A Family of Men, Dancing

Since we just celebrated Thanksgiving I've been thinking alittle bit about what I'm thankful for and a conversation got me thinking about my family. A friend was commenting on how a young, male relative had just started taking dance class and his father and grandfather were not supportive of this choice. I started dancing when I was 9 years old and have continued to dance continously since then without ever once feeling pressure from any of my family to stop. In fact, my family has been amazingly supportive of my choice to dance. But, and this I only recently realized, I come from a family of men who dance.

In the 1970s my father and mother competed in ballroom dancing and into the 80s they continued to teach it - they still like to go out dancing occasionally. My father is retired now, but has found a second career as a fitness/aerobic instructor and greatly enjoys the more 'dancey' versions of aerobics. My father's father and mother, once he retired, became avid square dancers - sometimes going to 4-5 dances a week. So, the fact that I danced never seemed odd to anyone in my family. It's true the kind of dancing I did growing up (jazz, tap, ballet, breakin') was different from the social dancing they did. And certainly the kind of dancing I do now (modern, post-modern, contact improvisation) is very different. But, in my family, there has always been an appreciation of the body moving, of dancing. I am so grateful to come from a family of men who dance - it is quite amazing.


When your third thought is your first thought.

Today we started in earnest with the company's next project - tentatively titled Time & Space - in which we explore a number of inner focused dance/movement modalities. We will be primarily exploring Awareness Through Movement, Authentic Movement, Contact Improvisation and Contemplative Dance Practice, along with some dance improv structures that are contemplative or focused around mindfulness. We're certainly not sure what the outcome of this exploration will be or how we will eventually frame this work for performance, but that is the goal. As part of this process we are asking ourselves (as a company), "what is a performance?", "what are the elements that are essential for a performance?", "what does it mean to perform?"

In rehearsal today we discussed the saying "First Thought, Best Thought" that often surfaces in improvisational contexts. Recently I was re-reading Dharma Art by Chogyam Trungpa in which he writes "First thought, best thought is not necessarily a chronological event". This follows my recent thoughts that first thought is actually most often, for most of us, our habitual thought. Only after reaching some state of clarity, emptiness, maybe even enlightenment does first thought become best thought. For most of us first thought is just the routine or predictable. So, how do we get to that best thought (for right now best might mean unexpected or new or unique)? My colleague Sharon Mansur talks about letting the first thought or impulse pass and go with the second thought or the third thought. I think this approach is one way to begin to discover best thoughts - certainly not the only way, but one way. We are also using sitting meditation to, if you will, prime the pump and see if a period of precise focusing helps clear out some space before we begin to move. We'll see...


All Those Ocean Dancers

I've been wanting to thank these people for a while, but its taken some time to gather all the names - this is a list of all the dancers and musicians that have performed as part of My ocean is never blue over the last three years. These include people that were part of the core company - The PlayGround, those that performed as part of the Big Group, dancers from James Madison University and members of the collaborative companies from our last performance. Over the three years over 70 people have performed My ocean is never blue with myself and Ilana being the only performers who were in all of the 20+ performances. I am deeply grateful to each and every performer who contributed their time, energy and talents to this project. Thanks!

Core Company

Stefanie Quinones Bass, April Betty, Brian Buck, Daniel Burkholder, Kathryn Harris, Darcie Luce, Lotta Lundgren, Christine Stone Martin, Ilana Silverstein, Ginger Wagg, and Lori Yuil

The Big Group/JMU Dancers

Amanda Abrams, Meghan Ballog, Caroline Barna, Alexandra Bassett, Katelyn Bell, Kelly Bond, Lauren Borchard, Marisha Bourgeois, Andrea Burkholder, Erica Collier, Chareka Daniel, Dora Duvisac, Suzanne McCahill Perrine, Katy McCormack, Suazanne Miller-Corso, Carrie Monger, Heidi Schimpf, Jen Stimmel, Melissa Swaringen, Sarah Tobey, Sofia Vallila, Chynna Wendell, Amelia Beard, Beth Cooper, Leah Curran, Heather Glasgow Doyle, Elizabeth Sellen, Raven Ferguson, Pirjo Garby, Vaun Goodman, Kathy Lapinski, Ben Levine, Jessica Marchant, Brittani McDuffie-West, Elizabeth Rolando, Ana Romero, Roxann Morgan Rowley, Kathryn Sparks, Jennifer Theodore, Boris Willis and Leslie Zucker

Guest Companies

Arachne Aerial Arts: Andrea Burkholder & Sharon Witting

Coyaba Dance Theater: Vaunita Goodman, Marcia Howard, and Sylvia Soumah

Devi Dance Theater: Anila Kumari, Neelima Charya, Neelima Shah, Khilton Nongmaithan, Anya Grenier, Oralee Skeath


Jonathan Matis

Sam Turner

Kenyon Piano Quartet: Grace Hong, Judie Lieu, Chase Maggiano and Jeremy Rissi



The week after a large production is always an interesting time. When I was younger I would certainly have alittle post-performance depression because after a week of intensity there was nothing to do (or it seemed that way). Now, since I have ongoing projects that overlap, there is not that same feeling, but it still is a shift in attention. I think right now it is an especially big shift since this last weekend was the end of "My ocean is never blue" - the only thing I've been working on for 3 years. I have some new projects coming up, but after such a monumental project there is a feeling of, I guess, melancholy. Just a touch of sadness that the project is over - I've lived it with it for so long and now I don't have to think about it anymore - I don't have to think about creating new sections, or rearranging the structure, or props, rehearsals or musicians. It is also a relief, of course. The only thing I have to do now is to reflect on whether the project was a success or not - or what was successful, what was not, what part of the process worked, what could have been clearer, stronger. This post-project process of reflection takes a while - we'll see what it brings...


