We're All Mad Here

by Caitlin Meehan

This winter and spring I have had the excellent opportunity to choreograph and set a piece on the Dance Ensemble at Endicott College. Nikki (the Endicott Coordinator of Dance!) invited me to be a guest choreographer for the spring concert, and there is a cast of 17 dancers, the largest yet! I was determined to use as many dancers as possible for as much of the piece as I could- in fact, it allowed for a lot of exploration of the subject matter.
My inspiration for this piece comes from the story of Alice in Wonderland. Having read the original Lewis Carroll and seen several film adaptations, I had been mulling over some ideas for almost a year before beginning to set the piece. In addition to several images that kept returning to mind, I focused on the idea of suddenly finding oneself in a strange place, and having to find one's way back home or back to "normal." I also drew on the parallel with some of the characters that Alice meets to types of people we might encounter in the real world: the bossy Dodo, ordering everyone run in circles, the Queen of Hearts, threatening people if she doesn't get her way, the cryptic Caterpillar, or the excitable Mad Hatter. Unlike Alice's adventure, no part of this journey is a dream- in the real world, it is all too easy to find oneself in the most bizarre of places or situations and have to find a way back.
In this piece, everyone is "Alice" at some point in time. Likewise, everyone is also a part of the landscape, a creature in Wonderland, and one of the colorful characters that Alice meets on her adventures. Morphing from one role to the next, the dancers have the opportunity to explore different characters and points of view. They were also collaborators in some of the movement that appears in the finished work. We played "Catching," where I danced and improvised and they "caught" movements that appealed to them, and made new phrases from them. They also chose pictures of different characters from the story and created movement studies from them, some of which are featured in the piece. In this way, I hoped to bring out each person's own personality and movement style, which would contribute to the "Wonderland" of creatures and characters we were creating.
The number of dancers allowed me to create images and effects that would not have been possible with a small group, and the theatre space allows for use of the wings and crossover space. Such a choreographic bonus! It was also great to get to work with so many wonderful students. Some of them hadn't had much experience with improvisation or movement generation, but they rose to the challenge every week and gave it their best shot. By the final rehearsal, there were many exclamations of "it's a piece!" as everything came together.

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