Gina Fickera ’18 was surprised that, as a junior, she had never been to the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. Though historic, the museum is often under-utilized by students, so Fickera took it upon herself to showcase its treasures in a site-specific dance piece she choreographed as part of her independent study.

Using the Inuit sled that Peary and MacMillan used in their expedition to the Arctic as the centerpiece of her independent study, Fickera aimed to encourage a more diverse audience to frequent the space. 

Fickera decided to focus on the sled because of the ability to translate the language people use to describe the sled’s movement into dance. In the video of her performance, the dancers are seen sliding across the floor and falling to mimic the sliding and curved nature of the sled. 

Advised by Professor and Chair of the Department of Theater and Dance Sarah Bay-Cheng, Fickera explored how site-specific dances can reject the confines of the traditional concert stage.

“The location itself becomes an integral part of the experience of artistically telling a story,” said Fickera. 

After narrowing down from a list of 10 spaces by recording herself at each spot, Fickera decided to stage her dance in Hubbard Hall. 

“[I did] whatever the space told me to do and [noted] how my body naturally responded to that space.” 

Hubbard was ultimately the most appealing to Fickera because of its aesthetic, Inuit artifacts and history and culture in relation to Bowdoin. 

“Working in a site-specific setting allowed for a deeper exploration of new choreographic possibilities and takes into consideration all interdisciplinary actions of a location that make it uniquely itself,” said Fickera. 

The goal of her study was to explore postmodern movement artists through improvisation and the choreography was mainly improvisation-based. Dancers Melissa Miura 19 and Joy Huang 19 accompanied Fickera.

According to Fickera, museums have collaborated with performers since the 1960s.

“These performances blurred the line between theater, dance and art gallery installations,” she said. 

The main difference between traditional and contemporary stages is the use of space. Because the traditional stage contains a fourth wall and a concealed audience, Fickera said that working in the Arctic Museum was a disorienting but exciting experience.

“I knew I was growing as a dancer,” she said. 

“We generated some movement on our own and from there we strung the pieces together,” said Fickera. 

Early one Sunday morning, two hours before the museum opened, they teamed up with Andres Aguaiza ’17 to film the sequence. 

The video will be featured on the museum’s website and may be submitted into several film festivals. It will also be performed with the sled on stage in the Dance Department’s Concert next spring. According to Fickera, her independent study was an opportunity to give back to Bowdoin and to the museum. 

“Now that I’ve had this experience, I believe that museums and dancers mutually benefit from each other,” said Fickera.