‘PIECES OF US’ | News Services

Student research project, performance explore healing from trauma

Elizabeth Bailey’s experience of healing from trauma inspired a collaborative research project and dance performance that will open on stage Saturday and Sunday.

“Pieces of Us” will feature Bailey’s original choreographed dance ensemble along with an installation of visual art, poems and music by East Carolina University student artists who have all dealt with trauma.

The project is inspired by how people lose a piece of themselves to trauma and the process of healing, said Bailey, a senior dance performance and choreography major and Honors College student from Goldsboro.

A dancer rehearses for “Pieces of Us.”

“How do I re-meet myself, and meet myself as this person that doesn’t have this part of me anymore? And what does it mean to meet myself?” she said. “That’s why I titled it ‘Pieces of Us.’ After people take these things from us, how do we get these pieces back and how do we put new pieces in for ourselves to feel complete again?”

The project has been supported by an Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Award (URCA) that Bailey received last fall. The biannual awards provide funds for faculty-mentored research and creative projects conducted by undergraduate students in four content areas: biomedical science, STEM, social science, and arts and humanities.

Bailey was one of five students from the School of Theater and Dance and one of 53 overall who received URCA grants in the fall. Her mentor is associate professor of dance John Dixon. “He’s helped a lot in this process. I probably wouldn’t have done this if it weren’t for him encouraging me and just telling me that this can happen,” she said.

Bailey said her push came from her struggles with anxiety stemming from certain events that have happened to her. “I felt this was such a big thing that people don’t talk about. It was kind of like a taboo subject that’s not in regular conversation. People aren’t just bringing up their trauma or their process of healing, so I thought it was a really good way to give these artists a platform and collaborate. In class, I was learning about different dancers and composers and artists collaborating to make this beautiful piece. I was just like, ‘Yes, that’s what I want to do.’”

After receiving the award, Bailey put out a call for artists across campus interested in submitting work inspired by the concept of trauma healing and the journey of healing in general. “Through that, I was able to not only begin choreographing and telling my story through my preferred art medium, which is dance, but also get inspiration from their work,” she said.

For instance, student Brooke Bertram contributed artwork that includes a girl lying on the ground. “I tried to recreate that in parts of my choreographic work by her to pay homage to her and allow the audience to connect the dots of how I’m able to get inspiration from those artists,” she said. “It’s a way to collaborate and produce something that I think will be pretty magical in the end.”

In addition to Bertram, other ECU students contributing to the project are Randi Baines, Brook Connolly, Jackie Dodds, Thomas Halik, Ashton Ratcliffe and Liz Trumpower. There is a cast of 12 dancers: Emily Caras, Kyleen Constant, Channing Dayton, Dodds, Ellie Ergenzinger, Jessica Harris, Nadia Magee, Marissa Miller, Emma Muncie, Chloe Rivenbark, Ella Schaffner, and DeAsura Sidberry.

“It was amazing to see how many people submitted and how they were so vulnerable in their work and were able to connect with me through the concept,” Bailey said. “It means so much that they’re willing to be a part of my project. They’re doing this to help because they care about the concept so much.”

Dodds, a senior dance performance and choreography major, has known Bailey since their freshman year and will perform in “Pieces of Us.” She also wrote poetry for the project. “I was so pleased she asked me because I wanted to work with her due to the importance of her concept of her,” Dodds said. “I wanted to execute and respect her creation by her as much as I possibly could. I knew as a choreographer she could pull a lot out of me and challenge the parts of me that haven’t been touched just yet.”

Bailey hopes the project will help de-stigmatize the subject of trauma and make it easier for people to talk about. “I think that’s why maybe it’s taboo in society because in a way, if you don’t talk about it, it goes away, but that doesn’t work. It’s always going to stay with you and be the thing you have to keep processing through over and over again.”

She wants people who may be struggling to recognize that they are not alone; there’s a community ready to provide support. “They need to understand that there are other people who relate to their trauma or who have been through the same things and who have made it to the other side. I think that’s a huge part of why I was able to walk through things that happened to me,” Bailey said. “It’s a way of sharing hope with each other.”

Performances will be 4 pm and 8 pm Saturday and 3 pm on Sunday at the Archie Burnette Studio Theatre, inside Messick Theater Arts Center, where artwork and poetry will be displayed at the entrance to the studio.

Dodds said she hopes the audience will reflect on the 25-minute dance performance and art installation long after the weekend. “I hope they receive a lot of information that resonates with them so that they feel like they are the person in this piece. There is so much to take from—the movement, the music, the artwork and the poetry,” she said. “This is something that everyone deserves to see at least once. It is very special.”

Dancers rehearse “Pieces of Us” in a studio at ECU's Messick Theater Arts Center.

Dancers rehearse “Pieces of Us” in a studio at ECU’s Messick Theater Arts Center.

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