By Natalie Marsh
Sophie Needelman’s The Defiance Project will perform a site-specific work on the Mario Savio steps at the University of California, Berkeley, a location with a legacy of activism, engagement and yes, defiance. According to Needelman, this location is fitting for her dance and artistic production company, which prides itself on challenging conventions of creative expression and social norms of dance companies. “I am interested in the energy that Sproul Plaza holds in terms of activism, being seen, and being noticed,” says Needelman, “I’m interested in the history this space holds, and in becoming a part of that history.”
Needelman’s piece is inspired by recent travel to Israel, where she developed an interest in individual perception and emotional connection to space versus physical reality. She says, “Reality is very different when you are on one side of the world, versus actually in a space. When you are physically present in a space you are emotionally invested, spiritually invested, you are invested on so many levels”.
Her experiences in Israel also sparked interest in ritual and, what she describes as “the ability to defy the expected or normal engagement and portrayal of ritual.” Thus, her dance anywhere® piece will explore how presence within space informs individual and collective understanding of ritual. She says, “Ritual is an experience that has the potential to connect us to others. Hopefully I will be generating connection amongst the collaborators and the audience, near and far.”
Needelman is interested in dance anywhere® as a platform for her work as she was moved by the concept of dancers connecting in one specific moment in time. To her, this connection in time is in itself, a ritual. She says, “dancers worldwide are connected in so many ways because of our common practices and the fact that we identify as dancers, but one of the more difficult things to unite around is the idea of time, because dance is so ephemeral and fleeting.” Needelman is therefore excited to participate in Dance Anywhere because she believes that uniting the ritual of dance through time is “a powerful concept on both a physical and emotional level.”
Site-specific work is especially engaging to Needelman, because of her interest in the temporal elements of the medium. She says, “site-specific work is intentionally engaging in a way that dance doesn’t always achieve. It provides a foundation based in physical space and time: anything can happen or appear, both physically and emotionally.” She is excited to engage her company of collaborators in a series of improv scores and exploratory processes intended to reveal the possibilities of site-specific work.
Needelman founded The Defiance Project in Summer 2012 with the mission to “utilize processes of defiance to engage a community of collaborators through personal and collective experiences of presence, connection and change.” Founded in San Diego, the company has now established a presence in the Bay Area dance community, where Needelman was recently granted fiscal sponsorship by Dancers’ Group. The Defiance Project performs in various site-specific and performance venues including UC Berkeley, where Needelman pursues an undergraduate degree in Dance and Performance Studies, and for various community projects in San Diego and the Bay Area.
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