Montclair State University students Megan Theobald and Waverley Leung discuss experiencing community through rehearsing and performing The Neighborhood, a new work created by Kathleen Kelley.
Megan Theobald (sophomore) and Waverley Leung (senior) are students in Professor Neil Baldwin’s course Danceaturgy. In this course, “selected dance students/writers are chosen from repertory classes to examine the works in which they are performing, and given the task to develop a critical analysis of the works by ‘stepping out’ and looking at pieces objectively.” Megan and Waverley wrote and presented this analysis of the Neighborhood on April 26th before a live audience at Dance Day at Kasser Theatre at Montclair State.
M: The neighborhood choreographed by Kathleen Kelley, a modern professor here at MSU, in collaboration with her dancers, explores the ideas of creating an intimate world shared with everyone present in an instant. Her piece looks at the past, present and future as the dancers dive into different personas for moments at a time, then moving on to the next. Through this piece, Kathleen addresses what it is like when a community comes together to make something bigger than themselves. She challenges us to deeply invest in the present by accepting where we were in the past, having a goal of where we want to be in the future but also acknowledging where we are in this exact moment.
W: This piece stands apart from the rest because rather than having set choreography, “The Neighborhood” is driven by an improv score performed by the dancers. Meaning, the dancers are making split-second choices on what they want to do at that present moment. Therefore, just like you don’t know what you are about to see, they also don’t know what they will be doing for you on stage. So that being said, Megan, what did you think of the process in creating this piece?
M: First semester we improv-ed every rehearsal. Kathleen would give us different prompts and these prompts later turned into parts of score we perform on stage. For me this was extremely different than other rehearsal processes. We were not given specific steps to do. Instead, we were given an outline such as picture a person you know really well. Once we had this person in our minds, we would slowly being to embody this person, exploring how they walk and move throughout space and their mannerisms. We had the time in a supportive space to really explore this idea fully to the point where this person we were trying to embody almost became an extension of ourselves. So even though this process was not traditional or something any of us were used to, as a cast we were really able to connect with each other in a new and different way. We created a community through supported exploration. So Waverley what did you take away from this process?
W: From this process I became more conscious and aware of the people I am dancing with. It is so important to be able to communicate with the people we are dancing with directly as well as the group as a whole. Since we were never really sure what exactly would happen in rehearsal, I had to be able to adapt to any situation given to me. Additionally, it was a huge challenge to remember what the improv score was, as sometimes we would get carried away with what we were currently doing. This contributed to our experience in the piece with time (past, present, and future), which you will all see when you watch the dance.
M: I definitely agree. This process has been eye opening to the fact that there are many different ways to create a dance. Another thing that added to the challenges of this rehearsal process was the music. We did not add music until towards the end of the process and similarly to the piece, the music is heavily improvised. We have been lucky enough to work with Glenn Fittin, an accompanist here at MSU. He will be playing live and interacting with us on stage. What did you think when you found out Glenn was playing live?
W: I was surprised… But not as surprised as when she told us we were going to be talking on stage… Honestly as a dancer I am not as confident in my voice than I am with communicating with my body, which made this idea very intriguing. However, I was excited to challenge myself, and I find it is now one of my favorite parts of the piece! Like in one part we-
M: Wait, don’t give away too much! That being said, we hope that you take away from this piece that when a community comes together they can create something unexpected and amazing. And today when you are watching this show, we hope that you will see the beauty in the present because we are all here together.