Arts In Color is a campus arts organization that celebrates diversity through dance! It was started by Johanna Kepler, a dance major and recent graduate of the Dance Department here at Michigan. This year with the inability to share dance and performances live the organization created “Range of Reactions” a 5 short film production all choreographed and filmed by Dance Department Students. They began rehearsals and auditions for this project early in the school year and finally, after all of their hard work the film was released on Friday! Katie Besser is a sophomore from Los Angeles and was a choreographer for this project. I have had the pleasure of working with Katie previously and was interested to see what inspired her to create a piece for this project, what she found to be challenges, and how she enjoyed working with film.
Introduce Yourself- name, pronouns, major/minors, and hometown
“Hi, my name is Katey Besser and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I am a dual degree student with Dance in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance and Movement Science in the School of Kinesiology. My hometown is Los Angeles, California.”
Why did you want to be a choreographer for the Arts In Color Showcase?
“I wanted to be a choreographer for the Arts In Color Showcase because I really like choreographing and was inspired by the AIC showcase last year so I knew that I wanted to choreograph a piece this year. After attending the informational meeting I was inspired by the concept of the showcase “Range of Reaction” and had many ideas that I was excited to start developing. So much has happened in the past year that I was excited for the opportunity to work closely with other dancers and create a meaningful piece. After not dancing with other people for months of quarantine, I was excited to go back to creating art and collaborating with others for the AIC Showcase and am very grateful for the opportunity to do that safely.”
For those who don’t know what Arts In Color is can you explain the organization and what it means to you?
“Yes, Arts In Color is an organization that uses dance and the arts to advocate for social justice through events that celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion. We use our voices and gift of dance to influence change on issues from topics including race, sexuality, gender, identity, and more. Arts In Color encourages conversations to promote an inclusive and meaningful learning environment within the Department of Dance and for the UM community. I have really enjoyed attending meetings and learning from my peers and their experiences. It is a really safe space to learn, share, and make a change. As a woman in today’s society there are many challenges I have faced so AIC has helped me be able to open up about my stories. Through the process of working on my piece for the showcase, my dancers really inspired me by hearing their stories which helped me incorporate their individuality into the piece.”
When creating this work was there an initial idea that sparked your creative process?
“Yeah! The prompt of the Showcase “Range of Reaction” was ‘how a person’s environment and genetics influence the person they are and the life that they live’. This statement really resonated with me because I think everyone has had an experience where they felt silenced to speak up for their beliefs by their peers or what was in the media. I wanted to research the response people receive within a structured group when they are trying to break away and disturb the system. So in this piece I focused on the individual versus the groupthink. The piece looks at how external influences have altered our innate intuition and knowledge, specifically with social justice issues such as racial inequality, income inequality, and discrimination. I pictured the image of a wolf pack when wanting to portray the individual versus groupthink. Wolves rely on one another for food, safety, warmth, and acquaintance. When one wolf breaks away from the pack the dynamic of the group is disturbed and the pack tries to bring them back to their group. This relates to us as people because today there is pressure to put aside our personal beliefs to adopt the opinion of the people around us. Ultimately, we need strength to form our own opinions and break from the group so our voices can be heard.”
When casting your work what were you looking for in dancers?
“When casting my work I was looking for dancers that were eager and excited to dance as well as open to having conversations and exploring different concepts. I ended up having an amazing cast of two freshmen and one junior in my piece as well as myself who is a sophomore. It was really neat being able to work closely with a cast of all different years in school because going into it we didn’t know each other that well but everyone brought in such new perspectives and we quickly all bonded. With Covid and not having many classes in the building together as a department, it was nice for us to connect over this. The piece came together so nicely because of the dancers and they made the experience so enjoyable, I am so grateful for them!”
What was the process like? How was it choreographing, rehearsing, and performing during a time of COVID?
“The process definitely had its ups and downs but I am very happy with how it turned out. I started with my concept and from there found music, found a location, and imagined an overview of how I wanted the piece to look. I then started choreographing on my own and mapping out the structure. Choreographing in the time of Covid was more challenging because I have a limited space at home to move which definitely took longer than if I were in the dance studio but it was also fun to dance and choreograph in new places like my driveway. I then held rehearsals with the cast. We started each rehearsal discussing a new question that helped us develop the idea for the piece and so that everyone had contribution. Most rehearsals were outside on the concrete basketball courts so that we were outside and wearing masks around each other. There were a couple times when the weather made it so that we had to rehearse on zoom and it is nice that we have the technology for this but also makes putting together the piece more difficult. Rehearsals do feel different when they aren’t in the dance studio but everyone adapted well. If I were to choreograph this piece in non covid times I would have used more partner work but I had to be creative with how to portray some of the sections since we cannot touch as well as how to use the space so there was enough room between us. We also had an issue where Washtenaw county ordered a stay at home because of covid for two weeks and we were supposed to film that weekend. The filming got put on hold until the order was lifted but by that time it was really cold outside which was tough for filming because our muscles were not warm to dance but we pushed through. I am so grateful for the resilience and strength of my cast they were so easy going and made it all possible. Covid has changed a lot of things in the world and the best we can do is to adapt to this new way of life and continue pursuing our passions. I am so happy with how the piece turned out and am very grateful that I had this opportunity to dance and choreograph.”
Having the pleasure of watching the entire short film, I loved watching katies choreography immersed in nature. The music choice was beautifully encompassed in the filming and dancing. The sun piercing through the trees as the dancers moved in neutral colors. They were extremely grounded and it was relaxing to watch, The filming, editing, and dancing were all done extremely professionally since this whole production began and ended with students. If you have not had the opportunity to watch the short film the link to watch this amazing project is below.