On Saturday, March 26 I had the amazing opportunity to see two very talented MFA students in the School of Dance at UNCG present their final thesis projects. The first student to present their piece was Caitlyn Schrader, who is an MFA Candidate in Dance with a concentration in Choreography. Before coming to UNCG, she attended William Smith College in New York. There, she received a BA in Communications through the Arts (a fascinating major she created herself) as well as French and Francophone Studies and, of course, a minor in Dance. Schrader also has a Master of Science in Secondary Language Education from The University of Rochester.
Schrader’s MFA Thesis piece was titled “of liminal space.” She says that her idea for the show has been developing for at least 3 years, and that after studying contemporary dance arts in Australia for a year, she started to have an interest in the space a dancer performs in. She wants her thesis to ask such questions as “How can one manipulate the space so that the audience is a part of the performance?” and “In what way can the dancers themselves act differently with each other in relation to the space?”
The performance was presented in “theatre-in-the-round,” in which the audience is usually on the stage with the performers, but most importantly the stage (or performing space) is surrounded by the audience on all sides. Thus, the performance becomes much more immersive. Schrader also had the idea of having each individual audience member have a different experience with the show. She also made an analogy with the film camera. In a movie, the film camera tells the audience what to look at, and it tells the story. With each audience member sitting in a different position, they see something different than someone sitting on the other side of the room. I asked her what her creative process was in coming up with the final product and she replied, “[it is] pieces of thought to create a story in someone else’s mind.” The idea here is that there was no one story to the show. Instead, the show was a collection of ideas and experiments to give the audience an extraordinary experience, but also allowed the audience to interpret the art individually.
Allison Beaty, the other MFA Candidate in Dance, also has her concentration in choreography. Before coming to UNCG, she received a BA in Dance at Texas Tech University with a minor in health professions. Her dance piece was titled “…(con)fabulate.” Beaty said that she started having the idea for this show about 2 years prior, and that she had the desire to combine science and dance. She would take concepts, specifically having to do with the mind, and see how they could translate into dance. In her piece “…(con)fabulate,” she plays with memories and really makes you wonder “What is real and what is not?” The concept for the show is this: once you’ve had an experience, the memory of said experience is immediately abstracted into something slightly different. Thus, memories are not reality. She wanted to translate this concept into a choreographed dance piece. She had all of her dancers write out one-sentence memories, then she took pieces of the different memories to create one larger memory. She recorded the dancers saying the different parts and played them for the audience as the dancers danced to the sounds and music. Beaty wanted the audience to think that what they were hearing was one single memory. Then, as the show progresses, the sounds of the memory being spoken become extremely augmented, to the point where I was terrified of the sounds and it sounded like a horror film. Then, on the stage, photographs from the different dancers’ memories were flung around the room on a projector, in black and white, as the dancers felt the ins and outs of the manipulation of the senses.
I feel very lucky to have been able to see these performances. Both of these women did a magnificent job at creating a piece of art that perfectly encapsulated what it means to create. Both Schrader and Beaty said that the experience of choreographing and producing their pieces was a fun one, and they thought that they were able to grow not only as artists but as people. They both were able to connect with their dancers that they worked with and were able to see their dancers grow as artists as well. They said that their next step is to embrace whatever idea comes next and to continue to create and imagine art to enable different perspectives of the world.