75 vs 25

This fall I taught an Open Company Class for my company, The PlayGround on Tuesday nights. One of interests with teaching this class was figuring out how you (I) might teach a company class to an improvisationaly based dance company. For most companies their company class is an advanced technique class, but that would not be appropriate, nor get to the kind of training I think is important for the dancers in The PlayGround. One of the first choices I made was to reverse the amount of new material and previous material normally taught in class. In most dance classes (at least those that I have taken), about 75 percent of the material is the same week to week - yes, it might be rearranged or slightly altered, but basically it is the same - and 25 percent is new material. This division varies for different forms, but more or less holds true. Because I am not interested in having dancers be able to achieve a specific aesthetic or movement vocabulary I don't need them to perfect or learn certain movements, instead I want dancers who are adaptive. So, I reversed this percentage and had basically 25 percent of my material repeating and 75 percent new material each week. Sometimes this would shift more or less, but, again, was basically this division each week. This took alot more time to plan class and come up with new material and it takes more time in class to teach it, but I think it was successful in allowing the dancers to pick up material faster, be ready for the unexpected and stay present with what we were doing in that class. Another outcome of this shift is the focus on teaching concepts or bodily connections instead of "steps" - I'll write more about this in a later post.


Time Line Phrase

I'm currently collaborating with Katie on a new duet that is based on a story from the Ellis Island archives. It is about a young Russian woman who comes to the States in 1905 to marry a man from her village - upon seeing her he decides not to marry her, leaving her stranded on Ellis Island. In developing this work Katie wrote a time line of all the important or transformative events in her life - out of these events she picked ten to which she created a short movement phrase. We took these short phrases and put them together in this longer movement phrase. We did this exercise because this young Russian women is currently at a big moment in her life and we wanted to tie them to some big moments in Katie's life. This video is a slightly edit version of the phrase. ;


Meditation and Movement

In rehearsals lately we've been exploring how different movement-based meditation practices can be framed for a performance setting. Last spring we started with sitting meditation and explored just what would develop if we took a sitting practice into a movement practice. Without trying to get too intellectual about it, we just sat and waited until we felt like moving. We tried, and continue to try, to use the same structure of simply keep coming back to your breath (if we're sitting) or our movement (if we're moving) when ever we get distracted. We have applied this to different contexts and structures including a walking meditative structure, one involving moving from one shape to another, and a duet structure in which one dancer is 'meditating' on the other.

What we've found is that when you put your attention on being attentive to the thing your doing (breathing, moving, walking) you move into a state of, what psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi calls, flow. This state can be described as single-pointedness, full immersion and operating with one's complete expanse of skills. This state of flow of course happens all the time when one is fully engaged, but by bringing in a meditative approach it seems to up the percentage of reaching such a state.

We'll be presenting this work in February at Joe's Movement Emporium in an intimate studio setting with the audience seated in the round. More details as it gets closer.


Follow and Follow and Follow

We've been working on a number of improvisational structures with an internal, or even meditative aspect. This exercise is about following the point of physical contact with your partner without leading nor initiating. Both dancers are trying to just, simply follow with neither leading. It is not as hard as it sound and quite a bit of movement is created. At first we stay finger tip to finger tip, but as it develops we allow the point of contact to shift to different parts of the body. This video is a short excerpt from when Katie and Carrie were allowing the point to shift around.


Dancing, Healthcare, Belfast

Ann, Jenny and I after getting interviewed by BCC Northern Island
Earlier this month I, along with colleague Ann Berhands, went to Belfast to work with Jenny Eliot exploring dance in health care settings. Ann and I both work at Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown Hospital working with cancer patients, their families, nurses, and administrative staff. We go into individual patients' rooms to get them moving, work with people in the waiting rooms, staff at their desks, I teach a weekly dance class and we direct creative projects. Jenny, in Belfast, is an artist in resident at a psychiatric hospital as well as other facilities. We were in Belfast exchanging and learning with Jenny about the potentials for dance in health care.

