There are three things a Batesie must do before graduation: jump into the Puddle in February, climb Mount David, and complete a thesis. The first two tasks are relatively easy and short. A person could accomplish the former in under five seconds and the latter in fifteen. But thesis is different. Surmounting that last hurdle requires time, dedication to the subject, and a drive to finish.
Laura Pietropaoli ’17 is a double major in Dance and Rhetoric who just performed her Dance thesis entitled, Enjoy Your Stay. Her project was a culmination of countless hours of research, choreography, and rehearsals that ultimately gave the audience a captivating thirty minute show.
For any student undertaking a project on the thesis-level, the first step to success is a solid foundation. In an interview Pietropaoli remarks, “I’ve learned from a wide range of teachers and artists who all have a myriad of methods for creating, different instincts and preferences, and varied philosophies about performing arts.” That knowledge and experience led this senior to choreograph her piece in a slightly different way.
Pietropaoli did away with the normal hierarchy found in the dancer-choreographer relationship. Danielle Ward ’20, a member of the six-person ensemble notes “Laura’s thesis is unique because it engages the dancers as choreographers.” Instead of standing in the front of the room chanting steps in an eight-count rhythm, the choreography of this piece was collaborative.
“My cast had an equal voice throughout the making of the work. Most of the choreography in the piece was generated by the cast. I did not come up with the movement but rather directed the preexisting movement that they created based on the prompts and tasks I gave them,” said Pietropaoli.
The way in which this particular thesis was designed is not the only unique thing about it. Dance theses have both visual (the performed piece) and written components (the stereotypical thesis). The process is more than just writing a long research paper or performing a study and analyzing its results. With Dance, in addition to the time and effort spent creating a live work, students also have to complete the stereotypical written work. As Pietropaoli states the physical, written thesis is a “…more verbal look at the creative process.”
But the aspect of research goes into both the performed and written piece. Trying to decide on a topic, Pietropaoli “did some intensive research on film directors and composers…[like]…Wes Anderson, Christopher Guest, John Ford, Terrence Malick…” Ultimately, Pietropaoli took all those perspectives, and more, into account, but relied heavily on the John Ford quote: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” The cast and their choreographer spent a lot of time untangling that quote, all posing different hypotheses about what it could possibly mean.
That was also another bonding point for the ensemble. Cast member Alex Eaton ’17, noted that his favorite part of the process was “exploring our relationships with one another through the dance, I’ve formed some really amazing friendships.” When a group of people comes together for such an extended period of time, grappling with interesting questions and themes they form tight bonds.
Sitting in the audience, the chemistry among the cast was easily seen in the easy chit-chat the dancers wrapped up before the show began. Pietropaoli wanted her dancers to feel comfortable and, by association, for the audience members to feel that ease. “The title is Enjoy Your Stay for a reason; I want people to feel comfortable just existing in the room and taking in what the cast is offering them. They’re giving up a little bit of themselves for the audience, and at the very least, I hope the audience can just appreciate what the cast is doing,” Pietropaoli states.
At a liberal arts school such as Bates, one of the main things we learn is how to learn. A graduate of a liberal arts school, no matter the major, can be thrown into almost any environment and succeed based on that core lesson. Particular for a Dance major, Pietropaoli states that “[e]ven if I’m not a professional choreographer or dancer, I know that dance will always effect the way I make decisions and think about things.” Taking tools learned at school in the classroom or on the stage, Batesies such as Pietropaoli and her ensemble will go far.