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Temple University’s Thesis Concert II – The Movers Became The Makers

by Gina Palumbo for The Dance Journal

On Friday, February 19th, 2021, Wangbo Zhu and Hassan Syed of Temple University’s MFA Program presented their theses from the comfort of their homes. I had the privilege to see Zhu and Syed perform at the 2020 thesis concert, and so I was eager to watch their language change as each of them took the reins and created their own works. Each artist is vastly different in his approach, but both worked tirelessly and stayed vigilant in a time when artists were forced to close their doors.

Andromeda, by Hassan Syed, was streamed from Temple’s Conwell Dance Theater. The name was taken from the closest galaxy to the Milky Way, and his work was born out of the idea that there is a connection between humans, even in the subtlest and smallest movements. Syed created the movement first, and the music was modeled afterward. If movements, instead of creating texture, could make a sound, Andromeda would be the teaching tool for this concept.

Divided into brief duets, each section differed entirely in mood, but the white costuming remained the same to bring the audience into a galaxy far away. The first section was frantic, but when Syed reached for his partner’s quaking hand, a calm washed over the room. Andromeda was body central and not focused on exploring the space but exhausting the possibilities within the body itself. Each dancer, including Zhu, moved as if electric currents were coursing through their veins, sparking static movements. The music mixed wind and the crackling sound that a speaker makes when a text message is coming through. The lighting shifted through various hues of blue, like the unearthly colors you see in dreams. In the final section, Syed’s movements became smaller and subtler as he moved with more caution and trepidation. His attention to the movement’s detail made Andromeda a work of art.

Zhu’s thesis, Live Through The Marathon, perfectly captured what has been gained and lost in the pandemic. From the spaces and concepts within those spaces, Zhu took the past year’s absurdity and turned on the light. Opening on an outdoor basketball court, the dancers were clapping rhythmically together and joyfully living in the moment. Suddenly their expressions transformed as if they suddenly remembered the state of reality, and it reminded me of the bouts of sadness sprinkled among a year of manufactured smiles. Zhu’s solo took place in a small space that seemed to close in on him. He went through the motions of waking up out of bed and slowly falling back down again, the repetition mimicking the taxing monotony we have all experienced. Just as I remembered from before, his fluidity was totally seamless, as if he is constantly moving through water.

We were transported to a technicolor alleyway where a duet ensued, Capoeira style, and each dancer was egging the other on. Though they were masked and socially distanced, a surge of freedom engulfed me as the pair was no longer limited to the lines of tape in small rooms. The dancers bumped elbows as they parted ways. We were brought inside, once again smothered with the inhibition we lost outside. The dancers were somber as they moved through the space. In the end, each dancer gestured to each other in a way that has become second-nature, with air hugs and frantic waves. The work ended with each dancer waving from a door frame, a reminder of the faces we have had to learn all over again from a distance.

Zhu and Syed closed by answering questions about their creative process and future plans and expressed their relief at completing their theses. Regardless of where they will go, I look forward to their careers, as I know I will continue to be inspired.

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