An Evening of Dance: MFA Thesis Dance Concert

Photo by Grace Privett-Mendoza ’21  Contributing Photographer  || The MFA Thesis dance concert makes Marissa Hank ’20 appreciate the role of choreographers in dance performances.

Photo by Grace Privett-Mendoza ’21 Contributing Photographer || The MFA Thesis dance concert makes Marissa Hank ’20 appreciate the role of choreographers in dance performances.

Marissa Hank ‘20
Arts Editor

While there is no doubt that being a dancer requires high degrees of strength and perseverance, it is the choreographer that creates the dance. One should never underestimate the power of a choreographer’s creative license. They are the masterminds behind the curtains. 

At the MFA Thesis Dance Concert, from Feb. 8 to Feb. 10, showcased by the Smith College Department of Dance, it was impossible to ignore the role of the choreographer. Each performance was choreographed by a second year MFA graduate student. 

With the concert titled “Ternate,” meaning arranged in threes, it was fitting for this evening of dance to consist of only three performances. Even though each dance was choreographed as part of each graduate students’ independent thesis, all the pieces approached questions of how dance interacts with life and mortality. 

In Sarah Seder’s opening piece, “A Way Out,” the choreographer made the choice to use music from a live choir rather than pre-recorded music. 

This artistic decision to couple live music with live dance supported this piece’s themes of life and afterlife. The choice to use a choir that sang almost monastic tones added a sense of spirituality to the piece. The song forced the audience to connect these spiritual sounds to the dancer’s movement motif of looking up while facing back, in order to visually and auditorily convey a sense of death or “a way out” of life. 

Additionally, the choreographic decision to repeat scenes of dancers swaying in one huge group while they watched one dancer perform a solo reinforced this concept of breaking out or finding a way out of a group. 

The imagery of a wooden or wicker tunnel opening to a blue sky positioned behind dancers dressed in white visually supplements the concept of a seemingly “heavenly” exit by the end of the piece. 

In contrast to the group dance presented in the opening piece, the second performance was solely performed and choreographed by Shayla-Vie Jenkins. Titled “A Hieroglyphics of the flesh,” this powerful, emotional piece focused on issues of race and heritage. 

In the opening moments of this dance, Jenkins was encased in an elegant yet massive, carpet fabric. As her movements continued to flow, she broke out of this colossal costume only to be wearing a nude colored slip. The music for this piece consisted of readings of text and instrumental sounds. 

The use of the word cell throughout the performance expressed the idea that her body, like her movements, are interconnected to the message behind her dance. Furthering the idea that Jenkins was deeply connected to this piece, she choreographed this dance for herself. It conveyed her story, her heritage; no one else is qualified to portray her lived experience. 

The final piece choreographed by Sarah Lass, titled “A Condition of We,” was the first piece of the evening that did not include the choreographer as a dancer/performer. 

The blue and yellow costumes added a geometric contrast to the movements of the dancers. In this piece, the precision and athleticism of the dancers to dance barefoot, on the tips of one’s toes, were impressive. 

Overall, “Ternate” was a beautiful, powerful artistic production. The choreography of each dance was impressive and unique. 

Each MFA candidate explored themes of mortality and patterns of societal issues on different scales. With the assistance of dancers and stage crew, the choreography transformed the human body into an expressive canvas.