What does it mean to be a female today? This is something Associate Professor of Dance Jennifer Smith investigates through movement in “Call to Rise,” a concert set to be performed at the 2012 New Orleans Fringe Festival.
Five dancers for Back & to the Left Productions, a professional dance company founded by Smith, will travel to New Orleans in November to perform six emotionally driven pieces. To raise money for the trip, Smith began a fundraising campaign on kickstarter.com and hosted a rehearsal open to the public.
“Find meaning in the movement yourself,” Smith said, her voice echoing in the Auxilary Gym, the rehearsal space for Call to Rise.
Grouped together in a circle around her were dancers Emma Poland ‘12, Brynn Ogilvie ‘12, Rachel Lyman ‘12, sophomore Laura Brewner and senior Kelsey Witzling.
Giving dancers “a skeleton of a phrase” before they bring in their own experiences and movements, Lyman said Smith rarely does a piece created only from her choreography.
“It’s usually a collaboration. She loves collaborating with the dancers because we need to experience it as much as she does,” Lyman said.
Before the rehearsal, the dancers cheered at a teleivision screen displaying the success of their fundraiser page on kickstarter.com (http://goo.gl/gehcK): a means of raising money for their five-day, four-night trip to New Orleans and the rental cost of the theater for their concert. They are less than $300 away from reaching their goal of $1,735, which must be completed before Oct. 22. Otherwise, they receive none of the funding they raised from the site.
The six pieces for “Call to Rise” focus on investigating female identity. Smith’s inspiration for the dances came from an unlikely source: Knox’s Grievance Panel, which oversees cases of sexual assault. Smith was the chair of the committee that proposed changes to the Grievance Panel and how it handled its cases.
“Through my work, I became more and more interested in understanding not so much victimization but the idea of empowering … after the fact, and I started investigating that in a more, even broader topic: just the idea of what does it mean to be a female today? What are the challenges we face in society today?” Smith said.
She said women’s issues are at the forefront with the election coming up and that being a mother of two young girls has changed her opinion of who she is and what she believes.
“It’s hard for me as an artist to separate myself from my artistic self,” Smith said.
Before rehearsing “Time Gone,” the dancers watched a video recording of the dance, studying the movements they would do as a unit.
“Let’s lean in. Yeah, just like that,” Ogilvie said to the group as they formed a column of resistance with their bodies.
With this, the five dancers created their own intimate circle, talking to each other, trying to get a feel of the choreography.
“A lot of it is really feeling the weight shift as a group,” Smith said.
During the beginning of the dance is a “slow tug of war,” with dancers pulling each other with their arms linked together.
“That piece is really emotionally driven, and I feel very connected to that piece,” Lyman said.
“Time Gone” is one of six dances that will be performed at the festival. For the other dances, Lyman and Witzling are each performing a solo.
For Lyman, she said that journaling and finding inspiring text or images helps her as part of the dance process. In the piece “Heroine,” which was performed at the Midwest Regional Dance Festival, dancers were asked to think of strong women. For Lyman, those included Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” and her grandmother.
“As much as the movement is choreographed, what I’m thinking in my head is also the same,” Lyman said of her solo dance, “Your Are Wrong.” “Thinking of certain things, of certain emotions at specific points of the dance help me. They trigger my next movement, they make me get to the right place mentally, especially for my solo.”