This past weekend saw the presentation of incredible senior shows from two Dance majors. I sat down with Tian Yoon Teh to talk about Embrace Me: A Dance Opera, and will share my personal perspective from working tech on Teddy Ment’s Nova.
To create Embrace Me, the first of the evening’s shows, Yoon Teh took on an ambitious pre-production process that included storyboarding, which began last semester, a variety of experimental explorations, and finally a nine-week production schedule.
“In this piece, we played with how bodies are instruments and instruments are bodies, we played with the heritage of both Eastern and Western cultures,” she said. “We talk about trauma and what it takes to heal.”
Collaboration was also deeply important to Yoon Teh — the idea for the dance opera itself came from a piece in a senior show last year by Rachel Ford, OC ’18, titled to twine, to hold (enclosed).
“Weeks after her show, her piece and mine continued to unfold in my mind’s eye, and became the heart of this production,” Yoon Teh said. “I wanted…the audience to witness pain, beauty and care. Rachel’s piece set the tone for all those layers to be held together. With Rachel’s permission, we restaged her trio, adapted to suit the body types of this cast.”
The spirit of collaboration infused her mentality about her entire creative process as well.
“[Retired Oberlin professor] Nusha [Martynuk], my beloved mentor, gave me this: ‘how you warm up has already conditioned the work you make.’ She said it more elegantly than that,” Yoon Teh explained. “In this production, the process that I steered the most is in development: what kind of space to hold, who to invite into it, what questions to prompt, what tasks we do together. That has already determined the aesthetic outcome.”
Yoon Teh deeply feels the need to make art, a drive which came through in Embrace Me.
“Every piece is a pilgrimage,” she said. “It’s a space where I can knead my soul. I once told Nusha, who showed me how to think with my body, ‘piece by piece, I am walking towards inner peace.’ I learn a little more of myself every time.”
Embrace Me was followed in the program by Ment’s Nova.
As a member of OCircus! myself, I was incredibly excited to see Ment’s circus show. From training with her, I knew that she had been working on it for a long time — practicing skills, generating ideas, and planning logistics.
Because I’m a part of the OC Aerialists, she asked me to be in her tech team. I assisted with rigging transitions, helping to change which aerial apparatuses were set up mid-show. In fact, four of the six crew involved were aerialists — emphasizing the ambitious number of transitions required.
And Nova was ambitious indeed. Ment opened the show inside a lyra (aerial hoop) covered in fabric, with a projection of the moon overtop. Later, she was the moon, emerging in a shining silver suit.
Throughout the show, the moon was slowly pulled across the sky by the tech team, with the projection changing to show different moon phases.
Meanwhile, Ment and her circus partner Eleanor Getz did just about every kind of circus trick imaginable — trapeze, lyra, partner acrobatics, and even clowning. Conservatory senior Aliya Ultan accompanied them, playing the cello, piano, accordion, harmonica, and singing. Their hard work and dedication was on display in every act.
However, just like last week’s Acrobatic Conundrum performance, this wasn’t a circus for spectacle.
“It morphed substantially from a classic circus piece about bedtime stories into something deeply personal, investigating the passage of time as we go to sleep, and the time of passing from this life to whatever comes after,” Ment said. The narrative took center field.
“Tian’s and Teddy’s senior concert showcased some extraordinary work. I was so impressed,” Professor of Dance and Dance Department Chair Ann Cooper Albright said. “It was exciting to see their passion for movement woven into a dense texture of interdisciplinary collaboration. We got the best of many worlds.”
We are incredibly fortunate here at Oberlin. Almost every week, we have the opportunity to witness the amazing art made by our peers. Sometimes, we even get the chance to add to art like this.
My contribution was minimal compared to the directors (one week of my time, versus years of work), but I was still a part of making something beautiful happen. I got to see just how much love goes into crafting art. I experienced the power of witnessing great art, both being in the crew watching the audience react, and from my own personal reactions.
I left my tech week inspired, with one thought: make more art.