This past weekend four seniors shared their senior thesis dance works with the College community in their concert “Reconstructed Notions”. Dance majors Hai Do ’14, Rachel Nuñez ’14, Cameron McKinney ’14 and Jill Moshman ’14 choreographed and performed deeply personal explorations that gave physical expression to the inner struggles, joys, discoveries and memories of the choreographers’ lives.
This writer views dance as one of the most foundational of art forms, all of which are ways of taking a part of the human experience and expressing it in physical form. In “Reconstructed Notions,” the audience was afforded a glimpse into the world as experienced through the lenses of four different individuals, embodied by the dancers in each piece. Such is the power of art — to transform that which exists in the mind into a form that the rest of the world can perceive. How each person interprets such artistic expressions, however, is entirely personal.
Many people on campus say that they don’t know enough about dance to understand it. But perhaps this disconnect stems from an expectation that dance — or art in general — must have some clear, stated meaning. Perhaps in a world where we are conditioned to search for definitions, evidence and certainty that we can depend on, art in its expression of the complexity and unpredictability of human experience is difficult to reconcile with our habitual world view.
Yet something still draws us back to art — to the energy of our favorite music, be it Beyoncé or Bach, to the pleasure of an image captured in pixels or paint, to the consuming power of dance at a party or the CFA Dance Theatre. Art often appeals to a level of our humanity that our rational minds have difficulty explaining, and maybe it is not necessary to “understand” dance, but instead to let yourself feel it — to let it take your imagination and emotions where it will and enjoy the places it allows you to experience.
Do took the audience into an exploration of his personal interpretation of hell in The Under/The Over? An awareness of the Buddhist teaching that all actions have consequences pervaded Do’s haunting imagery of repentance and self-torture. The five dwellers of Do’s hell, Honami Iizuka ’15, Liilia Namsing ’16, Cynthia Park ’16, Yuexin Zeng ’16 and Laura Xiao ’17 embodied Do’s imagined hell as he stayed to one side of the stage in meditative movement for much of the piece, observing the scene his dancers created.
A movement motif the dancers returned to time and again was a sudden contraction of the core with their hands seeming to pull away from their chests and abdomens, evoking blame and repentance. Do’s choreographer’s note describes this feeling.
“They constantly ask for forgiveness. They forget to forgive themselves,” he wrote.
The fluid and stretchy white fabric which the dancers moved with at certain moments created eerie shapes and outlines of struggling bodies trapped by illusory boundaries. Do’s work lay bare the dark emotions, fears and sufferings that are often hidden away in shame, inviting the viewer to look inward and face what may dwell there.
Nuñez delved into the swirling complexity of her identity as a woman and a dancer, with all the pressures, expectations and struggles that those labels can bring. The honesty and revealing nature of the recorded text mixed with music lent an intimacy to the tone of the piece, accentuated by the intensity and strength of Nuñez’s movement and gaze. With dancers Danielle Weindling ’17 and Xiao, This Is Not An Exit. defied the idea of what should be in favor of what is. Nuñez made clear what the piece meant to her.
“This Is Not An Exit. is about choosing movement over apology, and not being sorry for it,” the program said.
Other Lonely Seekers, choreographed by McKinney, blended his study of the Japanese dance Butoh into his own creative strength. Butoh, at its origin a way for the artists of Japan to examine their culture’s identity in relation to the events of World War II, probes the themes of light and darkness and the beauty that can be found in shadow. Dancers Brenna Roets ’17 and Najwa Stanford ’16 embodied darkness and light, respectively, in their black and white costumes and movement qualities. At several moments in the piece light and darkness look each other in the eye before continuing to dance with and around the other, joined by the fiery and colorful forces of dancers Anna Baratta ’15 and Elise Cabral ’16.
Images of agony in the faces of the dancers and moments of bodies on the ground formed alongside a melancholy section of the piece in which McKinney, along on stage, flowed to the slower sound of “Japanese Farewell Song” by Sam Cooke. Finding the interplay of dark agonized emotion and lighter energy, McKinney ended the piece by dragging the still-posed form of Roets out of the light and fading into darkness.
Exploring the ambiguity and fluidity of how we recollect our past in Nothing is Brand New, Moshman, collaborating in choreography and performance with Doug LeCours ’15, created an atmosphere punctuated with spoken text and humor. Moshman and LeCours, accompanied by live musician Taylor Bickford ’14, traversed a scene reflecting the haphazard and seemingly order-less way our minds retain memories: often in incomplete moments, images or shards of the past. A moment that stays in the mind of this writer was when Moshman verbally questioned how to decide on what to do next, followed by the physical response of Moshman and LeCours leaning into each other’s weight before continuing to dance.
The use of of dozens of small yellow rubber duckies on stage brought humor into the piece, though what they evoke for the audience is surely different from the evocation for Moshman and LeCours. The pair, both dancing with a fluidity and freedom channeled into precision, engaged in an exchange of feeling and movement striking to witness in a duet.
These four artists with their dancers ventured into explorations of the cultures, perceptions and experiences that have shaped them in their lives to create these thesis works, the culmination of their dance experience at Middlebury. Each of them formed these pieces by looking inward to examine their own stories, and then sharing aspects of those stories with us through dance.