When I reflect over my first semester of grad school, the first thing that comes to mind is a swelling feeling of gratitude for my cohort. The eight of us went through massive life transitions in a time filled with uncertainty, and actively supported one another through it. I am grateful for my individual relationships with each of them, and grateful for the group dynamic we’ve developed together.
About halfway through the semester, Jackie Courchene suggested that the eight of us create a group piece together. We all agreed and Ishmael Konney (we call him Ishy) volunteered to make the music. The process was one of experimentation, encouragement, and building community. We didn’t have very many rehearsals together. We met a handful of times, the seven of us who live in Columbus meeting in a studio in person, and Forrest Hershey, who lives in West Virginia, joining through Zoom. Our first two rehearsals were on days when our choreography workshop class had been cancelled. After that, the only time we could find to get all eight of us together was an hour and fifteen minute window on Thursday afternoons.
Having eight choreographers in a room together (who have become fast friends) meant that much of our time was spent being silly, laughing, joking around, and giving each other a hard time. The process was less about focusing to make a serious piece of artwork, and more about being together in community to see what piece bubbled out of us in collaboration. I suggested a number of my go-to approaches with large collaborative groups (from working with 30+ high schoolers at a time). On the first day we drew names out of a hat to create small groups of two or three, and in those small groups created phases. Then we experimented with pairing the different phrases together, having one person from each group dance together while the rest of us watched and directed. In our next rehearsal we built a large group phrase together, taking turns adding small chunks of movement until we formed a substantially long phrase.
The following rehearsals were a mix of staging the choreography, layering the various sections of movement together, altering our timing to match the music, and making adjustment to the music to have it shift when the choreography was transitioning.
We planned to show the piece on a Friday when Forrest could drive up from West Virginia to be with us in person. (Him joining us for the first time IRL is what inspired the title, 8 out of 8).
Screenshot from 8 out of 8.
When I look at the video of this piece, I don’t see a group—I see a community of individuals. Over the course of the semester, the eight of us have been witnessing each other grow and step into our own in our research pursuits and creative inquiries. Witnessing these shifts in each other allowed us to make space in the creative process for each of our strengths. I think this is when a community is healthiest—when each person is actively pouring their support into the group, and the group is cultivating and encouraging the unique-ness of each individual.