The dancers move as one, bending with their arms extended. Suddenly, the movement breaks as gracefully as it began. A dancer moves forward, a rhythm sweeping through them. This is “Navigating Proximity,” a dance project created by Assistant Professor of Dance Kora Radella’s “Advanced Modern Dance Technique” course.
“Navigating Proximity” was performed Thursday, Nov. 2, in the Gund Gallery. The dance was inspired by the gallery’s photography exhibition, “Urban Cadence,” which features images of Johannesburg, South Africa, and Lagos, Nigeria. The dance expanded on the movement, rhythm and feeling that comes from living and connecting in enclosed urban space.
All nine students in the class directed a part of the performance, with each student creating a dance to perform in one room of the exhibition, though the movement was mostly reliant on improvisation. To prepare, the students were asked to read a text on either South African or Nigerian life and develop new perspectives on the exhibition through movement.
Audience members walked through the exhibit as the dancers moved from room to room, aligning themselves with the specific images of each space, which pop with the colors of peeling billboards and superheros zooming through the streets. Music by Ross Feller, associate professor of music, accompanied the performance and mimicked the improvisational nature of the dancing.
“A lot of it is, ‘If we have different parameters, what would that look like?’” Sean Seu ’19, a student in Radella’s class, said. “[It’s] kind of like little science experiments, where you put humans into a room, and say you can move like this, like this, like this, and then you start the program and see what happens within those parameters.”
Radella often uses exhibits and the space of the Gund Gallery for her advanced dance classes, but at first, she had a hard time seeing how she could use this particular exhibition as an assignment for her class. Radella evokes bustling city streets by basing each dance on flocking, a movement in improvisation completed by the entire group. Because of the history of overcoming apartheid in South Africa, resistance is also a key theme reflected in the project: Part of the improv element must include a group motion that is slowly changed by an individual. Radella expands on these concepts as a complicated physical and political action.
“It requires a lot of the person trying to get across to resist and find avenues to do that,” she said. “There’s that physical realm, but there’s also the politics of resistance, and then just in terms of the urban theme of when you go with that mass of people that just got out of the subway.”