Master of Fine Arts in Dance Final Project
My choreographic research project, Mental/Body, will be shared through a lecture-demonstration and an experiential performance. This project explores the physical bodily manifestation of mental illness through choreography and performance. I utilize emotionally-inclusive rehearsal processes with the goal of restructuring the hierarchy of art-making in dance spaces.
Excerpt from Mental/Body. (2022). Multimedia, site-specific group dance choreography exploring the physical manifestation of mental health illnesses and the resiliency of community building in the rehearsal and performance processes. 6 dancers. 20 minutes. Music by Jacquie Sochacki Pittman and pianist Phil Dupont. Performed at the Motion Lab and Studio Space at The Ohio State University Department of Dance.
At the forefront of my research was crafting an emotionally-inclusive and professional relationship with the dancers and artists I worked with for this project. Since the topic of the work was often heavy and ladened with emotions of frustration and grief, I made sure to create an enriching experience for the dancers in order to produce this choreographic work that truthfully shared the frustrations of mental health illness and care.
Our intentional relationship building grew into solidarity with each other. In my preliminary research, I looked to the work of Anna Halprin who emphasized the idea that our bodies are with us throughout all our lived experiences. Therefore, I understand the critical importance of my invitation to dancers and collaborators to bring their emotions and lived experiences that reside in their moving bodies into the rehearsal space. When dancers are invited to be physically present, they are also asked to be emotionally present, as the body holds our emotional experiences and memories.
As a visual artist, I often process my emotions through art. So, I led the dancers in several visual art exercises that included sketches of memories and processing, making a group paper collage, writing mind-maps, and guided color-theory exercises. These exercises produced visual art that was used in the performance experience. Dancers wrote on large squares of fabric that I then arranged to build a tapestry that was hung in the Motion Lab for audience members to view.
Opportunities for discussion and reflection about the braiding of our mental, emotional, and physical selves resided in this entire process. We engaged in inclusive, self-caring rehearsals that began with emotional check-ins. I also made sure to leave these check-ins as invitations, not requirements. This allowed dancers to share as much or as little as they needed to that day.
These community building exercises ranged from verbally responding to the question, “How are you actually doing?” to kinesthetically responding to the same question through dance improvisation. Our check-ins also looked like spending thirty minutes focusing on caring for our bodies through guided body scans, slow improvisational floorwork, or breathwork that allowed for a crescendo of self-care.
Though these activities replaced some time that could have been dedicated to choreography, I found that the positive mental, emotional and physical results from completing these exercises were numerous and made for a more productive rehearsal. In the dancers, I noticed sharper metal focus, a greater willingness to engage in dialogue about the choreography and process, and greater freedom of movement in their dancing bodies. In myself, I noticed an increase in my ability to be a calm, thoughtful leader with more openness to creativity in my choreography and making process.