Bebe Miller Lecture Series: Syntax and Flow

Photo courtesy of | This past Friday, Bebe Miller presented the first of three public lectures: Syntax and Flow.

Marissa Hank ’20
Contributing Writer

Bebe Miller recently joined the Smith  community as the 2016-2017 William Allan Neilson Professor. Hosted by the Department of Dance, Professor Miller will deliver three public lectures and performances in a series. On Feb. 3, Miller presented the first of these public lectures. The title for the first performance lecture was Syntax and Flow: dimensional meaning-making through the body in motion. Joining Miller on stage was Smith’s Department of Dance professor, Angie Hauser, and Bronwen MacArthur, guest faculty at UMass Amherst. This first performance lecture was based off the Bebe Miller Company’s latest work in progress, Dancing in the Making Room.

As audience members flooded into their seats, their thoughts were immediately interrupted by a broken conversation occurring between Miller and Hauser. One had to listen closely in order to understand exactly what was being discussed. Miller would begin a thought and Hauser would continue the idea, until Miller picked the topic up again to reach a conclusion. This seemed to be an improvised conversation whose meaning was jumbled within the circular flow of the dialogue. After hearing this organized, yet chaotic conversation, one could ascertain that spoken word was the medium displaying the topic of syntax and flow. The fragmented discussion also appeared to be a satire about lectures. At times, Miller and Hauser seemed to craft their word choice to poke fun at the way lecturers express their thoughts.

After Hauser gave a brief introduction about Miller and her work, Miller began to talk about her approach to working with syntax within a dance context. She believes that syntax doesn’t exist without something to say. Her interest is in broken rhythm and how there is musicality in flow. As Miller was talking about these topics, Hauser began to dance. Miller explained that in Hauser’s dance, she creates worlds. Miller continues by describing how Hauser amplifies the moment through awareness of time in flow. Following Hauser’s performance was Bronwen MacArthur’s dance. After a few minutes of MacArthur’s dancing solo, Hauser joined her. In this piece, the idea of the hero and attendant was prevalent. Throughout their duet, a perpendicular form arose. The way they made contact and their placing on stage created perpendicular forms.

During the question-answer section, Miller shared that Hauser and MacArthur’s duet was improvised, with the only “rule” being that they incorporate perpendicularity. Miller explained how the use of improvisational framework allowed the dancers to find movements within sequences of the piece. Miller praised improv because there are always multiple ways to do something, and improvisation allows for exploration. One of the interesting things about improvising is that the dancer might not like the moves they are making, but there might be something about these movements that makes them flow together.

The movements and ideas explored in this first lecture are under the process of being placed into a bigger work that will debut in New York this coming November. If you missed this creative lecture, don’t worry! Miller will return on March 8 to discuss Body as Archive: regarding the persistent essential friction of gesture, attention and memory. This will be presented in the Neilson Browsing Room from 5 to 6 p.m.

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