During a sometimes challenging transition from dancer to choreographer, Mary-Carmen Webb ’15 understandably might have been skeptical if someone had predicted her work would someday be showcased at a renowned regional dance festival. Nevertheless, Webb would go on to create an original piece, I met you in a kitchen, which was selected for the Gala Performance at the American College Dance Festival (ACDF) 2014 Mid-Atlantic Conference. The event was held in March at the George Mason University School of Dance in Fairfax.
“When I started choreographing, I had a lot of conflict with myself,” the Hollins junior from Roanoke recalls. “‘Will people like this? Is this pleasing? Will it be received well?’ I wrestled with that for a long time until I figured out that in order for me to be able to choreograph, I really have to be inside myself and accept how I move is not necessarily how other people see me moving. What people think of me is not how I really am, what I can really do.”
Before she went to college, Webb already had a decade of experience as a ballet dancer. But during rehearsals for a performance with the Roanoke Ballet Theatre, she worked with four dancers from Hollins who, she says, opened her eyes to new possibilities.
“I had always taken ballet and I was trying to find a different movement style I would enjoy. When I met them, it was exactly what I wanted and it piqued my interest a lot.” One of the dancers urged her to apply to Hollins; it ultimately became her first choice among the colleges and universities she was exploring.
“Hollins Dance is unlike anything else I have experienced. I took classes at other colleges and found them to be very competitive. [At Hollins] it’s like a family, they’re very welcoming. They all want to see you make it. They really encourage you to be the best you can be and take responsibility for your own education. It’s nice not to have someone pushing you and telling you where you should go. They have confidence in you.”
Webb says got the idea for I met you in a kitchen from reading about “viewing the dancing body as an x-ray. I then made up a few gestures for a transparent body.” The piece subsequently evolved into three sections with three dancers where “the first half of it, I had different gestures where it seemed we had our own form of communication and were inside of a different world, but it was something you could tell we had always been used to. The second half was really about dislocating that body from its original language, its history, and where it had been before.
“The piece as a whole is very bittersweet and has a sense of mortality to it. It’s also about relationships because that always finds its way into my work somehow.”
Webb guided kitchen through several informal performances last fall to get feedback from faculty and students. Associate Professor of Dance Jeffery Bullock and Instructor of Dance HeJin Jang then chose it to be shown at the annual Fall Dance Works in December, and later recommended it for the 2014 ACDF regional conference, even though officially, the piece didn’t have an ending.
“The ACDF contract required that we rehearse three hours every week just so they could see we were continuing to work on it,” Webb says. “It was really helpful for me because I don’t have very long rehearsals. Having to do three hours was like, ‘My gosh, what are we going to do?’ I split it up over two, sometimes three days, and I would actually have 30 to 45 minutes to myself in the studio before I would ask the girls [Caitlyn Lewis ‘17 and Molly McCambridge ‘14] to come in and rehearse. That helped me push myself to find the endpoint for that dance.”
At the ACDF regional conference, Webb, Lewis, and McCambridge danced first before a panel of adjudicators, who would select the works that would be featured at the Gala Performance. “Each night they have a feedback session where they talk about what they saw, what they think needs work, what they liked. It was very exciting, but the newness of it was kind of nerve wracking,” Webb explains. “When we were backstage right before we were about to go on to perform, I was like, ‘You know what, girls? Even if we mess up, it’s okay. I’m just really happy we are here.’ I wasn’t even thinking about the Gala – ‘I’m probably not going to get chosen, but I’m going to use the opportunity I have to perform to empower my work.’”
That philosophy would serve Webb and her fellow dancers well. Technical problems impacted the audio of the two recorded songs that are essential to the piece, and the end of the dance had to be performed in silence. Undaunted, they continued their routine.
“I was so proud to have those girls dancing with me. I wouldn’t have wanted anybody else. They essentially said, ‘We’re not going to have any music, it’s not going to be the full effect, but we’re just going to work it.’ And they danced their little hearts out.
“I was scared to go to feedback because I thought they were going to tear apart the fact that all my music cues were messed up. But, they didn’t say anything about them. One of the adjudicators said, ‘I liked how you faded in the music and then it faded out again.’ That wasn’t supposed to happen!”
The adjudicators went on to say many other great things about kitchen and selected it for the Gala Performance the next evening.
“I told the girls, ‘I’m just so happy we get to perform this again and perform it in the way it should be performed,’” Webb says. “For me, it was probably the most freeing feeling I’ve ever had, being able to perform again in front of an audience and knowing there was something in my work the adjudicators wanted to see again.”
Webb is continuing to take her work into some wonderfully unexpected places.
“The piece I’m working on right now is actually for my biology class, ‘Plants and People.’ We were assigned a research paper relating plants to something that interests us, and I figured, ‘Oh, I might as well do it to dance.’ The professor agreed, so I’m going to create a dance, film it, and present it in class. It’s probably the most I’ve researched one of my ideas, so I’m reading a lot about the human body as a biological being.
“I’m inspired by different things. But, I think it’s because I’m so visual that I’m often inspired by things I see versus an idea in my head.”