Olivia Lowe


Epoch is a dance film that was developed in close collaboration with Kayla Samuel (MHC ‘23). Through centering process over product, Kayla and I engaged in thoughtful conversations on identity, authenticity, truly working together, discarding hierarchy, letting go of perfection, and practicing what it means to be present. We filmed the whole of Kayla’s outdoor dancing over the course of one blustery day in January on Munsee Lenape Land (NYC). It was important to me that my work captured Kayla as her fullest, authentic self. It had to acknowledge the layers of Kayla that fit together, just as puzzle pieces would, to make her whole. This wish fueled our sessions in gathering content for the film.

Epoch’s movement material is derived from loosely structured improvisation scores that granted Kayla the agency to experiment with physically synthesizing many of our conversations into dance. I would like to express deep appreciation to Kayla for her vulnerability, creativity, willingness to reach beyond her comfort zone, and unwavering dedication to pouring her entire self into shaping the soul of this project. By no means can I capture all of the listening, ruminating, archiving, processing, learning, sampling, sharing, challenges, and joy that found their way into realizing Epoch. With that said, I honor my experience with Kayla by holding it with profound gratitude and sanctity. I can feel that this is just the beginning…

Gif shows Kayla, a Black woman with curly black hair, dancing outside on wooden slat steps. Kayla wears a light blue tracksuit with "PINK" written down the leg and across the chest, a black mask, black sneakers, and black gloves. Behind her is a rust-colored wall, barren trees, blue sky, and two NYC skyscrapers.
Kayla Samuel

“I’m very honored to be a part of Olivia’s senior capstone piece! During the creative process I was not only able to enjoy working with her but I was able to come out of my comfort zone and grow as a dancer. Dancing outside was very nerve-racking because all eyes were on me and I normally get in my head a lot when I dance. I felt like this was a really good challenge and an amazing growing experience. Being able to improv gave me confidence and allowed me to accept imperfections and vulnerability. Thank you Olivia for allowing me to represent your vision…!”

—Kayla Samuel
Photo shows Olivia, a Black woman with curly brown hair, posing mid slide in a dance studio space with a wooden floor and white wall. She thoughtfully gazes towards the ceiling with her back arched. Her lower legs are bent at near ninety degree angles with her feet pointing upward as her right palm presses into the floor for support and her left arm reaches across her lower back, palm facing open. Olivia wears a gray long sleeve shirt and navy blue athletic pants.

Olivia Lowe (she/her) is a dance artist and choreographer based on Munsee Lenape Land (Montclair, NJ). She began her formal dance training in Horton Technique on a full merit scholarship with Sharron Miller’s Academy for the Performing Arts. Under the tutelage of Sharron Miller, Adrienne Armstrong, and Heather Robles Olivia joined Sharron’s pre-professional company during her teenage years. Olivia has studied at intensives with Earl Mosley’s Institute of the Arts and Paul Taylor American Modern where she performed in Contemporary Dance at Bryant Park and presented repertoire by Paul Taylor, Earl Mosley, Chalvar Monteiro, and Jesse Obremski. In The Pioneer Valley she has been featured in works by Camille A. Brown, Danté Brown, Barbie Diewald, and Uri Sands, and is excited to reimagine Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s Continuous Replay with Jenna Riegel this year. Beyond dance performance, Olivia lifts student voices as the Five College Dance Student Worker and Secretary of the Society of Physics Students. Olivia will graduate from Mount Holyoke College in May with a BA in Physics and Dance.

Olivia’s Artist Statement

I am a dance artist, choreographer, equestrian, and physicist invested in making dances that honor the whole Self. For me, dance is about an internal feeling before the presentation of it. With this in mind, the nature of my research is intimate. I build close community with my collaborators which challenges choreography’s innate hierarchical engine. Together we source information from within ourselves through generating material with the knowledge that we already have and histories that our bones already hold. Driven by inquisitiveness, my creative process sparks an aura of curiosity about dancers’ multifaceted identities and enriches the relationship between their spirits and bodies. My work is infused with elements of improvisation, jazz, (post)modern dance, ballet, high energy, and design.

Picture shows Kayla, a Black woman with black box braids flooding down to her waist, facing the camera next to a tree with her right hand resting on its trunk. She wears a white t-shirt, blue jean shorts with gold buttons up the front, white Nike air forces, black ankle socks, and a skinny beaded headband across her forehead. Behind her is greenery in the form of standing and fallen trees, as well as a glimpse of caution tape strewn across the ground.

Kayla Samuel (she/her), born and raised in Harlem NYC, started dancing at the age of five. Throughout her teenage years, she trained with Harlem School of the Arts and The Ailey School. Kayla was also heavily involved in her high school dance team and performed with an additional dance crew outside of school. She is currently a sophomore and is so excited to continue her dance journey at Mount Holyoke College and, most importantly, continue strengthening who she is as an individual in such a supportive and enlightening community that she is now proud to call Mohome.

