On April 11 & 12, the dance department at Sarah Lawrence held its annual MFA Dance Concert. All of the performances in the concert were choreographed by second-year Masters students, all of whom will be graduating at the end of the year. These students included Helen Hickey, Rakia Seaborn, Mor Mendel, Yehuda Hyman, and Kendra Leigh Mace. Along with choreographing their own pieces, each of these dancers performed in the concert as well.
The concert consisted of nine performances, each of which was choreographed by one of the graduating students in the Masters program. Commenting on the nature of the performances and what tied all the pieces together, Director Sara Rudner said, "I think, in this particular instance, each of these young choreographers and their performers were working on subject matter that was really personally important. So you think of Yehuda's piece about his mother, and Mor's piece, which is more abstract, but she's Israeli, and there are hints of that conflict that is happening in that part of the world. Helen, who is this beautiful blonde, working on something that's kind of distorted because she's thinking about other aspects of herself.”
The MFA Dance program at Sarah Lawrence is one of the oldest Masters programs in Dance in the country. Sara Rudner described the program as, “basically a creative, choreographic MFA.” The program consists of daily physical practice across multiple genres along with seminars in dance history, lighting design, experiential anatomy and other subjects. Choreographic inquiry is also an important part of the program.
Commenting on the trio, Masters student Rakia Seaborn said, “I am not resigned,” that she choreographed and performed alongside Helen Hickey and Kendra Leigh Mace. Seaborn continued, “[It is] an iteration of a piece I started making in 2010 that I've only been able to complete now. It's about the loss of my mother. Working on a concept so personal was mostly terrifying and much of the process of this work was getting over the fear of being honest. I got to work on this piece all year long and the version that was performed in the winter concert was perhaps the embodiment of a raw nerve. It was exhausting. This semester I focused more on the nuances of grief. The version performed last weekend was definitely a far more emotionally complex and thus, a more successful piece, and surprisingly easier to perform.”
She also choreographed and performed a solo, “Filigree,” which she said was, “in some ways a direct response to the group piece. It started as an exercise in Emily Devine's compositions class. I wanted to make something pretty and delicate, the opposite of a raw nerve. I conceptualized the solo as one long, run-on sentence/moveable surrealist painting about adolescence. It's the place where Rakia the writer and Rakia the dancer converge.”
On his piece, “LEANING INTO MOISTURE…about my mother,” which he both choreographed and performed alongside Amanda Schussel, Yehuda Hyman said, “I had been intending to make a piece about my mother's experience in Istanbul since 1999. I have made many false starts – at first it was going to be a play, than a novel, etc. I have a box at home filled with research and drafts of different versions of the story. This is the first time I worked on it as a dance/theater piece.” He continued on the storytelling element of his performance, “For my process I find it useful to have a story, even if I discard it. Here I particularly wanted to relate my mother's story and I felt responsible to it. I love storytelling. There is nothing more magical for me than a performer on a bare stage taking the audience, through movement and words, to different worlds.”
Looking back at the concert as a whole, Rakia Seaborn said, “As a whole, I think the concert was full of pieces which truly embodied the personal history of each choreographer. Everyone placed an absolutely brilliant and unedited version of themselves on the stage and I am proud that I got to be a part of such a wonderful experience.” Sara Rudner continued on this note, “In many instances, our students inspire us, and the concert was definitely one of them."
by Janaki Chadha '17