May 4, 2016

An esprit for choreography and dance kinesiology.

Margaret Wiss ’16

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“Hello Choreographers! Congratulations! You have been selected to participate in our spring 2016 Biomorphic Dance Festival!”

I could not believe I was reading this email from the Asterial Dance company as I rushed to my physics exam. The nerves I had for my exam melted away as I considered the gravity of what had just happened: my choreography had just been accepted into a dance festival for the first time. Yes, there were the logistics of actually traveling to New York City with my seven dancers. But I had been accepted!

Curated especially for me

It was as if this two-day New York City festival, with a focus on art and its relationship to science, had been curated for me. During my time at Mount Holyoke, I designed a special major in dance kinesiology. I combined my interests in dance and science and created a major geared toward my aspiration of becoming a physical therapist.

The special major gave me the freedom to take a variety of science and dance courses that complemented each other and inspired much of my choreography. The College provided me with firsthand experience in the multidimensional process of choreographic production—and the tools to execute my visions.

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 As my choreographic process is informed by my environment and the principles I’ve learned from my classes, my thesis choreography is a culmination of three years of study. I combined my previous choreographic works to create a mini-ballet, Nothing happens until something moves.

In the creation of this piece, I researched biomechanical scientific concepts and magnified them for the stage. Specifically, I was interested in the kinetic energy of the body within space—and of the sound and the physics of these elements. My goal: to titillate the audience’s curiosity in questioning how the dancers move, relate to the space, and respond to stimuli.

Systems: in effect

I had originally intended to create three different segments and a finale. But after attending a choreographic workshop over J-term at UMass Amherst led by a former Forsythe Company dancer, Helen Pickett, I understood the importance of examining a dance as a whole. My choice to make a cohesive ballet with fluid sections made biological sense, as systems rely on each other and cannot stand alone.  

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My dancers and I really learned how systems affect each other when we got to the West End Theatre in Manhattan for our 30-minute technical run-through. We faced and adapted to unforeseen challenges: The floor was peeling and slippery. The stage was a semi-circle. There was only one lighting cue. And there was just one way on and off the stage.

We made several changes to the dance, especially in our relationships to one another and to the space. Much of this was improvised during the show. We all worked together and had a successful performance. Flexibility matters in dance, in more ways than one!

Nothing happens until something moves. (Trailer) from Margaret Wiss on Vimeo.

Takeaways and moving forward

Nothing happens until something moves opened the fifth Biomorphic Dance Festival on March 20, 2016. The festival showcased 19 emerging and established choreographers. This performance presented me with experiences and opportunities that I did not think I would have until I had graduated from college. I found support from the MHC community inside and outside of the gates, which gave me confidence to put myself out there and apply for festivals.  

With graduation soon approaching, I am confident that I want to pursue choreography professionally as well as physical therapy. My choreography attempts to reveal invisible forces, such as friction or gravity, that constrict a body in movement. And physical therapy treats individuals who have overstepped their boundaries with these physical forces.

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By combining these two fields, I am combining my passions and piquing the audience’s interest about the world they live in. How I will do it is still undecided, but nothing happens until something moves. And I am moving.

Photos above are courtesy of Jim Coleman.

Set your future in motion.  Learn More

Margaret Wiss is a senior at Mount Holyoke College with a self-designed major in dance kinesiology. She grew up in Weston, Massachusetts, and started studying ballet at three years old. During her four years at Mount Holyoke, she has been involved with the Five College Dance Department and has served as president of the on-campus student organization Doing It Live! After graduation, she plans to pursue dance and attend graduate school for physical therapy.
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