Jenny is an amazing artist and teacher who runs a dance company for men who have suffered traumatic brain injury, works with a group of mentally challenged adults and recently started a senior dance company whose average age is over 90 years old. She also has created a training program for health practitioners in how to integrate dance into their daily work as well as teaching special workshops to a variety of populations. While in Belfast Ann and I followed her around for a week watching, learning, participating and teaching.

It was immensely useful to work with Jenny in the different settings in which she works, but equally useful was talking with her about bringing dance, and the arts in general, into health care. She is, as Ann and I are, very clear she is not doing dance therapy. But, instead, she is a dancer and choreographer who is engaging with people so they can participate in the culture of which they are apart of. She talks about creating an atmosphere in which dance is a recognized part of what happens in these health care settings, in which people have a right to participate in their culture - both as viewers and producers - and, in which these activities are not unusual.

I look forward to moving ahead with my work at Lombardi and figuring out ways in which dance can become an accepted, assumed part of what happens at a hospital. One of the things that I have noticed is though hospitals are a place for healing the body, the people who work there are often disconnected from their own bodies. And, at the same time, people who come into the hospital have their body examined as parts and pieces without attention to the whole. Dance and dancers have something to share with hospitals and the health care world about the wholeness of one’s body. So, I am going to stage an insurgency to integrate dance into Lombardi and the Georgetown U Hospital (big announcements coming in next month or so). Wish me luck.


Evidence #2

As I mentioned in my last post, I worked with Amii LeGendre this summer on her project Evidence - a solo performance created specifically for a single audience member. Again, in my last entry, I discussed the first solo I made for a fellow performer. The second solo I created was for a person I had never met, didn't know what she looked like and all I really knew about her was what she filled out on the questionnaire. It was a challenging work to create. Luckily she turned out to be awesome and we had a great time.

When I first got the questionnaire back from S. I read searching for a place to start - a clue on where to begin. In response to the questions "Recount a recent or reoccurring dream:" S. responded by writing "sometimes I dream of running around but never getting anywhere". Another questions asks "What do you love to watch?" and S. responded with "I love to watch the water at the lake or the river". These two responses came together in my mind to trigger the place for the solo and the first section. On the UWM campus there is a large circular fountain with benches around it (see photo, I circled the bench where S. sat) - that would be the place. I asked S. to arrive and sit on the bench and wait for me. Once she sat down I ran into the plaza, ran around the fountain 3 times and finally ran up to her saying, "I'm sorry I'm late I've just been running all day...". She laughed, which was good, because it was suppose to be kind of funny.

One of the strategies Amii taught us was to take a response from the questionnaire and see if it can connect to your life or history or experience in some way. From there you use your personal story to relate to the person you're whom your making the solo. Again, the response about enjoying being around water connected to my childhood. So I told S. they sotry of how my family owned a canoe as I was growing up and how we use to go out into the middle of the lake, swim off the side and have lunch. While I was telling her this story I folded her an origami boat which I gave to her. I tried to tie this specific task of folding the boat to my story to her response.

One other aspect of these solo that Amii asked us to explore was to build in a faluire. Do something you don't think will really work very well and then see how you and the audience member deals with that failure. I was thinking of this as I read S.'s response that the thing that frustrates her is having to do something she didn't know how to do. I thought of this man in San Fransisco whom I use to see at the beach balance very large stones on one another in almost impossible ways. He was like a Zen master in that it would take him forever to balance one stone on another and it took such patience to find that balancing point. I decided I would try to balance rocks in the same way even though I have no idea how to do it. As I tried to balance the rocks I told her the story of this guy (Bill Dan, it turns out is his name, see photos here).

Making and performing the solo felt like nothing I had done before - the immediacy of making it specifically for one person and then performing it only for them. As I mentioned I never met her before I performed it for her and I haven't had any contact with her since I've performed it. It is just this simple jewel of a thing that the two of us experienced together and located only in those 20 minutes.


