Surya Swilley MFA in Dance, Adjunct Professor at Temple University
Crash, boom, rewind! My head was spinning, heart was racing, and I felt my adrenaline rushing at warp speed. Rehearse, rewrite, polish, go back, and repeat!
What is the intention? What did you mean by that? Let’s revise. Repeat.
I experienced a whirlwind of emotions, and wasn’t exactly sure of the extent of the labor that would go into producing an evening length concert.
I remember in the spring semester of this year, (January 2019) I began rehearsals and had no idea what I was doing. I was forcing myself to enter the studio with this idea of using a table as a prop, but had no idea how to be in collaboration with the table to get my point across. I experienced a significant amount of frustration while trying to verbalize to my dancers what my vision was, but the reality is, I wasn’t sure. The only thing I did know was that I needed to get moving towards generating a show. It was arduous.
I was influenced by several vignettes inside of black history and protest in the United States to develop “Between the Intervene”. Not that I interpreted these events as dramatized episodes towards freedom, but I recognized the choreographic protest inside of historical spaces such as lunch counter sit-ins, how black children navigate what can be an anxiety provoking experience while sitting at school desks, and the trauma inflicted onto black consciousness and black body while sitting behind the wheel in a vehicle. All of this, while knowing that one’s hands need to be placed on the dashboard to be visible in the face of police. These are the historical and contemporary notions that influenced the work, but the lens through which I decided to share the choreography was through honesty, and that was rooted in my truth inside of being a queer black woman.
While developing this work, I came out. I reckoned with my truth inside of my gender expression and sexuality, and it freed me to embark on a more truthful journey inside of other things. It is interesting how the development of this work, and my coming out contain a parallel inside of the timing. I was influenced by the freedom of transparency as I deepened inside of the work, and what emerged from this was a very fervent connection to telling my truth and working with my dancers so that they would be empowered to dance from an authentic place. I think adding my personal anecdote/truth inside of the mix not only help to bring the show to a cohesive understanding for me and the audience, but perhaps it allowed people to see that sharing one’s truth as an individual on stage, while working in collaboration with a group of dancers can be done, and can be done without any burden. I hope to showcase freedom on a variety of levels. My intention in everything I do is to liberate and empower.
My goal after graduation is to fly. I am harnessing my wings as a dance entrepreneur, and artist activist. Some tangible ways to see that are through my work as new adjunct professor at Temple University, through my partnership with the Center for Racial Justice and Education, and as I launch my own dance company in the summer of 2020.
It feels good to be done with the thesis concert, even though I know there’s so much more for me to dive into. I am ready for the challenge, and I am excited to see what comes next. What a rewarding experience this work came out to be. It’s my hope that even more reward will come, as I know that the next phase of life and career is filled with nothing but infinite possibilities.
Dance has always been a passion, from the stage to the classroom to my home, it always generates so many emotions for me. I have participated in many styles including ballet, jazz, modern, tap, ballroom dance, but there was something about tap that draws me closer. At a very young age, I knew tap would take me somewhere, if I continued to work hard at it.
Tap is the style of dance to which I feel the strongest connection too and I was able to continue that connection during my time at Temple with a Studio Research piece in the Spring semester of 2019. I decided to create a piece, set for two dancers using portable wooden floors. I created the piece to embody a machine, with the natural wooden floors, rusty orange lights, and simple costumes- jeans and a black t-shirt. The style of tap I was working with concentrated on the intricate, rhythmic patterns and phrasing of the footwork. This is an unfamiliar form to me, but my time in the studio and creating this piece allowed me to become more accustomed with it.
With my confidence boosted, I decided to audition for the Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble, a Philadelphia-based, all-women ensemble which “produces original works of choreography while preserving the tradition of improvisation in American rhythm tap” (http://www.ladyhoofers.org/). After the audition process, I was pleased to learn I was an apprentice company member for the 2019-2020 season. We are currently working on pieces for our Tapcracker performance in December, and I am learning more and more about the percussive side of tap. Even after tapping for twenty years, I am learning so much each rehearsal, because I come from a musical theatre/broadway style tap background.
I am looking forward to my time with the company as we continue to learn choreography, improvisational skills and take class. Within my future Studio Research choreography at Temple and in my Thesis, I plan to apply these newfound skills.