Arts & Culture / Dance / Mosaic / May 7, 2009

Specimens explores advanced choreography

The final dance showcase of spring term, titled Specimens, is the product of a workshop that will display pieces both performed and choreographed by six juniors and seniors, along with two dances that have been choreographed by Knox dance faculty.

“The majority of work in the concert is from a class choreography workshop. Six students are taking the course to develop their own choreography in what can be considered a capstone experience,” said Assistant Professor of Dance Jennifer Smith. “My role is to act as an instructor for the course and to facilitate the choreographing process.”

The title of the show, Specimens, was recently developed to embody the unique nature of the performance as the product of an ongoing workshop. “The students came up with the title. For 15 weeks students have been doing investigative work, and the idea of investigation, which lends itself to the theme of specimens, is part of an introspective view,” Smith said. Senior Brian Humpherys, one of the six students involved in the show, said, “I liked the title because it seemed organic in its own analytical way. Since we’ve been focusing so much on our own pieces, I think of each of our pieces as an agar plate as grounds for exploration.”

Perhaps the most unique challenge influencing the investigation of movement in Specimens is that this is the first time a dance show will be staged in the Studio Theater. As a dancer and a choreographer working with the new space, junior Kate Cochran said, “Choosing to stage the performance in the Studio Theater exposes the students to more of a bare bones experience. Harbach Theater is bigger and has a more intense lighting scene, which is not a very realistic environment for a dance performance outside of Knox.” Aside from the practical purposes behind presenting students with a less elaborate workspace, senior Jaimie Eubanks said, “Performing in the Studio Theater will allow a lot of pieces to work on breaking the fourth wall, as they become part of a more intimate environment.”

The process involved in preparing for the dance concert is one that started offstage, since the students were required to create artist statements explaining why they create, prior to experimenting with movement. “I had never written an artist statement before, but doing so allowed me to put myself into my element as a dancer and a Creative Writing major. We had to be more articulate about what our goals are than ever before.”

After requiring the six students to engage in the process of writing artist statements, Smith asked the choreographers to take on movement composition assignments, allowing the performers to “open up their creative energy.” The spontaneous, improvisational nature of this assignment ended up lending itself to a “collaborative piece that ended up being part of the show,” Smith said, which was characterized by movement that attempted to connect dance to the meaning of syllables and words.

The process of creating movement and editing parts of each dance was inarguably a demanding one. While describing the importance of collaboration, senior Krystle Liggins said, “Each person in the group had to teach or direct a piece based on language that he or she created. The pieces arose from the chemistry that we created.”

Senior Karin Rudd was invested in the process of creating movement by working with her dancers, but she was hesitant to set the choreography. “Who I am as an artist is difficult to define because it’s always changing. I was lucky that my dancers were willing to work with something different in the end, because the first three weeks of experimenting with movement were tough.”

Although arriving at a final product was difficult, the personal journeys that the individual choreographers embarked on were very compelling. “I realized that I can have my ballet background, create this new piece for the show, and still develop my identity as an artist,” Rudd said. For Eubanks, the experience of working in the workshop setting to prepare for the final show “has given me the opportunity to develop a unique aesthetic and explore my own choreographic identity. I’ve found my own method and the movement that comes more naturally to me.”

While the six students learned a lot from the experience of preparing for the upcoming dance concert, the main piece of information that they can take with them is that being a choreographer is part of an endless educational experience. Even though Humphreys said, “Prior to this class, my choreography was sort of two-dimensional, but now I am able to explore movement by thinking about myself as an individual choreographer,” he added, “It is hard to develop who I am as a choreographer.” Just like the process of defining oneself as a choreographer is limitless, so is the process of creating an individual piece. “Choreographing is a process-driven end game. It is sometimes hard to come to terms with what will work for now,” Smith said.

Specimens is scheduled to open performances to the public today, Friday, and Saturday of this week. There will be a post-show discussion for the Friday show, and a reception following Saturday’s show.

Elise Hyser

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