Senior Spotlight: Four seniors uncover the places we interweave, where we meet
April 20, 2023
A quartet of USC seniors is using dance, film — and, yes, vendors — to put experiential performance to the test.
At first glance, a concert dance performance might not strike you as an opportunity to dole out custom shirts, sell wild ferns or snag the latest New York Times bestseller. However, in many ways, that’s the intent for seniors AJ Joehl, Colin Heino, Emma Sutherland, and Brodie Wolf.
The BFA quartet joined forces earlier this semester to bring where we meet, their senior project, to life — a decidedly all-encompassing evening that blurs the line between performance art and artisan craft festival. As Joehl said recently over Zoom, the goal of where we meet “is to create a very atmospheric and aesthetic ambiance and see how that affects a viewer’s way of interacting with the dance.”
In dividing up duties, Joehl and Heino came up with the idea of recruiting vendors to set up shop and sell merchandise, everything from T-shirts to plants to craft drinks, all the while using a crop of dancers to interact with attendees.
Sutherland and Wolf had their own vision. Both took inspiration from their minors in Cinematic Arts, which cultivated in them a passion for dance and film intersectionality. They hoped to dismantle the idea of an installation and add its various aspects to a proscenium performance. By doing so, they contended with the question of how to make it more of an immersive experience.
The four came together recently to talk about their senior thesis project, where we meet.
What prompted the four of you to join forces and produce where we meet in collaboration with one another?
Colin: Our individual projects sort-of seamlessly blended together. We realized that, through our projects, the areas we wanted to focus on aligned, that there was a prospect. We saw genuine potential in our visions combining.
Emma: Brodie and my portion of the project was heavily influenced by wanting to create a study. We aspired to conduct personal research on the intersectionality of dance, film and music. Colin and AJ, on the other hand, were talking about aesthetics and the creation of a pleasant environment. Combining our study with their production of a cohesive event meshed well together. This way, we could focus on conducting our study and learning from it, while they could work on creating the environment and atmosphere of the event itself.
Have you found any particular benefits or challenges to working together?
Emma: Before deciding to go off-campus, we had planned on hosting where we meet at Kaufman, considering the vast amount of help and aid that needed to go into its planning. So, when we eventually chose to go off-site, the prospect was more daunting. As a result, having four people working together was such a breath of fresh air. It was essentially four brains functioning in sync, making it far easier to get stuff done.
AJ: At the same time, it was a challenge for sure. There was a lot of negotiating in terms of who does what and where we collaborate. We also had to consider how dancing fits into the atmosphere, so that we don’t create a disjointed evening-length event. In essence, trying to understand how all the pieces fit into the theme of the event.
Colin and AJ, what was the guiding intention behind the movement or the experiences that you’re building?
Colin: Initially, AJ and I wanted our theme to center naturals and neutrals, keeping it rooted in community and community-building. We wanted to explore the ways in which we can foster and uphold a group of individuals and how that, in turn, supports the dancing. In wanting to support Brodie and Emma’s installations, we tried to compose a fun and relaxing environment, rather than something that is stressful, crazy or makes you feel anxious.
AJ: A goal of ours is for audience members to have and take away different experiences. With that being said, we can’t just slap something on a sheet of paper. We are focusing on creating more nondescript movement and an ambient space. At the same time, we are focusing a lot on cultivating a sense of community. We are being very intentional in showcasing duet work. Also, we want to make sure that we’re not creating a stylized atmosphere that generates a specific feeling. Instead, we want to keep it very natural and neutral, thereby not taking away from the space that we have.
Brodie, have you taken inspiration from anything in particular as far as what you’re developing with Emma?
Yes! We have four different installations that are each inspired by different things. The first is Casey Murray’s dance film, which will debut at our event.
For the second study, we want to understand the correlation of dance and music. For this, we have a performer inside a box who will be dancing to an evocative, emotional tone of music. Outside, however, the viewers won’t be able to hear the performer’s music. Instead, they will be listening to three different genres of specifically-curated music. This study was inspired by Music, Mind and The Brain, a course where we looked at the agency and value of music.
For the other installation, which will look at dance through a filmic lens with a live performer, we were inspired by Professor Dawn Stoppiello’s Advanced Composition course, where we learned about the Isadora software. It is an intersection between the live and the recorded.
The proscenium showcase is inspired by SCCC’s ArtsFest shows.
This sounds very comprehensive! If each of you could describe the event in a word or two, what would it be?
Immersive. Community. Audience autonomy. Individualistic.
Emma, to close out, what feeling or emotion do you want people to walk away from your project with?
I hope people come out of it feeling fulfilled. We’re not just asking them to watch a show. We’re inviting them into a space where all these different mediums of performance art are in intersection with one another. In fact, the show starts even before you walk into the space, continues in your engagement with the vendors and installations, and culminates in the proscenium show. We hope each person walks away feeling like they connected to and impacted the performance. We want them to leave the space having had a voice in the places we interweave, in where we meet.
By Arjun Kochhar (BFA ’25)