Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Emory Dance Program Presents: Honors Thesis Concerts

This weekend (March 23rd-March 25th) the Emory Dance Program will present honors theses by seniors, Rosie Ditre, Cherry Fung, Clara Guyton, Julianna Joss, and Eliza Krakower! Theses projects include the explorations of dance on screen, political relationships, poetry, identity expression, and the intersections of dance genres. 

Check out one of our featured theses choreographers, Julianna Joss, as she shares insight on her concept and process!

Photography by: Erin Baker

The Moving Identity: Explorations in the Body’s Capacity for Communication, Expression, and Understanding

By: Julianna Joss

“It’s not what I am, it’s who I am.”  Back in September 2016, during the first official rehearsal of this thesis concert process, I asked my dancers to talk about their identities.  One of my dancers, Alfredo, responded with these simple, yet powerful words.

The process of creating dance about identity began as a daunting and overwhelming task.  Who am I, as a privileged, white-passing woman, to create art about one of the most complex, controversial topics of the human experience?  How could I do this topic any justice?  With so many people creating about this topic right now, how could I possibly add anything original or meaningful?
Photography by: Jake Rosmarin

But with this one sentence about the who rather than the what, I let go.  This process would be about my dancers’ stories and my story.  This discussion about identity would not about categorizing, labeling, and drawing lines in the sand.  Rather, it is deeply personal and unique to each individual, the culmination of experiences, relationships, histories, and values, and I would find my humble voice in this conversation by honoring that and simply that.  I conducted my research on movement and identity in two separate branches: a four-part group piece exploring individual identity, relationships between identities, and group identity, in addition to a solo I created based on my personal identity. 
Photography by: Jake Rosmarin
The process of working with my five wildly talented, bold, and intelligent dancers, Ruchi, Hannah, Sara, Ben, and Alfredo, was highly collaborative. While this may be “my” thesis, I firmly believe that the group piece, To Be Seen, belongs to all of us equitably.  My method is I would give my dancers a prompt or an idea to work with and they would create movement, by themselves, in duets, or in larger groups.  “Create four movements that suggest ‘affirmation,’ such as ‘following’ or ‘noticing’ actions.”  “Find a moment of protest within your solo movement.”  Then I would massage and finesse the material usually by asking dancers to indulge or expand upon certain ideas or clarify intentions.  Organically, our process yielded dozens of snippets of movement moments and it was my job to look at this material and find the connections, themes, and patterns.  And the mystery of the creative process somehow revealed itself.  In the final weeks of my rehearsal process, I started to understand how I could tell this story – the story of five humans in four, interconnected parts. 

Photography by: Erin Baker
The most challenging part of my thesis process was creating my solo, The Space Between.  Ironically, in dealing with the complexity of myself, the best tactic was simplicity.  I used all my choreographic tools, clearly, but directly – proximity, repetition, focus, gesture, dynamic, and use of space.  However, within this functional framework, I have found the emotion, feeling, and uniquely personal nature of self.  I discovered a woman who exposes, who reveals, who touches, but also a woman who wrestles, who fights, and who struggles. 

The words that come to mind as I close my reflection on movement and identity are witness and nuance. 
Photography by: Jake Rosmarin

Witness. We are who we are because of how we relate to one other; how we see one another and bear witness to each other’s lives.
Nuance.  We are complex, the space we individually occupy between all our identities is what makes us, uniquely us.

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