The 2018 Dance and Theatre Festival began on Friday, April 27, 2018 and featured four dances and two theater productions. Each senior was required to produce a thesis and bring it to life in a 20-minute thesis incorporating lighting, sound, and minimal set design. This year, the thesis’s ran in two hour-long shows and incorporated three productions in each production. The first show incorporated the works of Julian Baez, Olivia Marriott and Novella DeAngelis and the second show includes Anastasia Benedetti, Leandra Romano and Maya Pleninger.
In her final show at Manhattanville, Pleninger, who choreographed a dance piece for her thesis explored the elements of surprise and contrast into her dance titled Contradistinction. Inspired by choreographers Rudolf Laban and Merce Cunningham, she was able to use her vision to help bring her thesis to life. “I came into rehearsals with a vision of what I wanted to happen on stage, and from there collaborated with my dancers to make that vision come to life,” said Pleninger.
Inspired by the great Amelia Earhart, Romano based her Theatre thesis on the impact that the second wave of feminism had on modern day theatre. Vagabond: The Tale of Amelia Earhart, which incorporated the life of Amelia Earhart.
“[Earhart] wasn’t just a pilot; she was a feminist, an adventurer, and an inspiration. She achieved so much more than just flying across the Atlantic Ocean once, and then disappearing. I believe that Amelia’s courage is what helped woman discover their worth, and that’s what I hope to display in my thesis,” said Romano.
Each senior had to take a course before they were able to direct their production. For Dance majors, Choreographers Workshop is offered their junior year and is required for them before they are allowed to choreograph for concerts. Theatre majors are required to take Directing in their junior year and must take the class before they are able to direct their productions.
Pleninger is no stranger to choreographing and has created dances for Manhattanville Dance Troupe and the fall and spring dance concerts. During her process, she spoke about how different her thesis was from other dances that she’s created. Because her thesis had to be 20 minutes, this was one of the longest pieces that she had to choreograph.
“I had to remember that with the length, there still needed to be something that was making the audience want to continue to watch. At times I found this to be difficult, but the end product is something that the audience will enjoy,” said Pleninger.
After the Vagina Monologues, Romano took on her second directing position for her thesis. Romano had to opportunity to handpick who was in her cast. During auditions, Romano looked for actors and actresses that could take direction well.
“I had everyone do a cold reading for me and depending upon how they read, I would ask them to read the script it completely differently or have them do some sort of exercise while exploring the text,” Romano explained that she wanted her cast to have the ability to get out of their heads and naturally react to her script.
Both Pleninger and Romano worked closely with the Dance and Theatre Department and throughout their journeys. They have had professors that encouraged them to find their niche and help them become who they are today. Professor Shawn Bible, the head of the DTH department, became one of Pleninger’s role models throughout her dance career.
“Professor Bible taught me a lot about finding my personal style through whatever movement you are doing, and it has helped me create my thesis,” said Pleninger.
In the theatre department, Ara Fitzgerald was involved in many of Romano’s projects and had a huge impact on her as an artist. Romano explained that Fitzgerald had said to her once, “if you walk on stage, and say something the same way you did the last time you did the scene, you’re not acting; you’re reciting,” which had changed her perspective on acting and directing for the better.
Overall, each senior was able to show who they are and what they learned throughout the four years as a Dance and Theatre major through their thesis. As they have learned how to choreograph and direct, they were able to discover what they enjoy doing. Romano explained that “I truly love creating, and playwrighting. It has really opened me up into a new mindset for theatre, and the art of theatre itself.”