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Creating a Whole Mountain

Anastasia Putri (right) and Rachael Smith.

Rachael Smith '16 (left) and Anastasia Putri '16. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Weiss Prize winners leverage diverse creative styles

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Rachael Smith ’16 (music), a composer, and Anastasia Putri ’16 (theatre & danceanthropology), a choreographer, knew they’d run into communication gaps, given their different creative languages. But when they got together to brainstorm ideas for an artistic collaboration, they were surprised by just how diverse their thinking styles were.

They could have battled through those dissimilarities and searched for common ground. Instead, they leveraged them, creating interdisciplinary work that examines how different perspectives shape reality. The result is a joint performance on April 8 and a performance art piece on April 9.

Scaling the mountain

Smith and Putri are the joint recipients of the 2015-16 Emil R. and Tamar Weiss Prize in the Creative Arts, awarded annually to a student, or students, who produces a major artistic work during his or her senior year. Their idea: to depict the different ways that two people can experience and interpret a conversation, captured on tape. 

Both came to the project with ample creative and collaborative experience. Smith, who founded the Composed songwriting program, studies music composition and performs with two vocal ensembles and with Run With It!, Dickinson’s improv comedy troupe. Putri, who has performed and choreographed works for two campus dance ensembles, is co-artistic director of The Dickinson Review and moderator on the Department of Theatre & Dance Student Advisory Board. But, they say, their Weiss Prize collaboration was by far their most ambitious undertaking to date.

Two perspectives, two events

After they jointly mapped out their ideas and hashed out a production schedule, Smith composed music based on the rhythms and tones in the speech patterns and the conversation’s content. Putri then created choreographic works that both tapped Smith’s musical rhythms and reflected her own experience of the conversation. Throughout the process, they met regularly to discuss and fine-tune the project.

Now they are ready to share their art, titled Mouthpiece. Carrying through on the theme of dual perspectives, Putri and Smith offer different views of their joint work by presenting two separate events.

The 25-minute performance on Friday evening (Mathers Theatre, 7 p.m.) includes electronic music, a live chamber ensemble and dances ranging from solos to sextets. A brief Q&A with the creators, musicians and dancers will follow. During the Saturday performance piece, presented 1-3 p.m. in Goodyear Studios, Putri and Smith will present elements of the finished work alongside additional content from their year of collaboration, opening a window to their creative processes. Audience members are invited to come and go as they please, leaving their own imprint.

Looking back on the months of work that led to this moment, Smith says it’s gratifying to see a substantial work—and creative partnership—take shape.

“It’s like a mountain you know you have to climb, but you have to create the whole mountain first, which will change along the way and possibly end in a cliff,” says Smith, who will begin work at the Vail Jazz Foundation in Vail, Colorado, after graduation. “And adding another collaborator complicates this journey. But placing our differences as the content of our work has made them more like inside jokes, instead of frustrations.”

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Published April 6, 2016