Rania Matar’s SHE came to life Tuesday morning when the “Contact Improvisation” class broke the barrier between photography and dance. They explored the relationship between dance and identity through a performance in the middle of the Gund Gallery.
The contact improvisation class, composed of 24 students and instructed by Assistant Professor of Dance Kora Radella, performed in a portion of the SHE exhibition at the Gund Gallery. The audience was in the middle of the Gallery; some sat on stools, while some stood. The dancers were positioned in pairs around the room, each standing in front of a different photograph.
Photographer Rania Matar’s exhibition considers female identity. Her photos are primarily of young women, and she integrates her own life as a Lebanese-Palestinian-American woman and mother into her work. The photographs are simple yet striking: Young women from all over the world pose outdoors and in dorm rooms, some wearing bras, some covered from head to foot.
The dance performance began with the sound of a gong. The dancers positioned themselves as reflections of the women featured in each photograph. “The structure is that they are present with the photograph. Not interpreting, but just present and being empathetic and just kind of being,” Radella said, describing the first portion of the performance. After about two minutes, the gong would sound again and the dancers would move clockwise to the next picture. After several rotations, the dancers began to move and improvise with their partners after a more percussive sound. Although there was no music, many dancers provided their own audible accompaniment — some began telling snippets of stories, some laughed and some hummed parts of melodies.
For this performance, Radella used a random lottery to determine the partners and what paintings they would interact with. The music choice for and duration of each segment of the performance were the only predetermined pieces. The partners proposed scores of what they were doing and Radella gave them feedback. However, they did not choreograph their exact movements; those were improvised on the spot.
“I try to make a profound experience for the students in terms of what they can glean from collaborative aspects, even though it’s not collaborative from the ground up, meaning the artwork already exists,” Radella said.
The dancers improvised with a grace that indicated collaboration and trust. “I think this performance is different,” Hannah Russ ’18, one of the dancers and member of the contact improv class, said. “We’ve done improv performances before, but this one is different in that it’s much more of a collective feel.”
Even the audience members were invited to move during the performance, to stand up or walk to another side of the audience in order to witness all aspects of the concert. The performance was cyclical: After one cycle, the audience in the middle was invited to exit and a new audience that had been waiting outside the gallery came in to watch.