MFA candidates Mary-Evelyn Hunt and Amanda Ross showcased their thesis works in a joint concert held at the UNCG Dance Theater on Friday. Each piece – “Concrete Soul” by Mary- Evelyn Hunt and “A Reminiscent System” by Amanda Ross – has been a year in the making and will be their most extensive choreographic exploration in the pursuit of a master’s degree in Dance Theories and Practices.
Each cast was comprised of nine female dancers from UNCG’s undergraduate dance program. Casting occurred almost a year before rehearsals began, so each dancer was able to observe and actively take part in the entirety of the process, from conceptual development to the final performance. Audience member Lilliana Mennini noted how well-casted both pieces were.
“I could tell from the very first moment of each piece exactly why each dancer was chosen for the piece that they were in,” Mennini said. “They brought the choreographer’s vision to life so naturally.”
The first piece in the concert was Mary-Evelyn Hunt’s work titled “Concrete Soul.” Hunt explained that her research for the work explored what connected people to places, and how translatable, transformative and transferrable her findings were. The work had four sections, with clear transitions characterized by stark costume changes and shifts in the musical score. Beginning to end, the work was an individualized journey intended for the audience to simultaneously empathize and sympathize with.
The posterior end of the rounded black-box theater was cloaked in several iridescent sheets of white fabric that stretched from floor to ceiling. These sheets moved with the dancers, giving their movement and journey a specific setting and alluding to their omniscient presence. When the dancers were behind the white sheets and backlight, it allowed them to simultaneously exist in the space and occupy an alternate capacity.
The final section of “Concrete Soul” consisted of mostly movement in unison. This segment had performs wear floor-length sheer grey dresses, each being tossed by fans blowing from the wings of the stage. Specifically, this portion of the work showcased dancers transition from the settled, comforted burgundy-and-olive wearing dancers that opened the piece. There was a distinct shift in artistic temperature from the beginning to the end of the piece, and a sense of power and purpose was captured in the process, perhaps releasing any notion of familiarity-driven comfort held over from the preceding segments.
Hunt’s piece was dedicated to her mother, Jill Hunt.
The second and final work in the concert was Amanda Ross’s thesis titled “A Reminiscent System.” This piece explored brain function and the act of remembering by incorporating several multimedia elements within the piece. For example, the piece included a video by Patrick Roberts which captures the choreographer dancing. Paired with this was innovative lighting on the floor by lighting designer Chris Fleming, and brain-themed projections appeared onto a back screen during some parts of the work. The video played as the dancers were performing, allowing it to interact with the cast.
Opening the piece were four dancers who each represented a lobe of the brain – frontal, parietal, occipital and temporal. Each dancer was identified by a projected label, clearly placed on the floor beneath them.
As the dancers continued their site-specific movement, a dancer representing the brain stem entered. Their movement utilized physical manipulation and stimulation to define the brain stem’s role among the rest of the represented brain. Established through these opening interactions, physical touch remained a constant theme throughout the work.
This piece also had multiple sections, largely characterized by the technology involved in them. The first portion was characterized by the labels on the floor that defined the working parts of the image being drawn for the audience, which was a firing nervous system. The work then shifted to more movement in unison before a mass exodus that left the audience alone in silence with a massive projection of the choreographer dancing. Final sections were performed in front of a revolving projection of a brain being activated in different capacities.
The theme of “A Reminiscent System” was very well defined throughout the progression of the work. Audience member Mennini said that she “would have been able to tell what the piece was about even had it not been prefaced.” A clear portrayal of message and conveyance of emotion was a quality that both pieces in the concert possessed, though they may lie on completely opposite ends of the emotion-versus-concept spectrum.
One of the show’s stagehands, Jamie Cannady, resonated with this notion and noted the ways in which her side-stage experience differed from the typical audience member’s. She said that being backstage and being able to simultaneously observe the dancer’s performance and performance preparation gave her a heightened appreciation for the dancers’ artistry, as well as for the care that each choreographer put into the conveyance of each detail.
“Every subtle detail, like the fans coming from the wings in ‘Concrete Soul,’ made the works complete,” Cannady said. “Had I not been the one responsible for making some of those things happen, I probably wouldn’t have noticed exactly how integral each of them was to the work as a whole.”
Cannady also noted that being a stagehand gave her a greater understanding of the choreographer’s artistic vision since she was having to access that headspace to properly execute her duties.
“I always come out of experiences like this in awe of the dancers that I am preparing the stage for,” Cannady said, as she recalls a swift costume change in which the dancers were stuck in one of two corners because of backlighting that couldn’t be crossed, prohibiting them from entering any of the space behind the curtain.
She recounts that the dancers “had to adapt to less than desirable circumstances and still managed to make it every time and never miss a beat.”
The conclusion of this concert marked the conclusion of one of the most difficult and demanding portions of these two MFA Candidate’s educational careers thus far. The event could only have been accomplished by a driven team of countless members dedicated to the single hour each night that would be presented to the crowd of artistic consumers that filled the seats in Coleman 306. The final product was notably something to be proud of.