Beginning of the End

Tonight we had our first performance of what will be the last version of My ocean is never blue. My company has worked exclusively on this for 3 years and after many variations, in many venues we are going to let it rest. It has been a fascinating journey exploring water from multiple perspectives ranging from water's molecular structure to the scarcity of water, the Japanese Tea Ceremony and our Hurricane solos. We've performed it as a loosely structured 20 minute improv to a highly structured 55 minute work with a cast ranging from 5 dancers to 28 dancers in formal theatrical venues, studio performances and outdoor site-specific locations. And now, as I think back over the versions we've created and certainly the many people that have performed the work I am feeling melancholy about it ending. Usually you stop performing a work because you are ready for another challenge, to explore new material or find a new inspiration. This work - My ocean is never blue - has continually been a new thing to work on. Whether we are creating new sections, changing or deleting others, rearranging the structure, putting it in a new venue or adding new performers, it has always been shifting, transforming, and evolving. Even though we're performing the last version, it is not the final version nor the version - it is simply a version. One of my goals with My ocean is never blue was to never create an authoritative version of the work - and we haven't. Tomorrow night will be the last chance to see My ocean is never blue in any form and it will be the last time we will perform it. That thought both makes me smile and tear up some.


The coming avalanche

Today was our last rehearsal in the studio - yea! yikes! Monday morning Arachne Aerial Arts and I meet at 11am to rig their fabric for tomorrow night's first rehearsal in the theater. Today we ran through the piece from beginning to end without stopping and it went amazingly well - everyone mostly (mostly) knew what they were doing and doing it at the right time. We're still working on certain transitions (if I'm allowed to use that word) as well as clarifying intent in certain sections - but overall I think were getting there and right on track.

I've mentioned this before, but again, I find the hardest thing is the translation of language between the companies - I mean, we all speak english, but the language of intent, meaning & image is very different in post-modern dance, West African dance, Classical Indian dance and even aerial dance - in addition to the musicians. Each form - really everything - has its own short hand words and phrases for things that we don't often acknowledge or recognize on a day to day basis. So, when working with other forms all these short hands need to opened up and examined. One example is using just plain walking in the work - in post-modern work this is not uncommon and understood (at least by the performers) to have evolved out of a history of using common place movements in performance works. But when artists who don't know that history nor is it apart of their history then walking becomes something that you have to explain in some way or another. This process has been great for me as there are now many things that are apart of My ocean is never blue that would never have been apart of the work if it was just left up to me, or even my company. I look forward to performing all this work together on stage, with lights and an audience.


Subtracting, Leaving Out, A Fond Farewell

What makes a dance that dance? I mean, what makes it it and not something else? Yes, I know - a dance is a work of art that explores a subject using a specific set of movement phrases or structures to specific music with specific costumes, or not. But, what I mean is - how much can you remove and a dance still be that dance? We are finalizing the structure for our upcoming Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center show and I am wrestling with including our Falling Section or not. This section was inspired by Rachel Carson's The Edge of the Sea - an interesting, if overly detailed, look at the tidal zone of the Eastern Seaboard. It is a physical section with a strong athleticism to it - not so 'dancey'. But, for our upcoming show it doesn't fit in with the more etherial material of the other sections. I feel conflicted leaving it out since it has been central to the work since its beginning. The other sections that have been in each performance include H2O Trio, Christine's Solo w/ Bulking, Hurricane Solos, and some version of Drench. Additionally there are statistics about water always used as part of the sound score. Now, for this last performance, we aren't using the statistics nor the Hurricane Solos, and (I guess) the Falling Section. It would be interesting to see how much I could remove before My ocean is never blue stops being itself.


Music, Glorious Music

Up to this point we have not have had much music in our rehearsals because most of the music for this newest version of My ocean is never blue is being played live or is being recorded specifically for this performance. But in our last rehearsal (Sunday) we had almost all the music - with the exception of alittle that still needs to be recorded. And, predictably, it was amazing. I mean, we had to slosh through a lot of nitty-gritty details of when people play and how transitions will work, but to have 3 afro-cuban percussionists, a classical piano/string quartet and a post-modern guitarist all playing live is pretty great. I think one thing that worried some was how all these styles of music (and dance) would work bumped up against one another and I myself had moments of being worried too - but, after today it clearly is not going to be a problem - it just works. There is something pleasing starting the piece with a recording of Indian music that's meditative and have Jonathan's guitar slide in over that as we transition into the next section. And, there is something pleasing to hear the classical music follow some repetitive pattern on the guitar. The similarities and differences between the Afro-Cuban percussion and Indian percussion is wonderful to hear - at one point the Indian music began and you could see Sam (a Afro-Cuban percussionist) just smilling as he was listening. As I said after last week's rehearsal about the dancers, I think today was important to get the musicians understanding how the piece was working and that each group is not seperate, but we are overlapping, supporting and juxtaposing each other. It certainly was a dense rehearsal, but really a good one.


A Big Rehearsal

Today's rehearsal felt like a big deal - like today could make or break this project with these four companies. We started to put our different sections together in bigger "chunks" and, honestly, I wasn't sure it was going to work. I was worried because I wasn't sure how we would connect the different material, and secondly I wasn't sure dancers of the other companies were buying into this project. I am asking people to step out of their comfort zone in a number of ways and have felt some resistance to the process. But the other company directors and I had a good meeting this week and I think they talked with their dancers to get everyone focused - and I think it worked. I kind of took charge of today and we put together about 40 minutes of material - that was good. Some sections are individual companies, some a mix of companies and the transitions between sections. I am trying to make transitions fairly straight forward, simple and not a big deal. In college (undergraduate) my teacher and mentor, Viola Farber would say that "there are no such things as transitions", which I love - either it is something or not. So, I'm trying to make keep transitions moving - not making them a big deal. After the rehearsal a number of dancers from the other companies expressed how impressed they were with how material was weaving together, which made me happy - mainly because that means they will be more engaged as they become more interested. It was a good day - though exhausting. Of course, next Sunday we have the all the musicians coming and they have to start getting along...


