Dance, music, poetry and visual arts combine when B.F.A. candidates and seniors Olympia LeHota, Haylei Libran, Phoenix Brown and Jordan Sack present their final performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4, and Saturday, Oct. 5, in the Babcock Fine Arts Center at Sweet Briar College. The event is free and open to the public.
A studio art and archaeology double major from Greensboro, N.C., Brown says her pieces revolve around “different things that are important to me, or things I felt the need to say.” She’s not yet sure whether she’ll perform any of them live or create a series of videos to show at the concert. Her first piece is called “Heretical Defiance.” In Brown’s words, it “combines religious symbolism and references to Lovecraftian cosmic horror to discuss my experience as a survivor of child abuse.” The a capella music that accompanies it is inspired by religious choirs and was composed by Brown herself.
“I chose to utilize Christian religious symbolism because it is a language that is readily understood by many people, yet something mostly foreign to my upbringing, which makes it feel otherworldly to me,” Brown explains. “The cosmic horror ties in because of just how insignificant humans are to any type of God figure, much like how ants are thoroughly insignificant to us. This feeling of utter helplessness and smallness speaks to the reality of how it feels to be a child growing up in an abusive household. Your parent is so much bigger and stronger than you, that to defy them feels as though you are defying a God.”
Her second piece, “Magenta Phlogiston,” is also personal, Brown says. It’s about love, she says, as well as romance and sexuality, “and the dismissive attitudes society often has towards the emotions of women.” The title of the piece, she adds, “was inspired by the idea that the color magenta is the only color in the visible spectrum that does not have its own wavelength. Our eyes have three types of color-sensing cells that fire when we see a colored object. These cells react to green, blue and red. Magenta falls between blue and red on the color spectrum, but it does not activate the green-sensing cells that also occur between red and blue. Magenta is the color that our brains make up in order to make sense of what we’re seeing; it doesn’t exist outside of our minds, much like our emotions.”
Brown’s third piece is about her time spent in a psychiatric ward this past summer. “I was very moved by the experience, and found it to be an incredibly helpful time,” she says. “There’s this myth that in order to be an artist, you have to suffer from mental illness, or that if you have a mental illness it makes you a better artist because you can channel all of those weird feelings into your art. That’s simply not true. Artists don’t create because of their suffering, but many of us still create despite it. That’s an important distinction, because it removes the romanticizing of mental illness.”
For dance major and theatre minor Haylei Libran from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., relationships take center stage.
“The theme came to me when watching the different interactions between my peers and family,” Libran says. Through a duet titled “Love,” she explores the ups and downs of a romantic relationship, “from the cheesiness of new love to the first fight couples have.” Her group piece “One Another” is about the relationship within a group and “trying to stick to what is expected instead of breaking off and exploring free movement.” Libran says that some elements of the piece are inspired by her family members: “I asked them to show me their favorite dance moves.”
Her solo is about the relationship someone has with themselves. “The music for this piece is from an album that remixed readings from author Dr. Jordan Peterson’s book titled ‘12 Rules for Life.’ The piece I’m using specifically is about the importance of taking care of yourself and treating yourself like someone you care about. When I first heard it, it instantly resonated with me, and I knew it was something that needed to be shared.”
Relationships play a role in Jordan Sack’s performance, as well, but in a different way. A musical theatre major and dance minor from Chester, Conn., Sack says two of the strongest inspirations for her B.F.A. project are dancer Bob Fosse and actress Gwen Verdon, “as I feel they both bridge the gap between my two fields of study quite well.” In her portion of the concert, Sack will feature two big performance numbers, “Mein Herr” from “Cabaret” and “All That Jazz” from “Chicago.” She’ll also speak about how the relationship between Fosse and Verdon has impacted the worlds of dance and theater.
Sack began dancing when she was just 3 years old, and she’s not planning to stop anytime soon — or ever. “I owe the majority of my dance career to The Dance Corner in Killingworth, Conn.,” she says. “It was there that I was introduced to the works of Bob Fosse, and where my love of dance truly blossomed. I have been heavily involved in theater during my whole life as well, and hope to get to pursue it professionally after graduation.”
Sack’s lifelong passion for dance is matched by Olympia LeHota’s vibrant zest for life. Hailing from Asheville, N.C., LeHota is a double major in art history and dance and is also pursuing an Arts Management Certificate. Her B.F.A. pieces follow a color theme: blue, green and yellow. LeHota says she chose these colors because she has found that they come up over and over again in her life.
“I have always been inspired by sunflowers,” she tells us. “In 5th grade, we had to create a poster that represented us as individuals for our graduation ceremony. My mentor was the art teacher, and she helped me create a sunflower poster. I remember how I labeled the stem as a sign of strength and stability.” Coming from a divorced household and growing up as the middle child, LeHota naturally took on a lot of responsibility, including caring for her little sister. “The leaves were labeled as my friends and family, and a picture of my face was pasted in the center of the flower where the yellow petals attached to the middle described me. I have always tried to live an optimistic lifestyle and reach for the light. This vivid image of myself has stayed with me all of my life.”
Recently, LeHota has “fallen in love” with Impressionist art. “Since my trip to Australia, my internship with the Smithsonian and my recent travels to Paris [with Sweet Briar’s 3-week art history class], I can’t get enough of the color palettes and how flora is represented in art of that time. In my room, I have surrounded myself with prints from Impressionist artists. I love how they paint flowers because these are the inspiration for my costumes in yellow. A messy assortment of yellows, golds, whites and oranges can be seen in a sunflower. The closer you are, the more abstract they become, but from a distance, they are recognizable.”
Her first dance, “Blue,” is a solo. LeHota will be dressed in a yellow leotard and tights and will be wearing a blue skirt around her waist. “The same skirt I wore for my first solo at Sweet Briar in the same studio space,” she informs us. And because an artist knows that yellow and blue make green, that’s the title of her next piece. “‘Green’ is going to be something I’ve never experimented with before,” LeHota admits. “A poem will be played and the movement won’t be the focus, the words will.” Two dancers, Rachel Barnes ’20 and Tamia Jackson ’21, dressed in green unitards, will accompany her. The third and last piece features five dancers: Barnes, Jackson and LeHota, as well as Libran and Willow Litchford ’23. “The homemade skirts have been added to me and my green dancers during the transition, and this will be the happiest piece that I will be presenting,” LeHota says. “It’s fun and nostalgic!”
LeHota didn’t start dancing until her sophomore year of high school, but art in its many forms has always been a big part of her family. “I came to dance at a later point in my life because I thought it was about time I put my love for music into movement,” she explains. I dance because it gives me a chance to relax and focus on something else for a while. It’s therapeutic.”
Her time at Sweet Briar, LeHota says, has been valuable. She decided on her double majors early “because the classes I was taking paired up nicely.” Her professors and mentors — dance professors Ella and Mark Magruder and art history professor Kimberly Morse-Jones — “have really played an influential part in my career here,” she says. “I have traveled abroad with all three of them and they have always been there to help me when I need it. They are my home away from home.”
For more information about the B.F.A. concert, email Mark Magruder at email@example.com.