Every year, the seniors in our joint BFA Program with Dominican University of California create their own dances from start to finish. They audition their fellow students, cast the pieces, run rehearsals, and create all kinds of important artistic decisions—ranging from lighting to costuming. This process is known as our students’ Senior Projects. BFA Program Director Marina Hotchkiss describes the culminating performances as a collection of poems, each revealing the vision, research, or curiosities of the artists who choreographed them.
To further share the heart behind these projects, we interviewed BFA seniors Hannah Woolfenden and Angel Warden-Palmer. Find out what surprised, inspired, and helped them grow throughout the process before they take the stage next Tuesday during the annual Senior Showcase at YBCA, where they will perform original works by our faculty and a special guest artist.
For tickets to the BFA seniors’ one-night-only show featuring the second-year Training Program students, visit our event page.
Interviews by Erin McKay
When did you get the initial idea for your senior project? How did it change over the months before the performance?
Angel: The initial idea for my senior project unfolded after hearing how the work of Betroffenheit by Jonathan Young and Crystal Pite came to be. Young took a journey within his own heart, rested in the home of loss and grief, and choreographed alongside Pite from that place of vulnerability. This story deeply moved my heart as a choreographer. I knew that I also wanted to create a piece that was vulnerable, intimate, and a means to healing.
Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | Dancer: Brooke “Frank” Sinton | © Doug Kaye
Another anchoring idea in my artistic process was the God-like redemptive power captured in this poem “Settled Joy,” which states, “Sometimes depth comes from being hollowed out. It is our empty lonely places acquainted with loss and grief that come to be our hallowed vessels of mercy, stillness, and settled joy.” My aim was to capture a story where individuals went from a hollowed, empty place to hallowed vessels filled with hope. My hope was that my dancers and the audience members would consider how they too have felt redeemed.
How did you contribute to the casting audition? How did you prepare? And What did you consider when selecting your cast?
Hannah: Our casting audition was a collaborative effort among the seniors. Each group created a phrase or a task to present to the underclassmen. Before leading the audition ourselves, we had experienced it for three years from the perspective of the dancers. As an underclassmen, the audition feels like a class that just happens to have a lot of teachers in it. But as seniors, our brains ran a mile a minute thinking about every exciting, artistic possibility. Personally, I was more interested in how the dancers approached learning the movement vs their movement itself. I was looking for those curious about growth rather than invested in perfection.
Who inspired your leadership style?
Hannah: I am fortunate to have so many positive role models who inspired my leadership style. I essentially grew up in a classroom, watching my mother model strong leadership skills as a junior high teacher and as a leader to her teaching peers on various committees. She is also a leader out of the classroom. Many of my family members also have careers in leadership roles (teaching, directing, public speaking, etc) and each provided me with tools to be an effective and creative leader.
In terms of my rehearsal style, I was inspired by every choreographer I’ve had the opportunity to work with throughout the BFA Program at Dominican University of California (both faculty and past senior students). Notably, I strove to treat my dancers with the immense respect I felt during our artistic processes with both Anne Rene Petrarca and Kara Davis. These two artists cared so deeply for both their craft and us as their dancers. This care enabled them to push us and help us grow more than we could have imagined.
Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | Dancer: Hannah Woolfenden | © Steve Disenhof
Which rehearsal was most impactful to you? Can you describe it?
Angel: During one rehearsal, I shared about my own times of hollowing (emptying out) and hallowing (being made holy). I opened up to my dancers about my own journey through grief and loss and how meaningful the poem that inspired my piece was to me. Instead of regarding my own empty, lonely places as a wasteland, this poem encouraged me to honor them as holy. Where I felt a sense of uselessness or worthlessness, I’m now full of value and purpose. This redemption process continues to be the story of my life.
BFA dancers rehearsing Angel Warden-Palmer’s Senior Project on Dominican University of California’s campus
After sharing these words with my dancers, I asked them about areas in their own lives where they felt redeemed. Most of what came up in our discussion centered around our identities as human beings, not just as dancers. We collectively felt a sense of redemption in who we are as people.
How did your cast members help you, inspire you, or influence the process? Can you describe a moment in particular?
Hannah: I had the thrilling opportunity to work with a cast of fearlessly passionate artists. Each dancer showed up to rehearsal with a complete willingness to try anything. We invested a lot of time in artistic silliness and attempted to return to a childlike sense of play without consequence. And, oh my, did we find silliness within our art-making.
Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | Dancers: Brooke “Frank” Sinton and Rowan Williams | © Doug Kaye
One morning, before we showed our work to the faculty, one of my cast members, Brooke “Frank” Sinton, came up to me and said something along the lines of: “I’m wearing my tearaway pants today. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I ripped them off right at the music change?” It caught me off guard for a second, but then I realized that their idea would be the perfect way to keep the piece fresh and playful within the nervous environment of the day. Brooke and I simultaneously agreed to keep the costume change a secret from everyone, especially the other two dancers.
Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | Dancer: Brooke “Frank” Sinton | © Doug Kaye; Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | Dancers: Amanda Harris, Brooke “Frank” Sinton, and Rowan Williams | © Doug Kaye
Originally, I had expected that to be a one-time deal, but after that day, we were all hooked on the tearaway pants moment, and it became the plot twist that our piece’s storyline needed. Additionally, the phenomenal Rowan Williams kindly stepped into this process last minute to fill the spot of a dancer who was no longer performing. Rowan jumped right into all of the silliness and chaos of Curious… without hesitation.
