UMD performances exploring the possibilities of dance

By Destiny Herbers

Two of the University of Maryland’s dance MFA students will be introducing new ways of dance during their in-person Fall MFA Dance Thesis Concert from Oct. 15-17.

“They are both creating really unique and different worlds for their thesis concert,” said Crystal Davis, the head of UMD’s MFA Dance Program.

Amber Daniels, from Jacksonville, Florida, is performing a piece called “Risk of Play: Playful Risk” modeled after dance class improvisation and childhood games, making dance welcoming for someone outside of the community. 

Daniels was inspired to put on this dance after asking a friend at her previous theater if they had ever been to a dance show outside of their home theater, and her friend said no. 

“And the reason why is they never felt invited to do so. And that struck a chord with me,” Daniels said.

It reminded her of the times that she was invited to play as a child. 

“There’s this really great invitation that happens within this ask of… let’s just see what happens within this situation,” Daniels said.

The performance will be completely different each night, Daniels said, because there will be improvisational play between the production team and the dancers. 

“There is a secret game that we’re hoping that the audience will join us in, all while being COVID compliant,” Daniels said.

Featured image: MFA Dancers pose at a rehearsal. Photo courtesy Amber Daniels.

Christina Robson, the other MFA student, said she wanted to disrupt the patterns of movement that she’s learned over her career for her thesis show. Robson said she researched diagrams and patterns from a wide variety of disciplines to develop her choreography.

Robson, a Brooklyn native, said she used rules from diagrams in classical music notation, morse code and quantum theory to construct new rules for making movement.

Robson said she first started creating dance sequences with sheet music during a choreography class in her first year of the program, when she was prompted to take one form and transform it. 

“I basically made a rule system for each measure,” Robson said, “the notes would be tied to an individual body part.” Put together, the notes in a measure become a cascade of movement, Robson said.

Robson said she memorized the pieces of movement that the sheet music created, and started to create a dance. “That kind of sparked a little series… I like thinking of little series of things,” she said.

Over three years, Robson said she created more series based on diagrams she encountered, and those evolved into her thesis piece. 

Both Daniels and Robson said they have enjoyed working closely with lighting, costume, sound and set design teams to transform their choreography into a full production with their dancers. When they put on a thesis performance, Davis said, the candidates work with a minimum of 25 other people at each production meeting and planning session.

“I just find it a really formidable challenge of collaboration that I’m really excited that they’re able to take on and do so successfully to create these works,” Davis said.

Daniels and Robson both built their shows together with their team, they said, seeking their opinions and experiences to develop their choreography.

“People invest in it a bit differently when everybody feels like they have some stakes in it, or some authorship in it, so we’ve been trying to build it together,” Robson said.

Working around the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for both teams, as they had to meet online and outside at first, and now have to dance the 30 minute shows in masks in order to be safe together, Davis said. 

“We’re finally in tech, especially after COVID… we’re finally in a space together, which is so unbelievably amazing to finally say we can do,” Daniels said. 

Daniels and Robson said they have adapted to the challenges with good spirit, viewing the restrictions as an opportunity to make their pieces more unique, and working with determination to create their shows.

“Sometimes those pressure cookers of the challenges inspire more creative solutions than you might have had without the challenges, that you might be able to see on stage,” Davis said.

Featured image: MFA Dancers at a rehearsal. Photo courtesy Thai Nguyen.

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