The MFA Thesis show for second year graduate dance students is Friday and Saturday, April 11 and 12. Reserve tickets in the PAC.
Willa Bennett (’17) became completely obsessed with ballet in the fourth grade, straight down to the tutus and the pointe shoes. “It was my life goal to be a ballerina,” said Bennett. As a first year at Sarah Lawrence, Bennett’s emphasis on ballet has changed. Dancing at SLC has forged a deep connection between Bennett and the intrinsic beauty of human composition. “I do not see people as skinny or fat,” Bennett says. “I look at the shape of their bodies, and how they move through space even when they’re walking through Bates to get ice cream.”
In high school, Bennett performed with her high school’s dance company. One of only ten students, Bennett got in as a freshman. Her senior thesis was a music video exploring movement and dancers within a group and by themselves. When it came time to choose colleges, conservatoires did not offer enough academics, and Sarah Lawrence had the best dance program out of liberal arts choices.
“At Sarah Lawrence, the third program is unique,” says Bennett, “because you get to dance everyday without it being your ‘major.’ You take a technique class every morning, and additionally an academic and creative approach to movement.”
Dancers in SLC’s third program can also audition for a place in a graduate student’s choreographed projects. For Bennett, this is the most exciting part of being a dance third. It allows dancers to see differences in choreographers’ creative processes up close, dance next to many different skill levels, and be apart of a graduate’s thesis.
Bennett is dancing in Helen Hickey’s choreography this semester, where she plays the alter ego of another dancer. “Dancing for Helen is amazing because I get to dance in a way I never even thought existed,” says Bennett. “I get thrown around and I crawl up dancer’s bodies.”
Bennett’s first rehearsal with Hickey started with all the dancers moving across the room in the most disgusting way they could move. “I’ve never moved like that before,” says Bennett. “The human body [in Hickey’s piece] is seen as grotesque in the most artistic and thoughtful way. Helen has absolutely changed the way I view choreography. I really admire her as an artist.”
Like she wanted when she chose SLC to study dance, Bennett’s understanding of dance continues to change. “I think my relationship with dance has changed a lot at Sarah Lawrence,” Bennett says. “I used to have a greater emphasis on technique, and now I realize the most meaningful and successful dances come from the intention of the movement.”
“Each person is a product of all their dance training so it is hard to compare who is a good dancer and who is not. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses,” explains Bennett. “I think universally everyone has their own relationship with their body, whether they are doing pirouettes or just walking straight. Everyone responds in their own way. That is part of what makes dance so beautiful and unique. It really is a way to communicate. I always feel so close to everyone I dance with because we see each other in such a vulnerable way.”
While her understanding has changed, she says dance remains, for her, “a constantly expressive and cathartic process.” For Bennett the relationship between the dancer and dance is one of the most closely tied of artist/art connections. “When someone criticizes a painting, there is a detachment between the artist and the work. Criticism in dance rests your body. It is your leg that is not high enough or at the right angle. Your body is the medium, so at least for me, it is more personal.”
The biggest difference for Bennett between her previous training and SLC’s third program is the connection between dancer and mirror. “Before, it was all about the mirror and how your reflection looked,” explains Bennett. “At Sarah Lawrence the mirror helps us understand where we are going for, but our movement is from within.” Dance at SLC has the intention of artistry before anything else.
“I do not know how my relationship with dance will evolve after Sarah Lawrence,” Bennett admits. “I am really into science. Right now for my neuroscience class, I am making a conference project on how dance effects a person’s relationship with their body and self esteem. I hope to always dance though, in some capacity.”
As for her plans for her next three years at SLC, Bennett plans to study science, dance, and political science, working on their combined effect on the world around her. She would love to dance for a company again at some point of time. She is slowly finding SLC to have a common community for dancers, where they are encouraged to study other subjects of interest, allowing them to help continually shape their relationship to dance and what it means to the dancer.
by Sarah McEachern '17