Earl Mosley’s masterpiece returns to Muhlenberg
In September 2021, Frederick Earl Mosley visited Muhlenberg to present his new dance production “Unconquered.” The dance film was Mosley’s response to the events of 2020 following the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others.
Mosley used dance as a way to communicate his thoughts surrounding the protests and the way that people can bring about change through voice and art. Part of Mosley’s thought process surrounding “Unconquered” was the way protest changes between generations. Mosley focused on how protest decades ago is different from protest now. The generational difference is what drew Mosley to Muhlenberg, seeing the students as a new voice to breathe life into “Unconquered” and make their own version of it.
Mosley comes to Muhlenberg as the theatre and dance department’s Baker Artist-In-Residence and has been working with students on “Unconquered” as a semester-long project that was performed on Friday, Mar. 4. The production stayed true to Mosley’s original vision while adding in new elements from the students’ perspectives; such as new dances altogether or reimaginings of pieces from the original.
“I THINK WHAT MADE IT SO UNIQUE WAS HOW UNIQUE WE EACH WERE AS DANCERS, SINGERS, AS CREATORS. WE HAVE SO MANY VAST TALENTS AND I THINK THAT WAS REALLY UNIQUE TO THE EXPERIENCE.”-Arianna Tilley ’22
“Unconquered” is unique in many ways, mainly in reference to the heavy reliance on written and spoken word rather than just music. Like the original, Muhlenberg’s “Unconquered” features dance set to speeches by Rep. John Lewis and George W. Bush as well as the poetry of Maya Angelou. But something new about Muhlenberg’s production is the feature of student-written spoken word pieces performed by AnnaMaria Fernandez ‘24, Sarah Hauk ‘25, Jordan Lavalle ‘25, Florian Hurlbert ‘25 and Arianna Tilley ‘22.
The performance also featured some moments of audience interaction that brought the audience closer to both the performance and the issues being discussed. Cast members stood in the crowd performing their spoken-word pieces as well as an a cappella cover of the song “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone. Cast member and Visiting Professor of Theatre, Dance and Directing Nigel Semaj also directly engaged in a call and response with the audience for some portions. “I like that the people involved were totally immersed, literally and figuratively,” said audience member Maddie Davidson ‘25. “They were audience members, but they were also participants. And we were participants but also audience members, it was a very blurry line, which I appreciated.”
“Mosley is incredible, to say the least,” cast member Steven Belloise ‘25 commented when talking about the production process. “He knows every single step of the choreography and immediately corrects if he sees our footing or focus is off and he knows exactly what the problem is each time, too… he really pushes us to be sharper… it’s not quite anything I’ve ever been a part of.”
When reflecting on the message of the production as a whole, Hurlbert said, “This process has really opened my eyes to the role of the arts in activism. I can see now that my story is just as valuable to hear as anyone else’s, and that it is important to share our stories… I hope some people feel heard/seen, or could relate and gain a sense of community… I hope this spurs them to learn more in whatever way suits them and take some action… There are a lot of ways to help and grow a movement… We are stronger working together, not fighting each other.”
Sidney Caruth ‘23 said, “Watching ‘Unconquered’ was an amazing experience. When I watch shows at Muhlenberg I often think ‘why this piece here?’ This performance moved me in so many different ways. I left the Empie Theater with questions. First I questioned myself, and what I saw, and how that aligned with my identities. Then I thought of the institution, and wondered what next? A piece like this should not go on without question. It was beautiful, and I hope people are still thinking about it.”
“Unconquered” was a piece that blurred the lines between theatre and dance. It incorporated so many different mediums of performance art in order to tell the story of unity and hope in a time where there is little of that going around. Much like with the original film, Mosley hopes that this isn’t the end, because while viewing art that depicts social issues is one thing, to actually make change is the true goal.
“THEY WERE AUDIENCE MEMBERS, BUT THEY WERE ALSO PARTICIPANTS. AND WE WERE PARTICIPANTS BUT ALSO AUDIENCE MEMBERS, IT WAS A VERY BLURRY LINE, WHICH I APPRECIATED.”-Maddie Davidson ’25
Tilley said, “One of the things that I take away from the show was just the energy of the audience. To see people so invested in making change, and wanting to know more was the greatest feelings you could ever have after putting on something like that. I think what made it so unique was how unique we each were as dancers, singers, as creators. We have so many vast talents and I think that was really unique to the experience.”
“I’m glad that we were able to make a show that people felt inspired by. There’s a lot of injustices in the world that everyone needs to wake up to if they haven’t already. There’s a lot of reasons for people to go out and fight, protest or vote if they aren’t already. Despite ‘Unconquered’ being great for awareness, it’s simply step one to making significant change in society… The show reaffirms that despite all the evil in the world, there’s so much worth protecting,” said Belloise.
Originally published at The Muhlenberg Weekly – https://muhlenbergweekly.com/arts-culture/unconquered-2/