JMU Post-Post

Despite my desire to report on our week at James Madison University I only spent time on the essentials - rehearsing, planning, teaching, some sleeping and too much driving. In one week student and community dancers learned and performed "My ocean is never blue" with the company, and I created a 15-minute work for the Virginia Repertory Dance Company. Aot of time, organization and creative umph was needed to get through the week. The dancers in "ocean" did a great job with the material - which ranged from simple walking structures to improv scores and athletic choreographed phrases. We spent time talking about the content of the work, each section's origin, how its evolved and fitting the pieces into the whole. It has taken us - the company – time to develop and clarify all this and getting new dancers on the same page was a challenge. But, as I said, they did great and both our performances were really wonderful. I, and the whole company, felt that they were some of the most satisfying performances of the work.

The work I created for the Rep Company was an outgrowth of the works I created this summer. I combined this previous material with new material, created a new sound score and came up with a dance for 9 dancers. This work is an exploration of 'home' and 'leaving home' and are the first bits of a larger project that explores human migration and immigration. As I started researching this larger project I wanted to clarify this idea of home for myself – both as a place we leave and as a place we create or arrive. Right now the work is pretty abstract, but as the project evolves I plan on bringing more concreteness to these topics/issues. I, again, was really satisfied with the students attention, creativity, commitment and dancing.


Teaching Not Creating

I spent the afternoon working with students at James Madison University today. I first taught an improv class to 35+ dancers and then started rehearsing the Big Group cast for My ocean is never blue - which will combine The PlayGround with the student dancers. It went really well and I'm the good dancing-for-6-hours kind of sour.

It is so interesting setting My ocean is never blue on yet another group of dancers. When we were originally creating the work it was a real process of trying, changing, developing, dropping, editing, discussing and figuring it all out. Now, that same section that took many hours and rehearsals to develop takes almost no time to "teach". I'm struck by the difference between creating a work and teaching it. I try and guide the new dancers through a process to experience some of the same development that the original dancers did, but it is not the same - I am artificially leading them through the steps instead of us discovering the steps through the process together. This has to effect their experience, understanding and maybe even their dancing.

Tomorrow I have rehearsal with the dancers from 10am until 5pm so we will be going over everything again, add in some new stuff and start putting it in an order. The PlayGround's core company comes on Sunday so we can put it all together.


Kimani Fowlin's "Womantra"

A Journey for Performers and Audience

by Daniel Burkholder

Choreographer Kimani Fowlin slowly rocks in a fetal position within a red sand circle at The INOVA Arts Center at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Audience members move to the edges of the room. A couple enters the red circle as they bend down to gently place one of the rocks each audience member was given into Fowlin's hand. With this act the couple crosses the line between performer and audience, and is an apt metaphor for the performance.

“Womantra” continues as Fowlin rolls, crawls, walks and finally propels herself outside the safety of the circle into the presence of artist/performer Teri Wagner. Confronted with this possible mother figure or goddess, Fowlin sacrifices herself as she is manipulated, tied up and led away with the audience following.

Wagner washes Fowlin's feet in a large ceramic bowl in the middle of the second gallery. Fowlin, for the first time, acknowledges the audience as she playfully splashes them with water and the work, quite suddenly, shifts from a private act to a public one.

In the third gallery Fowlin enters a trance-like dance as she follows a snake-like path of flower petals. Fowlin appears lost in increasingly intense rhythmic, African-derived movement, but breaks out to make momentary contact with audience members. Fowlin, exhausted, falls into an embrace with Wagner.

In the final gallery Fowlin and Wagner thoughtfully walk, use simple gestures and quietly recite a poem. The work ends with each audience member placing a rock onto the alter of goddess figures, abstract sculptures and the performers' family pictures.

“Womantra” is an important journey for Fowlin, rich with images and symbolism. But this performance is not only for her as the audience is invited to reflect on their own, sometimes winding journey.


Complementarity / Integrative Collaboration

Feeding off my last post I wanted to comment on a book I've been reading - Creative Collaboration by Vera John-Steiner - in which she marks the difference between complementarity and integrative modes of collaboration.

Complementarity collaboration is acknowledging that "each individual realizes only a subset of the human potential that can be achieved at a particular historical period" (pg. 40). Basically, each person brings their unique skills to the task at hand. The synergetic coming together of all the participants' skills creates a product (thing, performance, whatever) that would be impossible with out the contributions of each individual. This is probably the more common form of collaboration.

Integrative Collaboration consists of individuals suspending differences in regard for the making of something new, unexpected and revolutionary. John-Steiner uses the example of Picasso and Braque in their quest to create Cubism. For a number of years they explored the same concepts, daily looked at each other's work, wouldn't "finish" a painting until the other said it was finished and some paintings are even signed by both of them. John-Steiner writes that this melding of artistic goals needs a prolonged period of committed activity, thrives through dialogue, risk taking and a shared vision.

When thinking of complementarity collaboration the examples that come to mind are most performances where the movement, music, lighting, costumes, text, video, everything else are all created by different people - usually organized by one person that's the director or choreographer. The example that comes to mind most readily for integrative collaboration is Goat Island Performance Group out of Chicago - they seem to have come together to create works that transcend individual preferences - I'm not sure it feels like that on the inside, but from the outside it seems this way.

My experience with improvisational performance certainly moves back and forth between, or should I say along, this continuum. Often when performing with Sharon Mansur, who've I've performed with for over 18 years, I feel we are in an integrative mode. What we do together is so singular to what we do together, it is only possible with that history. In other situations I see that people clearly bring their different skills - the amazing dancer, the funny one, the one who likes to partner, the talker, etc... - and these meld into a whole.

Obviously both these modes are valid though I do wonder how we can identify which modes works in what situation - what works best when? Is it a matter of time, outcome and/or individual personalities? All? Something else?


Collaborating Side by Side

Sunday we had our first rehearsal for the upcoming performance at the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts with my company, Arachne Aerial Arts, Coyaba Dance Theater and Devi Dance Theater. This performance will feature these four companies collaborating to create an evening length work. For this process we'll be collaborating side by side - at least to start.

When we met to discuss this project I proposed that the four companies would, at the beginning, work independently developing material for the work. Once this material was developed we would show the different sections that have been developed to one another - which is what we started doing on Sunday. From here each director, independently from one another, will construct an overall structure for the work - this would include putting the sections in an order, overlapping and juxtaposing sections, etc. From there we would come together and, really for the first time, begin a discussion to arrive at some type of consensus.

