By Kara Davis
My ultimate goal as the BFA Senior Project advisor is to hold space for these incredibly trained young artists to investigate their choreographic voices, their dancing minds, and thinking bodies. I mainly set up the timeframe for the fall and spring semesters. I give them some parameters around what needs to be accomplished when, and then let them take on the responsibility of creating their processes and generating the laboratory of their creative inquiries. I assign their peer groups, facilitate casting, spend hours figuring out the program order to avoid the most quick changes backstage, I watch their rehearsals and give feedback, create tech schedules, etc.
They are required to read Liz Lerman’s book “Hiking the Horizontal” which outlines a critical response methodology that lends viewers terms by which to describe what is “seen” in a dance. It is a beautiful device that helps viewers enlist descriptive (non-opinion based) language to assist choreographers to move more deeply into their ideas rather than concern themselves with what their imagined “audience” wants “to see.”
Mainly my job is consumed by the nuts and bolts of organizing the production. By the time the students enter their senior year at LINES they have had enough composition courses and creative processes to energize their own choreographic investigations. It’s important to me that the seniors feel supported to lean in to their creative interests and aesthetic pulls. I remind them that they have been involved in fourteen or more creative processes leading up to their senior project and that they can, in their art-making his/her stories, refer back to the experiences that most inspired them as dancers to guide their own processes. Every year there is always one or more Senior that admits they wanted to leave the program before their senior year because they are terrified to choreograph; inevitably it’s always those same students that end up making wonderful works that are authentic to who they are as human beings grappling with the complexities of the world. This year is the first year that all the seniors were eager to begin working on their senior project.
I gave a new summer assignment to this group of students which is due on the first day of class in their senior year. In the spring I offered them a list of non-dance related artists from all over the world. They have to select one and study that artist’s life and body of work. Along with writing a three-page paper outlining their research, they have to talk to their class about their chosen artist, as if they are at a dinner party, describing the ways in which their artist’s work shattered norms, the socio-economic frames of that artist’s background, the political climate in which they lived, why their work was groundbreaking for their field, etc. The seniors this year chose artists such as Jean Michel Basquiat, Julia Morgan, Jean Paul Gautier, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, among others. It was inspiring listening to the seniors’ accounts of these artists’ lives. Although the artists they chose worked in different mediums, the common denominator for all them was a ferocious commitment to their authentic creative voice which, by default, oftened challenged the status quo in which their lives were situated. The senior class of 2016 is really a special one. They are incredibly mature, unique in their strengths, and buoy each other by their physical, technical, and his/herstorical differences.
The best part of this job for me is when they delight in all of the production elements coming together, they see their artistic voices as dance makers manifest, and leave their senior year wanting to continue to make work.