Dallas — Together, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman tenderly cup their faces before slowly moving their hands down their bodies in a mildly seductive manner to the sweet sound of Marilyn Monroe’s voice as she answers a reporter’s question about whether or not she is happy. “If anything I am genuinely miserable,” Monroe states as Bernet and Rodman walk, glide and jump from one side of the space to the other, stopping intermittently to engage each other in catch and release action and simple gesturing such as a hand to the chest or a head on the other person’s shoulder. As the music changes so does the dancers’ movement quality, which becomes more aggressive and robust before once again slowing down and eventually fading out.
Meant to Be Seen showcases both Bernet and Rodman’s classical and modern dance backgrounds as well as their curious nature and instinctual approaches to movement, which they explored deeper during their time with Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. The eight-minute duet also features the dancers’ penchant for more explosive and full-bodied movement, which the dance partners and best friends point out is the main reason they formed Bombshell Dance Project in 2016. “The name has an ironic ring to it since neither of us are blonde or very curvaceous,” Bernet says.
Rodman adds, “I just feel like the word ‘bombshell’ in itself is pretty universal and empowering, which ties in nicely with what we want to achieve with the company.”
So, it seems quite fitting that the two would gravitate to text and music by their movie icons Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn in their first company work, Meant to Be Seen. The piece will be presented along with There I Said It and Kismet in the Bombshells’ first Dallas program at the Sammons Center for the Arts on Oct. 20. When asked what ties these three works together Bernet says it’s not so much a theme as it is a feeling. “For the last year we have been caught up in this feeling of angst, but it’s contrasted,” Bernet explains. “We talk a lot about contrast and underlying feelings such as what something looks like versus what it is or how it feels. And also what people look like on the outside versus what’s on the inside.”
Bernet and Rodman met their sophomore year at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, but say they didn’t get close until their junior year when they joined the repertory dance company. “We just clicked right away as friends and creatively speaking,” Bernet says. “We are both pretty easy going and are drawn to movement that is big and powerful more so than soft and structured.”
The two say that they never saw themselves as the balletic type—instead preferring the challenges and artistic freedom associated with modern and contemporary movement. “I never really saw the ballerina in me,” Bernet says. “I started in a competition studio, but the second I found modern and contemporary in high school and later in college, I knew that is where I belonged.”
Rodman shares a similar story. “My body is just not meant for ballet, which I am totally fine with because I think it has helped me find different pathways and areas that I can use my body and challenge myself in various ways, which really became evident in high school. I just always wanted to be moving really BIG!”
During high school both dancers also found the same mentor in Professor Kyle Richards. “He definitely helped me to trust in what I was creating and to not be afraid to make work,” Bernet says. “One of the first things I learned from him was that the work doesn’t have to be perfect.”
She adds, “He was also big on starting from text and using feelings for inspiration, which has definitely influenced our work.” Nodding in agreement Rodman adds, “He was always really good about telling us not to take ourselves too seriously because in high school you know all the pieces in the shows are going to be super dramatic and intense and he really pushed us to see the lighter side of creating movement.”
After graduation the dynamic duo parted ways, Bernet heading to Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, where she focused on modern dance and performance; with Rodman moving up north to attend Boston Conservatory, where she studied improvisational techniques and choreography. Bernet credits their diverse college experiences with adding more depth and intrigue to their rehearsal process, which she says has made the work something that it wouldn’t be without the two of them.
Explosive, aggressive and full-bodied are just a few of the choice terms Bernet and Rodman use to describe their movement, which the duo says they haven’t been able to do until now. Both dancers learned early on that opportunities to move in such a forceful way would be limited due to their gender, a realization that strongly irked Rodman. “The seed was planted in high school because I always seemed to be in a dress or standing in the wings wanting to do the men’s section because it was so full-bodied and aggressive, yet soft at times and very textured.” This archaic approach to the female’s role on stage really started to bother Rodman in college where she remembers learning the men’s sections on the side just to fulfill that void for more demanding movement.
For those unfamiliar with the general rules of classical and contemporary dance, Rodman explains that in a lot of the roles she has performed since high school she has either been asked to play the damsel in distress or the femme fatale. “I was either made to feel like I couldn’t complete this task without a partner by my side or asked to be overtly sexual in a non-sexual kind of way, whereas the men’s sections were always extremely big, exciting and used the entire stage.”
Walking into Preston Center Dance where the Bombshells were rehearsing a couple of weeks ago I knew I was in for a very relaxed and fun experience if the dancers giggling from down the hall was an indicator. Bernet and Rodman were very considerate of each other during the rehearsal, taking turns answering questions and later taking turns with suggestions or critiques when going over movement. The two could also communicate with one another using just a look, which they say is one of the advantages of being such close friends.
“As far as creating movement I think it has been easy for us because we know each other so well,” Bernet says. “When we work collaboratively a lot of the time I will do a move and then she will do a move and eventually it kind of blurs together.”
Rodman adds, “Just being the two of us in the room this first year has been great because we work so well together that most of the time we don’t need to talk we just keep moving.”
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com