Despite widespread belief that there is no such thing as a superior art form, there is no doubt that numerous genres of artistic expression are highly underrated relative to others. Dance is a common victim of this phenomenon, as many of us, even here at Wesleyan, find ourselves thinking of parties before we think of art when we hear about dancing. As Sally Williams ’14, Naya Samuel ’14, and Elle Bayles ’14 spectacularly proved in the Fall Thesis Dance Concert, dance is an incredibly powerful tool of expression.
Each dance lasted about 15 minutes and presented a story to the audience. Along with my fellow audience members, I feared that, given my ignorance about dance, I would be unable to truly appreciate the performances. Fortunately, this was not the case. Each piece, while laden with artistic sophistication, contained a simple message that anyone could appreciate. As all of the seniors are double majors, they were all heavily influenced by another discipline when producing the dances, which rendered each one richly unique and expressive.
The first piece, “Cement,” was produced by Williams. As a dance and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry double major, Williams chose to portray a highly complex and commonly misunderstood neurological disorder: Alzheimer’s disease.
“I was looking at the clinical pathology of Alzheimer’s disease and found that a lot of times with very complex neurological disorders, it’s very hard for the general public to understand what’s going on,” Williams said.
Her piece beautifully took the audience step by step through the deterioration of the mental condition of four individuals. Williams used very simple mannerisms such as rapid head shaking and impulsive thrashing alongside the gracious dancing, so it was easy to follow along. She even represented the literal ripping of neurons in the brain though an elaborate prop of chains that were disentangled as part of the dance.
Williams noted that she sought to give a voice to to these people. “People with severe neurological disorders can’t really communicate on their own and can’t really point out what’s going on in their heads,” she said.
The second piece, “Sway,” was produced by Samuel. While her piece did not have as explicit a message as Williams’, it was as equally captivating as it took the audience through a gallery of broken communities and individuals seeking both independence and escape from oppression. A significant portion of the performance was an amalgamation of dance and silent acting as the audience witnessed characters being pushed down, attempting to escape from their communities and being forcefully reabsorbed into them.
As a dance and American Studies double major, Samuel was inspired to reflect various social issues in contemporary American culture, as well as individuals trying to understand others.
“I was not literally translating [the issues] into the dance, but was thinking about it while doing it,” Samuel said.
The final piece, “Cyclical Relations,” was produced by Bayles. A dance and psychology double major, Bayles demonstrated, as the title explains, a host of relationships that continued in seemingly never-ending abuse. Similarly to Samuel’s piece, Bayles’ incorporated a great deal of acting into the performance, showing couples with oppressive dynamics that reflected the daily grind of abusive relationships as well as the pain of being controlled by others. Her main goal was to shed light upon how people communicate and feel, which came out effectively through the various portrayals of relationships.
Despite sharing a powerful passion for the medium, the seniors expressed linked but deeply personal understandings of dance. Williams, who has been dancing since she was seven, stated that the importance of dance to her is its accessibility, especially as it reflects complex ideas such as mental disorder.
“You don’t really need to understand the medical jargon to understand the disease,” Williams said.
Somewhat similarly, Samuel, who got into dance her senior year of high school, stated that she believes dance makes communication more universal.
“Dance is important because of how it just communicates with body language,” Samuel said. “It helps me understand my body better, which helps me live better every day.”
Bayles, who has been dancing since her younger years, also agreed with the importance of those aspects of dance.
While extremely entertaining, the greater merit of the Fall Thesis Dance Concert was in its extraordinary artistic value, conveying both the simple and the complex in stunning elegance. The event proved that dance has the potential to be powerful, rich, and expressive.