BodyStories: Teresa Fellion Dance

Blog: Q&A with Company Dancer Elizabeth Shew

April 13, 2017

Q. Where are you from?

A. Portland, Oregon

Q. What are some of the unique characteristics of your hometown?

A. If you drive about two hours in any direction, you’ll hit a different landscape. The coastline (West), the Columbia River Gorge (North), the Cascade Mountains (East) or a high desert (South).

Q. When did you begin dancing? What’s your dance journey?

A. I started dancing when I was three, after I begged my mom to put me in ballet class. I think she knew I was serious when she took me to see The Nutcracker for the first time, and afterwards she gave me a cassette of the Tchaikovsky suite to listen to. Apparently I knew which songs were missing, even though I’d only seen the ballet once.

Q. How have you enjoyed your experience as an Apprentice with BodyStories? How do you think that experience will change when you transition into working with BodyStories in a project-based role?

A. This is the first professional dance company I’ve been a part of, so it’s been a great learning experience. I didn’t have an active role in the creation of Agawam, which gave me the chance to observe my peers and learn from their work. It’s been really inspiring! I enjoy collaboration, so I’m excited to take on a more active role in the creation of our newest piece.

Q. How do you, as a dancer, approach translating the emotional and intellectual themes behind Teresa Fellion’s work into movement? Take us through that process.

A. For me, the approach differs slightly from piece to piece. But generally I start from one of two places: physical movement or story. The two are always intertwined, but I like to build them up separately in my mind and body, then weave them together when I know each of them intimately.

Q. What was the process of creating Agawam like? What was it like understudying various roles?

A. With Agawam, we began by discussing some very basic themes of family. We also played with movement prompts and invisible “rules” that our bodies could navigate through space. Later, we brought those two concepts together. I think each dancer in the cast truly seized her role and brought her own story to the table. These stories evolved gradually, which made it more fun—but more challenging—to understudy everyone. Physically there were new movements to learn in each rehearsal, but the mental and artistic changes were subtler, and therefore trickier to absorb.

Q. What was it like to jump into performing Agawam at the last minute?

A. Really exciting! And also probably the most difficult dancing I’ve done so far, mentally. I owe a huge thank you to Maria Gardner, who was extremely gracious with her time and information. Alongside Teresa, she played an integral part in the creation of the role, and she talked me through her personal thought process and story. That’s what allowed me to understand and inhabit her character in such a short amount of time. I absolutely couldn’t have done it without Maria or the support of the whole cast. It’s an amazing thing to be surrounded by people who are so generous and talented. Also, I guess it’s true that you never know what you’re capable of until you “jump off a cliff.” I was pretty terrified at the beginning, but in the end it was an enlightening, fun and fulfilling experience!

Q. In our current political climate with so much uncertainty, what do you think the role of dance and art will be?

A. Oh good, an easy question. This is actually something I’ve been pondering a lot lately. I’ve always believed that the core of all art is storytelling. I also think that the enemy of democracy is a closed mind. In the political climate we live in now, it’s more important than ever to listen to each other’s stories. Not just listening to respond, but listening to understand. Art invites vulnerability from its audience—after all, it wouldn’t exist unless its creator allowed him or herself to be vulnerable in the first place. That kind of trust, in whatever form, helps people find new ways to understand other people. We need that in our lives. So I guess the role of dance now is the same as it’s always been—to tell stories that are personal, ask new questions, challenge the way we think, and engage with those who might be afraid to dance at all.