On May 22, the Department of Theater and Dance will stream its annual spring dance concert, which will feature student performances from four Bowdoin dance classes. While the concert will be presented as a film, the performers have had the opportunity to dance together for the first time in over a year to record the performance.
“This semester, we felt the need to bring the community into what it is that we’re doing [and] to share the work that we’re doing,” Aretha Aoki, Assistant Professor of Dance, said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I think we all need this form of expression right now—to see people moving can be really necessary in so many ways. It can be sort of a healing balm to this disembodied time that we’re in.”
In her own course, Movement, Breath, Healing: Politics and Practices of Self-Care, Aoki has been working with students to create embodied land acknowledgements for their final projects. With the assistance of Wabanaki REACH, an indigenous activism organization, as well as the United States Department of Culture and Art (USDCA) and indigenous artist Devynn Emory, Aoki’s students have been crafting their own performances based on indigenous history and culture.
“From the beginning of class, [each student] developed a relationship with a local place,” Aoki said. “So that relationship, as well as all of the information that they have through Wabanaki REACH and USDCA and Devynn Emory, is all a part of what they’re bringing to their final projects.”
In addition to understanding the land acknowledgement element of their performances, Aoki is requiring her students to create their own masks out of discarded materials.
“The idea is to care for materials that [the students] would otherwise see as waste and not think twice about, and then create something,” Aoki said. “There will be many visual elements to the concert.”
Professor Adanna Jones’ course, Afro-Modern II Techniques and Histories, will also contribute student performances to the concert. Jones’ students drew inspiration from movements native to African, African American and Afro-Caribbean cultures, as well as choreography from Black artists such as Ron K. Brown, Savion Glover and Michael Jackson.
However, Introduction to Modern Dance and Advanced Repertory and Performance, both taught by Professor Gwenyth Jones, will instead present professionally-choreographed student performances—According to Isabel Petropoulos ’23, Jones choreographed the group sections for Petropoulos’s Advanced Repertory and Performance class but gave her students creative agency in their own solos.
“[Gwenyth Jones] does choreograph a big chunk of the piece herself, [but] it’s really special to see little bits of what you did in the work and all of us in this piece have small solos,” Petropoulos said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Just thinking about new ways to choreograph and how to come up with new choreography is a really big strength of [Jones], and it was really fun doing it.”
While she was excited to dance alongside her peers again, Advanced Repertory and Performance student Charlotte Doughty ’23 explained that it was often difficult to remain socially distanced during improvisations.
“It was definitely hard keeping six feet apart during dancing, because you want to do lifts and be close to each other,” Doughty said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “We did think of possibly having a performance outside, but we also just didn’t know what the restrictions would be [and] how many people could come to it…so that’s why we decided just to go with the filming project.”
Petropoulos argued that, while challenging, these safety precautions allowed her to expand the bounds of her choreography and performance.
“You kind of have to readjust your expectations for some of your choreographic ideas,” Petropoulos said. “But also, with all of the challenges that come with dancing during the pandemic, there’s always a flip side where I’ve found that there’s a lot of benefit in doing a lot of creative problem-solving and figuring out how to maximize your creative ideas in the parameters given.”
Petropoulos feels that despite the unconventional circumstances of this year’s dance concert she still enjoys dance and appreciates the opportunity to share her passion with the community.
“In general, even though it’s really easy to critique and have drawbacks, I just felt really grateful to have a physical space to dance in and have a professor who was so accommodating and encouraging,” Petropoulos said. “And even when we had major setbacks, we were all able to work it out and be able to create something that I know everyone is really proud of.”