by Tricia Duke '19
“Scribe,” a dance piece choreographed by Jennifer Smith, associate professor and chair of dance, and performed by alumna Kelsey Witzling '14, was presented at the competitive Breaking Ground Dance Festival in Tempe, Arizona.
After receiving hundreds of submissions from around the world, this year’s Breaking Ground Dance Festival highlighted the work of only 27 choreographers. A theme for the festival was the “tiny stage,” and “Scribe,” which relies on themes of captivity, is performed with just one dancer in a four-foot by four-foot space.
Smith and Witzling, who worked together on the dance for the first time in 2012, agreed that the journey has been both challenging and creatively enlightening.
The dance depicts the story of Lavinia, a character from William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. In the play, Lavinia is brutally raped by two men who then cut off her tongue and hands to keep her from identifying them. She achieves her revenge when she is able to use the stumps of her arms to move a stick in the sand and write their names.
The story of Lavinia came to Smith and Witzling at the same time, as if by fate, in 2012. For Smith, the play had been on her mind after seeing it performed, and for Witzling, Lavinia was an object of study in her Moral Life in Literature course with Brandon Polite, associate professor of philosophy. According to Smith, when she had the idea for a solo piece based on Lavinia, she thought immediately of Witzling.
Witzling performed the piece for the first time in a Knox Dance Showcase. Smith looked back on those first months of rehearsals as an immensely difficult emotional time, but also a time in which she and Witzling felt a real connection as artists and as people.
Smith recalled one rehearsal in particular when the two bonded over the intensity of the story. “[We were working on] this one part where she turns and opens her mouth. I remember Kelsey said, ‘This is the moment where I imagine her trying to scream, but just blood pours from her mouth,’ and all I could do was nod,” Smith said.
The dance has been performed at several festivals since that first showcase, many of which took place after Witzling’s graduation. Witzling, who went on to graduate school and became a dance/movement therapist, said that as time has passed, she has continued to connect creatively to the piece.
“This work is about wrapping up wounds, existing in a body that has been destroyed by trauma, and continuing on,” Witzling said, “Now, because of my own experiences and my professional work with trauma in the body, this piece pours out of me.”
Smith agreed. “[Lavinia’s] story, unfortunately, is still relevant, and probably always will be,” she said. “Kelsey is amazing… Together, we were able to bring it to life in a new way.”
Photo by Carlos Arturo Velarde