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Poetry in Motion

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Albright senior Mariah Gibson brought the rhythm of the spoken word to life in a senior seminar project that earned her top honors at an undergraduate women's studies conference.

By Kelsey Rudy '16

Mariah Gibson ’15 began developing the vision for her senior seminar project last spring.

With a lifetime of dance experience and a love of poetry, it only made sense for the Albright College English and theatre major to combine the two.

Gibson wanted to bring poetry to life. She succeeded.

After months of planning and preparation, Gibson debuted, “Poetry in Motion,” at Albright in December.

The 25-minute performance uses choreographed movements to interpret verse; a recorded reading of the poems provides the soundtrack.

“Seeing the final product and knowing that I was able to create that was the most satisfying thing,” said Gibson.  

But for Gibson, Poetry in Motion is more than just artistry. She chose the platform as a way to celebrate the emotions and diversity of women.

“Women are independent today,” said Gibson. “People need to see our strength but also see that we break down.”

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Gibson selected poems that cover uplifting subjects, such as love and accepting one's body, but also more controversial issues, including race and rape.

After its successful debut at Albright, and following the suggestion of Julia Matthews, Ph.D., associate professor of theatre, Gibson applied and received an invitation to perform a shortened version of her project at the Lehigh Valley Undergraduate Women’s Studies Conference at Moravian College in Bethlehem on Feb. 21.

Gibson’s piece received a standing ovation at the conference and captured first place for artistic expression.

“It was the best boost of confidence," said Gibson. "I never believed that I could see part of my dreams become a reality."

Gibson’s starting point for Poetry in Motion was a selection of work from celebrated poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. Gibson chose Angelou's “Passing Time,” “The Mothering Blackness,” “Phenomenal Woman,” and “Still I Rise.”

The first two quatrains of “Still I Rise” illustrate the inspiration that Gibson drew from to produce her project:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Gibson also chose poems by Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Kendra Urdang.

“The poets have a sense of change and were focused on the issues of that current time,” said Gibson. “They were forward-thinking.”

Through auditions, Albright students Rebeca Brown ‘15, Sarah Crake ‘16, Jasmine Rivera ‘17 and Rachel Spause ’17 were chosen to help bring the poetry to life.

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Gibson and her dancers analyzed the meaning and story behind each piece. From there, their voices were recorded reading the poems, becoming Gibson’s soundtrack as she choreographed the movements. 

“I was impressed by the poems Mariah chose for the piece, an interesting mixture of very accessible and more abstract poems, from traditional to radical voices,” said Matthews, who taught Gibson's senior seminar.

Not all of Gibson's performers were dancers. But Gibson stretched and trained them until they were. 

“Practices were not a joke,” said Crake. “Mariah was constantly testing my abilities and encouraging my improvement.”

Before each dance, Brown recalls Gibson telling the performers to “think about what this poem means and put feeling into it. Tell us a story with your eyes and the movement of your body.”

Added Rivera: “We had to picture ourselves as the people expressing these poems in order to give a great performance. It’s simple to get really tired from dancing but trying to stay in character and get the point across was a little tricky.”

Costume and lighting selections added the finishing touches.

“The costume picking was a lot of fun for the dancers and for myself because it made their characters come alive,” said Gibson. “I based the lighting on the environment that each dancer was supposed to be in and what would help develop each message.”

When the Lehigh Valley Undergraduate Women’s Studies Conference rolled around, two of Gibson’s dancers were not available. Once again proving her organizational and leadership skills, Gibson had substitutes – Sara Feliciano '17 and Greer Bennett '17 – trained and ready to dance with the rest of the troupe in just a few short weeks.

“I told the dancers to focus on the message that they were delivering and everything will work out," said Gibson.

Rebeca Brown '15 and Sean Claudius Purcell '15 created a documentary about the making of "Poetry in Motion" for their Video I class

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