The Mind-Body Muse

DTG's Freshworks 2017. .

Photo by A. Pierce Bounds '71

Spring dance concert explores neuroscience, wartime art, more

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Christine Merolla ’17 (neuroscience theatre arts) was studying dance in Serrano, Italy, last summer when she learned a game-changing technique. Back on campus, the Dance Theatre Group (DTG) dancer, competitive skier and student-scientist experimented with it, creating choreography that not only represents the mysteries of the mind-body connection she'd learned about in class, but also demonstrates mindfulness in action, onstage.

Merolla’s senior project is one of eight works in this year’s Freshworks concert, a DTG performance that brings new student-choreographed dance to the stage, under direction of Director of Dance Sarah Skaggs. This year’s event showcases eight works on a spectrum of themes, including two senior capstone projects that tap their creators' studies in science and social science and pieces informed by other art forms.

Getting in the ‘mind groove’

The inspiration for Merolla’s “Mind Groove” arrived during a modern-dance workshop led by George Staib ’89. A political-science major who also studied dance at Dickinson and went on to earn an MFA from Temple University, Staib is founder of the Atlanta-based Staibdance dance company. During an intensive July 2016 workshop in Italy, he introduced Merolla to Gaga, a movement language and philosophy that world-renowned choreographer Ohad Naharin created while recovering from a brain injury.

Through Gaga, dancers perform a series of movements designed, in part, to make them acutely aware of their bodies and bodily cues. For her senior capstone dance project, Merolla tapped that technique to create a relatively structured choreographic work. During each performance, her dancers adjust the timing of their movements slightly according to what their bodies “tell” them to do, based on real-time perceptions of the space they’re occupying, the music and their bodies.

“It’s very original, very bold, and unlike anything we’ve seen here before,” says Skaggs, “and because it shape-shifts night after night, it keeps the dancers and the work really fresh—it’s almost like looking inside a Petri dish.”

Psychology and the arts

DTG's 2017 Freshworks concert. Photo by A. Pierce Bounds '71

Photo by A. Pierce Bounds '71

The Freshworks concert also includes a social-science-inspired senior project by Alyssa Giordano ’17 (theatre arts, psychology), who uses weight sharing and contact improvisation to explore anger and jealousy in interpersonal relationships. Leigh Tracey ’17 (English) tapped the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five in her work “Split-Screen Reality,” while the class of ’17’s Colleen Brandt ’17 (sociology) and Lexi Tobash ’17 (art & art history) drew from the visual arts .

Brandt looked to the artist Claes Oldenburg as she developed a piece spotlighting the strangeness of an everyday phenomenon. Her clever deconstruction of the Macarena provides a dollop of satire. Tobash created choreography based on a current Trout Gallery exhibition of works by Käthe Kollwitz depicting the horrors of war.

“I’m an art history major, so I don’t make art, but I can definitely appreciate it. With this project, the roles are reversed,” says Tobash, a Trout Gallery intern who mirrors the body language she found in Kollwitz’s prints to create a gruesome but beautiful dance. “This has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.”

Freshworks opens Friday, April 28, at 7 p.m. in Mathers Theatre, Holland Union Building, and continues Saturday, April 29 (7 p.m.), and Sunday, April 30 (2 p.m.). Tickets are $7, or $5 with student ID.

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Published April 27, 2017