Leaving a mark: Senior dancers capture love, life, art through masterful choreography

Freshman Amanda Rhine (left) and sophomore Jennifer McAllister in “at home.” Photo by Brian Allenby, Staff Photographer.
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The dance department at Elon University may be small, but during the past four years, it has fostered a second family for its students. This year marks the end of an era for the three seniors in the program, but they are looking forward to a life beyond Elon.

Junior Alyse Keim (left), sophomore Chet Norment and junior Lauren Renck performed in “Number _.” The dance was choreographed by senior Kassi Mattera. Photo by Brian Allenby, staff photographer.

The students in the program worked together to produce this year’s Senior Thesis Dance Concert, composed of original pieces created by each of the students and one faculty-choreographed piece featuring the three seniors. The show, held in the Black Box Theatre last week, was so well-attended Friday evening that a handful of people were turned away and needed to be put on a reservation list for shows the following day.

Senior Jess Duffy choreographed the first student-made piece, titled “at home.” The three-part piece was set in post- World War II America and explored the constructs of mother-daughter, lesbian partners and husband-wife relationships in the context of the struggles each one evokes.

“My inspiration originally was just about the idea of relationships and what people deem appropriate and inappropriate,” Duffy said. “Then actually getting into the constructs of that relationship and breaking down, ‘Are they actually successful?’”

Sophomore Taylor Aucott lifts junior Kristen Sandler in senior Jess Duffy’s piece. Photo by Brian Allenby.

The centerpiece of Duffy’s work, which she said fueled the entire composition, was driven by the duet of two women demonstrating a lesbian relationship, exploring the first public occurrence of gay and lesbian partnerships.

The final part of “at home.” explored the challenges couples faced when men returned from war to find their wives in different situations. It wasn’t uncommon for women to start new relationships because they had no way of knowing whether their husbands would ever come home, according to Duffy, who did extensive research on the post-World War II era.

Senior Kassi Mattera choreographed the closing thesis, titled “Number _.” Mattera’s cast came on stage dressed in stark white costumes that became more and more colorful as the dancers flung paint at each other and onto a canvas on the floor.

Each dancer immersed his or her hands in paint numerous times throughout the piece, showing how each artist influences the others as the colors mixed on the dancers’ costumes whenever they interacted with one another.

Mattera’s piece was inspired by painter Jackson Pollock, and she said she and her cast watched numerous documentaries about him to capture his style.

Senior Anastasia Windeler choreographed a visual response to a paisley pattern, which she found while doing research on Hinduism. The pattern is rooted in Middle Eastern culture, she said, and has been used to ward off demons, which contributed to the darker edge found in Windeler’s composition, titled “Boundaries.”

“I found I wanted to use a visual inspiration because it’s something I don’t usually do,” Windeler said. “I’m usually driven by music. So I found a paisley print, which is strongly based in Middle Eastern culture, and I based it off a paisley print.”

The print was posted in the lobby outside the Black Box for the audience to see, and the distinct lines restricting the movement displayed in the print contributed to the emotional reaction of the piece.

All but one of the dancers wore a black ribbon tied around her. The title of the piece reflects the way some of the pieces in the pattern are trapped inside one another, Windeler said. Near the end of the piece, each dancer removed her ribbon and tied it around the dancer that started with none.

The Elon dance department has also left its mark on each of its students, making them feel at home. Duffy and Mattera said some have become each other’s best friends since starting at Elon, and the entire department acts like family.

“We really are a family in this department and that’s what means the most to both of us,” Mattera said. “Our casts were not just casts to us — they became our family for the semester.”

The choreographers collaborated with their casts in a positive way, Mattera said, and both she and Duffy said they were incredibly grateful for the work their dancers put into the production week after week.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without them,” Mattera said. “We firmly believe that. Yes, this is our choreography and our work, but it’s just as much theirs as it is ours. We’ve had people faceplant from that paint because it’s slippery, fall off tables. They’re amazing.”

After graduation, Mattera expects to start working on acquiring her teaching licensure for K-12 dance education at Towson University in Baltimore, where she also has a job lined up at Dance Connection. Duffy said she is looking at moving to either Chicago or New York City to pursue work in a professional dancecompany.

Windeler is also majoring in international studies with a minor in business, and said she hopes to teach English abroad, incorporating dance into the lessons. She finds out in April whether she’s been accepted to the Japan Exchange and Teaching program, and has been researching other opportunities abroad.

As the three seniors ready themselves to part ways after four strenuous years together, they reflected on the Elon dance family they will leave behind.

“It’s hard in our profession to find people who are very supportive,” Windeler said. “A lot of the time it’s competitive because of the nature of grabbing money and opportunities — you have to be forceful with what you want, but this department really has shown all of us how to be supportive and growing as artists.”

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