Movement Heals – Temple’s MFA Thesis Concert Paper, Bones & Sand

by Gina Palumbo for The Dance Journal

On Saturday, February 15th, Temple University’s Department of Dance held its MFA Thesis Concert IV, Paper, Bones & Sand: Journeys & Conversations. The evening featured works from students Matthew Olwell, Dawn States and Ying Yu. Judging by the amount of research and collaboration involved, these works were passion projects for each student. As an audience, there is no way of knowing the entirety of the work, and how many sleepless nights and rehearsals have been experienced before opening night. All we know is the easy road, the one where we reach the destination without messing up our shoes.

File May Be Corrupted: Inquiries in Jig, Clog & Sand by Matthew Olwell came first, a rustic and earthy introduction to the evening. Olwell took the square wooden plank in casual clothes and tap shoes that were gentle on the hollow stage. Cycling tap sequences matched rolling music from banjo player Adam Hurt. A program note mentioned his reflection on the origins of percussive movement, and how its history is equal parts good and bad. He entered into a conversation about tap dance, and how its roots often reared its ugly head in blatant displays of racism. Olwell marched on regardless, ready to give tap dance a renewed identity. He poured sand into a smaller wooden box and began scraping away, his heels not necessarily focused on the sound, but the design that they could make.

Robyn Watson entered the space and addressed Olwell’s findings. In a determined fashion, she danced so that she too could paint tap dance in a new light. She told us how tap dance is always happy, but “tap dance doesn’t always have to be happy.”

Olwell and Watson joined forces, and their two perspectives merged in a typical call-and-response style, working out the violence and the struggle, and leaving years of oppression on the floor.

Incurvation followed, an inter-abled ballet by Dawn States and a direct visualization of her history. After spine surgery and a car accident, States thought her dance career could not continue. This ballet stated otherwise; it was a force to be reckoned with.

Beginning in white tulle costumes, Bone Ballet had four dancers, one being States. Each held a tree branch or a pair of pointe shoes, and with choreography executed in canon, the dancers held hands to travel through space.

Communication was projected on a screen, and States brought the audience to a sun-lit Location 215 on Spring Garden. X-rays of her spine were on every windowsill as she moved. Formerly a possible source of shame, she pulled them from the sill and clutched them close to her heart, and moved instead, in spite of the evidence.

Fuse was an inter-abled duet, with a tangible connection between the dancers. As Amelia Martinez held a position, Jamie Ray Leonetti lifted up out of her electric wheelchair, extending her hand just past Martinez. They leaned into each other for support, one trusting the other whole-heartedly. Break of Day was the finale that furthered a connection across abilities, as a Duchenne smile came from one performer as the movement swelled inside of her. Anyone who knows the profound effects of Dance Therapy would have been touched by this performance. Incurvation was unity in difference.

My dearest stranger by Ying Yu was the last work to be shown after a brief intermission. Yu began to cut a large head of cabbage, and a videographer projected the action onto the screen, which made her mood accessible to the folks sitting in the corner. She was quiet and fixated on the task, but suddenly shifted to anger as she threw the cut cabbage all over the stage. It was a painful reminder that grief and loneliness make even the simplest tasks a marathon.

In the Name of Love was a duet between dancers Tyra Jones-Blain and Wangbo Zhu. A table supported the couple as they found restlessness and rest in one another. An inconsistent relationship brewed as Jones-Blain pushed Zhu away, but then ran directly at him, clearing the table and landing into the safety of his arms. It was a game of cat and mouse, but the catch was a victory for both players.

Meet You In A Crowd reverberated the shock of loneliness in each dancer, but the wounds healed in Let The Bird Fly. The group soared as a flock, not before they became a solid mountain for Jones-Blain to climb. All of the pain and heartache from the start melted away, and freedom screamed.

The evening was sprinkled with a difference in visions but shared one truth: movement was made to heal people, inside and out.

About Gina Palumbo

Gina Palumbo is a native of Philadelphia and has a passion for the arts. She has received her B.A. in Dance from DeSales University in Center Valley. She has been spending post-graduate life practicing ballet and yoga, as well as working in a library as an assistant. She resides in Northeast Philadelphia with her mother Joanne, her brother Anthony, her Nonna Carmela, and her pet bunny, Phyllis.

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