At first this was difficult because everyone wanted to discuss ideas for beginnings, or "what ifs" and such things. I encouraged us to not do that and keep to our own camps until our individual ideas were better developed. And we have, for the most part, and it was very exciting to see everyone's rough drafts on Sunday.

I'm very interested in different modes of collaboration. I have been in situations where some form of consensus is used - everyone has to eventually agree to the decisions being made, more or less. In my work with my company we are often in what I call "director-driven" collaboration - different people offer suggestions, or develop movement material, or are involved in the work in a creative way, more or less, but the final decisions rests with the director. For this collaboration process I wanted to bring in a little independence into the process - an extreme of this mode is the Cunningham/Cage mode. I wanted to use the independent mode of artistic collaboration for this project because I wanted to keep each companies' point of view and aesthetic unique to itself. If we had begun to make consensus or negotiate too soon in the process I feared there would be a softening of the aesthetics into something more similar to one another. I wanted us to have stark differences, to not necessarily fit together easily, and to then have to work it out.

For this process I'm not thinking of myself as the 'director', but instead as a facilitator. I'm working to move this project along, but not bully my ideas to the front of the line. It's a challenge in some ways - partly because I've been working on this material for 3 years and, honestly, I'm very opinionated. So, this whole process is a challenge in many ways.


Coming Back to "ocean"

Today was the first rehearsal back with the performers who'll be in the next, and probably, final version of "My ocean is never blue". My company and I have been creating, re-creating and performing the work for 3 years and this fall it will have its final performances - one at James Madison University and the other at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. The first performance at JMU will feature our core company of 5 dancers with an additional 8 dancers from JMU. The second performance at CSPAC will be a collaboration of The PlayGround (9 dancers) with Arachne Aerial Arts, Coyaba Dance Theater and Devi Dance Theater. These four companies will be adding to the foundation of the work my company has created over the course of this project. Each company will have their own section within the evening length work as well as being in sections together. The performance will feature over 25 performers with live music that includes Jonathan Matis, a piano quartet and African water drums. We're very excited about all these performances and I'll be writing alot more as each project continues to develop.


The Aftermath

Last Friday was my last day of my first MFA semester and now I'm back home in DC gearing up for the "year". I don't want to leave the semester too quickly because I'm afraid the learning will drift to the background without staying useful or tangible in my present. So, right now, tonight, what feels palpable?

1. writing - oddly a theme for this summer was about writing. Both guest teachers really honed in on writing. First we did a week long workshop on Modern Pedagogy and spent a lot of time writing and rewriting our 'teaching philosophy'. Then Elizabeth Zimmer (dance critic, formally of the Village Voice) taught an intense intro to writing dance reviews. Some really great advise for me - and I need plenty of help with my writing.

2. Whittling down. I made two works this summer - both part of a longer work that is slowly evolving - and both were minimal and at times quite emotional. The beginning of my solo (5 minutes) was me simply doing a very slow walking pattern in 5/4 while I carried a tree on my back. People found it both odd and emotional (or was that how they describe me...). I began to refer to both my works -partly in jest, partly in homage to - "Butoh Bausch". I tried, in each work, to get rid of anything and everything that wasn't necessary - tried to whittle it to its core.

3. Collaboration: I'm going to be writing about collaboration a lot in the next year since I'm doing a large research project looking at modes of artistic collaboration - but, this summer was also about collaboration. From the very beginning, in different situations, we were asked to work with fellow students. This makes sense from number of points of view - getting to know one another, learning from our peers, etc. Because of these instant collaborations we were all forced to accept decisions we maybe wouldn't always otherwise except - we were trying to play nice. It brought up some interesting questions about collaboration and holding one's artistic purity in check. For example, how hard do I push an idea or opinion in this situation? How often do I just step back and accept other people's suggestions even if I'm not totally fond of them? What happens when aesthetics collide - do you have to try and work it out? What's the difference between an academic situation and a professional one?

The semester gave me a number of things to think about, hopefully they will stay on the surface even as my life gets busier and busier.


The Hardest Little Solo

If you've been reading this little blog you know that last weekend I performed a new solo - HOME. The structure of the work is pretty straight forward - I walk across the stage slowly while carrying a 7' tree on my shoulders, I walk downstage, put the tree down, walk in front of the tree, pause, walk to the lip of the stage and go into an improv structure based on the breath with my left foot never leaving its spot, I squat, and end. But, it is turning out to be one of the hardest pieces I've done in a while. The first walk is so slow and I keep rushing the beginning - or, it feels that way to me, even though others have said they don't notice it. During this walk I have to keep reminding myself of the statement I'm using for myself to frame the walk - 'one step = 10,000 steps'. Then the improv downstage is difficult, or challenging, because the arch of it is hard to hold on to - it starts slow, speeds up and then ends in the squat - I tend to rush the transition from slow to sped up. Staying with the simplicity of the beginning of the breath score is hard for me. Maybe it is because the piece doesn't have alot of parts that its complexity is so much on the surface. Trying to do just enough and keep it simple, yet try and fully express the work is certainly a challenge.


Further Swimming with Alexander

This summer swimming is an activity in which I can apply the theories from the Alexander Technique class I've been taking. Yesterday utilized the concept of faulty sensory awareness in my swimming. Doing the different strokes, I concentrated on my pelvis and noticed what I was really doing with it. In the Breast Stroke I observed that my pelvis slightly rotated to the right as I kicked my legs. I then tried to apply Alexander's technique of Inhibition – or, don't do what you've been doing. Instead of trying to do something in a correct way, you just stop doing whatever you've been doing wrong. Or, if you stop doing the wrong things you'll only be able to do the right things. But, as I found out in the pool, there is often a lot of confusion in this process. I tried not to twist my pelvis and it felt like I couldn't do anything, or it seemed my habit became more pronounced, or I twisted the other way. Eventually I just left it and concentrated on other things. I checked in again with my pelvis at the end of my session and it my body was still experimenting – sometimes my pelvis felt in the middle, sometimes all over the place. I like the approach of stop doing what is inefficient and the more efficient movement will happen, and, thankfully, in this case confusion is interesting.



