Last weekend, I attended the Slaughter Project at the Edison Theater. The Slaughter Project, a resident dance company here at Wash U, showcases one performance each year. This specific production was lively and spirited, exploring themes of diversity, technology, mystery and corruption. After the performance, I wanted to know more about the decisions behind the unique movements I had just seen. Below, you will find an interview with Slaughter Project dancer and friend, Elle Dalconzo.
How would you characterize the style of the Slaughter Project?
Our style is embedded in our purpose, our message and our objectives. We communicate through our bodies instead of monologues or ballads. We are malleable bodies, exposed to many styles of dance: ballet, jazz, modern, and the list goes on. But the style of the project is all encompassing of our artistry, which changes from piece to piece, much like our costumes, lights, demeanors and expressions. Together, our style is synonymous to our messages to audiences.
What was the best part of working with the company?
We often silo ourselves into corners of campus where we feel comfortable, protected, and confident. Take all that away, throw business majors with artists, engineers, pre-meds, graduate students and teenagers and you get a group of individuals who may not have met in one single room, twice a week for hours on end. Some who have trained since preschool are met alongside others who learned their first plié this semester, and we are all joined together by this unifying passion for performance and artistry. But I guess the best part of Slaughter is twofold; meeting those who I consider my dance family, and meeting an audience year after year who is engaged, inquisitive, supportive and reinvigorates our dedication to the project.
What is your relationship like with your choreographer? Do you make any decisions?
Oh Cecil. He is like the little voice in your head that tells you what you should be doing more, harder, bigger, more precise. While on the surface, critical direction may pose physical and emotional challenges for us dancers (we are acrobats and actors simultaneously), we implicitly understand his appreciation for our passion to the project. Cecil is stoic yet loving, descriptive yet frank, humored yet unamused, and sassy yet genuine. We know little about each other’s personal life, yet understand each other. That’s true for most, if not all of us in his company. The only decision I make is my commitment. Everything else is his vision.
How do you add your own flavor to your solos?
Here’s the beauty of the Slaughter Project. We are not a group unless we are all ourselves. When each one of us dances, we bring parts of ourselves, our stories and our personal histories to the stage. Whether it is a solo, duet, group or cast piece, you are yourself. But although always an individual, you are part of our collective. Flavor is what the Slaughter Project holds dear, and its genuine commitment to individualism brings flavor to everything we do, together and alone.
What was the most challenging aspect of preparing for the performance?
It is challenging to prepare the audience. Our friends and families are used to “recitals,” competitions, the Nutcracker at Christmastime and beat up pointe shoes laced over pink tights and high buns. They aren’t used to what we do. We dance about ethnic groups, history, experience, anthologies, relationships and ourselves. We add a cultural experience to your weekend, not an ego-boost based on your claps and cheers. It is challenging to then translate Cecil’s vision to the stage. We do research, we study, we observe what we perform, and we want you to absorb our message and never accolade us for merely “dancing.”
Elle’s poetic descriptions not only provide me with behind-the-scenes insight, but also let me experience the dances for a second time in some sense. I hope you enjoy her thoughts.
Photograph by Jonathan R White Photography