Milan Brewster, Contributing Writer
On the first floor of The Anderson, a crowded room with people dancing in colorful, flashing LED lights to electric beats sets the stage for Jenna Beardsley’s capstone project.
Beardsley, a senior in the VCUarts dance and choreography department, had a different approach for her capstone project with a visual that didn’t follow the rules. Her vision was more than just a dance, it was worth a thousand words with the story being told from the performers movements.
The piece, titled “IYKYK (If You Know, You Know)” consisted of four of her fellow classmates interacting with the crowd to add different elements of theatrical dance to the performance, and was performed in three showings on Friday before a dance party.
“It starts with my own personal life experience,” Beardsley said. “More specially, it starts when I took a course called Queer Night Life and World-Making taught by Madison Moore. It really sparked the inspiration and deep interest in nightlife, and how it functions for marginalized communities.”
Beardsley wanted to embrace the queer and club life while interacting with the audience in her piece, with each dancer portraying a different character with their body language.
“The piece is about nightlife and clubbing, but there are deeper themes going along with that,” Beardsley said. “I wanted to bring in the spirit of celebration and joy that is so prevalent in marginalized communities that need it.”
It was a long process for Beardsley, and her vision was shown with the help of her dancers, who include Taylor Bonadies, Lucia Biondi, Sydney B. Wiggins and Tendo Williams. The dancers played an important, theatrical role in the performance.
“Jenna had us start off with a lot of things that were improvisation-based, and she created the dance based on things we have done through text and theory,” said performer Taylor Bonadies. “It was a big collaboration.”
Beardsley’s piece wasn’t in a formal setting. When the show was approaching, they handed out strips of paper that had phrases for the audience to shout, “Fantasy of cigarettes! Fantasy of opulence!” to express the dreams one might want to have.
“I think it’s interesting because a lot of people don’t experience art and dance in this way that is so interactive,” said dance and choreography major Becca Gargiula. It is a very unique and effective way to experience something new.”
The piece was a mutual experience for the audience and dancers because of its interactive nature. The dancers instructed the audience on what to do during the performance, sometimes telling the attendees to follow the dancers upstairs or in a dance circle.
Beardsley’s work is just one of the eight capstone projects that will be presented this semester. The rest of the senior capstone projects will be shown Saturday and Sunday in a theatrical performance at Grace Street Theatre.
“Each of them created a piece over the course of the semester and those will be performed all in one evening,” Beardsley said about next weekend’s show. “The structure is more of a traditional dance concert, but the pieces themselves on more individual to each senior.”
This weekend’s performance will have seven other seniors’ capstone projects from Olivia Alsamadi, Taylor Bonadies, Elizabeth Drake, Kasey Grigsby, Chaunci Hannibal and Julia Turgeon. “IYKYK” consists of exclusive performances and work from the senior choreographers that highlights personal interests and perspectives.
“The piece is telling us to have fun and that dance doesn’t have to be in a formal setting. Just because something is in a club or interactive doesn’t mean it’s not art,” said videographer Callie Moore. “It’s refreshing to be part of it and help influence it. It is very innovative and progressive.”
To learn more about the upcoming performances, visit the VCUarts dance website.