Evidence Report #1

This summer, while in Milwaukee, I worked with Amii LeGendre on her project Evidence - which she describes as "a custom-made solo performance for a single spectator" which "is choreographed based on your response to a questionnaire about your life experiences."  In rehearsals Amii lead us through a process to create, frame and present our solos. Then, from a group of people who requested a solo, we each picked a person, got their questionnaire, and created and performed a solo just for them. The solos ranged in time from 10 minutes to an hour and performed in a site-specific location. And even though the solo was performed in situations in which other people could view it, it was performed for that one person.

The first solo I created was a "practice" solo for one of the other dancers, N., who was participating in the Evidence process. When I began going through her questionnaire I had no idea what to do and felt alittle lost. But over time I just kept reading and re-reading the answers she supplied and slowly ideas, images and movement possibilities kind of bubbled up. One of the first ideas was N.'s response to the question, "Who has helped you recently?". She responded by writing, "My closest friend is always helping me lighten up."I thought that is also something I could help with, so I constructed a section in which I danced (big, peripheral, sustained movements) and then stopped to tell her a really dorky joke - for example, "What kind of hair does the ocean have? Wavey.", or "Why does the flamingo lift up one leg? Because if she lifted up two she'd fall over." Total knee slappers. Another section consisted me doing 5 different movement phrases because 5 is her favorite number. There were a total of 6 sections and the performance lasted about 15 minutes.

What was so incredible about doing this performance was the attention that we gave to one another. For me there was no distraction, no gab between my intention and feedback from N. because it was very clear for whom and why I was performing this dance . She was seemed very focused and attentive during the whole time because, I believe, the solo was only for her. This single focus between us created a bubble in which we were operating and was quite magical. Because there was such an intimacy of communication there was instant feedback anytime I did anything. Even though I was fairly nervous before it started, once it started it felt like everything I did was easy and appreciated in a way that I have rarely felt from an audience - no matter how big or small.

In my next entry I'll discuss my experience creating and performing a solo for a complete stranger.


Dwell: Milioke

A dance solo with text exploring ideas of home: leaving home, creating a home, being home. Developed over 7 weeks while in Milwaukee away from my normal home and family. Created and performed by Daniel Burkholder with original music by Seth Warren-Crow, DC Improvisers Collective and Chad Speed. Performed in conjunction with University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Dance Department.

Sections include:
Milwaukee German Festival
Solo for Frank P Zeilder
What I miss most
Home Solo


New Sounds

Today I finished my final sound design project. The assignment was to us a digital recorder and record sounds to manipulate into a song. I went to the Milwaukee German Festival and recorded a bunch of sounds - including different bands, people talking, kids playing in water and this weird foot vibrator thing. I manipulated and edits the sounds quite a bit, though some of them are still recognizable. Enjoy:

MGF by dburkholder21


Forsythe's Improv Exercises

Currently I'm studying improvisation with Gerald Casel as part of my MFA studies at UWM and this week we're going through some of William Forsythe's improvisation technologies. In today's class we worked with a number of exercises that primarily had to do with space and specifically with lines of the body. In one exercise we imagined drawing lines in space - either from a specific body part into space or from an inanimate object (floor or wall, for example) into space. Once you 'draw' the line you can then imagine moving it, dancing around it and relating to it. Other exercises we did had to do with folding and unfolding the limbs, creating spirals into the floor and manipulating other kinds of imaginative object. As I was doing these exercises I noted that they felt like they were improvisational exercises devised by someone trained as a ballet dancer. I don't mean that in a good or bad way, just that it was interesting to feel the history of Forsythe's training in my dancing as I was exploring his 'technologies'. It makes me wonder how the improvisational exercises that I choose to explore and teach are influenced by my body history. Or, if dancers whom are predominately trained in other modalities (ie. not modern/post-modern) would approach creating improvisaitonal exercises. We, of course, have some examples in tap, hip hop and probably many, many forms that I am not aware of. Any examples anyone can supple would be very interesting.

Here's one of the exercises I found on YouTube:


I'm a Composer. No I'm not.

This summer, as part of my work for an MFA in Dance, I'm taking a class in sound design and editing. For the class we are using Audacity to edit sounds and music. For our most recent assignment we had to take a specific file of a man and woman talking and make two different studies that felt very different. So, while I'm not claiming to be any kind of composer, here they are:

Bullet by dburkholder21

Who I am:
Who I am by dburkholder21


The Value of Patience

I like art that requires patience.

