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“Apomixis” senior dance thesis performance brings queer dance to Mills

Mills undergraduates presented their senior projects in Dance Research last week in a show called Apomixis, where each student brought their own choreography, music and video to create the experience of layered media within the stage environment.

The students titled the April 1 show after a type of plant reproduction that does not require male fertilization. The process of asexual seed formation, apomixis, results in a maternal clone. The four dancers embodied this process throughout the show. Their autonomy, visible through various aesthetics and movements, lent itself to the title. The dancers retained their separate approaches despite corresponding with video, music, poetic and lighting collaborators.

The show began in Lisser Hall with “Skunk,” a piece by Mackenzie Pierson in the smaller studio theater. Raw, abrupt sounds were echoed by the three performers, Adrienne Swan, Sophia Klein and Pierson. As described by Pierson, skunks only spray after three warning signs. The peaceful nature of the skunk lends itself to the theme, as an animal that only sprays when its space is invaded.  Pierson’s piece concluded with the dancers feasting on bright, red apples, taking bites that almost overwhelmed their mouths.

“Once the skunk has seen you over its shoulder, it is likely too late,” an excerpt from the program synopsis of “Skunk.”

In the show, sound and video often accompanied the live performances. The multivalence of textures, lights and sound at times opened up the stage. In the main theater, the second part of the show began with Nia Fitzpatrick’s piece “All Day.” Fitzpatrick’s pieces were structured around the anti-apartheid activist and poet Dennis Brutus, her maternal grandfather.

“There is something about this piece that is a knitting together of countries. In my body, in my bloodline, I hold all of these stories and so now I am putting it out,” Fitzpatrick said.

“All Day” features a short poem by Brutus. The poem mentions an “opaque mask,” which Fitzpatrick interplayed in the performance. Rayla Meshawn, Aiano Nakagawa and Fitzpatrick stood in line with the audience obscured by a thin dividing sheet called a scrim.

A video of a silhouetted body moving against a pale background was projected on the scrim. The video was augmented by the dancers, changing the expectations of the live performance. The dancers were most visible in the shifting positive space created around the video performer’s silhouette.

In “Whiptails,” Sophia Klein also explored video projected on a scrim. Unlike Fitzpatrick’s piece, Klein eventually moved from behind the screen to perform a solo. In front of a teal drawing of bricks overlaid on the scrim, Klein moved in programmed motions. At times, her loose movements tremored through her body. At other times, her movements were jarring and full of tension.

Hailey Sounart’s piece “Epichromatic Arrangements” truncated the stage space with closed curtains. The focus was on two dancers, Emalani Kam and Chelsea Ortiz, as they moved closely in between and around each other. Contact between the dancers’ bodies created a strong current of positive and negative space, accentuated by matching black body suits. The two dancers interplayed in fluid successions of tangled movements and meeting places. Alternatively, movements of hands against feet or other hands clapped in brief, sharp sounds.

Sam Carmel, an undergraduate involved with Gender Splendor and Mouthing Off, felt that queerness was very present within the show. They noted the focus of the semester in various artistic projects remains around queer and trans narratives.

“Mills is the perfect place for queer art and a fantastic show. The show relates to other projects here that focus on queer narratives,” Carmel said. “The important part for me is the association of the transformation of an organism with other queer elements.”