When dancer and choreographer Nathan Trice established his theatrical dance company in 1998, his vision included the creation of a "unique visual, audio, sensory, theatrical movement language." For nearly six months, Trice has been speaking that language at Taft, guiding students though a process of self-exploration that will culminate with an extraordinarily personal performance during the Dance Ensemble Winter Concert this weekend.
The ten-minute piece, I, The Object In My Eye, features six students from Sarah Surber's Advanced Dance class. Since September, the dancers have explored their identities as women, giving conscious consideration to the societal and institutional influences that shape their sense of self. It is part of a larger initiative launched by Trice in 2001.
"Overall, the Recognizing Women Project focuses on bringing high schoolers, young adult dancers, and professional dancers together to create work that speaks to the unique contributions and experiences of women," Trice explains. "We do that by having the dancers research their own lives to develop deeper personal understanding and pen very personal narratives."
Those narratives, Trice says, are the heart of the performance piece.
"Each year there are new dancers involved with the project, each with their own story. I have a broad choreographic framework that I adapt to bring those stories to the stage."
As a research and performance initiative, the Recognizing Women Project bridges art and academia. It has been performed from Brooklyn to Detroit, and has facilitated collaborations between professional dancers and students at a number of colleges and universities, including Vassar, Fordham, Columbia, and Barnard. At the university level, dancers have also collaborated with practitioners and students enrolled in humanities and social service programs—like women's history, psychology, and anthropology—in conducting research and building content. At Taft, dancers collaborated with students in Johanna Valdez's English department elective, Sexual Politics in the 21st Century.
"My senior elective starts from the premise of teaching kids about intersectionality," says Valdez. "We discuss identity, sexuality, and gender within our texts, but also expand to our selves and our world. Working with Nathan, we asked questions through a lens of interrogating the "me, myself, and I" along with ideas about self-objectification."
Valdez's students asked those questions of themselves and of their peers, as did Surber's advanced dancers.
"We talked about things like self-objectification, how we view our own bodies, and society's standards of beauty," explains dancer Haylee Snow '19. "We wrote text narratives based on that research, and learned how to connect our movements with the emotions and feelings expressed in our stories."
The story each dancer tells during the Winter Concert will be highly personal. It will incorporate elements of their own self-reflection, as well as their acknowledgment of the unique and personal experiences reflected in the work done by Valdez's students.
"Nathan began by teaching us a few base phrases to get a feel for his movement language," says Snow. "Using that base, we developed our own expressive phrases."
And in this particular piece, those phrases with be articulated though both movement and spoken words.
"A lot of us will be talking while we're dancing," says Snow. "I have never spoken in a dance before. Dance, to me, has always been a form a communication. But it was not until I worked with Nathan that I actually came to understand how to connect words, feeling, and movement for the first time."
Taft's Dance Ensemble Winter Concert will be held in Bingham Auditorium Friday, February 16 at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, February 17 at 4 pm. The program includes eight pieces, including "I, The Object In My Eye." Taft's Chamber Ensemble, under the direction of Music Teacher TJ Thompson, will accompany one of the pieces. Guest choreographers include Rachna Agrawal, Amber Cameron PopKorn, and Nathan Trice. Faculty members Sarah Surber and Amanda Benedict serve as director and assistant director, as well as choreographers for the show.
"I, The Object In My Eye" will also be performed during a special Music for a While program on Friday February 23 at 7 pm in Bingham Auditorium. Taft dancers will perform the piece with members of Nathan Trice's dance company, who will also deliver a full program of theatrical movement.
All three events are free and open to the public. Tickets are not required.
Top photo: Nathan Trice and Dance Teacher Sarah Surber work with students in Taft's dance studio.
Bottom photo: Notes from the research and conversations around "me, myself, and I" fill the walls of the Paley Dance Studio.