Student Blog: Student works onstage

December 4, 2017


BFA students in Jakevis Thomason's "Aware" | Photo by Mary Mallaney

By Rachel Harris

This fall I had the pleasure of being a part of the BFA sophomore student works show. It is always a joy to see how our work with outside choreographers, learned composition and improvisation techniques, and artistic personalities manifest during this process of creation. I was able to perform in both Amaria Stern’s work “Weird Version of Up” and Jakevis Thomason’s work “Aware,” which was turned into a full length 10-minute work–through these processes, I can attest to the talent and choreographic talent in the sophomore class.

Early explorations

Many of the works of this semester’s student works show actually started in the classroom during our Improvisation and Composition class with Professor Thomas McManus. In this course, we explore the choreographic and improvisation techniques of William Forsythe, Victor Quijada, and others. Many ideas that started off as simple phrases became complex themes and motifs in each piece. After brainstorming in the classroom, the BFA students worked rigorously outside of our schedules to complete the works and to see the vision of each choreographer through.

Amaria’s “Weird Version of Up”

Amaria worked with myself and three other dancers to create a contemporary piece, physicalizing the process of finding community amidst isolation in order to help one accelerate and strive for alignment to one’s purpose. This complex theme was embodied through movement encompassing repetition, strength, and weakness to Jordan Rakei’s R&B/soul work “Cupid’s Cheese.” My favorite point in the work is when one dancer enters the stage after myself and two others dance a long and physically demanding trio; we simply acknowledge what he adds to the work and process by just being present. This amongst many other moments of the piece are why I love dancing with my peers in their works–it is a time to bring light to the issues we deem important through our artistry.

Jakevis’ “Aware”


Rachel Harris and other BFA students in Jakevis Thomason’s “Aware” | Photo by Mary Mallaney

Jakevis’ vision also brought the dancers and audience members into his perspective about schisms in society as a young black male. His five-minute contemporary work “Aware” included men from the freshmen and sophomore class, in order to embody a representation of himself and his perseverance through difficult times in his life. This piece’s fast-paced and intricate choreography spoke not only to Kanye West’s passion in “Blood on the Leaves,” but also to Thomason’s daily challenges and successes. As his piece evolved into ten-minute work for the second show, he included all of the African American students in the BFA program with the addition of musical selections: “Strange Fruit” by Nina Simone and “New Slaves” by Kanye West. The piece then evolved into a work focused on Thomason’s struggles, as well as the need for society to become aware of its past issues in regards to race in order to strive for a better future.

My favorite part of this work was feeling the build of energy and intensity as the his vision became more clear. There is something truly unique about choreographers who make their dancers physically embody the issue that they are trying to portray in the work. As a black student being deliberately separated and rejected by my white peers onstage to demonstrate the relevance of racial tension, I felt a reaction in myself and the other dancers involved, as well as from audience members. Through each piece in the student works show, I am able to see my peers’ choreographic voices blossoming directly from the techniques learned in the classroom, and continuously get excited about what else we can offer to our community by the time we graduate.