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The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

For dance majors, the peformance is the thesis

Senior dance thesis concert
Dancers peform Whitney Fetterhoff's original work during the senior thesis concert for dance. Becky Crowder/Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet Reporter Jill Beckerman.

As graduation nears, most seniors are putting the finishing touches on their GW experience with those last papers and exams. For Rick Westerkamp, Whitney Fetterhoff and Maggie Gomez-Madonia, however, the end of senior year is a little different. The culmination of their four years was squeezed into one honors thesis concert, held Saturday at Betts Theatre, where their dance education was put on display in three 20-minute original pieces.

The concert allowed the dancers to incorporate their many passions and influences into their work.  Fetterhoff, who majored in both dance and English, chose the poetry of Emily Dickinson as the main theme of her piece.

“I chose to focus on Emily Dickinson’s poetry because I see the imagery and the structure inherent to the work as relating closely to dance and movement,” she said.  The piece,  which Fetterhoff choreographed for seven dancers, was heavily influenced by Dickinson, from the costumes to the music to the lighting.

Fetterhoff said that her passion for Dickinson led her to improvise based on quotes from different poems.

“Ultimately I wanted to depict the creative process, so I began the piece with very minimal, fragmented movement that eventually developed… into fully developed, full-bodied movement,” she said.

Westerkamp, a dance and theatre double major, said preparing for the show was a gratifying experience.

“It has been few and far between when my dance and theater double major has come together as one, ” he said.

Westerkamp’s thesis, “Through These Eyes,” was based on an article discussing a child’s three greatest fears: clowns, the dark and losing one’s parents. Although Westerkamp integrated clearly identifiable movements into his piece, the performance achieved a certain depth and sophistication when he went beyond classic dance patterns.

“I learned that dancing doesn’t have to be what people automatically think of as dancing,” Westerkamp said of his work.

On a similarly dark note,  Gomez-Madonia’s piece chronicled the five stages of grief as defined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Though Gomez-Madonia admitted that the piece was originally inspired by a personal experience with grief,  she intended the final product to express different types of grief within individual experiences.

But how do you transfer a psychiatric concept to the stage?

“I had a different movement idea for each stage,” Gomez-Madonia explained.  “For the anger stage I wanted to explore being angry at the person who left, the people around you, and at yourself.”

The three students will end up in different places after they graduate, but they hope that dance remains a part of their lives. Next year, Westerkamp will join the Unevenlane Company, a new D.C. dance group which counts several GW alumni among its members. Fetterhoff’s future plans include living in New York City pursuing her dream of choreographing and performing. Gomez-Madonia’s post-undergrad years will lead her into the unknown, but they will involve dancing and living in the “real world.”

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