Previously Published in THE DAILY IOWAN on February 21, 2018.
Image Credit: Ben Allan Smith/The Daily Iowan
Written By Rhiana Chickering
Lighting dims as music dissipates into silence. Suddenly, frustration and anger begin to settle along with the feelings of being trapped in a seemingly unchanging situation.
Soon, though, the darkness lifts as dancers join to follow each other’s movements depicting environmental occurrences, such as melting glaciers.
The performance is like an intense plot in a movie — the audience members can’t look away because they need to know how the story ends. However, this plot in particular incorporates the audience.
Eliminating the invisible line between the audience and the dancers will provide audiences with a more immersive experience tonight during Dancers in Company: CollectivEnergies.
While sitting in a circular format around the stage, audiences will also partake in the performance by completing simple tasks that even those with no dance experience will be able to execute.
“Every audience member is going to have a different experience based on where they sit, and I think that’s really exciting as a performer to be able to be excited for the audience members and what they’re about to experience,” said M.F.A. dancer Bethany Miller. “I think it’s very different compared to a lot of other [performances] people have seen, and that’s really fun and exciting to think about.”
This year, students involved in Dancers in Company began their creative process by discussing people’s different definitions of collective action and implementing activities involving teamwork.
Last semester, the dancers visited United Action for Youth to conduct fun, movement-based activities with the teenagers. A favorite activity included orange traffic cones, which were placed in the center of a group of people. Everyone in the group was then required to use the cones to create a shape or structure.
As a result of the success of these activities, several motifs to convey collective action, such as the orange cones, were incorporated into the choreography.
The dancers also conducted research to determine what people were doing in their communities that is considered collective action. One common theme included every member’s indispensability when demanding and inciting change.
Similar to collective action in a community, every member in Dancers in Company is essential to initiate change and find solutions.
“When someone is missing, it really throws off the dance, [so] collaboration from all of us is essential,” said undergraduate dancer Shannon Hartle. “I think that will translate really well with real-life scenarios — if one group or one person counts themselves out of something, [the project] isn’t going to happen in the same way.”
Not only will CollectivEnergies inspire audiences to participate in collective action to initiate change, but a symposium mirrored with the performance will take place Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
The “Me and We: Collective Acts Toward Sustainability Dancers in Company Symposium” will include a keynote address by choreographer and performer Liz Lerman, who also wrote a collection of essays titled Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer.
In addition to her keynote address, Lerman will moderate a multidisciplinary panel discussion entitled Collective Acts Toward Sustainability.
One of the primary features of CollectiveEnergies incorporates audience interaction. Therefore, on Saturday, workshops led by Lerman and Peter Carpenter, an arts educator and performing artist, will help audiences draw connections between CollectivEnergies and current events occurring outside the performance.
Attendees will practice improvisational dance scores to create meaning in a more artistic manner than through traditional methods of learning. Most importantly, these public workshops are open to anyone who has an interest in using collective and creative processes to voice concerns, regardless of their dance level of expertise.
“It’s a multi-perspective [and] multidisciplinary panel that’s going to discuss from their own disciplinary perspectives how collective action is defined and how sustainability is defined and what the relationships among them might be in their field,” said Jennifer Kayle, the choreographer of Dancers in Company 2018 and co-director of the Dance Department’s M.F.A. program.
Unique to other dance performances, Dancers in Company combines performance aspects with discussions and concerns for our environment as an addition to CollectivEnergies.
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Dancers and choreographers will also tour the Midwest to share the performance with numerous audiences.
“Taking [the performance] to a space with different audiences of people who are going to see you is a really interesting experience,” Hartle said. “I will be interested in seeing how our performance changes, or if it changes, especially for the improv portion, because it is [affected] by how we feel in the moment — just taking the [performance pieces] we thought worked really well and building on [them]. Just because the show is next week doesn’t mean the process stops.”
Everything considered, CollectivEnergies in combination with “Me and We: Collective Acts Toward Sustainability Dancers in Company Symposium,” is aimed at providing hope for individuals. Rather than simply voicing concern, Dancers in Company provides solutions to initiate change and spark hope.
“[We acknowledge] that there are problems, but [we try] to provide various solutions to the problem,” said dancer Madeleine Walsh on working in Dancers in Company. “Seeing this through a creative process has been really interesting from a politically charged viewpoint.