Hoofers speak out

A new project aims to overturn expectations by letting dancers talk

Katrina Wilber

Dance is a language of the body, not of the tongue. For Benjamin Rasmussen, though, the constriction that silence puts on dance is something to be broken.

Rasmussen, a dance student in his fifth year at the University, has written and choreographed a work that looks at the concept of silence in relation to gender and sexuality.

“There’s so much silence in this world, especially for women and gay men,” Rasmussen said. “There’s one voice that speaks for us all, and that’s the hetero-normal, patriarchal voice.”

Rasmussen began his choreographic process approximately three years ago when he began journaling and creating ideas for potential dances.

He submitted an idea to the Xperimental Theatre Board last year, and his project was approved, he said. His sketch was rough, but with the help of several collaborators, the show has become a marvelous collection of dance, music, scenery, text and art.

With his cast of eight dancers (five women and three men), Rasmussen has spent eight weeks constructing and rehearsing the piece, which is a series of 10 vignettes within the piece itself, much like chapters in a book.

“Every piece deals with sexuality, not only with what the choreographer does, but how the audience interprets it,” said Stephanie Shirek, one of Rasmussen’s dancers. “We have solos, duets, partner work and group dances.”

Rasmussen added, “There’s a duet near the end between two of the men that drops the angst of the earlier dances and beautifully pushes things over the edge.”

The Xperimental Theatre is not designed to host dance productions, but that couldn’t deter Rasmussen. The cast and he installed a dance floor in the theater, and the cramped space is exactly what Rasmussen wants, he said.

“This isn’t a proscenium stage, and there’s no fourth wall,” he said. “The audience is on the same level as the dancers, and they can’t remove themselves from the performers.”

Rasmussen’s working to break down stereotypes in both the artistic and social realms.

“Dancers aren’t supposed to talk; they’re seen as just a body without emotions. The emotion is shown in how we lift someone, how we relate to someone through the movement,” Rasmussen said.

To challenge the idea dancers don’t know how to act, some of the text is written and recorded by the dancers.

“The choreographer’s job is to bring the dance out of the dancers, not put the dance on top of them,” Rasmussen said. “Then, you begin to see who each dancer really is.”

And through this mixture of dance, art and music, the effects of silence are finally heard.