Recently a colleague commented that she thought I must not mind if audiences are sometimes bored. I took this as a compliment.

I mean I want people to connect to the work, be effected by it and find value in it. But, it is also ok if they have to do alittle work. When I'm reading a book or poem or listening to music or watching a dance, it is ok if there is time of ambiguity or even boredom. I often find if I keep investing myself into the work there are great rewards. If I just give up on the work if it's not immediately engaging than I loose out.

And, of course, sometimes the work just isn't any good. I can be bored or disinterested and there is nothing to reinvest in. But I don't know that at first glance - it takes time and effort on my part.

I am currently reading a book of poetry by Pablo Neruda and last night I read through one of the poems and at the end I had no idea what the poem was about. So, I had a choice to either just go on to the next poem and discount the current poem or reread it again. I, obviously, reread it. And then I read it again. After multiple readings the meaning and flavor of the poem became clearer. It is a lovely poem.

So, patience is something I value in art, in the watching of art, and in the making of art.



I'm back in school this summer working more on completely my MFA in dance at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. It's far from home, but the weather is wonderful! Last week we had an intensive workshop in screendance (dance for camera, etc..) with Ellen Bromberg. It was a wonderful workshop and Ellen is a excellent teacher and guide. We worked on looking at screendance, both historically and contemporary, as well as learning techniques to create our own work. In culminating the week we each made a short screendance (2 minutes or less) with just one other person. Mine is called 'night, and here it is:


Help Hinder Halt

I am currently working with Stefanie and Susan Oetgen in creating  a new work called The Chemistry of Lime Trees. We're starting with the story of Admira and Bosko - two people who were lovers in Sarajevo and killed during the war in the 1990s. He as a Serb and she was a Muslim and they were shot by a sniper as they attempted to cross the border from one side (Muslim) to the other (Serb). We are using this story and moment in history to explore a number of subjects.

Susan was intrigued about the role of the sniper in this story - what did he know about them, how did he do his job, who was he, how does it feel to kill someone from such a distance. Susan had recently met a former sniper from the U.S. Marines and was able to discuss his experience. Through him Susan learned that in the US Marines, snipers did a fair amount of research before they go out on a mission and are able to articulate possible events (weather, terrain, etc..) that might help, hinder or halt their mission. We've decided to use these three words - Help, Hinder & Halt - as starting points to generate material for the work. Below is some excerpts from a rehearsal in which Stefanie and I are using these words in the context of Admira and Bosko - thinking about that first kiss, or first time they had sex, or just developing a physical relationship with one another and how there were starts and stops and re-allignments going on. This video is excerpts from an improv we did - the final section may or may not be improvised.

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Moving, Meditation, Performance

Sunday my company and I presented improvisational material in an informal studio (which you can watch here) showing at Joy of Motion Atlas. Since late fall we've explored bringing various meditative movement practices into performance. Below is a description of each of the 6 sections.

1. SHAPES: We explored the sensation of a specific position by sensing the body's weight into the floor, placement of the right leg, left leg, spine, right arm, left arm and position of the head. As we move from shape to shape we sensed each of these 7 elements. As the section continued we create more complex pathways and hold shapes for shorter periods of time - the whole time keeping inner awareness of the shape while outwardly relating to each other.

2. SOLO: We started with the question, "What do other people see when they watch dance?". This evolved into one person moving (in this performance, Ilana), while the others take turns describing what we see as we watch Ilana. Sometimes the talking is descriptive ("lift leg, step into lung"), or interpretive ("she seems to be moving away from something, or someone"), or encouraging ("That's it, make it bigger").

3. SIDE-STEPPING: One of the meditative practices we worked with was walking meditation. From this, Ilana brought in a structure in which the dancers start in a straight line doing a simple side step and together movement. Anyone can leave the line to initiate a new group improv, then anyone can come back into the line, side-stepping, together. We changed this score to a certain degree - for example, every time we break out of the line the new movement has a very different quality than what we were previously doing. We also approached the side-stepping movement as a form of walking meditation.

