojisola Adebayo

February 21, 2018 @ 5:00 pm – 6:15 pm
L160 Conrad A. Elvehjem Building800 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706
Mojisola Adebayo will introduce what she describes as “Afriquia Theatre” (black/queer theatre) through a retrospective on her collaborations with Dr. Sheron Wray and others.

Visiting Artist Colloquium with Fleeta Chew Siegel

March 14, 2018 @ 5:00 pm – 6:15 pm
L160 Conrad A. Elvehjem Building800 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706
“Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Art of Improvisation: From Planned Opportunities to Continual Uncertainty”

Friday Forum with Fleeta Chew Siegel

March 16, 2018 @ 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Margaret H’Doubler Performance Space, Lathrop Hall1050 University Avenue
Madison,WI 53706

Dance Department Friday Forum

Artist Workshop with S. Ama Wray

March 23, 2018 @ 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm
Margaret H’Doubler Performance Space, Lathrop Hall1050 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706 

The Artist Workshop is part of the American College Dance Association North-Central Conference.

Liminality, Copresence, and Pneumareisis: Pathways to Knowing Ancestors in Anlo-Ewe

April 6, 2018 @ 9:30 am – 12:00 pm
L140 Conrad A. Elvehjem Building800 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706

Guest artist Daniel Kodzo Avorgbedor will present Liminality, Copresence, and Pneumareisis: Pathways to Knowing Ancestors in Anlo-Ewe during the morning presentations at the 2018 African Studies Symposium “Honoring Ancestors in Africa and Beyond: Arts and Actions” on Friday, April 6.

Mami Wata | Wata Mami

April 7, 2018 @ 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm

Dr. S. Ama Wray will present Mami Wata | Wata Mami during the afternoon presentations at the 2018 African Studies Symposium “Honoring Ancestors in Africa and Beyond: Arts and Actions” on Saturday, April 7.

Embodiology® at Work: Embodiology® at Play

May 2, 2018 @ 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Lobby, Chazen Museum of Art750 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706
Performance Architecture by S. Ama Wray, co-created by the Art of Improvisation Embodiology® Ensemble.

An Embodiology® Visitation with Special Guest Rob Dz

May 3, 2018 @ 6:00 pm
maiahaus402 East Mifflin Street
The Embodiologists artfully gather at maiahaus with an abridged iteration of Embodiology® at Work: Embodiology® at Play, with special guest Rob Dz.