Students taking Associate Professor and Chair of Dance Jennifer Smith’s two-term Choreography Workshop course choreographed original dance pieces which appeared over the weekend in Emergence, the dance program’s spring show. Students spent the first part of winter term learning how to choreograph and developing ideas for their own dances.
“We spent a lot of first term developing ideas and really digging into why we create art,” senior Meghan Gaynor said. “Jen thought it was really important to understand why we create before we start creating in order to create things that are deeper.”
Gaynor was interested in creating a piece that spoke to the complex and painful emotions she had encountered in life.
“For me it’s very much based in a place of recovering from trauma, recovering from abuse, recovering from my own stint with mental illness as well,” Gaynor said. “I really wanted to capture what the mindscape of someone who’s going through that is like.”
Gaynor, who entered Knox as a creative writer, began to use dance as a way to heal from trauma because of the freedom that expressing herself through dance gave her.
“I started feeling like writing wasn’t conveying what I had to convey with words and dance it really hit the start of a major healing process for me,” Gaynor said.
Her piece, “Something Worth Saving,” opens with vignettes of dancers doing motions that represent different elements of mental illness such as panic, isolation, codependency, anger, sadness, dissociation and hypervigilance. Then all the dancers are on stage together, representing the healing process beginning.
“You are witnessing all of these people’s struggles and them coming together to be whole again,” Gaynor said.
Another piece choreographed by senior Taliah Ellis called “SaK Pase, N’ap Boule” was based on her Haitian and Barbadian heritage mixed with contemporary music she had grown up around.
“Traditional Haitian and traditional Bajan dance … combined together with other things in my generation I had grown up doing,” Ellis said. “Hip hop dance, hitting the folk, the yah and all that. Pretty much a whole visual representation of me.”
Ellis wanted the piece to have an energetic and overall fun feeling to it.
“I was happy that the crowd was able to get into it. I saw people moving in their seats, I was glad I was able to get that reaction out of the audience,” Ellis said.
Senior Ananda Badili got the motivation for her piece, “The bird sings and you hear a tune,” from an essay she read freshman year in a Gender Women’s Studies class called “Oppression” by Marilyn Frye. Frye likens oppression to being like a bird cage, using the example of women getting catcalled. She argues that the catcalling on its own does not have much impact on oppression because society is only looking at one wire of the bird’s cage, not able to see how the bird is encaptured.
The dancers in the piece represent the wires of a bird cage enclosing and oppressing a soloist in the middle who cannot escape.
“It’s not until you take a step back and look at all of the different experiences and all the multifaceted layers of oppression that you can understand why someone can really be deeply influenced by that experience,” Badili said.
Badili explained that the idea behind wanting to express repression through dance comes from her own experiences with oppression.
“I’m a biracial person and I had a lot of experiences with colorism where people would put me on a pedestal because I had lighter skin and curly hair and stuff like that,” Badili said.
She also explained that before coming to Knox she didn’t really understand her own experiences of oppression because she didn’t have the right vocabulary to express and understand.
“I think that was a really fundamental part of my education here and so I wanted to create something that sort of reflected that,” Badili said.