Sydney Petitt, an adjunct faculty member in the School of Theatre and Dance, is the choreographer of "Maschine" and a performer in "Rites" in the upcoming production, "DanceTech."
How would you describe the piece you choreographed for DanceTech?
My piece "Maschine" is inspired by the 1927 German film Metropolis, especially the daily struggle of the working class portrayed in the film which depicts a more futuristic aesthetic. This film reaches beyond its time, and the narrative is rather relatable to our world today. I've been working with local composer, Scott Faris, and we've talked about how the movie's music and movement influences its tone and message.
One of my dancers portrays the robot from the film. She is controlling the pack, yet the others are unaware of the power she has over them. Her approach to movement differs from the rest, and she is constantly trying to distract the other dancers without giving away her cover. I want the other dancers to really feel the weight of fatigue, whether through a moment of collapse or a yearning to break free from strain. The gravel on the ground plays a role as well; it is meant to make their struggle even more tangible. The dancers actually get dirty in this piece! Overall, the idea is to portray the battles we face as imperfect humans and the difficulty we encounter to speak out against abusive behavior.
In the end, an individual finally breaks away, perhaps looking back on her former self. Has she found her way? How can this final break relate to you and your life?
What were some issues you wanted to address with the piece?
More than anything, I explore the struggle to find one's voice: whether it be in a relationship, as an employee, or someone who simply has trouble advocating for oneself. Those in abusive relationships find it difficult to self-actualize their situation, sometimes blind to the reality that they are, indeed, being controlled.
Did the location of DanceTech affect your choreography?
The location enhances the piece's industrial setting and tone. The highway and unfinished construction provide the piece's backdrop and contribute to the piece's themes of endless work, exhaustion, and isolation. The wall included in the choreography is used as a distraction for the "working" dancers. The idea is to depict the feeling of being trapped and and/or brainwashed.
What are some highlights from being both a choreographer and performer?
I love both! It is a totally different experience for me to be on the inside of a piece as a performer than on the outside choreographing a work. Working with Charlotte Boye-Christensen as a dancer in her piece, "Rites," is challenging yet invigorating. Her movement requires a kind of physicality that always pushes me beyond my perimeters, and I really enjoy that process of self-discovery. I am also better able to relate to my cast when I can really experience movement in my own body.
As a choreographer, it is exciting for me to find new ways of moving that develop from an idea that drives me. For example, there is a moment in my piece when the dancers collapse to the ground, physically reacting to a feeling of complete despair. This moment expresses a moment of defeat in my own life that I wish to portray in an authentic way that is relatable to an audience.
Do you feel like Texas Tech has a supportive environment for dance?
I do feel that dance is supported here. Our Head of Dance, Charlotte Boye-Christensen, is an advocate for collaborative projects and interdisciplinary work. This has opened up opportunities for us as teachers/artists to explore new endeavors and to find new creative partners and resources. I really appreciate the crossover between theatre and dance that we have here at Tech as well. Our students are able to learn from each other, while they continue to diversify their own individual research in the performing arts.
What are you excited about in your career?
I've always had a driving need to create, and I love collaborating with other artists – both dancers and creators in other disciplines. In my pursuits, I hope to continue to teach, choreograph and perform. As a lifelong learner, I know I will constantly seek to expand my own knowledge, taking a plunge into the unknown alongside my students. I also plan to remain an advocate for the arts, especially in my local community. I am so excited and grateful to be involved in something I am incredibly passionate about every single day, and I look forward to what the future holds.