Choreographing Community

For three weeks this fall, Will Rawls ’00 had what he calls “a gift of time and space”—an artistic residency at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, during which he could develop the final stages of The Planet-Eaters, a dance performance that premieres in New York this November.

Will Rawls Dance ClassThe residency also gave Williams students across disciplines the opportunity to learn from Rawls. He visited art professor Mike Glier’s abstract painting class and danced for them before giving a lecture about how kinetics and movement can be brought into one’s painting practice. “Dancers and painters share a similar language to describe their craft,” says Glier. “Both consider line, gesture, volume, movement, repetition, and rhythm. This project was a chance to discuss what we have in common.”

At the Williams College Museum of Art, Rawls performed a piece in response to the exhibition Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980. “It was a chance to explore what blackness can mean in art,” Rawls says. “How it can be constructed and how I can use performance to get my hands on—and personalize—some of the symbols of black American history.”

Rawls spoke to the students in professor Carol Ockman’s graduate art history tutorial “Writing About Bodies.” They discussed dance and performance in major museums, and the intricacies of the rules regulating such performances. “It was a discussion about how to look at and think through the various possibilities that dance can offer to the visual art field and to historians in the field,” Rawls explains.

He also led workshops with Williams’ two dance ensembles, CoDa and Kusika, and was a guest in Hana van der Kolk’s experimental choreography class.  “The workshops drew specifically on Balkan folk steps,” Rawls says, introducing a topic close to his heart. Ever since a personally and artistically transformative visit to the Balkans in 2008, Rawls has been consumed by the types of dance he saw there, trying to bring them into conversation with contemporary dance and art.

Will Rawls Performance WCMAAs an art history major who danced all four years at Williams, Rawls had long been searching for the history of dance in the history of art. He found it in Belgrade. “I saw a bunch of elderly people dancing a kolo, one of the base forms of folkloric dance,” Rawls says. “It was somehow what had been missing before—a relationship to the body, to movement, and to community.” The end result is a piece he calls “a contemporary reconfiguration of Balkan folklore,” and after three weeks of fine tuning and a showing at the ’62 Center, it is nearly ready for its upcoming premiere.

“Thanks to my Williams education, I am a very cross-disciplinary thinker and worker,” says Rawls, explaining how much he enjoyed mixing the roles of teaching and performance during his residency, bringing body and movement to the Williams community.

Will Rawls Mike Glier Art ClassFor more information about the world premiere of The Planet-Eaters at the Chocolate Factory Theater in Long Island City, visit: http://www.chocolatefactorytheater.org/redesign/event/will-rawls-the-planet-eaters/