Date of Submission

Spring 2011

Academic Program

Film and Electronic Arts


Peggy Ahwesh

Abstract/Artist's Statement

When I started working on DANCE UNTIL YOU DIE, I did not expect the project that I ultimately produced. I allowed the process of editing to sculpt my thoughts and to take me to unforeseen places. In this way, editing became an extremely meditative act which in part reflected the subject matter I focused on in my senior project: dance.

I find dance to be an overwhelmingly personal, spiritual, and meditative art form. It can be an incredible outlet for individual expression granting the mind and body freedom in perhaps its most essential state. Yet simultaneously, dance as it exists in today’s society can be surprisingly oppressive. The most obvious example of this lies in the drill team or cheerleading dance aesthetic where individual expression is nearly forbidden. The image of the group must be upheld at all costs and is done so through a very strict and limited movement vocabulary. Here we start to see how contradictory dance can be; it is introspective yet communicative, both thoughtful and performative.

My project is meant to explore the complicated and often contrary place of dance in the modern world. I chose to use American and North Korean culture as a platform for this discussion. Both the United States and North Korea are obsessively devoted to pop culture icons. While this devotion is both theatrical and over-the-top, it is often extremely serious and even religious. The love for their respective deities exists in the same confusing place that dance lives in: intensely personal and oddly performative. This is evidenced in the footage of the North Koreans mourning the death of Kim Il-sung and in video of American mourners grieving the death of Michael Jackson. In both cases there is truth and reality in their emotions and yet I can't help but also see a performative quality or affectedness in their grief.

Americans and North Koreans also share a veneration for those who are able to move well and with dexterity. In my project the American example of this idea is featured in clips of Michael Jackson. The "King of Pop" was recognized at a young age for his amazing ability to dance and eventually became famous for such moves as the "moon walk" and the "robot." North Koreans also share a respect for skillful dancers as seen in the epic dance and gymnastic spectacles that make up their Mass Games. Thousands of young North Korean children train and rehearse for months in order to perfect the movements. All of this training is done in order to please the Great Leader (Kim Il-sung) and prove true loyalty to communism. In both instances the body acts as a signifier though in decidedly different contexts. The transmission of meaning through dance and the body is partially contingent on these contexts and when juxtaposed an intriguing tension is built.

In terms of movement specifically it’s interesting how dance can in some ways define us as humans and our ability to move fluidly, making quick personal choices through improvisation while in other ways it can strip us of our individualism through the generalizing aesthetic of popular culture. There is certainly an undeniable power to bodies moving in unison, but at times it seems this power is exploited. Movements within this context begin to appear militaristic. We see this most literally in the North Korean footage of their Mass Games, where performers are often dressed as soldiers, but it’s also apparent in American cheerleading routines as well. Individual bodies become lost to a greater image, a larger machine.

This tension between the individual expressive self and the massive group dynamic demonstrated within the dance aesthetic is reflected in the installation of my project. Each of the videos were made independently to exist on their own but when played side by side on several monitors the intent is to unlock meanings and call attention to images through comparison and juxtaposition. In the same way that several bodies moving together convey different messages than a single dancer might express so too are the videos meant to indicate other connotations through simultaneous play.

Both film-making and dance serve a self-reflective purpose in my life. DANCE UNTIL YOU DIE is meant to show the mirror-like qualities both art forms have to me as well as to our society as a whole.

Rachael Williams

April 2011

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