Megan O’Brien: The Heritage Project
Usually this time of year we are preparing for our Heritage Project Showcase at the Rose Wagner Black box theatre. If you are not familiar with the Heritage Project, it is an educational program RDT uses as a way to engage Junior High students in both choreography, creative process, and their own personal voice. For the project, a representative of RDT will travel to a designated school and work for around eight class periods to create a piece centered around the theme Heritage. Because educational outreach is one of RDT’s main pillars we have a lot of ground to cover, so this year I had the privilege to work at 6 different junior highs across Utah and create 6 different pieces for the project.
Going into each school and new process was an exciting challenge for me. When we make these pieces it is usually a bit different than what these junior high students may be used to. Instead of coming in with all of the choreography and staging prepared to teach them, all we come in with to start is an idea for a piece of music and a piece(s) of paper that asks questions about the meaning of the word heritage. Our first day is usually spent making introductions (I try really hard to memorize everyone’s name), writing and having a group discussion. The students will share their traditions, what makes them unique, where their family comes from, etc. Often, students will learn new things about their peers, connect with similarities and appreciate differences. We keep a record of all this information and after our discussion we begin creating the piece!
Each process looks a bit different depending on the students I’m with in the room for those short class periods. For example, Some begin by creating solos based on words they circled from their papers. To challenge their dance vocabulary and push them out of their comfort zones we talk about abstraction, dance technologies and even play movement games to help them create their material. Some students will teach their phrase work to others and soon enough we are creating a piece. This is truly our jumping off point, from here we begin collaborating and bouncing ideas off of each other.
This year, creating six different pieces, I really had to stretch myself in finding new ways to bring out material so that each piece is unique from the other. Each group of students is different from the next. My favorite part of these projects is when the students realize that the piece is truly theirs. It’s their movement ideas and voices shining through.Because of our current circumstances, we are unable to hold our Heritage Project showcase this year. Instead, we will be sharing a few videos of some of the pieces that were made.
I hope you’ll watch and when you do you should know how much hard work and creativity these students/teachers put into learning new ways to create and share their stories.
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE HERITAGE PROJECT VIDEOS!
Megan O’Brien is dancer/artist born in Salt Lake City, Utah. At a young age, she fell in love with movement and performance when she created impromptu shows to classic rock songs for her mom and dad. For 15 years Megan extensively trained at The Winner School in many different styles of dance. She continued her training at the University of Utah School of Dance on full scholarship and graduated in 2017 with a BFA in Modern Dance. Throughout her training Megan has had the privilege to learn from and work with Danielle Agami (Ate9 Dance), LajaMartin, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Company 605 (Vancouver), The Penguin Lady, and the Staatliche Ballettschule School located in Berlin, Germany. She has performed in works by LajaMartin, Michio Ito, Bill Evans, Lesley Telford, Stephen Koester, Nick Blaylock, and Sharee Lane. She is compelled to share her art and passion with the community through independent choreographic projects and through nurturing the growth of young artists by teaching at many local schools (K-12) and dance studios in Utah. This is her second season working with Repertory Dance Theatre.