”Before I came to Bennington, I remember reading an article in a dance improvisation journal about [dance faculty member] Susan Sgorbati‘s research on emergent structures. Then I came here and actually took First Year Dance Intensive with her, which was a huge influence on me. She taught us some of the forms she’s been researching. Since then, I’ve continued to do a lot of improvisation work.
“One of the most significant parts of the dance program here is the making of new work. As dancers, we build compositions together. Right now I’m really excited because I’m working with Marie Blocker, a senior, on her advanced work, which is connected to Susan’s research. We’ve been working with concepts related to mirror neurons, and examining their relationship to emergent forms of improvisation. The new form reflects how people visually track and recall information, and how they might use that information to compose with a global vocabulary.
“Another essential class for me, in my first year, was a design lab called AIDS Pandemic, with [anthropologist] Mirka [Prazak] and [cell biologist] Amie [McClellan]. We tracked the pandemic through all these different lenses over the course of the term—political, economic, scientific—and we had guest speakers who helped us in that tracking. I started to see how people attempt to self-organize around global issues, and what kinds of structures are more successful, and why.
“When you learn so much about that kind of issue, you have a sense of urgency—a need to act on it. Mirka and Amie really encouraged us, having done so much thinking about the pandemic, to extend that into Field Work Term. So for my FWT, I worked with an AIDS service organization in southern California. It’s a really great organization because it has one of the most comprehensive structures I’ve seen—a medical clinic, social services, legal services, community outreach and prevention. To have so many services housed under one roof was a huge resource for that community.
“It was in the AIDS Pandemic design lab that I started to understand—what I’m interested in is structural development. It actually stems from the same interests I have in dance: How do you build an ‘ensemble consciousness’? How do organizational structures emerge? How can a group of people organize around the issues or problems facing them? Now that I see that, I feel like I could go to almost any discipline and find something relevant to the question I have. I’m thinking of taking a class in evolutionary biology because of what it could teach me about how new structures emerge from old structures.
“It’s funny, because when I first came back from this summer, I went to Mirka—she’s also my advisor—and said I was nervous about writing my Plan essay. She said, ‘Don’t worry. You’ve been writing it since you got here.’ And we both started laughing. Because it was so clear. At Bennington, you start by studying several different things, but you’re trusting that your own kind of structure will emerge—that the connections will begin to crystallize. And the more time you spend with the things you’re interested in, the more you discover a common thread. They don’t have to connect, but often they do. My primary concentration is still dance, but I have a question that’s deeper than any one discipline.”