Learning Through Dance: What “gradWORKS: The Implicit Self” Can Teach us

UCSD is known for its experimental approach to the arts, and “gradWORKS: ‘The Implicit Self’” is no different. Verónica Santiago Moniello, the creator behind this innovative piece, is an M.F.A. candidate in the Theatre & Dance department, and has cultivated her own unusual approach to the performing arts world.

In 2016, she conducted research in Venezuela on “The Origin of an Implicit Body Language,” and her gradWORKS piece is a continued exploration based on that study. Her work concerns the ways we adapt to our environment based on notions of how we are “born” into the space.

The production, described as a “continuous dance practice,” opened with composer & musician Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh simply pouring water into shrub that was placed near a sensitive microphone. Nearby, Moniell0 sat sketching, also near an incredibly sensitive microphone. This continued for about five to ten minutes, at which point I started to become mildly concerned that I was destined to sit for an hour listening to a pencil scratching paper and water being poured.

Luckily, this was not the case. Moniello and Hsieh gradually warmed up the atmosphere, and introduced new props, including rectangular frames of blinds. These frames were used to physically block bodies of light, creating geometric figures across the stage that Moniello then explored, utilizing her physicality to discover the shadows and depth created by the light.

Simultaneously, the music was growing louder, and there was a visible transition in Moniello’s approach. Whereas before she had been investigating the frames of light, and seemed to be naturally delving into how these frames disrupted the space, she now appeared to shift into a state of experimentation with music, responding instinctively to the score.

Throughout the entirety of the piece, the years of training in Moniello’s dance were evident. Even when just walking, she claimed the space and redirected it according to her objective.

More interesting than this natural ownership of the stage, however, was how she was able to transition into phases of vulnerability. Near the end of the show, she was in a streamlined full-length body suit, decorated with a tricolored star pattern and a hood that covered her eyes. Throughout this segment of the piece, you could feel the tension in the audience as they wondered how Moniello would move onstage while hindered by a visual impediment.

I considered this portion of the production to be the most riveting. I began to understand what Moniello had hoped to recreate: the image of rebirth. The entirety of “The Implicit Self” reflects on how one moves through various forms of rebirth and focuses on our intuitive response.

In theory, this sounds highly experimental and difficult to understand. Instead, “The Implicit Self” is an incredibly relatable piece. As students, and more generally as humans, we consistently go through various transformations, and are constantly put into situations both new and challenging. This is, in a sense, our “rebirth.”

One of the most gratifying aspects of “The Implicit Self” was the Moniela’s complete use of her surroundings. When she was studying the space through various sounds, frames of light, and props, Moniello appeared to be completely open to the influence of these factors. Rather than attempting to control them, she harnessed her natural responses.

Surprisingly, this left me with an exceptionally practical take-home message: leave behind your expectations, and be open to your natural reactions. Rather than trying to control your responses through a type of cerebral cage, allow yourself to approach each new situation with an open mind.

In simpler terms, this could be choosing to listen to your gut instinct, rather than following previously implemented behaviors and patterns you may have. Essentially, using Moniello’s style of language, this will allow you to be “reborn,” and in turn, move beyond old habits and welcome growth.

Art often depicts life, and even more frequently, it demonstrates how we can perhaps adjust our views, and take a different approach to living. “The Implicit Self” shows us a unique way to dance, both across the stage and through life.   

Layla Hanson is a Staff Writer for for The Triton.