I was recently blessed with the opportunity to perform in a piece choreographed by Fenella Kennedy of the Graduate Department of Dance here at Ohio State. Set in the rotunda of Sullivant Hall, the piece was entitled “The Aviary.” A combination of improvised tasks and planned transitions, the piece worked to develop a connection between birds and ballerinas. At first, this seemed absolutely wild to me. I did not understand how anyone could develop such a concept, nor was I aware of how I would be able to portray something so complex using my movements. However, after about two months of rehearsal, my eyes were open to a new artistry and brainwork that allowed for me to do so.
Birds are said to be the last living relatives of dinosaurs. Yes, it is true that all animals have evolved from these prehistoric creatures, yet birds are often compared to them to be the most similar in their present make-up. For example, the pterodactyl can be directly compared to a modern day bird, possibly sans the feathers or the bright colors. In a similar way, ballerinas are the dinosaurs of the dance world. Ballet is said to be the foundation of all dance; it is where one learns technique, balance, performance, and artistry from a very young age. Often, the very first dance class one will take is Beginner Ballet. This being said, ballerinas are the prehistoric creatures from which other styles, such as contemporary and jazz, have evolved.
With this concept in mind, Fenella began rehearsals with us as periods of exploration. Using corrections that we had received in our technique classes, she assigned us to different tasks of improvisation, often exaggerating the corrections that we had shared. These improvisations ranged from pointe-work, to floor-work, to simple movement around the room, and once you completed a task that was of some interest to Fenella, it became your own. From there, the rehearsal process turned into the perfecting of a task, adding more complexities and bird-like features. Eventually, each task was also modified so that it could be completed en pointe for the final show. The rehearsal process was much of a collaboration, creating an open space in which both the choreographer and the dancers were welcome to share feedback and ideas. It was interesting for me to learn how to criticize my own movement so that it could better achieve the desired appearance. I was so used to improvising without thinking, yet this process turned on a different part of my brain which required me to recall certain improvised movements and patterns throughout each rehearsal.
In the rehearsals prior to the final showing, much of the time was spent setting the piece up in the rotunda leading into the Barnett Theatre. In a round space such as this, we were spread out in various corners and also challenged to move around the area. It was much like an aviary, with us “ballerina birds” dancing around as if in our natural habitat. On the night of the 2nd Year Graduate Show, the big performance, we were even viewed by a variety of audience members who followed us throughout the piece. Weaving in and out of our cages and stages, as we, too, danced around and throughout their crowds as we performed our now perfected tasks. Their reactions to being so close to the action and their heightened interest in almost being part of the performance is something that I will never forget being a part of. It made this performance unlike something I had even seen or been in.
As my first performance as a BFA student at Ohio State, “The Aviary” was both a blessing and a challenge. I was challenged to go outside of my comfort zone through an increased amount of pointe work in addition to being challenged with a variety of improvisation tasks which I had never even considered. However, I was blessed to work with Fenella and to experience the collaboration which eventually turned into an incredible piece. From Fenella, I learned to take risks and to not question my movements or decisions, because often the most beautiful discoveries as an artist are made completely spontaneously. This experience not only shaped me as a dancer, but also as an artist. For this reason, I will be forever grateful to have joined Fenella’s aviary.