Here is the press blurb for the solo I'm presenting this weekend at Dancemakers at UWM.

Home is a meditative examination of the metaphorical and personal meanings of home. Source material was developed through free writing exercises that were used to create a history, context and a wealth of background of information. From this material two statements -- “Home is a nest” and “Home is my daughter's breath”-- are used as the the anchors for the two sections of the work. Whittled down to the essentials, Home combines pedestrian movement and striking visuals with supple movement phrasing and peculiar musical accompaniment to create an unexpected performance experience. Home is the first installment of a new work that will explore the personal narratives and societal issues of human migration and immigration.


Breath Phrasing/New Solo

This weekend I'll be presenting a new solo, "HOME", as part of the end of semester show where the work the grads have been working on this summer will be presented. The solo I'm presenting is a beginning of a larger work that I'll be developing over the next year or so. For the second section of the solo I'm using a variation of a structure I learned from my music for dance teacher, Norma Dalby, in undergrad at SLC. Norma created a way of notating music that used the breath cycle. She would work with a group of musicians to coordinate their breathing - everyone breathed in and out together - depicted above by a single arch (inhale, then exhale). Then, along the arch, she would put marks that would signal when the player was suppose to play a specific percussive instrument (red marks). Each musician would have a line of arches for each instrument they played - again, see diagram above. We did this in music class and it was very cool and challenging. Over the last couple of years I've been playing with bringing this structure into a dance context by coordinating the number of movements per breath. For example - in this solo I start doing one movement that lasts the length of one complete breath (in and out). After doing this a couple of times I divide the breath in half - one breath with the inhale and a second with the exhale. Then I do two movements with the inhale and two with the exhale. Lastly I play with my movement phrasing - sometime doing one or two or more or less movements with a breath. This organizational method creates an organic development to the movement and its intensity - moving from meditative to quite dense.


Pencil Project: Repetition

Another video from my Viewpoints project - this one dealing with repetition. From the book by Bogart + Laudau they write that repetition is "not imitation, rather it is entering into the quality of other people's Shape and Tempo". In this video I repeat the same gesture over and over again - trying not to change it, but also trying not to keep it the same - I just do it again and again. Well, the last time I add some flavor to it.


The Thing or The Idea of the Thing

In improv class this week we talked about when you're using a prop in performance you need to be conscious of how you are using it. The question, or idea, is, "are you performing with the thing, or the idea of the thing?" This is one of those abstract questions, but I think an important one for creative performing artists. Let's take a suitcase (as we did in class). Are you dancing with that specific suitcase, or with the idea of dancing with a suitcase, or are you using it as a metaphor for traveling? I think the point is, and one I agree with, that while the suitcase might be a metaphor, it also needs to be that suitcase, not an idea of a suitcase. You need to recognize that the suitcase you have is brown with two straps and a handle and it's got some scratches on it and the lock doesn't work anymore and part of the fabric inside is slightly ripped. These details are important. If you get too far away from the actual suitcase you're using it looses it's power, or interest. Engaging the thing as it is brings its uniqueness to the forefront and then the audience can find a relationship to it. If you are dancing with an idea of a suitcase (even though you are holding an actual suitcase) than it becomes one more empty prop. The hard part, of course, is to recognize when you're engaging the idea of the thing and not the thing.


Pencil Project: Tempo

So, these studies are just a glimpse at The Viewpoints. I am just getting to know them alittle bit this summer as I enter into grad school. They might even be superficial in a way, but I certainly found them interesting to do. Narrowing my possibilities down to focusing on the pencil and as feel other props as necessary was a challenge - a fun challenge. Here is the third video - tempo.


Here's a second little video that explores one of The Viewpoints - this one explores duration. I tried to keep the action as consistent as possible and only change the duration.

The Pencil Project: Architecture

In the Improvisation class we had to do a project around the improv modality that we've been mostly working with this summer - The Viewpoints. So, I'm making a series of short videos that explores different aspects of The Viewpoints - for this video I explored Architecture. From the book "The Viewpoints Book" the authors write, "Become acutely aware of exactly where you are and let this architecture inform your movement. Dance with the room." This isn't exactly a whole room, nor is it dancing. Not exactly.


It's not heavy, its a tree

I'm working on some new work this summer that will be apart of a project I will start in earnest in the spring. One of the things I'm working on is a solo which I've talked about before here & here. The solo has basically two sections - the first one being a slow walk and then the second section that happens extremely close to the audience, doesn't move around much and the movement is initiated by the spine. For this solo I'm working with two statements that came out of my "Home is..." writing exploration - "Home is a nest" and "Home is my daughter's breath". The first statement about the nest has certainly changed and continued to evolve throughout this rehearsal process. It began as an image of me walking onto stage with a big package of stuff (as if it was all my belongings) on my back as I walked slowly. I imaged this package would be a bunch of paper and other light weight material so it could be very big. This transformed into the idea that I would carry a huge load of sticks that I would eventually put down and build into a kind of nest-like structure. Lastly, and this is what I tried tonight for a feedback session, is to carry a very tall tree on my back - kind of on my neck - as I walk in. It is a surprising image and could totally not work because it could feel like it's just way to over the top. But, after the showing today a number of people said that the image worked for them as it contained many layers of meaning - it could be a burden, or I'm saving something from dying, it's something important to me, it is my home (symbolically). I'm curious to see the video as it is hard to see yourself when you're carrying a tree on your neck.


dancing with people who don't know they're dancing

Today in improv we got into small groups of 2 or 3 and then had to go somewhere in or around the building and create a improvisational structure in a "non-dance" space. The group I was in, A. & S., decided to go outside to this courtyard to create our performance. One of the directions we were given was to make it in a way that people passing by might not even know it was a performance. In the courtyard there was a woman reading, so we decided to incorporate her into the performance without her knowing it. Our structure was to enter the court yard one at a time, sit down with our own book and every time the woman moved we turned a page. At any time any of us could set the book down and the other two would do the same. We were allowed to do something else - ie. go throw something away, pick up a stick, etc..., but none of the actions could call attention to the fact that we were "performing". After a time we left. What was wonderful was being highly tuned to this person without them knowing it. It asks some really interesting questions about what is a performance and who are performers. And, in quite a solid way, I think it was a good performance - maybe not the most exciting one, but actually pretty engaging. I really loved it and would like to do more "undercover" performances.

