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MFA dance performance considers the emotional resonance of movement

The dancers' responses to prompts influenced the choreography. (Courtesy of Shnichi Iova-Koga)
The dancers’ responses to prompts influenced the choreography. (Courtesy of Shnichi Iova-Koga)

As dancers moved across the stage to the sounds of scissors slicing, knives clinking and voices humming, Abigail Mytych’s piece explored the way we feel inside our bodies, evoking themes of body image and intimacy.

“(Un)wavering” took place on April 14-15, and featured thesis choreography by Mills dance department MFA students Stephanie Hewett, Mytych and Yang Yang. “(Un)wavering” was choreographed by the second group of MFA dance students; the first took place one month prior.

They had an academic year to choreograph a 15-25 minute dance with help from Mills student dancers and advisers Sinichi Iova-Koga and Molissa Fenley. The concert was made up of three dances, and each dance could not exceed the time limit of 25 minutes. Each dance needed to include at least two Mills student dancers; choreographers were allowed to include dancers from off campus as well.

The choreographers met with Iova-Koga and Fenley bi-weekly to get feedback on their work and on production details. Fenley comes to Mills each year for the spring semester only, and has been involved in mentoring the MFA dance students at Mills since 1999.

“I feel that my job as a mentor is to help illuminate to the student choreographer something that is already present in the work,” Fenley said in an email. “Sometimes that means making note of an existent pattern or patterns that appear, sometimes it’s pointing out that a certain kind of spatial orientation is being used.”

The MFA dance students collaborate with Mills student dancers and musicians from the Mills music department. The choreographers hold auditions for dancers at the beginning of the fall semester, open to any Mills student. The choreographers can also reach out to members of the music department if they would like.

All three choreographers collaborated with members from the music department, but her piece differed from the other two by having a strong, steady beat throughout the entire performance. Both Yang and Hewett used recordings, while Mytych had live music.

“These collaborations are always very exciting,” Fenley said. “Usually both choreographer and musician learn a tremendous amount about how to make a piece together.”

Hewett chose to work with Tate Carson, a member of the graduate music program, to collaborate on music for her piece. Hewett found the process of putting music to the movement the most challenging part of her work.

“That was hard because it was my first time working with a musician who was going to make music specifically for my piece and not knowing how to use words to communicate what I was looking for,” Hewett said. “We had a very good relationship though, even through the struggle of  language.”

Hewett’s dance, “Pseudo, Pseudo began with an audio clip from a rehearsal, where she prompted her dancers by saying, “Let’s talk about being stuck.” Different voices described what being stuck felt like to them, as the movement of the dancers on stage matched the audio.

Hewett, Yang and Mytych collaborated on the title for their performance. They settled on “(un)wavering,” since each piece felt like it was both steady and wavering at the same time.

“It was to highlight that the concert went between a very steady idea and not steady,” Hewett said. “So having that in one word so you can read it as ‘unwavering’ but also as ‘wavering.’” Mytych chose to focus on body image and the complexity of intimacy on her piece, “intrinsic saunter,” including the dancers in the process through free-writes.

“There’s so many layers of intimacy and so many ways of viewing the word intimacy,” Mytych said. “It was just something I was really fascinated by in the process, so that’s kind of where the piece manifested and kind of ended up.”

Mytych gave prompts to her musicians from the music department, asking them to think creatively about the body.

“Their prompt had to do with being inside of the body and what would it sound like to be inside the body,” Mytych said. “So they used their imagination as part of their improv score.”

Intrinsic saunter” began with one dancer onstage, moving to the sounds of objects like wind chimes and blocks of wood colliding, and a voice humming.

Mytych felt proud of her work after the final performance, and is looking forward to her future as a dancer, choreographer and dance instructor.

“I felt lots of emotions. Mostly proud, very humbled, refreshed, inspired, excited, hopeful, nostalgic, supported,” Mytych said. “A lot of emotions, but all positive ones. It doesn’t feel like it’s over, it felt like another thing is done, but it’s not over.”