Portrait of an Artist at Work: Olivia Lowe

Written by Aggie Johnson, October 2020

When I spoke to Olivia over a WhatsApp video call right after Senior Seminar, we were both openly exhausted and worn thin by the weeks and months we had gone through. Still, she retained the enthusiasm and upbeat conversation that I would have expected from her under better, easier circumstances. Since we have known each other for several years, it’s always exciting to get to spend time with her, and doubly so to get to learn about her process. We discussed many things over that call, including how we are each coping in quarantine, and what is guiding our thinking both in our personal and academic lives. Previous to the call, I had revisited one of Olivia’s earlier works- “Edition One,” performed at the Mount Holyoke Student Concert in 2019. It was really refreshing to sit with not just that piece, but the energy and memories surrounding that concert for both of us. Over the course of our conversation, I noticed several threads emerging in Olivia’s thoughts. In her thoughts and words I see a strong and unwavering sense of self, of physical presence, and belief in the power of the individual. 

In our discussion, Olivia mentioned that she was taking a lot of inspiration in the words and writings of Sonya Renee Taylor, an activist and poet who explores and promotes the idea that the acceptance and love of the self is in itself a radical political action. In her Tedx Talk titled ‘Being Bodies of Resistance,’ Taylor explains how she considers the act of self love, and the acceptance of the physical body on an individual level to be, inherently, an act of resistance against a system that would just as soon have the opposite. She relays, via a poem recitation, a story of a family who was saved from drowning in a riptide by a string of dozens of complete strangers, who in a collective moment of community and selflessness, worked together. The core of Taylor’s talk is that the individual human spirit and capacity of empathy transcends the restricting barriers that societies and systems build around us. To deny those constructed barriers and relate to each other as purely souls inhabiting bodies is a consummate rejection of the behaviors enforced in us since birth. Therefore, to choose love, to choose other human beings, and to choose to care for yourself is an act of rebellion. In our conversation, Olivia mentioned that she was taking a lot of direction from Taylor’s belief that we must ‘build homes in people,’ rather than in places or institutions. I found this to be incredibly resonant when taken in the context of even just the way we were forced to hold our conversation. We cannot physically share space or experience anymore, and are forced to try and connect solely on the measure of our own relationship and the joy that we can bring each other. We build our homes in each other, and in a way, for each other. 

This line of thinking led me to reflecting on Olivia’s piece for the Student Concert in 2019. The choreography of that piece fell into and out of unison almost like breathing; The dancers leaned into and out of each other and at times moved across the stage like a single being. While there were elements of the environment that they interacted with- the chair, multiple times, and the cyc, when they became silhouetted- their primary relationships were to each other and to the movement itself. As they were coming in and out of unison, moving as a group and then splintering and reforming, and returning to visual motifs, they were making a home within the dance- a home with each other. While I didn’t observe the rehearsal process for this piece, I know that thanks to the methodical and detail oriented approach Olivia takes to her work, this synchronicity of ideas was not accidental. I believe that in this piece Olivia primarily works based on relationships and feeling, aided of course by her considerable experience and training in the Paul Taylor school of dance. On a technical level, the choreography is sharp and deliberate; The shapes are carefully thought out and coordinated, and the dancers are obviously extremely well rehearsed. I can see so much of Olivia in them during this performance, but also so much of themselves, and so much of each other. Everything feels interwoven and harmonious; Departures from the unison don’t feel jarring- they feel natural and purposeful, like an exhalation. 

I think it’s clear that I struggled quite a bit with this module and I expect to continue struggling in the future. It’s been well over a month since me and Olivia had our conversation, but I still remember so much of it with clarity. The ideas and topics we discussed, particularly Sonya Renee Taylor’s words of wisdom, have been centralized for me the last few weeks. I hope moving forward I can continue to reflect on them and further understand the small acts of resistance I and others around me can engage in day to day. Olivia is a magnetic personality, a conscientious and experienced creator, and a dedicated peer and colleague. From what I have observed of her practice and her personality, she always develops and refines her ideas down to the most specific detail, which is difficult to do without losing track of the bigger picture. I think Olivia has a strong ability to see both the forest and the trees at once- or at least appear to do so. As I have found myself bogged down in details and anxieties these past months, I find myself looking to her often as a poised touchstone. Since she is my friend and I am used to having her in my life and involved in my practice through classes and rehearsals, I suppose I have built part of my home with her. What it means to be present has shifted a lot over the course of this year, but I think Olivia has always been adept at occupying whatever the current definition becomes. To quote part of her soundscore for Edition One, she shows all the way up. I remain, as ever, so honored and excited to continue working with her and seeing the trajectory of her creative practice and career. 


Thank you to those who supported me from behind the scenes in cultivating Epoch! To Professor Barbie Diewald, Professor Shakia Barron, Peter Jones, Izzy Kalodner, Abby Chellis, Rin Elwell, Aggie Johnson, Anna Hendricks, and Hannah Nagy, Clare Schweitzer, and Merli V. Guerra, I so deeply appreciate the ways in which you have shown up for me over the course of this process with support, constructive feedback, and love.

“To differentiate is to judge. To see, to experience, and to honor is to participate in life instead of standing back and judging it.”

—Michael A. Singer in The Untethered Soul

Gif and photos in order of appearance by Olivia Lowe, Peter Raper, and Courtnye Allen.