MFA Dance Thesis Concert Revisits Historical Tragedy

Posted on Thursday, March 29th, 2012 by admin under Uncategorized. Tags: , , ,

Denise J. Murphy’s MFA thesis dance concert stems from a single historical moment: the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City.  Throughout the process of choreographing, rehearsing, and performing the piece, she found that this one event had tremendous potential to raise consciousness about historical injustices and draw attention to the lived experiences of the victims of the fire.

As an undergraduate at NYU, Murphy learned about the fire and the unsafe working conditions that made it such a tragedy.  The factory had narrow staircases, the company never ran fire drills, the building was equipped with faulty fire escapes, and the doors were locked to prevent workers from leaving early or stealing scraps of fabric.  As a result, most of them were trapped in the burning building and were forced to jump out of the windows.  One-hundred forty-six people died, mostly immigrant women workers.

The first performances of the piece got a strong reaction from the audience as well as from the dancers, so Murphy decided she wanted to continue to work with this subject for her thesis project.  As she has developed the piece, she has used an empathetic research process that focuses on the body as a site for research.  She visited graves of the victims and worked with images from the fire in order to develop choreography that evokes factory work and the experience of the fire.  “We want to share the story through movement,” she says.  “It’s about making people experience on a kinesthetic level that it’s relevant to their lives and not just a piece of history.”

Murphy is collaborating with Elizabeth Kowalski, a master’s student in music, to create original music for the piece.  Kowalski wrote music for the original performance and is working on another piece for the thesis performance.

Murphy’s piece will be performed March 30 and 31 at 8 pm in the UNCG Dance Theater.  Tickets can be purchased at