Senior Meghan Gaynor became interested in dance as a source of healing after she ended an emotionally abusive relationship during her freshman year of college. Gaynor liked the concept of turning personal pain into something beautiful. For Terpsichore Dance Collective’s fall show, “Intricacies,” she took this idea to another level, choreographing a duet about a toxic relationship.
“The nature of abuse is intricate. It’s complicated,” Gaynor said. “Not only the nature of the relationship itself but the feelings that come with living that and unraveling yourself from it are intricate as well.”
Gaynor’s piece, “The Way This Hurts,” was one of several that explored personal relationships with varying degrees of severity.
“Ripe & Ruin,” choreographed by sophomore Natalie Yahnke to a pair of Alt-J songs by the same name, centers on balance. The first song focuses on a girl trying to get out of her routine and live life to the fullest. This leads into the second, which explores a love triangle and the struggle of moving on from a relationship.
Sophomore Sadie Cheney portrayed abuse through partner dance in their piece “Gun.”
“This year it just happened that it’s very feminine and relationship-based. We chose the name ‘Intricacies ‘because we felt it might reflect a bit of that,” Terp PR Manager and sophomore Clio McCormick said.
Cheney wanted to take advantage of the high number of male-identifying dancers in Terp this term. There were four male-identifying dancers in the show, three of whom featured in “Gun.” For the dance, Cheney paired two male-identifying dancers together while another duo consisted of two female-identifying dancers. Terp President and senior Emily Hagerott, said she was glad to have so many male students involved in the show. Cheney hopes that their piece inspires male-identifying students to audition in the future.
In order to portray relationships onstage effectively, choreographers built strong relationships with dancers backstage. For Gaynor and her dancers, Yahnke and senior Tyler Price, creating the piece required a huge amount of emotional vulnerability, strength and resilience. She described how difficult it was asking Price to walk across the stage as if he were about to hit Yahnke.
“I was like okay, I need you to do this and I need you to make it look real. I want you to both understand nobody’s getting hurt here and all three of us know that but I need it to break people’s hearts,” Gaynor said.
Gaynor and Cheney both asked dancers to draw on personal experiences with maladaptive relationships. Cheney often choreographed on the spot, challenging dancers to connect with their partners. The difficulty of depicting emotional abuse through physical movement led Cheney to a more theatrical style of dance. At the end of the piece, one partner pushes the other onto the stage floor. Cheney uses these small, expressive motions build a powerful emotional impact.
“I’d just have little, tiny movements like pushing your arm down instead of a pirouette or something fancy,” Cheney said.
In trying to depict mind games, Gaynor relied on imagery like puppets on a string to create the dance. A deteriorating waltz represented the veneer of normalcy wearing away. Gaynor used this expressive, theatrical style to illustrate the detailed process of healing, the circular thought patterns of survivors of emotional abuse and the cathartic nature of leaving an unhealthy relationship.
Small, powerful details were woven through heavier performances as well as more upbeat pieces. Yahnke created a funky, energetic dance to match the upbeat tone of “Ripe & Ruin,” which contradicts its complex message. She loves to add in choreographic details, like little hand motions, that the casual observer might miss. This adds to the power and intricacy of the piece overall. Hagerott appreciates how the lighter numbers showcase women’s power and abilities in relation to themselves.
“The dancers and the movements are very confident and proud and showcase what women can do,” Hagerott said.
Above all else, the choreographers wanted to create pieces that resonated with their audience. McCormick hopes that women see themselves reflected in empowering ways. Gaynor said that part of her goal was to shed light on an experience that audience members likely share, however difficult and sad it might be.
“That was partially my goal to be like you’re not alone and also being like hey, I’m not alone either,” Gaynor said.