Michael Roberts, studying for his master’s in dance composition and performance, presented his thesis on Friday in the Conwell Dance Theatre.
Michael Roberts has a lot of questions about heartbreak.
“I was interested in looking at how it feels when the heart breaks when a lover leaves you, and how the heart breaks when, say, a family member passes,” Roberts said. “Is that pain the same pain? Is it the same feeling? Do you go through the same stages of loss and remorse and regret and everything?”
Roberts explored this topic through his asters of fine arts thesis concert, “Chronicles of a Love Junkie,” which debuted last Friday at Conwell Dance Theatre.
Roberts received his bachelor’s of fine arts from Temple in 2003, and after a five-year break, he decided to pursue his MFA in dance composition and performance. Roberts has held positions as a general education professor, compositional instructor and coordinator of auditions and recruitment for the dance program at Temple.
Roberts said he began his research for “Chronicles of a Love Junkie” more than three years ago and began to choose his dancers for his cast of 13 in March. Rehearsals began in May and continued for five days a week during the summer. In July, Roberts found a composer for his piece.
“I actually met my composer on YouTube,” Roberts said.
Based out of London, Tristan Irvine–also known as “Fragments of Winter,” composed original music specific for Roberts’ work.
Although having worked together for months, Roberts said the two have yet to meet face-to-face. Instead, they communicated entirely through email and Skype.
In his piece, Roberts said he strived to convey the pathways one takes when the heart breaks. Through movement, instrumental music and spoken word, Roberts told the story of an individual’s experience with heartbreak and how he maintains hope for future love.
“What do you do when your heart breaks?” Roberts said. “Who do you call, what song do you put on? Do you do something completely out of the ordinary? Do you run screaming through the rain? Do you drive to the ocean just to see it? I find that people make really impulsive decisions when the heart breaks–some good, and some bad. I find that those decisions lead us down pathways that then change us in a way so that when we find love again, we approach it differently.”
Robert’s choice of a relatable topic was engaging for the audience, alumna Melanie Stewart said. Stewart has a personal relationship with Roberts, having mentored him in the past.
“It’s always good to speak about love,” Stewart said. “We can never exhaust that topic. It’s one of life’s great enigmas.”
Danny Smith, a junior film major, said he also enjoyed the subject matter. Having been to three shows at Conwell Dance Theatre, he said that “Chronicles of a Love Junkie” is his favorite.
“It seemed like this one had more feel,” Smith said. “It had heart.”
Some audience members said they could feel and relate to the piece’s genuine emotion, courtesy of Roberts’ ability to lend personal experience to his work.
“It is definitely a semi-autobiographical work,” Roberts said. “I, like, most people, fell in love at a young age. I fell in love for the first time when I was 16, my heart was broken for the first time when I was 17 [or] 18. And then I fell in love again in college, as an undergrad, again, as some people do, and my heart was broken again in my mid-20s, and again, a family member passed very suddenly and my heart broke again. And again, it was the same pain.”
Dance proved to be therapeutic for Roberts during these difficult times.
“I believe in choreography as an act of release–emotional release,” Roberts said. “As a dancer, and as a choreographer, movement and making work is kind of my therapy.”
Roberts, having served in several positions in Temple’s dance department, spoke highly of the program.
“Temple as a dance community is special because of its history and its drives to turn out individual creative artists,” Roberts said. “What I love about Temple dance is that, when you come in, you come in one way and you go out a completely other way. You transform. You become you.”
“On [Main Campus], many people do not know we’re here, and it’s the truth. We’re a small little collective,” Roberts added. “We are trying to change that of course, and we want people to come out to our shows. And that community based feeling is very welcoming to an artist.”
Roberts, a participant of both communities, spoke of the Philadelphia dance community with praise as well.
“What I like about it is it’s not competitive. Everyone’s interested in what everyone else is doing,” Roberts said. “There’s a lot of love. The Temple dance community is reflective of the Philadelphia dance community.”
Roberts urges students to explore the dance community on Main Campus.
“There is this amazing dance world on [Main Campus], you just have to go look for it,” Roberts said.
Even without much knowledge of dance, almost can find relatability in “Chronicles of a Love Junkie.”
“We want you as an audience member to laugh, to cry, to feel like you went somewhere,” Roberts said. “I believe it is taking what is personal to me and finding the universal thread within. If I can have you watch my story and see your story in it, that’s the goal.”
“I probably am a love junkie,” Roberts said. “What that means is that love is the driving factor in my life.”
Jenelle Janci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.