Last Friday night, the entire audience gathered in the little theater in the PAB wandered around the room, attempting to copy the fluid motions of the dancers interspersed among us as MacKenzie Schuller, a senior thesising in dance, directed us to imagine that the air we were moving in was shifting through different mediums: first water, then thick, syrupy honey.
The Dance Thesis Performance, held Thursday, February 1 through Saturday, February 3, was comprised of works created by all seniors thesis candidates in dance, a small department as this is the first year that dance has been a stand-alone major at Reed. Each of the three seniors — Olivia Hasencamp, MacKenzie Schuller, and Rika Yotsumoto — wrote, directed, and choreographed their own 20-minute dance piece.
Each thesis student’s style was unique. In the first performance, “Greetings and Elaborations” directed by Olivia Hasencamp, performers asked audience members if they wanted to be led in blindfolded. I agreed to the blindfold, and experienced a heightened sense of my surroundings as I was led into the unfamiliar space, with people chattering all around in the darkness. I was walked around in a few circles and then the blindfold was removed, leaving me at the center of the room next to a pile of other silks. I added mine to the pile, then found a seat. On the seats were short prompts, such as “write a song lyric.” The dancers came around and collected the prompts, and then the show began.
Dancers all in crimson began to walk around the room, at first slowly, but then with increasing urgency. The pile of silks was spread around as the tempo of the movements increased. One of the dancers reclined on the strewn silks and read several of the audience’s responses to the prompts while the other performers continued to dance.
Next was “Land of Nod” by Rika Yotsumoto, a piece about dreaming. Like a dream, the work started out so softly and subtly that it was unclear as to when it truly began. The dancers, dressed in light, neutral colors, stepped softly around the room while lights flashed and pop music played. After several minutes of this, the room once again darkened and the music changed. The dancers’ movements grew gradually more intense until they suddenly reached a frenzied climax in which the dancers screamed and pounded on the walls, reminiscent of the helplessness of a nightmare. And then, like a dream, it faded as the lights came on.
The final piece, “Sensation at Blurred Edges” by MacKenzie Schuller, began as an interactive performance. Schuller asked everyone to stand up and then led us in movement exercises: walking around the room imagining we were moving through different fluids, then partnering up to do “non-contact exercises” where we were supposed to flow our bodies around our partner’s movements, completing the negative space around their gestures with our own. After these initial activities, the audience returned to their seats and the true performance began.
The dancers in “Sensation” managed to embody the intimacy of human contact as they touched, hugged, and rolled over one another, ceaselessly moving but somehow nearly always keeping in contact with one another. It was a mesmerizing performance of emotion and human connection and seemed to be telling a wordless story of friendship.
The dance performances, overall, seemed to be guided by themes of human emotion, encouraging the audience to feel what the dancers were feeling, to move how the dancers were moving, to question their engagement with and involvement in each work. As Hasencamp, Yotsumoto, and Schuller’s performances encouraged the audience to engage with each piece, both emotionally and physically, the showcase as a whole invited all those in attendance to enjoy the fruits and complexities of the Reed dance major’s first year.