Megan Bascom and Nicole Reehort’s “Intersections” MFA Dance Thesis Concert explored themes of isolation, empathy and personal aspiration in the groups we find ourselves in on a daily basis. In Reehorst’s “Playing Dead,” a female protagonist navigates the practice of classical ballet, a journey that forces her to be both gentle and aggressive, fragile yet enduring. Bascom’s “ReGuarding,” on the other hand, has no protagonist. Instead, a group of dancers move around an obstacle course of abstracted sculptures, with relationships among the dancers and their environment constantly in flux.
Drawing from their distinct backgrounds, the two Masters candidates made very different choreographic decisions. Reehort’s piece began with her protagonist standing still at stage center, lights slowly illuminating her face and then her body. As a classical piano began to play, two dancers rolled across from either sides of the stage, unfurling fabric that would eventually entangle the protagonist as she slowly began to move. Bascom’s piece, by contrast, began with a bright red screen suddenly providing back-lighting for five dancers standing tall across stage center. As distorted electric guitar began playing over an electronic beat, the dancers energetically ran about the stage until they suddenly all stomped the music and screen to a halt. These beginnings placed the audience in two very different places from the start: Reehorst’s piece demanded attention to subtlety, while Bacom’s simply had us along for the ride.
The stage design acted as an early indicator of the different approaches. Reehorst’s set was comprised of ropes made of beige-colored ballerina lingerie knotted together, Bascom’s set employed eight abstracted containers of wood and metal. While the lingerie referenced a long history of lingerie in ballet and represented the established norms that literally entangle the main dancer, the containers seem to symbolize the immaterial obstacles of urban life, as the cast continuously fights to overthrow them.
The biggest difference between the performances, however, seemed to be the use or omission of music and dialogue. Reehorst’s piece used music sparingly, allowing us to be intimately connected with the protagonist for most of the time. When music did play, it was classical piano that indicated the start of a performance within the performance itself. This omission of music when the ballerinas were “offstage” gave the piece a self-aware objectivity that wouldn’t have been communicated otherwise.
Bascom, on the other hand, made use of high octane music and dialogue throughout. If all five dancers seemed to be acting as a group — playing off each other in any number of ways — fast-paced music would serve to accentuate the frenzy. During moments when only one or two dancers acted as others watched on, slower, more atmospheric music would support this intimacy. In this way, the use rather than the omission of music supported much of the social commentary Bascom seemed to be making.
Despite these differences, the performances had a great deal of thematic overlap (hence, “Intersections”). Reehorst’s focused on the plight of a woman trying to establish herself in a ballet company, hence its more muted, introspective nature. This protagonist fails to integrate herself throughout, only finally noticing the web of lingerie at the end after a great deal of strenuous, inward-looking solo performance. It is only then that she joins the other dancers as they synchronously roll offstage to conclude the performance.
The dancers in Bascom’s performance seem equally aloof to the obstacles before them. They move the metal containers around throughout the show, at times using them as protective barriers but at others involuntarily being bound to their control. After much quarrel, the five original dancers, aided by a curious new group of three others, come to a collective understanding that these containers are the source of their angst. The show ends on much the same note as Reehort’s with the group coming together to aggressively abolish these obstacles offstage. Regardless of their differences, “Playing Dead” and “ReGuarding” offer cohesive individualistic and collective insights into our intricately intersecting lives.