On the evenings of April 16 and 17, Knox College senior Kate Cochran opened the dance concert Bodymass to the Knox community, a show that she both choreographed and directed for public viewers. While the five-piece concert only demanded 35-40 minutes of a spectator’s attention, this product of Cochran’s two-term independent study satisfied the visual and auditory appetites of a large audience in each showing.
According to Cochran, one of the fundamental reasons why this particular dance concert was a unique experience for Knox community audience members was because typically, “shows at Knox are a collection of pieces by very diverse choreographers and this one was driven by one vision.” While she was open to the idea of collaborating with her dancers on some artistic and stylistic components of a dance, Cochran’s dual role as director and choreographer of Bodymass meant that she had “more freedom and control over not only each piece, but the overall outcome of the project.”
The complexity of movement motifs coupled with an unparalleled use of instrumentation characterized the show in a manner that prevented audience members from discovering that Bodymass was the first dance concert Cochran has ever directed. The possibility that a spotlight could shine on a trombone player in the opening piece titled “Somewhere” illuminated the freedom of creative thought that lends itself to the art of dance.
In an explanation of the first piece, Cochran said, “[Senior] Yumi Kusunoki, the trombone player, intrigues me because her instrument is almost an extension of her body. I enjoy the pairing of her fluid movement with [sophomore] Emily Berkson’s fluid movement — I think that aspect makes them a great duo.” The piece titled “Now: Get this Action Right” incorporated the drumming styles of Eric Ratzel ‘08, further revealing to the audience the capacity for a dance show to be a product of more than one discrete art form.
The title Bodymass also induced a state of artistic contemplation among audience members. While conveying her interpretation of the title, Berkson said, “When I think of Bodymass, I think of the human form, and the ability to manipulate it to communicate something to the audience as well. It exposes dance as a form of art and a form of communication.”
According to Cochran, “I chose to call the show Bodymass because my work generally centers around the body and the relationship we have with our body and the bodies of others. I also enjoy the multiple meanings the word ‘mass’ contains.”
The tendency for the title of a concert, or the meaning of a particular piece, to generate multiple interpretations suggests that the director of a show does not hold full control over the artistic experience of dancers and audience members.
On the audience’s role in a dance concert, Cochran said, “I sometimes know what I believe a piece is ‘about,’ but I would be naïve to believe that I can expect a certain response from an audience member. I received such a variety of feedback and interpretation from audience members and this is evidence that no one audience member will have the same experience.”
In Berkson’s view, “I think the goal [of a dance concert] is to produce some kind of reaction from the audience.” Even if an audience member derives a different meaning from specific movement motifs than the choreographer intended, the state of contemplation that a piece cultivates in the mind of its viewers is an integral part of the relation that the spectator takes to the art form.
Aside from the relation that a concert establishes with its viewers, the dynamic connection between a choreographer and her dancers is equally captivating.
Berkson said, “The choreographer has a certain vision and the dancers take ownership of it through their own movement to to convey a message.”
While addressing how the direction of a dance changes when it moves from the choreographer’s vision to the dancer’s steps, Cochran said, “Once the show is reaching its execution, the dance is no longer mine, it is the performer’s. My work is done — it is up to the performers to carry it to the finish line. My only hope is that I have prepared them to feel confident in this task.”
While commenting on her own creative process, Cochran said, “My creative philosophy definitely includes giving creative license to all people involved in the process. Even during pieces when I am providing a substantial amount of direction, I am constantly asking for feedback or bouncing ideas off the dancers.”
This philosophy was shown to be effective in the piece “Somewhere.” In telling about the evolution of that particular dance, Berkson said, “It started with Kate and I coming up with choreography and it was about growing up.” However, once Kusunoki came on stage with her trombone and became part of the piece, the meaning of the dance was somewhat altered.
According to Berkson, “It was more about curiosity once Yumi was part of the piece. When I had to relate to her on stage, I had to discover certain things about her.”
Even if dance choreography starts out as a series of movement motifs stemming from a storyline, it has the capacity to evolve into a product that extends beyond the imagination of its creators. When asked about the most rewarding aspect of putting on a dance concert, Cochran said, “The rewards are countless — accomplishing something remarkable not only for myself but for the dance program, provoking thought from the audience as well as the dancers, engaging in a creative process with intelligent and driven women and collaborating with costume and lighting designers and learning about several aspects of production.”