Student choreographer dances against sexual violence: Sophomore takes art to American College Dance Festival

Sophomore Matthew Jamison used the art of dance to convey emotions and issues concerning sexual violence at Orchesis 2012, which took place March 2-3 and the American College Dance Festival during March 7-10. Jamison drew upon personal experiences in creating his work.
“Last semester, I was training to be an advocate for survivors of sexual assault at HelpLine, I was taking Women’s and Gender Studies, reading about assault and coercion, I was having my own emotional and internal struggles, and I didn’t have a way to accurately or safely communicate what I wanted to say to anyone. My body worked through what my brain could not, to communicate what my words could not,” Jamison said.
In attempting to create a piece that accurately told the stories he wanted to tell, Jamison listened to and read testimonies by rape and sexual assault survivors and incorporated several elements into the piece, including Nicole Blackman’s poem “Victim.”
Junior Andrea Kraus, lighting designer for the piece, was compelled to work on Jamison’s dance because of its message.
“I was the only female lighting designer for Orchesis, and as a WGS major I felt connected to the project. I felt emotionally and academically compelled to be a part of it,” Kraus said.
Jamison and Kraus worked to make the performance convey a clear message about surviving sexual violence. The dance began with a minute of dark silence to draw the audience in, followed by the sound of slapping.
“There is something really disconcerting about the sound of hands slapping bare legs. I hope this discomfort then invoked catharsis, anger, curiosity,” Jamison said.
Kraus built off of Jamison’s desired message in designing the lighting for the performance.
“A lot of women feel unable to talk about rape; they’re hidden from society. That’s why we designed the lighting darkly, to create a deep, raw, emotional feel. The piece is edgy and political, which to me is what art should be,” Kraus said.
Jamison also explained that he wanted his audience to experience the performance as not only art but also a call to action.
“Everyone that saw this piece now bears the responsibility to put an end to the components that contributed to its creation—the act of assault, the social stigma against victims and survivors, the social stigma against those who admit they need the help of a therapist and the perpetuation of rape culture in this country,” Jamison said.
Sophomore Alyssa De Robertis, a performer in the piece, also stressed the importance of its message. She and the other dancers worked with Jamison to tell the desired story through body movement.
“When I was dancing, I made myself feel trapped by my feelings, like I wanted to get out but I couldn’t. I wanted to show that people who have these experiences can feel that way, and to hopefully show that they can get out and be helped,” De Robertis said.
The piece was one of two selected to be performed at the American College Dance Festival Association conference March 7-10. There, the dancers performed it for three adjudicators who offered constructive criticism.
Ultimately, Jamison’s goal in creating the piece was to tell stories he thinks need desperately to be told.
“I made this piece because I don’t know what I would have done had I not made it. I made it to develop my voice, so that I can scream for myself and others. I am working to develop my craft so that it says something, so that every gesture says something, and I am working to develop my body so that it screams it,” Jamison said.

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