Contemplative Dance Practice

This morning a few of us got together, by invitation of A., and did Contemplative Dance Practice. This is a form developed by Barbara Dilley that combines sitting meditation, personal warm-up and open space dancing. It was lovely to focus in alittle bit to start the week before I had to output so much stuff - we have alot of reading this week as well as papers, a research proposal, two showings of choreography and many rehearsals. By just slowing down, focusing on the breath, letting my body tell me how it wants to move, then moving with others - I got to connect and move without the pressure of creating or being interesting or even being seen. Just alittle time to move for myself.


My Funny Little Paradigm

For my Improv class we had to write up a short paragraph that described our paradigm - ie. what do we value in creating and watching dance/performance. This is a hard assignment - it is so easy to be vague or go into academic speak and sound pompous. So, here was my solution - not sure it worked...

The lights come up on a performer who begins to move slowly, with pauses. She waits and then continues. Music begins that is unfamiliar with sounds that you can't quite place. Another performer enters and begins talking. At first the talking is confusing. You realize he's talking about his family, but also about the earth or politics, with bits of poetry weaved in. It takes some time to figure it all out. Now the two performers are in a duet where they support one another, roll, separate and come back together. They dance like two cats - similar in their fullness, but remarkably different in their choices. The music suddenly shifts, other performers enter and everything comes to stillness. They wait with attention. A performer begins to move from undulations of the spine, exploring the inner space and finding supple movement. You believe her. Her limbs become more active until her whole self is energetically filling the space, almost in a trance and at the same time you see everything she is doing. She is balancing a hurricane and a microscope in each movement. They all begin moving, maybe more like walking, but with purpose, with each other. There are small interactions while we hear a voice off stage describe her mother's gardening tools, or a distant conflict, or the path in the woods she walks each morning alone. The work ends with a subtle shifting movement phrase and one by one the dancers leave. One dancer is left and, with care, begins to cry as the lights fade. You're not sure what has happened, but you're feeling melancholy or relieved or satisfied. You'll have to think about it.


Swimming and Alexander Technique

In my Alexander Technique class today we worked on leading movement into space with the eyes. We did a simple exercise where we were lying on our stomach with our hands close to our head. We tried to use our arms to move us forward in space - first we kept our head passive and then we lifted our heads and looked at something we wanted to move towards. The second version, of looking towards, made it so much easier to move and slide on the floor. Initiating from the head allowed the whole self to access the ease of moving forward.

After class I went over to the school's pool to swim some laps and decided to use this idea - of using the eyes to look and lead the movement into space - while swimming. As I was doing the Breast Stroke I realized that the coordination between the head, arms and upper back was almost identical to the exercise from class. As I used looking to lead my head out of the water, press down with my arms, look at the bottom of the pool and then start again by looking, I found that the stroke felt easier, more efficient and I swear I was faster (maybe....I'd like to think so...). I has less success incorporating this idea into the Freestyle, but it was certainly fun to try. I look forward to playing more with these ideas in both dance and non-dance activities.


Home Soup

Tonight I talked with a friend about my new project that I mentioned in my last post - it explores the personal narratives and complex social and political issues around human migration and immigration. Obviously a very dense subject matter that I am trying to get my head around and find different pathways into. Currently I am thinking alot about home because it seems to me that for someone to immigrate or leave, one must have some place to leave from.That leaving is often exciting or an act of emerging, other times it is an act of regret or sadness. I would assume often it is both, and sometimes neither. Again tonight the question came up if home is even really a place, or instead a feeling or a sense of connections. Can anywhere be a home as long as I am surrounded by certain people? Possibly. Yet there are many people - I'm thinking of refugees - who are with their family but where they are is not home, nor even a home.

Right now I feel like I am searching for the right questions to ask about home. There are obvious ones - "define home.", "where do you consider home?", etc... - but I feel like there are more interesting questions that I will find as I continue. One came up tonight from my friend, "When you die, where would you like to be buried?", or "When you die, where would you like to be?". I think these are interesting questions because for some people their answers would very clearly point to where they consider home. For others, maybe not ("I want to die on top of Mount Everest..."). Just starting this process, but the juices are starting to groove - and it certainly helps to have good friends to get the mind jump started.


Today's Rehearsal/Immigration

Today's rehearsal was a little harder to get going than the other rehearsal's I've had so far. Tomorrow we have a showing in our composition class and I was working on that material and itl is just at the beginning. It needs some time to brew before I have any clarity with it; so sometimes it is hard to show it or even work on it at this stage. Often it is very helpful for me to leave it alone for a while and then return to it and it just flows easily. But, since we have a showing tomorrow I had to move it along, as it were.

I am working on 2 different pieces this summer, but both are going to be apart of a larger work that I'm developing that explores personal narratives and the political and societal challenges with human migration and immigration. Just a couple of moments ago I read short personal stories around immigration from different web sites. One, "What's your immigration story?", shows actual postcards from people who've sent in their stories. Another site from the New York City Library lists immigrations stories in literature. And a last site is a personal story from a man who moved from Viet Nam. All very interesting and, at times, overwhelming.


Inhibition, the good kind

This morning in my Alexander Technique (AT) class we talked about Inhibition from the AT point of view, which is different from a Freudian perspective. In AT, as per my understanding, Inhibition is pausing before you do something so that you can inhibit your habitual response and be open to a new possibility in this moment. For example, if you always crunch your neck as you stand up from a chair you would pause before you get up, inhibit the crunching and then proceed to stand up with a new possibility. In the Freudian sense, or at least how I normally think about inhibition is that it is about stopping something you want to do, or stopping what comes naturally. I usually think of inhibition as a negative, but in AT Inhibition is about getting your habits out of the way so that what is natural or more efficient is possible. It is certainly an interesting idea and I am curious how we will continue to explore and develop the idea as we go along.

