Amid #MeToo, student dancers explore power, horror of being a woman

For choreographer Katie Faulkner, embodying what it means to be a woman today toes the line between powerful and horrifying.

“Bone Worrier” by Katie Faulkner (Photo by Natalia Perez)

“For me right now, waking up every day and reading the news, there’s a little bit of a horror feeling I have,” says Faulkner. “Even though the #MeToo movement is powerful and auspicious and revelatory, it also feels like there’s this simultaneous kind of collapsing of women’s rights throughout the country.”

In her new piece, “Bone Worrier,” for the Berkeley Dance Project 2018, an annual showcase of original works by choreographers and students in UC Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, lecturer Faulkner attempts to capture this anxiety in a dreamlike performance by an all-female cast of seven dancers.

“Bone Worrier” by Katie Faulkner (Photo by Natalia Perez)

“Bone Worrier” by Katie Faulkner (Photo by Natalia Perez)

To create a feeling of surreality, Faulkner enlisted the help of Michael St. Clair, also a lecturer in the department, who used projection mapping to superimpose video — of everything from sea urchins to cervical cells to the student dancers — onto the stage, even onto the dancers themselves.

At one point, Saabirah Faatimah, a third-year psychology major, moves calmly on stage while a video of herself dancing erratically is projected onto her body, seeming to make visible an inner struggle. “That’s a really powerful image… it shows a kind of flipped version of my experience,” says Faatimah.

Dancer Saabirah Faatimah in “Bone Worrier” by Katie Faulkner (Photo by Natalia Perez)

To superimpose video images onto to moving dancers isn’t easy, says St. Clair. Although he’s used interactive elements in projections for art installations before, this is the first time he’s incorporated interactivity into his projection work for stage. He says this task is a constantly evolving process.

“A ton of the interactive stuff that we programmed was part of the choreographic process, but didn’t end up in the final product,” he says. But he says what did make it into the show — including bold animal prints projected onto a massive pink structure on which the cast dances — creates a kind of 1977 to 1984 fashion feeling that he finds “deeply visually satisfying in a way that I way that I can’t articulate.”

Saabirah Faatimah in “Bone Worrier” by Katie Faulkner (Photo by Natalia Perez)

Other Berkeley Dance Project 2018 works include “Agony Drag” by department alumnus James Graham, which explores the balance of tenderness and power within relationships in the context of our changing culture. “In comparison to when I was a student,” he says, “how do these diverse young people experience their comfort level in their own gender identity and sexuality?”

“Agony Drag” by James Graham (Photo by Natalia Perez)

Student choreographer Madeline Aragon will stage her duet, “Hear Me Without Words” about the importance of communication between two people, and Hillary Tang, also a student, is contributing “Peel,” which exposes her personal experience of navigating an abusive relationship.

“Peel” by student Hillary Tang (Photo by Natalia Perez)

“Hear Me Without Words” by student Madeline Aragon (Photo by Natalia Perez)

The Berkeley Dance Project 2018 runs from Feb. 15 through Feb. 24 at the Zellerbach Playhouse on campus. Tickets are $13-$20 and can be purchased online or at the door. The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission.

To learn more about Berkeley Dance Project 2018, visit the Department of Theater, Dance and Performances Studies website.