Student Blog: “Whelm” creation with Bret Easterling

April 15, 2019

two dancers rehearsing in a studio

The Class of 2022 rehearsing Bret Easterling's "Whelm" | Photo by Mary Mallaney

USC Kaufman’s Class of 2022 has been hard at work with faculty member and choreographer Bret Easterling. Easterling is currently creating a new work on these dancers. Here, four freshman dancers discuss their processes in the studio, workshopping “Whelm.”

Anne Kim: mindful of material

Over the past couple of months, the USC Kaufman Class of 2023 has had the privilege of working with faculty member Bret Easterling on his new creation, “Whelm.” During the first weeks, my peers and I created our own phrases. Bret offered guidelines with a task: “get out of your own way.” Ultimately, a task like this pushes your body to be in unfamiliar spaces and requires a specific quality. This quality is generally based on the individual’s interpretation of this task. Essentially, Bret’s open-mindedness and endless encouragement gave us a sense of ownership of our phrases. When polishing our solos, we had to be mindful of our choices and find a way to keep this material fresh and new. The undivided attention Bret gave to each dancer in the room has taught my cohort that it is possible to translate the celebration of oneself and each other through movement.

Anthony Tette: always exploring

So far, the creation process with Bret Easterling has been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. We have been working on how to create our own choreography, with different tasks and intents under his guidance. Researching the same solo for weeks at a time allows you to fully embody the movement. I find that I have become super aware of how my body is moving at all times. Bret really encourages us not to stop exploring our own movement. In addition, we work on always finding new moments within the choreography to go deeper. The piece that we are creating as a collective consists of everyone’s choreography. Bret then set a structure, so it is very personal to our class. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such an enlightened dancer, and cannot wait to perform this piece with the rest of my class in the spring!

Nina Gumbs: understanding abstraction

Our experience with Bret has taught me two things in particular. Not only have I learned how to participate in an original work, but also about embodying the Gaga technique. I had never been exposed to Gaga prior to coming to USC Kaufman, yet I have truly grown to appreciate it. Before starting the work, we worked on Gaga-based technique movement with Bret. We began by researching how the use of each body part is vital to becoming grounded into the floor. It opened my eyes to the idea of letting go, and the dynamic between relaxation and control. These ideas transpired into the work we did for “Whelm.” Bret prompted us to come up with solo phrases based on a task that initially felt very abstract to me. However, throughout the weeks, I grew into a deeper understanding of its meaning with Bret’s guidance. He was able to nurture our ideas and help us achieve individual creativity while bringing a different kind of texture to our movement. The result: letting go with clarity. The unique cultivation and culmination of our research has molded “Whelm” into a work that I will forever be grateful to be a part of.

Cameron Cofrancesco: refining ideas

Working with Bret this semester has been a unique process. We have had the privilege of diving into his choreographic methods. Simultaneously, we have been able to experience the creation of an entirely new piece. Because of his choreographic process, we have many opportunities that require our own creative insights. This process is very different than typical repertory rehearsals where we are usually repeating specific steps; it forces us to become mentally invested in the rehearsal space alongside Bret. We also have all received chances to work with Bret one on one, refining and developing our ideas and movements. Through his instruction, Bret has managed to integrate all of our voices into a piece that really showcases the diversity and skill level of our class.