Traditional artists are in a tough position, filled with anxiety over artistic integrity, constant self-doubt and money worries. But senior Nicholette Routhier has a problem most artists never face – she can’t quite describe what she does.
“There are a lot of elements. Performance art may be the best word,” said Routhier, trying to describe her art.
Routhier is a dancer in the sense that her work conveys meaning chiefly through her body, but what she does goes a little beyond “Swan Lake.”
At her mother’s urging, Routhier was trained as a dancer from an early age. She began studying traditional schools of dance, including ballet and jazz, but found they weren’t satisfying her creative interest enough.
“(At age 14) I was performing at Disney World I was doing everything right and I hated it,” she said.
However, when she discovered modern dance, everything changed.
“I’d gotten to a point where I forgot why I bothered to do this at all,” said Routhier, a dance major. “Modern dance allowed me to start dancing for myself again … Now there isn’t a second of my day, there’s not a moment that isn’t dedicated to my art.”
Routhier said discovering modern interpretive dance allowed her to convey a wider range of feelings and messages with her work. Since her work involves live music, spoken dialogue and improvisation, Routhier said she often blurs the lines between theater and dance.
“There’s a dialogue in my work, not just talking, but give and take,” Routhier said. “I’m more of a realist; the work isn’t just conceptual. The point is to give info to the audience.”
In a recent project on which she collaborated with other dance students, called “Androgenic,” Routhier and her cast tell the tragic story of a love triangle. The cast combines sparse, prearranged dialogue with improvised dance and gestures. At one point during the performance, Routhier, with some physical support from a cast member, literally walks on the ceiling to show her character’s confused but elated state of mind.
While some of her work is narrative, much of it is more thematic, attempting to depict through dance ideas what Routhier feels she can’t adequately express in words. Her thesis project, set to debut this spring, is a three – movement work that explores issues of death, hatred and identity in a whirl of motions that Routhier describes as “circus-like.”
The piece begins with an improvisational contact trio – three dancers who are in constant contact yet have only a loose idea of how they will move together. This type of move is typical in much of Routhier’s work, which often uses talent with no formal dance training.
“I think (my ballet training) shows structurally, but it’s not there in the movement. I definitely don’t think that classical training is important” she said. “Contact improv involves a lot of listening to your partners.”
Instead of going for the most experienced talent, Routhier casts her projects so that the performers fit their roles, often giving them a lot of artistic license during the rehearsal period to create their own motions and develop their own characters. In another section of her thesis work, Routhier has her cast members pick stereotypes to embody and critique through dance.
Some of the stereotypes include a “geek,” “Asian-American” and “bisexual,” none of which were particularly easy to pin down in movement. But that didn’t stop Routhier from trying.
“When we’re dealing with the bisexual student, she runs from a man to a woman always looking hungry, sort of the ‘I’ll do anything that walks’ stereotype,” Routhier said. “The Asian girl sits down a lot during the piece, sometimes in an Asian style, sometimes Western. After a while it’s a metaphor for her confusion, like ‘Which culture do I belong to?'”
Routhier said her thesis takes up most of her time, but she is thinking about plans after graduation. She said she finds herself confronted with the usual range of options available to a dancer – graduate school, teaching or going to New York City to join a company. Routhier said she isn’t too worried about where she will end up or what she will do with the rest of her life, as long as she can keep on dancing. o