Molly Gibbons began her life-long love affair with dance when she was just six years old. Growing up and first studying ballet in Novato, California, she says dance “set a bar for how rich life can actually be.” Now a senior at Princeton, Gibbons is days away from the premiere of her choreography thesis “Mind Furniture” in fulfillment of her certificate in dance from the Lewis Center for the Arts.
Early in the creative process, Gibbons wanted “Mind Furniture” to comment on how people can embrace or contest the orthodoxy of religion in their lives, and she took inspiration from the writings of Saint Augustine, her experience as a practicing Catholic, and her understanding of how religion can play a vital role in an individual’s life. Gibbons decided to place two ten-foot church pews on stage with the four dancers, of which she is one, for the duration of the performance. However, as Gibbons progressed through the choreographic process, her vision, she explains, “expanded in scope, and it has come to include ballet as an orthodoxy…[and] everything else that is a religion for each of us.” Now, “Mind Furniture” more widely explores how people “mitigate and embrace chaos” and “organize their life and values” with and without specific orthodoxies.
Gibbons is performing in her piece along with her cast, sophomores Yukiko Chevray and Natalia Lalin and junior Elena Remez.
In addition to the choreography, Gibbons had the opportunity to work with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Resident Composer Vince di Mura to create original music for “Mind Furniture.” Gibbons and di Mura chose to layer excerpts from classical composer Frederic Chopin’s piano pieces on top of electroacoustic undertones. Electroacoustic music uses electronic devices to manipulate the acoustic sounds of musical instruments, the result of which Gibbons describes as sound that transports you to “somewhere that’s just not normal.” Together, Gibbons explains, these two musical layers “capture the tension and beauty” of the chaos of the human mind and its organization through various orthodoxies.
“My Mother,” an original dance piece by Gibbons featured in the 2020 Princeton Dance Festival Reimagined.
While Gibbons is new to musical composition, she is a veteran of dance and choreography, having performed in her original piece, “My Mother,” in the virtual 2020 Princeton Dance Festival Reimagined, in fellow Princeton student Enver Ramadani’s piece “i.me” in 2021, and in “Abstraction” with the Princeton University Ballet. Gibbons describes the whole experience of simultaneously choreographing and composing as a “really fun trial and error,” boiling everything down to two words: collective and joyful.
“Molly has that rare choreographic gift of being able to hold true to the ideas and materials that form the source and impetus for her work, while being able to allow them to evolve and change,” said Susan Marshall, Gibbons’ thesis advisor, the director of the Program in Dance, and a “Bessie” Award winner. “A superb collaborator, Molly solicits and takes in information from her excellent cast, feedback from viewers, and most importantly, from the work itself which gives her more and more direction as it grows under her care. ‘Mind Furniture’ offers a place of questioning, and, like its choreographer, embraces the richness of ambivalence.”
“Molly has that rare choreographic gift of being able to hold true to the ideas and materials that form the source and impetus for her work, while being able to allow them to evolve and change,”
— Susan Marshall, Director of the Program in Dance
Gibbons is one of 10 seniors completing a certificate in the Program in Dance this year in addition to their major areas of study. Dance certificate students concentrate their studies in performance, choreography, dance scholarship, or their own interdisciplinary focus. Senior thesis students in the Program in Dance work closely with a member of the faculty and award-winning guest choreographers.
Gibbons describes dance as “an important escapist ritual and a pleasurable thing…a meditative thing” within her life. Because of this view of the artform, she does not think she will make dance a career after Princeton. She explains, “I have just always felt that if I made it too much, career-wise or identity-wise, that it couldn’t be mine anymore…it wouldn’t be as free.”
Currently a Law and Legal Systems concentrator in Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs, Gibbons hopes to work at a law firm. For now, she divides her time between rehearsals with the Princeton University Ballet, her undergraduate research fellowship at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, and meetings of other on-campus organizations such as BodyHype, Ballet and Books, Trenton Youth Dance, the Performing Arts Council, and the James Madison Society.
“Mind Furniture” will premiere on March 18 as part of Reverence: A Senior Dance Thesis Collaborative Concert at the Hearst Dance Theater at the Lewis Arts complex.