When first thinking about the purpose of the new piece I was going to choreograph for San Antonio Metropolitan Ballet (SA Met Ballet), I was stumped. It wasn’t until I saw my aunt, who is diagnosed with Schizophrenia, react to her father’s death in a way that was troubling for me to witness that I had the idea to choreograph a dance about mental illness. I started to have in-depth talks with my mom about my aunt’s diagnosis, and I learned that she was heavily resistant to treatment because of the stigma surrounding Schizophrenia. I started to research about the fundamental features of Schizophrenia and personal accounts of people affected by this illness. I wanted to understand the basis of my aunt’s illness so I could focus on the connection between it and the emotions she portrayed. This is what I heavily relied on while I began choreographing because I wanted my piece to show the emotional struggles people have with mental illness. In particular, I wanted to showcase the hardship someone living with mental illness goes through when deciphering if they should seek help or remain in their mentally ill state of mind.
When it was time to select my piece’s cast, I was far from stumped. For the main soloist, the dancer who portrays my aunt, I chose Belleza Mitchell, a current senior company member of SA Met Ballet. I was inspired to work with her because of the emotional connection she had with my piece’s purpose. Belleza’s uncle, diagnosed with Schizophrenia, had recently passed. I saw the struggle she was going through and hoped, as her friend, that this would help her express the emotions she was feeling. After I finished choreographing my piece she told me, “This really helped me see through my uncles eyes.” I also believed Belleza’s personal connection with my piece would help her express my aunt’s emotions more sincerely through my choreography.
My dance company is a member of Regional Dance America (RDA), a national association of pre-professional dance companies. Each year, we attend an RDA festival with master classes and performances. For this festival, student choreographers have an opportunity to show their work to a judge for festival consideration. On the night of our RDA adjudication, my piece was to be performed in front of its first audience. When my piece started, I began to feel an emotional impact. As it ended, I looked around and saw the same reaction on many of the audience members’ faces. I had put all the pieces in their respectful places to finally see through my aunt’s eyes.
*Miss. Casillas’ piece, “Split Minded”, was chosen for the RDA Emerging Choreographers Concert and was performed in Richardson, TX on Thursday, March 15, 2018. Based on this piece, Miss. Casillas has earned a partial scholarship to the Glenda Brown Choreography Project to further her craft. This piece will premier in San Antonio at SA Met Ballet’s 30th Annual Dance Kaleidoscope on Saturday, May 19th. Miss. Casillas is seventeen years old.