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Published March 05, 2019
The experience of losing a loved one to terminal illness is not foreign to many. Neither does it have any shortage of representation in film and books. But “What Remains,” a new concert dance by Assistant Professor of Dance André Megerdichian and Assistant Professor of Music Andrew Wheelock, tells a different kind of story about a family’s journey through a battle with terminal cancer.
“What Remains” is one of three pieces created by University of Wyoming faculty members that will be performed as part of the “Spring to Dance” concert at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 7, through Saturday, March 9, at the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts main stage. Tickets cost $14 for the public, $11 for senior citizens and $7 for students. Tickets are available at the Performing Arts box office and the Wyoming Union information desk, by calling (307) 766-6666 or going online at www.uwyo.edu/finearts.
Though “What Remains” is based strongly on Wheelock’s personal experience, the overarching story holds special meaning for Megerdichian as well. Both new faculty members, Wheelock and Megerdichian knew they wanted to collaborate on some sort of project when they met, but the concept for “What Remains” came to them later. When Wheelock shared the story of his mother’s battle with breast cancer and his family’s journey through that struggle, Megerdichian was moved because of his own similar experience.
“When I heard Andy’s story, I thought he needed to tell this story and, since I’ve walked this road, maybe I can be helpful,” Megerdichian says. “But also, his message of what he wanted to share -- I thought, ‘I’d like to tell that story.’”
“What Remains” is dedicated to those who have been lost to illness, as well as the people who have been left behind, but Wheelock did not want to talk about how dark or horrific such a situation can be. Instead, he wanted to show how incredible his mother was, despite the suffering, and illuminate the legacy and impact she left with her family.
“I don’t know how she did it, but the way that she lived and the way that she instilled her generosity of spirit to us, and the way it has still remained, are remarkable,” Wheelock says. “I wanted to communicate what she left behind and how it affected all of us permanently and now what’s left from that.”
The piece includes original choreography by Megerdichian set to an original score by Wheelock, but the collaborative process went beyond Wheelock simply writing the music and Megerdichian following with choreography. As Wheelock wrote the score, Megerdichian listened and offered feedback from a dancer’s view, and Wheelock has, in turn, watched the choreography grow and develop since the dancers brought the piece into the studio.
Not only does “What Remains” call for live performance of the score, but it also boasts a living, breathing “set” that was designed by UW Assistant Professor Scott Tedmon-Jones. The set is made up of the musicians actually on the stage with their instruments on platforms that are moved around by the dancers, creating moments in space and time through which the story unfolds.
“Oftentimes when you put live music and dance together, the musicians and dancers remain as separate bodies, and we felt like it was very important in this that it be one unified storytelling body,” Megerdichian says.
The journey of creating “What Remains” has been a therapeutic and healing process for both Megerdichian and Wheelock, and they hope to instill some sense of that for their audience members as well.
“I am excited to share this and to see what people walk away with,” Megerdichian says.
“I want the audience to get whatever they need -- some sort of healing or moving through whatever process,” Wheelock adds. “It doesn’t have to be anything near what I experienced writing it or what inspired me to do it, but I want them to get what they need.”