UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 15 Winter 21 Library
Students in Moving With/Against Choreographies of the Lawn, an Improvisational Score by Katie Schetlick. Image by Justin Estanislao.

Moving With/Against Choreographies of The Lawn

When you are on the UVA Lawn, you just never know when a dance party might break out.

That might have been the takeaway for some prospective candidates touring Grounds on September 28, 2021, when they came across a group of students joyously dancing to Earth Wind & Fire’s September. The scene was exactly what UVA Dance Assistant Professor Katie Baer Schetlick wanted when she and her students came up with “Moving With/Against Choreographies of The Lawn,” a dance improvisation practice comprised of three movement scores. The dance party scene was the third part of a practice that also included settings on the Rotunda stairs and against the columns lining the lawn. 

Students dancing on the Lawn in Moving With/Against Choreographies of the Lawn, an Improvisational Score by Katie Schetlick.
(Photo: Justin Estanislao.)

Schetlick handed out scores to those who stopped to take in the scene. “This scene was probably not what these people were expecting,” she said, “and we wanted to put our movements in perspective for passersby by giving them access to the prompts we were responding to physically. The intention of the three scores was to challenge our thoughts around fixed spaces and consider how bodies can really, through movement and particular practices, transform spaces.” 

There was added importance to transforming this particular setting, she said. “This is a charged space. Many of these students are taking classes that address the complex history of UVA, specifically how it is built into the architecture, and those details came up a lot in our conversations. These practices were an attempt to simultaneously recognize the many layers of the space and conjure new possible relations of their making. How might a certain kind of physical agency help them feel like they are as much a part of that space as the people who came before them?”

The bigger concept of space was important in a different way, given the times we live in. “I think it was really exciting for these students to be able to move in such a big space after about a year taking movement classes, dance classes, or, for that matter, every other class, behind a Zoom screen.” The format was perfect for Arts Week, she said, as it allowed students to happen upon something versus having another scheduled event to attend. Contending with the unexpected is, after all, a large part of the practice of improvisation. All passersby were invited to join the dance students in the improvisational practices, whether through simply reading the scores or engaging directly with them. 

Few took them up on that offer, Schetlick said, but many ended up participating in a less intentional but no less real way. “A lot of students, university employees, and visitors stopped and watched, and it was interesting to see different movement choices as a result of how the dance improvisation students had already shifted the expectations of the environment. People that were planning on just walking up the stairs or down the stairs in front of the Rotunda choreographed their own bodies in relation to what was going on. So even though I don’t think they intended to be part of the score, they were part of it because they were physically responding to other bodies moving through the space and making decisions in real-time.” 

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Schetlick has long offered these types of experiences in her improvisational classes and has made them an important part of her research and practice, including through her work with collaborator Zena Bibler. “Our practice-as-research methodology called Here(S) has really developed over time after an initial residency in 2009, and we have practiced it alongside others in a lot of different places, which keeps it emergent and ever-changing. I like to bring this ever-evolving set of considerations and questions to students and help them explore different ways of listening to and activating spaces outside the dance studio.” While there are currently no plans finalized for expanding this particular offering, Schetlick has plenty of ideas. “I think there are a lot of really dynamic places at the University that would be fascinating to sort of reanimate with alternative physical approaches.”

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