On Tuesday, Oct. 30, students and staff gathered to listen to Johanna Hayes ’19 and Shangwei Deng ’19 discuss their experiences working on projects funded by the Phillips Student Fellowship over the summer.
Each summer, Bates awards students around $6,000 dollars to explore something they are passionate about. The requirement is that the project the student undertakes must be outside their cultural comfort zone. Students in the past have conducted projects ranging from research or career exploration to arts or community-engagement.
This summer, Deng participated in a full-immersion program in Latin while living in Falconieri Villa, about a half-an-hour away from Rome, Italy. Deng is currently a Classical and Medieval Studies and Politics double major at Bates. His talk “Making Latin Modern?” dealt with how the Latin language heavily informed one of his favorite modern works, “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot, which is ripe with references to antiquity.
When Deng first arrived in Italy, he could not speak a word of Latin. “On the first day, I was not able to speak the language with any other people. People were from France, some were from Egypt, there were people from Spain, Germany and also many Americans.” As he humored, “All I could reply was ‘Ita, ita, ita.’” Ita is a word for ‘yes’ in Latin.
However, he began to pick up the language by listening to others, “I was able to make sounds, I’d pick up here and there over a conversation between fluent people. I could sort of tell if a word meant ‘to speak’ or ‘to hear’ and I’d be able to compile a sentence using these words, telling them “sententia mea” or my opinion.”
Those in the program started by asking everyday questions such as “How are you?” “Did you know” and “Can you pass me the cheese?”
“And gradually,” recounted Deng, “during the second and third week, I unburdened myself with the inquiry of ‘what is the distance?’ and ‘what is the experience of time?’ and gradually and gradually, I played along and became more and more a part of the community: singing, going out for excursions that are still in Latin, and it’s a fascinating experience.” In a sense, he experienced what it would be like if Latin were still a modern language.
However, the question for him still stood what the ramifications of resurrecting a dead language are: “When I was writing the proposal, I knew what challenge I may have. Latin itself is not really easily connected to our present culture…and there will always be a realistic struggle between me plunging into an ideal world and airlifting Latin into a contemporary one. And I was also very aware of a slippage of a dead language into a contemporary one…there were so many things that I could not name.”
After Deng’s presentation, Hayes, a Dance major and Anthropology minor discussed her project titled “Studying Self-Identity and Culture in Dance Environments.” In her two-and-a-half months spent in Europe, Hayes travelled to Germany, Spain and Austria and took four different dance and moving programs.
One question she found herself asking was “How do different dance practices’s values shape an individual and their relationship with others?”
Per Hayes, “This was the biggest question of this project, just because I grew up in a ballet background and I was taught to stand up straight and suck my stomach in and a boy would lift me up and that’s how I built a relationship with my own body and understanding how I could touch people, not touch people—that built my world, and the moment I got out of that ballet context to a modern context, I was like ‘Oh wait! There are other ways of moving! I don’t have to pull my stomach in any more. Wow, does that feels great!’”
Hayes spent the first month in the small town of Stolzenhagen, Germany, living in an artist commune surrounded by an idyllic landscape where the Freedom to Move Caucus was held. In the program, dancers dealt with issues like consent, identity, and how embodied experiences differ between people. For Hayes, “It was so tangible, even in movement, to feel those differences and to feel our own stories come out and social things come into play and it kind of blew my world apart and it left me with a lot of questions about dance and the dance space, and the way that it’s structured and the way it definitely excludes people.”
Hayes then headed to Spain to participate in two dance programs, one in Zaragoza and one in de Pedra. “After coming out of the Freedom to Move Caucus, I still had all of these questions of privilege in my mind and was kind of wondering why am I here lying on the floor listening to my collarbone while there are some real things going on. And that was a huge barrier for me, something that I’m still trying to address,” Hayes said.
While she loved the movement and dance styles in Spain, she did not enjoy how it was taught. When speaking about her time in de Pedra, Hayes said, “You would just be so exhausted and so torn apart and you would just get up and go to the next class. And you’d get torn apart, and you’d be told to go more and faster and harder and you’d die, and you’d go to the next one.”
One dance element Hayes seeks to bring to the U.S. is how emotion can inform postmodern dance. “And so going forward as a dance artist, hopefully, I hope that I can take what I experienced in Spain and apply the other teaching ways of consent or social issues and self-guided practice into some of those movement styles that I learned in Spain. Out of this project I just feel like I have so many tools, like I can pull from so many different situations, and that’s a gift. It just made me really believe in dance and think there’s so many ways to do it, and that makes me super excited about it.”
For those interested in applying, the deadline for the Phillips Student Fellowship is February 1, 2019. Students interested are strongly encouraged to begin working now with an advisor, as the trip requires a lot of planning and forethought.