Choreographing Connection: An Interview with Sarah Ebert and Shannon Mockli on their dance duet “sub(terrain)”

by Kendall Smith


This past winter in the midst of midterms, I witnessed something new in the familiar studios of Gerlinger Annex, home to the Dance Department and many students like myself who balance academic classes with movement courses. Two of my mentors debuted a work that mirrored my own ‘root system’ of interest, merging literary and artistic sensibilities to create a uniquely moving experience.

“Kimmerer put into words something we already experienced together,” explains Sarah Ebert, a Dance Department faculty member and recent performer in the duet “sub(terrain),” a work created with themes of the UO common reading for 2022, Braiding Sweetgrass, in mind. With Shannon Mockli, another dance faculty member, choreographer, and artist, the inspiration for the piece was at first born from a desire to grasp their interpersonal relationship. Says Ebert: “Trying to explore and capture what the connection is, and how we tap into it while moving.”

The two dancers remarked that concepts arising from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s explorative book on the intersection of knowledge and nature fit perfectly with this said connection, bringing together the strands of reciprocity, communication, and movement. Experiencing daily the pleasure of this connection makes the dance community an invaluable part of our university life and transcends the boundaries of each discipline.

These intersections of written and moved art point to the intertwined nature of the humanities and how, “We, as dancers, filter what we are experiencing elsewhere and it comes out through movement – there is a feedback loop between all beings that [Kimmerer] describes,” says Ebert.

As an English and Dance double major myself, seeing how these two disciplines fuel continued creation is especially motivating, as often the dilemma of double majoring is viewed as a conflict of interest rather than mutable knowledge. For me, the combination of technical and creative, or process and performance, creates a left-brain right-brain harmony that satisfies my professional and personal aspirations, further representing my whole self.

Shannon Mockli describes her own movement journey being supported by Braiding Sweetgrass by realizing that, “what Robin talks about is how different concepts of knowledge are overlooked, and the body is definitely one of those things – embodiment offers a way of knowing that is extremely valuable.” Much like the complex ecosystems and natural growth forests Kimmerer describes, “(sub)terrain” is a work in progress that evolves with each rehearsal and performance, with plans to arrive at a larger and possibly outdoor space in the future. To learn more about the Dance Department and upcoming performances, visit their website  and access more information about Braiding Sweetgrass here.