Kelly Sullivan could pass for a normal Western student, a junior in Fairhaven College now. She goes to class, eats, and sleeps like the rest of us, but beneath this guise of normality lurks a fact that separates her from us mere mortals; as she puts it, she is the “Artistic Director and Curator” of “a multi-media evening combining dance, video, sound, and installation art centered on the themes of isolation, intimacy, public and private spaces, and human communication.” Quite the mouthful, but the show promises to be an eye-, ear-, and brain-ful as well.
“I’ve been doing dance since I was in high school,” Sullivan said. “I’ve always been on the fence about it, but this year, it’s become glaringly obvious that I’ll never let dance go. In fact, I do it more and more, to the point where I’m making a show,” she said.
“But Jo,” you may be saying, “how can this be possible? How can a regular student put on a huge, collaborative two-night show that incorporates dance, video, sound, and art?” Sullivan said that it didn’t start out quite so far-reaching. “I transferred here, so I didn’t know about the layout of the year’s productions,” she said. “Initially, I was interested in choreographing, so I talked to Nolan [Dennett], the Director of the Dance Program, and asked him if I could put on a show in the spring.”
But just putting on an evening of dance would be too simple for Sullivan’s artistic drive and super-human multi-tasking skills. “The show has gone through a lot of transformations,” Sullivan said. “It started being a show of other people’s choreography. Ultimately, I ended up ditching that. I didn’t want to produce a show with random dance pieces.”
Sullivan thought back to winter quarter, when she had taken a class through Fairhaven called “New Media and Contemporary Art.” She had made a dance and film project that explored the theme of isolation. “Two other students in the class had made similar stuff,” Sullivan said. Both Sydney Melton, who created a video piece, and Chris Vita, who worked with sound, explored issues of seclusion and human interactions. “All of our projects looked at isolation and social interactions and the finer points of communication,” Sullivan said. When she decided to create a show with a theme, Sullivan thought of her classmates and asked them if they wanted to collaborate.
The show has continued to evolve, and will now be presented in to major sections. The first half of show will be a performance of dance, video, and sound, or what Sullivan refers to as the “giant collaboration” portion of the show. Following the performance, the second half of the show will involve opening the space into a gallery setting, “where people can look around and experience installation art as they choose,” Sullivan said.
While the artistic vision has been cemented for the show, there is still a long way to go logistically in order to get the show on its feet. Getting a performance space was luckily fairly pain-free. “Since I’m a student in the Dance Program, I just had to reserve the space, so I didn’t have to rent it or pay for it.” Sullivan secured Ving!, Western’s off-campus dance studio and performance space.
Sullivan was also honored with a grant from Fairhaven. She said that the college offers ten grants to fund student projects each quarter; the grant money has gone towards the cost of printing posters and programs.
Costumes are coming from the dancers’ and artists’ own closets. And in terms of the dancers and other artists involved, Sullivan said, “None of us are being paid, so it’s all lots of hours of love.”
“Expenses above and beyond that come out of my own pocket,” Sullivan said. She pointed out that Ving! doesn’t have blinds on its windows, which means that she will have to find black cloth to drape over them to make the performance area dark on the nights of the show.
“All in all, it hasn’t been a very expensive show,” Sullivan said optimistically. “I wanted to have the experience of doing a show like this in a school setting, where I could learn the bricks I have to lay to put on an evening of work. If no one comes, it’s not like I’ve put in thousands of dollars into it.”
Scheduling rehearsal time was also a logistical challenge, Sullivan said. Because all the dancers performing in Sullivan’s piece also performed in the recent faculty dance show, they were unable to begin rehearsing until after spring break, and had to take a week off in preparation for the faculty show. On a more complex note, Sullivan also said that because dancers’ minds were on their other show, retaining movement and nuance in movement from rehearsal to rehearsal is a major challenge. Both this week and last week, however, performers are rehearsing every day of the week for several hours a day.
Financial and scheduling concerns weren’t the only roadblocks to the show. Sullivan said that unexpected injuries changed the face of the show substantially. “One of the dancers had to get surgery a week ago. Having to re-choreograph a lot of the dance is a big roadblock, but ultimately, the piece is stronger than it was before,” she said.
As for the performance itself, Sullivan said, “I brought in a lot of movement that is almost pedestrian. Putting everyday movement on stage takes it out of everyday context, and it highlights the individuality of movement. It might not make linear sense, but by combining human gestures with more dance-y things in a crafted way, someone watching the piece can find an individual meaning of holding hands or walking or hugging.”
One thing Sullivan is quite clear on is to leave preconceived notions about dance and art at the door. “The dancing in this show is not tutu dancing; there’s nothing fluffy about it,” she said.
Overall, the experience for Sullivan of directing a collaborative show has been positive and full of growth, and the performances haven’t even happened yet. “This is my first try at putting on a show, and it’s an experiment,” she said. She definitely doesn’t think of it has hers, however. “It’s not just my show,” she said. “Everyone has put in so much work.”
The show will run May 26 and 27 starting at 7:30 p.m. at Ving!, 311 E Holly Street. The show is free, with a suggested $2 donation.