Amanda Harris, Rowan Williams, and Brooke Sinton weren’t afraid to play with weird ideas. Storytelling was a significant throughline to the piece, so we first looked into a number of questions like, what is a beginning? How can we tell a story if we don’t know where it begins? Can a story begin from the middle? In what ways do our individual stories overlap? And what story do we need to tell? I am forever grateful to my brilliant cast for fearlessly throwing themselves into these questions and this artwork.
Dancers Amanda Harris, Brooke “Frank” Sinton, and Rowan Williams rehearsing Hannah Woolfenden’s Senior Project on Dominican University of California’s campus
Though the piece began with my movement and structure, the dancers put their everything into the work. Their characters and movement qualities expanded far beyond what I ever could have imagined. I trusted them with my soul, and they revealed parts of myself to me that I forgot existed—or didn’t even realize were there. Together we reconnected and reclaimed the playfulness of our childhood selves and blended them with the essential seriousness of adulthood. This was truly a “yes and…” cast!
How did collaboration come into your process?
My favorite moments in the dance were the ones where I collaborated with my dancers. For the last section of the work, I gave my dancers 5 word phrases: above me, below me, beside me, behind me, and within me. My hope was that these words would produce a dimensionality to their movement. Each dancer came up with a gesture, and from there, I generated ways to weave them in and out of one another.—Angel Warden-Palmer
Did you have an ah-ha moment throughout the process, a sense of realization? Can you describe it?
Angel: My ah-ha moment came when I watched the work in its entirety for the first time. I saw a dance that captured a glimpse of my personality. Like my personality, I observed movement that was bold, expressive, and effortful. I believe this parallel happened because I set no intention or quality when I first generated the movement. I trusted that my choreography would speak for itself and capture the state of my emotions.
Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | Dancer: Angel Warden-Palmer | © Unknown; Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | Dancer: Louisa Hall | © Doug Kaye
What music did you use in your work? How did you decide on that/those piece(s)?
Hannah: One day, I was in deep focus-mode. I was working on my math homework while listening to a random playlist on Spotify, when I suddenly realized that I wasn’t paying attention to the numbers anymore; instead, I was choreographing in my head. I knew then that the song that had distracted me was the right fit for my senior project.
Angel: The first composition I used is titled “The Boat Explodes” by Siddartha Khosla. In the first minute and a half, the song accelerates by using “tick noises” and climaxes with the sound of a bomb. The remaining four minutes of the music include a steady, underlying “humming” sound. Like a bomb, I wanted the audience to experience a disintegration of something that once existed. And to me, the “hum” symbolized an empty feeling that ties back to the theme of being hollowed out.
For the second piece of music, I searched for something that would fill the room with ease and calm. The soothing sounds and effortless cascades of the cello in “Recomposed by Peter Gregson: Bach- Cello Suite No. 6” did just that. The layering ripples in the music reminded me of a fountain spilling over. I loved seeing how my dancers surrendered to these sounds and allowed each ripple to motivate their musicality and movement quality.
Did you have a chance to talk to the dancers before the performances? What did you share with them?
I was able to speak with my dancers before each performance. After a quick, joyful discussion, we had a mini dance party, and I sent them on their way. At that point, the piece was theirs; I was simply an audience member. It was their moment to showcase their inner silliness on that stage.—Hannah Woolfenden
How did you feel watching the work during the performances?
Hannah: Watching the finished piece was revealing, humbling, and beautifully thrilling for me. I trusted my dancers wholeheartedly, and I knew with every inch of my soul that they would leave everything on that stage. It was surprisingly nerve-wracking in the sense that I was showcasing a part of myself that not everyone gets to see though. My soul was reflected back to me through the movement.
Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | Dancers: Rowan Williams, Brooke “Frank” Sinton, and Amanda Harris | © Doug Kaye
How do you think the Senior Project process impacted or changed you? What lessons will you take from it and apply in the future?
Angel: One challenging question I’m still answering in regards to choreography is how do I make the experience meaningful for my dancers? How do I engage their hearts and minds in movement that is relatable to them? How do I bring out depth and meaning and offer that to the audience? I don’t want to create meaningless work. I want to create work that is vulnerable, intimate, and an agent of healing.
Hannah: Creating this choreography gave me a chance to play within a plan. Structure (such as a set rehearsal schedule) is there to decrease stress and allow for creativity and play. But too much of a plan can sometimes diminish that opportunity. Prior to this creative process, I found myself closer to the viewpoint that a lack of structure decreases mental and physical safety. Though this can be true, giving myself the opportunity to feel safe within “play” again was incredibly healing.
The Senior Project allowed me to discover and rediscover pieces of myself and my artistic process. It also enabled me to integrate different versions of myself. I clarified what creative processes inspire me the most and reaffirmed just how deeply I am in love with making art.
Banner Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | Dancers: Lindsey Johnson and Amanda Harris | © Doug Kaye
BFA Senior Showcase
Celebrate the accomplishment of Angel, Hannah, and the rest of the LINES Ballet BFA at Dominican University of California Class of 2023 on April 18! The grand finale to their four-year college journey, the BFA Senior Showcase brings our seniors to the beautiful YBCA stage in a celebration of artistic achievement. This one-night-only show also features the second-year LINES Ballet Training Program students.
Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | © Steve Disenhof
BFA Spring Showcase
Join the LINES Ballet BFA at Dominican University of California students on April 14 & 15 as they perform four original works by choreographers and BFA Faculty Sarah Lisette Chiesa, Brett Conway, Gregory Dawson, and Anne-René Petrarca at Angelico Hall in San Rafael.
Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | © Carol Lehrman
About Our BFA Program
Our unique four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program combines the acclaimed training and philosophy of LINES Ballet with Dominican University of California’s comprehensive liberal arts education and social values.
Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | Dancer: Ha Vo | © Steve Disenhof