Halie Bahr on her new course “Choreographing Chaos: Expanding Creative Capacity Through Non-linear Narratives”

24 November 2020 Published in News and Announcements
Photo by Tori Duhaime Photo by Tori Duhaime

By Emeri Fetzer

This spring, graduate student Halie Bahr will offer a brand-new course embracing that which lies outside the margins of typical dance structures. Bahr’s class, “Choreographing Chaos: Expanding Creative Capacity Through Non-linear Narratives,” is an expansion of her own research, often inspired by work that is not so cleanly organized. 

While taking independent study with associate professor Satu Hummasti, Bahr was reading literature and consuming films that all shared a disjointed, fragmented quality. The common theme piqued her interest. “There was something about that type of work that challenged the way I make and understand dance. It was a structural question to me,” she said. 

For example, in the literature of Maggie Nelson, one of Bahr’s favorite authors, disparate subjects are linked by their proximity in the storytelling, but not necessarily by any clear linear narrative. “She does this thing where she bounces back and forth between two ideas. And those two ideas don’t necessarily make sense together, but when they are put into rhythm and relationship with one another, something else emerges about how I understand those two things. It doesn’t follow the arc of a normal story with a beginning, middle, and end. It actually bounces around in different parts of time, almost challenging the structure of a novel.”  

Bahr began to ask: As dance artists, how do we make sense of the stories that we want to make? How do we make sense of stories that are different from ours? 

“There’s an underbelly of my research that relates to trauma and the psyche. The brain already understands in this way, even like dream logic... there’s already a back and forth quality to stream of consciousness that I really love,” she said.

The course will be taught in a hybrid model, using the Zoom platform to ensure safety as health precautions continue to evolve. “The first part of the semester we will really be looking at these other ways that can infuse our dancemaking,” she said. “So we’re looking at readings, and watching clips of things, and analyzing the structure of works in literature, film, and dance. And then I think from there it will be a translation process to the body. In dance it’s so challenging, the body can’t fragment. We exist in time and space that can’t be chopped up like you could in a clip of media. That limitation is interesting to me.” 

To challenge students in terms of process, Bahr will also draw on “wrecking,” a conceptual tool used by New York-based choreographer Susan Rethorst. ”She’ll take something she’s working on and give it to someone else to ruin. You can completely change and alter it as you wish, you don’t even have to follow the original intention of the artist. She does this to get out of her own habits and biases, or if the work was feeling stuck in a way.  She then builds on whatever the other person found. We are going to practice that in real time, to have a sort of jarring experience choreographically and see what comes up.” 

Students will ultimately strive toward some type of final product, even if it is a small exploration. And Bahr is open to the projects taking place in person or digitally. She wants students to chose the methods that will best serve the direction in which their work naturally moves. 

Like most dancers, Bahr misses the tactile interactions of being together in the studio. But this period of COVID-19 has had a few interesting silver linings. “I made a work this semester for my thesis that was live and socially-distant,” she explained. “I ended up showing it more than I would have in a normal, non-COVID time because there were preventative deadlines. It had much more of a public life. COVID kind of forced me to let go of control over who would see the work ‘too soon.’ I’m excited to see what happens in terms of access to dance in general with the public and private spheres being heightened.”

 It’s all a part of embracing the chaos. 

For more information about the course contact