After class my roommate and long time friend, K., took me on a long walk and made me walk up and down these steep stairs what felt like a thousand times. She likes to work out, alot.

Choreography: 4 definitions

For Dance Composition 1 we're reading an article by Susan Leigh Foster titled "Choreographies and Choreographers: Four Definitions of the Terms" which defines what the word "choreography" has meant over the last couple of hundred years. What follows is the briefest of outline of the article and some interesting ideas.

Dance as Documenting
• Choreography actually meant writing down the dances so that they could be taught and repeated easily. Louis XIV had his principle Dance Master, Pierre Beauchamps create a system for writing down the floor patterns, rhythm and movements of the legs and feet.
• Through this written form much, if not all, the locality and variations of the different dances was removed. Each dance got water-down because they now had to all conform to this written form.
Dance as Testifying
• For the first time Choreography was taught in the 1930s at a summer festival at Bennington College.
• During this time the idea of the choreographer as a genius who created works of art that could address universal issues became prevalent.
• Also during this time many African-American and non-white choreographers were pigeon holed as "natural movers" and not given the same credit as their white counterparts.
• This second idea of choreography secured the idea of individual authorship while excluding group authored dance - popular or social forms of dance, for example.

Dance as Making
• During the 1960s many choreographers began to refer to themselves as directors, or use phrases like "conceived by" or "arranged by" to remove this idea of choreographer as genius and replace it with choreographer as craftsperson.
• During this time, again, technique was reevaluated, but during this period technique was also often discounted all together.
• During this time many white choreographers were drawing inspiration from Asian artistic and religious forms, but, again, Asian artists were pigeon holed doing traditional forms.

Dance as Collaboration
• In the 1980s Choreographers began working more collaboratively with their dancers - asking them to create movement, help with designing costumes and other elements of a performance.
• Brought back popular and folk forms of dance onto the concert stage in the same work as modern or post-modern vocabulary.
• Started more intensely working with artists from other art forms in true collaborative projects.

I find these categories interesting, but it seems it misses some other possible areas - like Dance as Spectacle or Dance as Ritual - there's probably more.


a first viewpoint

We stared Improvisation 1 today - a class I was/am alittle worried about because I don't want to be going back over the ABCs. Today was a good start in that the teacher, R., picked a number of exercises that worked well for beginners and more experienced improvisers.

The first exercise consisted of dividing up into three groups and each group getting a box that had stuff inside of it. After first examining the box we opened and saw a collection of things - paper clips, rocks, action figures, broach, many different things - then R. asked us to do different actions with our stuff. "Make a pattern." "Put like things together." "Make musical notation." "Make a narrative." We each got turns doing different directions - it was playful, silly and snuck in a number of ideas about composition, arrangements and such. We got to look at the different "narratives" that the groups made and each one had such a different feel - one seemed like a literal narrative, another surreal and my group's was symbolic-ish. Quite a nice way to get the group working together through fun.

It will be interesting to see how this develops and whether the differences in experience will become more obvious.


Today We Begin Again

Today we started what will be our schedule for the rest of the summer - more or less. In Comp I we worked on spacial pathways by way of a Bob Dunn excercise. It was rather simple - though the variations on the theme that each choreographer came up with was quite interesting. This first day seems alittle simple, but I'm curious where J. (our teacher) will go with it.

We also stared another one week workshop today - a technique class by a guess teacher. The teacher is quite well known and I was really looking forward to the workshop - unfortunately today was alittle bit of a disappointment. B. (the teacher) seemed alittle under the weather or out of sorts in a way, and had the energy of a wet dish rag. At the beginning of class she wasn't sure how to introduce her self or how she wanted us to introduce ourselves to her. The first hour was disjointed and confusing. During the second 45 minutes she seemed more focused and we began to dig in alittle to the work. This workshop is optional and I won't be surprised if some people don't come back - but I'll go because the theory is really interesting and I'm hoping with alittle rest she will be at least alittle more energized tomorrow.


Walking in 5s

For my new solo I am going to being to be doing a simple walking, shifting pattern that crosses the stage - maybe over and back. I decided to actually choreograph this pattern (I know, a total shock!) and also decided to do it in 5s. Often dance is choreographed in 8s - meaning each phrase is basically 8 beats long. Sometimes it's choreographed in 3s or 4s - I, in fact, usually don't use counts...well, I usually don't choreograph at all, but only improvise. But, for this section I decided that having a recognizable pattern would be very effective, except I didn't want it too even - that's why I'm using 5 beats per measure.

To start experimenting I simply walked across the studio in 5s, stepping on each count. Then, to mix it up, I would not step on one of the beats - first I stepped 1, 2, 3, 4, but then paused on 5 and repeated this. I continued this with pauses on each beat. Following this I did combinations - step 1, 2, pause 3, step 4, pause 5, etc... It was so interesting how different each combination felt. At one point I was pausing on the 1 & 2 and it felt like I was sneaking up on something, other times I would step on the 1 & 2 and it felt like I was rushing forward. At this point I'm not exactly sure how this will work out, but I am finding these different emotional tones that connect with different rhythmic patterns fascinating.


Home in the Studio

This morning I had my first rehearsal for my next project, post-Ocean. I'm currently researching human migration and immigration - not just in the U.S., but as a world wide phenomenon. There is so much information, points of view, issues and potentials with human migration that it can certainly be overwhelming. So, for this solo, which will be apart of the larger work, I've decided to bring it down to examine the idea of home - which everyone must leave to migrate. What is home? How do we define it and find it? It is especially pertinent right now for me as I am away from home for 7 weeks while I'm here at school (since I've temporarily migrated here). To reflect on my thoughts about home I did some writing, here's an excerpt:
Home is where I live.
Home is where I know my way around.
Home is familiar.
Home is a nest.
Home is yield.
Home is bare feet, ratty clothes and messy hair.
Home is my body.
Home is my daughter's breath.
Home is family.
Home is refugee.


