Emily Burnham ’19 Explores Vulnerability Through Dance

Imagine a circle of chairs and couches lit only by a few lamps. The center of this circle served as the stage for senior Emily Burnham’s dance minor project titled, “Why Are You In This Space With Me.” Four performances of the project were held in Taylor Theatre from Oct. 25–26, with each show lasting 10–15 minutes. 

Photo By Daniel Sarché

The theatre was set to look like a living room, which Burnham said she deliberately chose to “convey a more intimate, vulnerable, yet comfortable environment.” This atmosphere allowed the audience to feel connected to the movement of the featured dancers: Kaila Ablao ’21, Koki Atcheson ’19, Sarah Burnham ’22, Ivaly Cline ’19, Maggie Mehlman ’19, Elena Perez ’19, and Natalie Watrous ’19. 

The piece began quietly, with a single dancer taking the stage. All eyes focused on this dancer and the movement of her feet against the smooth floor. A collection of everyday noises then played, creating the auditory atmosphere of a place like a coffee shop. Numerous dancers emerged off a couch in the audience, consequently increasing the pace of the dance. 

Near the end of the performance, a dancer ran out of the door. As the background music faded, the onstage performers engaged the audience by asking where the dancer had gone. After the dancer re-entered the room, the performance formally ended. 

Burnham took the stage at the end of each show to thank the audience and participants for their time, but she intentionally chose not to explain her thoughts behind the performance. She said that this was the most challenging part of the creative process — deciding how explicitly she wanted to share her intended meanings of the piece with the audience. Ultimately, she left the performance up to interpretation. Burnham had been crafting the piece for about a block, and she used its creation to work through various questions of her own. 

“[It] was much more about process than it was about performance,” Burnham said. “We worked through a variety of informing questions that addressed topics of vulnerability and worked through those vulnerabilities throughout the process. We asked why we were in that space together, how we process small vulnerable moments in our lives, and what it feels like to be seen rather than to be watched by your peers or strangers.”

In creating and directing this piece, Burnham said she used movement to help her understand relationships and to communicate with herself, her peers, and the audience. “That’s something that I have known since before I came to CC,” Burnham said. “But my work in dance since I have been at CC has informed that thought even more.”

Burnham quoted Ann Bogart, American theatre director, to explain what she hoped viewers took away from the performance: “You cannot educate people about anything, but you can point articulately at what excites you.” 

In response to that quote, Burnham said, “This project was me pointing in the most articulate way that I could at what excites and interests me.”

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