A preview of Christine McMillan's Piece for Utah Ballet, "ordinary resistance"

18 October 2018 Published in News and Announcements
School of Dance Ballet Program undergraduate student, Madline Jones, discusses Christine McMillan’s piece for Utah Ballet I, ordinary resilience 

            Christine McMillan, visiting assistant professor in the Ballet Program at the University of Utah, premieres her new work “ordinary resilience” in this year’s Utah Ballet I. Focusing on the everyday vulnerability and inner strength found in many women, McMillan created this piece inspired by responses to the struggle of women in society. She has been mulling over ideas for the work over the past year, and while the work is not in response to anything specific, world events have recently highlighted the feminist plight, and the continuing spotlight on formerly hidden struggles brought McMillan’s thoughts and emotions about the female experience into high relief. The piece begins with a single dancer on stage, and then merges into a section in which no dancer travels alone. McMillan considered women’s shared experience of vulnerability and responsibility for one’s own safety when creating the work, and she describes this section’s design as “an abstraction of how women are often told to not walk alone in order to be safe.” Throughout the work, McMillan’s cast keeps their gaze watchful and wary, also reflecting the self-reliance women must often have in a culture in which words do not guarantee any action. Lastly, McMillan examines the individual experiences within the whole, describing, “Another element I was playing with is that even within a group we each are having our own individual experience of it that is personally unique. I think of this as an individual's internal landscape of thoughts and emotions that become embodied in physical movement.” While much of the piece takes place in a group, occasionally individuals or small groups are featured alone, exploring the ways that the female experience affects themselves and their relationships with others.

            McMillan uses various artists’ pieces of music in “ordinary resilience”. While the movement was inspired by music, she created choreography and then found other pieces of music to which to set the movements. The wide selection of music comes together to create uneasy, haunting, and powerful backdrops for the dancers’ actions. McMillan collaborated with School of Dance Costume Designer Stephanie Jones to create the original costumes for the work. The dancers wear a grey leotard with half a burgundy skirt and half of a pair of jeans. McMillan describes the bottom half as a “deconstructed skirt” that is meant to emphasize function over fashion. The dancers are able to move freely and without reservation, but the idea of femininity is still suggested by the skirt. In the top, the costume implies a spine with fabric braided down the back’s center. McMillan explains, “To me, the spine is both literally and metaphorically about structure and support as well as a sense of one's individual self.  If you think about all the metaphors we have around the words 'spineless' or 'backbone' you see how that directly relates to ideas about internal strength and individuality.” McMillan does not only rely on the movement to convey her emotions, but also on every production element.

            McMillan’s cast of fourteen women create an onstage microcosm of aspects of the female experience, dancing together and alone, and each experiences the piece from a unique perspective, just as humans experience life. Each audience member is sure to have a unique experience as well, with something different to look at in each section of the stage. The performance is free with a Ucard at the Marriott Center for Dance October 4thand 18that 5:30 p.m., October 5th, 6th, 19th, and 20that 7:30 p.m., and October 6thand 20that 2:00 p.m. Purchase tickets at the door or online at tickets.utah.edu. Visit dance.utah.edu for more information.