4. DUET: Similar to SOLO, except it is a duet for Stefanie and myself. It starts with Ilana and Katie commenting on the duet, but Stefanie and I take over to have a dialogue while we're dancing - about the experience of being inside the dance, while being in the dance.

5. AUTHENTIC MOVEMENT: We explored Authentic Movement quite a bit in our rehearsal process. It consists of one dancer in the space, with his or her eyes closed, moving in response to his or her body/mind sensations/thoughts/feelings/images with no expectations of the kind of movement being danced. While this person is moving the other person(s) watch from the side, without judgement. For this performance we each took turns going into the space and moving with, usually, our eyes closed for a period of time (undetermined). For this performance we had music playing which isn't necessarily usually the case when one is doing Authentic Movement.

6. PATHWAYS: Based on a work I created number of years ago, this work explores pathways we travel through the performance space, as well as the limbs relation to space, being somewhat playful with one another, and entrances and exits to the space. This was a fairly short section (2 min).

In the fall we'll be continuing to work on improvisational work and will hopefully share new stuff in November.


We Are All Natives. Learn My Tribe.

In Ann Daly's "The Interested Act of Dance Criticism" performer/critic Sal Murgiyato is quoted as saying when "writing about world dance, it is wise to consider the way natives look at their own dances" (4). We can, and should, widen the definition of 'natives' to include a modern idea of tribe, or community. Would it not also be appropriate to consider a contemporary work of art by the norms of the community from which is arises? Claudia La Rocco writes, in her New York Times review of Simone Forti, that the setting "was an open space with... only a smattering of seats." Tying history to this setting, she notes that "the studio was covered with reclining bodies, evoking accounts of Judson-era arrangements." Creating a context in which this work evolved - Judson Church Theater - locates it within a specific community. This contextualization directly relates to Forti's work in that she "invites you to relax into your surroundings."(La Rocco) With the knowledge of the setting, both physical and historical, La Rocco's observation has more meaning and resonance for the reader.

Shifting the critical viewpoint towards a contextualized perspective causes critics to realign their approach to performances because "she is no longer judge, but rather interpreter." (La Rocco) This is true, unless, of course, the critic themselves is an insider of the community from which she is critiquing
. In Edwin Dendy's article, "Dance Criticism", the author assumes performances are in a tradition of which he is apart with his job being to give "a clear picture of the event and to place it in its relation to the art of theater dancing." Dendy does not state there are multiple traditions in which to place the performance, but only one - "theater dancing". La Rocco sums up work by Shelly Senter by writing that the dance "became a quietly shifting human landscape, the careful craft of the work’s interlocking sections often infused with a looser, improvisational physicality." She continues, there are "hints of wit and tenderness glinted throughout, though some choreographic passages felt less necessary than others; it’s easy to grow impatient with such understated material." Even in the context of the review we are left without knowing anything specifically unique - it could be a description of many performances, from many time periods and styles. But, La Rocco is assuming her audience participates in the community that this work came out of - mainly, a New York City post-modern dance crowd. The question must arise, what happens when you are reading this review and are not part of the tribe?

Dance criticism illuminates most clearly when the critic investigates the world out of which the dance evolves. This is hard. This means that not all critics can or should review all dance, because, as Dendy writes, the critic "can hardly be illuminating or right enough unless he has a fund of knowledge about his subject."


Collaboration: In a Process

I am currently collaborating with Stefanie Quinones Bass (dancer/choreographer) and Susan Oetgen (singer/composer) on a new work - The Chemistry of Lime Trees (tentative title). We are in the very beginning stages of the project, so our main focus right now is defining our collaborative process. I have worked with both these artists previously - Stefanie has been in my company for 5+ years, and Susan composed the music (with David Durst) and performed in one of my works (that Stefanie was also in) a couple of years ago. But, for this project, even though I initiated it, the three of us are equal collaborators - so, we need to define our new relationships and how this process will work.