Talkers and Movers

Today was the last day of our first week workshop from which I've been posting stuff. We spent the week looking closely at Modern Dance Pedagogy and how we find our unique voice. As always, it has been so helpful to reflect, get feedback, try things out and re-think our assumptions. I'm looking forward to the fall when I get an opportunity to teach some technique classes and put this into practice - it does seem alittle long to wait.

One of the best parts of the week was getting to know the other students. For this workshop all the students (first, second & third years) were in the workshop together. One thing that became clear over the week was that my class (the first years) think and talk alot. At the bar tonight one of the second year students commented that you could tell what year students were by noting how much they talked - the third years some, the second years barely, the first years alot. I'm excited about my class, which is a nice relief, because we do seem like a group of thinkers and talks, as well as some really nice movers.

This coming weekend we don't have much home work, but I've got 2 rehearsals and will be beginning work on a solo for my new project. Yea!

Newest Teaching Philosophy

We've been working on this all week - here is one that is very different than the one I posted earlier this week:

We start small by addressing the subtle awareness that comes from attending to our breath, rolling our head, waiting. Gradually expanding our movements, our attention, our felt experience. We begin to move into space with articulation, presence, clarity and authority. We come back to ourselves and go further. We arrive at a idiosyncratic movement voice that is authentic, subtle and athletic.

This is the practice of becoming.

We start with ourselves. Closing our eyes we dig in deep and spill out. We allow it. We welcome it. We bring the inner to the outer with vitality and acceptance. With no judge, no censor. Feelings and thoughts become integrated into body, into movement.

This is the practice of expressing.

We start by researching our interests, our passions. We learn about space, time, quality. We build phrases alone and with others. We acquire a tool bag full of choreography, of improvisation. Our interests and passions become questions, statements and images. From this we make work that is thoughtful, complex and visceral.

This is the practice of creating.

I start with Judson, Cunningham, Improvisation and Feldenkrais. Adding in Laban, Bartineiff and Developmental Movement. I continue with Contact Improvisation and Authentic Movement. Challenged but not overwhelmed, the students and I explore the material as a community from multiple perspectives. Empowered by a potent environment, combined with rigor and accountability, the students are challenged and inspired.

This is my practice of teaching.


Pushing, Shoving, Dancing

Today J. started by giving us information that she finds essential in her teaching - mostly infant developmental work through Body Mind Centering that included "Yield to Push", "Reach to Pull", Homologous, Homolateral & Contralateral. From there she taught us exercises that she does with her class that incorporates these ideas. Alot of it was wonderful movement sequences that taught these concepts without being didactic, some of which I will most certainly be using in the future. And it was nice to get the blood flowing and feeling like we really got to dance. It is funny that often in academic setting you talk about the thing more than you do the thing - we've been talking about dance and how to teach dance for three days and only today did we really get moving. It is, of course, because you need to learn the theory and possible strategies before you plunge ahead into the thing.

In our discussion after the movement segment I asked if J. was proposing that we teach from a "concept based" approach. And, after some hemming and hawing, she said, "yes, I am!". The idea here is that each class you teach is based around a concept or a group of concepts that are continually highlighted through out the class. For example, if for today's class the concept was speed than in each exercise you would emphasis moving fast or slow or changes of speed. This enables the student to grasp the concept and integrate it more fully into his or her dancing. Of course, while you're highlighting speed there are many other concepts present - quality, alignment, joint articulation, etc... - these are being slipped in the back door, in a way. Another day you might choose to highlight alignment as the concept for a class. This approach really does produce exciting classes that engage students - it, of course, is also more of a challenge for the teacher because it takes quite a bit of forethought and preparation.

Tomorrow we discuss how to organize material over the course of a class, semester or year.


Teaching Philosophy

Today we worked more on our teaching philosophy, specifically for modern-based dance classes. Yesterday I wrote something that I was ok with, but it was alittle dry. Today (and yesterday, I think) J. told us that we could be as creative with this as we wanted. So, this is what I wrote today and just sent into her.


Start small.

Gradually expand.

Move into space with clarity.

Acute articulation embedded with presence.

Challenge norms, expand possibilities, athleticism.

Say yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

360ยบ dancing, release, engage, sequential, simultaneous, daring.





Authentic Movement.


I'm also funny.


This Beginning

This is the beginning of a new blog in which I will be doing a number of things, including describing my first year in an MFA in dance program, reflect on the development of a new work and ruminate on general questions about dance, creativity, art and such. Please respond and let me know your thoughts on the things that I propose, describe, or present.

For this first entry I'm going to touch upon my experiences today in this new MFA program I've just entered. Today we started a week long intensive on "Modern Dance Pedagogy", though the material we are working with could be applied to many forms of dance. Today we started with working on articulating our personal philosophy in regards to dance and teaching dance. Our teacher, J., lectured some, but very quickly asked us to do a quick, spontaneous writing assignment to answer to sets of questions -
1. Write about your dance ancestors - what did you learn from your teachers that you continue to embrace and what have you let go?
2. Why is dance important to you at this time? Why is it important to the world?

Yea, big questions. Here is my response to the second set of questions:
Dance is important to me because
1. it increases self-awareness/self-discover
2. in creating new work I discover new connections about issues in the world I care about
3. it gives me a sense of community - my company, my colleagues, the field in general
4. it is how my creativity expresses itself.
5. is something that I feel I am good at.
Dance is important to the world because it
1. helps people re-connect to their body/become embodied
2. teaches people to value non-verbal knowing
3. engage the intuitive, imaginative and creative
4. is gets people moving - physical activity/fitness

From there we "made an object" that expresses our connection to dance using paper, string, glue, markers, etc... - yea, kind of like craft time. This was such an interesting part of the process because then we got people's impressions of the "objects" and so often the comments were right on target. People said my object was "orderly, intentional, rhythmic, multiplicity, intuitive, combined micro & macro, personal & abstract, grounding", and reminded one person of a spine. All of which I think (at least I like to think) at least partly describe my approach to making and teaching dance. Now, tonight we have to write a 2-3 page philosophy of dance that we'll share with some classmates tomorrow. Should be very interesting - I'll share some of that writing when I'm done with it.