In our first rehearsal Susan suggested beginning by making four lists: Objectives, Roles, Timing & Resources. Some of the Objectives were obvious: "make a collaborative piece w/original music & movement" and "1/2 evening length piece". Similarly, the list of Roles contained many obvious choices - "choreographer, composer, performer, lighting designer, set designer", but also included "time keeper, decision maker and documentarian". By writing out these lists it helped frame and define what we're doing while putting us all on the same page. In this discussion other issues came up, so that we created another list - Open Questions - that included, "How literal will we be?", "How much will be improvised?", and "How much time will each person allot to this project?" Again, putting these questions down on paper helps focus our attention on issues and questions we have as we continue to develop the work.

I'll write more about our second rehearsal - with video conferencing and our Fears/Hopes - soon.


Collaboration Summary #1

I'm currently doing some research on collaboration and am putting together some short summaries of the works I'm reading. Here is one for "Collaboration: What Makes it Work".

Collaboration: What Makes it Work by Paul W. Mattessich, Marta Murray-Close and Barbara R. Monsey

In Collaboration: What Makes It Work the authors have aggregated dozens of studies about collaboration to come up with a list of essential factors for successful collaboration. In the context of this book the type of collaboration being discussed is between service organizations such as non-profit neighborhood clinics, after school programs, local government, and the like. In the book they briefly describe 20 success factors. Some factors don't seem directly applicable to artists, but some are easily translated. The factors are divided into three categories - environment, membership characteristics, process & structure, communication and purpose. I have listed the factors that I feel are essential to successful collaboration between artists.

A. History of collaboration or cooperation: "Other things being equal, collaborative efforts will most likely succeed where cooperative or collaborative activity has a history or is encouraged." (pg. 12)

Membership Characteristics:
A. Mutual respect, understanding, and trust: "Members of the collaborative group share an understanding and respect for each other". (pg 14) The authors also suggest, "At the very beginning of an effort, collaborating partners should temporarily set aside the purpose of the collaboration and devote energy to learning about each other." (14)
B. Members see collaboration as in their self-interest: "Collaborating partners believe that they will benefit from their involvement in the collaboration" (16)
C. Ability to Compromise: "Collaborating partners are able to compromise, since the many decisions within a collaborative effort cannot possibly fit the preferences of every member perfectly." (17)

Process and Structure:
A. Members share a stake in both process and outcome: Members of a collaborative group fell "ownership" of both the way the group works and the results or products of its work." (18)
B Flexibility: "Collaborative groups need to be flexible both in their structure and in their methods." (20)
C. Development of clear roles and policy guidelines: "Members need to discuss the roles, rights, and responsibilities of the partners, reach agreement on these, and clearly communicate them to all relevant parties. Letters of agreement may be helpful." (20) And, "Members' true interests and strengths should be considered." (21)

A. Open and frequent communication: "Collaborative group members interact often, update one another, discuss issues openly, and convey all necessary information to one another" (23). And, "Communication strategies must be planned to reflect the diverse communications styles of the members of the collaborative group."
B. Established informal relationships and communication links: "In addition to formal channels of communication, members establish personal connections - producing a better, more informed,and cohesive group working on a common project." (24)

A Concrete, attainable goals and objectives: "Goals and objectives of the collaborative group are clear to all partners, and can realistically be attained." (25)
B. Shared Vision: "Collaborating partners have the same vision, with clearly agreed-upon mission, objectives, and strategy." (26)
C. Unique Purpose: "The mission and goals of a collaborative group must create a "sphere of activity." (26)

A. Sufficient funds, staff, materials, and time: the group needs to have adequate funding and staff time to achieve its goals.
B. Skilled leadership: "The individual who provides leadership for the collaborative group has organizing and interpersonal skills, and carries out the role with fairness." (28

One other quote that seems important: "The collaborative process should not be rushed. Solid relationships take time to develop, and goals are more easily attained when pursued with patience and persistence." (27)


Site Specific Slide Show

Here's a little slide show of some photos from a number of site specific performances we've done over the last couple of years.