The Russian Girl Text (She Arrived, Alone)

The first half of The Chemistry of Lime Trees (She Arrived, Alone) is based on an oral history I found from William Williams, the Commissioner of Ellis Island from 1902-1905 and 1909-1913. We used this story as a taking off point to imagine what it would be like to be stuck at Ellis Island - literally stuck on the border. I guess you could say the piece is a character study, or an impressionistic story-telling - I think Katie, who embodies the young woman in the story - does an amazing job. See the whole piece November 19, 2011 at CenterStage in Reston, VA.

Here is the complete text:
"A handsome, clear-eyed Russian girl of about twenty-years, the daughter of a farmer comes in and sits down before us. She is clean and intelligent looking. She nervously clasps and unclasps her hands and the tears are welling in her eyes. "That girl over there," says the commissioner, "is an interesting and puzzling case. Her father is a farmer in moderate circumstances. A young man with whom she grew up, the son of a neighbor, came here two years ago, and last year wrote to her father that of the girl would come over he would marry her. So she came, alone. But the prospective bridegroom didn't show up. I wrote him-he lives somewhere in New Jersey-and last week he appeared and looked her over. Finally he said he wasn't sure whether he wanted to marry her or not. Naturally her pride was somewhat wounded, and she decided that she had doubts herself. So everything is at a standstill. The girl says she doesn't want to go back, to be laughed at; and I can't let her land. You don't know any lady who wants a servant, do you? She could work! Look at her arms. A nice girl, too. No? Well, I don't know what to do. Are you willing to marry Peter if he comes again?" The girl nods, the tears brimming over. "Well, I'll write to that fellow again and tell him he's a fool. He'll never have such a chance again."


Movement Two: Adelais Twisting

Here's the second in my series of videos of my daughter moving. In this one Adelais is hanging upside down during a aerial lesson with my wife and she just began doing this twisting movement side to side - completely her own initiation. Caught my wife off guard, but was pretty cool.

Movement Two: Aselais Twisting from Daniel Burkholder on Vimeo.


First Adelais/Movement Video

I am creating a short series of videos featuring Adelais (my daughter) doing repetitive movement - which she loves to do. Each one will be less than a minute. This first one was recorded while we were in Milwaukee on a playground with Andrea (wife/mom) pushing her on a swing. She (Adelais) makes the best sound as she's being pushed.

Adelais Swinging from Daniel Burkholder on Vimeo.


Performances Echos

This weekend we performed The Chemistry of Lime Trees at Danceworks in Milwaukee, WI. We had a wonderful experience working with the theater and its staff (shout out to Sarah!). We began in the theater on Sunday and worked all week. Here are some of the highlights that still stand out to me:
     • Katie: She so fully stepped into her role this week - it was truly wonderful to watch. A colleague, Elizabeth, commented on what a special performer Katie is and I couldn't agree more. She captured her character's vulnerability, strength and resolve and how these attributes changed or evolved over the course of the 35 minute piece.
     • The generosity of my collaborators: We were working on the ending of the first half and felt a section with the rope wasn't working. Not only was Katie (who is in the piece) making suggestions and trying to find a better answer, but Susan and Stephanie were joining in as well. Not sure how we ended up with the solution we ended up with, but it had bits of suggestions from all four of us - developed, riffed and shifted from one to the next.
     • After Friday night's show my colleague Ferne mentioning how she appreciated the time events were allowed to fill because it gave her the opportunity to connect her story to the stories we were presenting.
     • As we were leaving Friday night one of the ushers came out and asked Susan to sing one of the songs in the show again. After Susan sang a bit, the usher began singing it and dancing around.
     • After Saturday's performance, Marcia commenting that she felt the show was a very grown-up work of art. (whew, finally...)

And, mostly, the camaraderie and pleasure to hang, work and create with Susan, Stephanie and Katie for a full week - uninterrupted - a real treat.

If you came to the show I'd love to hear any reactions to had to the work - images that are staying with you, sections that were powerful or poignant, questions you may have, or anything that sticking with you. Thanks!


Photos from Primary/Scale

In May the company presented Primary/Scale at the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival - you can read more about the piece here and here. While we were setting up the tech crew asked if I wanted them to stop people from taking photos, but instead I asked them to give the photographers my business card and request the photographers send me links to the photos they take. We ended up with so many wonderful photos. Below are some of them. Enjoy! And thanks to Don Arteides, Jaedra DiGiammarino and Ted Jamieson.

Primary/Scale from Daniel Burkholder on Vimeo.


Thoughts on Not Sucking

In a couple of weeks I, along with my collaborators Katie, Susan, Stefanie and Stephanie, will be presenting The Chemistry of Lime Trees as my thesis concert for my MFA in Dance from University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. As I've noted elsewhere, this performance consists of two separate, but related works exploring how borders, real or imagined/personal or political, effect our lives. The first half of the evening is a duet with Katie based upon an oral history about a young Russian woman who is left at Ellis Island by her fiance. The second half is a trio for myself, Susan and Stephanie based upon a couple from Sarajevo (he Orthodox Christian, she Muslim) negotiating and living during the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. Both these works deal very specifically with character, plot and storytelling. This level of theatricality along with actual 'acting' is new to my work. In the past I have always dismissed the idea of "pretending" and wanted a "real" physical experience - we, the performers, were always ourselves in the moment. In this work we are definitely portraying other people - in both works, real people.

Because this type of work (theater) is new to me I certainly have a good dose of nervousness about it, as well as questions. Does the story come across? Are our characters believable? Are we pushing it too far, or not enough (the 'sex' scene, for example)? Can I push myself emotionally to the edge I need to get to? Can I help the other performers get there? Can they help me? Will the audience find this engaging, funny, terrifying, sad? Because the work is so different for me I go back and forth on how to judge the work (though that is probably clear by now). How do I make it better? What does 'better' even mean?

And, of course, the big, overarching question is simply, "Does it suck?". Of course, I don't think it does, but then...does it? I guess this is the question, problem or challenge that we all face when we do something - at least something that challenges our normal processes and products. And, I think, this is what we should be doing with most, if not every, project we take on - challenge our norm, push our process, dare to suck!

The show goes up July 15 & 16 here in Milwaukee, then again November 19 in Reston, VA.

Come and let me know if it sucks or not.....


Video from NVFAF

Last month the company created and performed Primary/Scale at the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival. As I wrote about in a previous post, this was an all day event consisting of three 45-minute sections (one with 1,000 bricks, one with 1500 square feet of sod, and the last section in a large fountain). In addition we created a short video that was shown to one or two members of the public at a time. The video was shot, edited and shown entirely on an iPod. Here is that video:

Primary / Scale from Daniel Burkholder on Vimeo.

**Note: there is no sound on the video.


The Chemistry of Lime Trees In NYC

Tonight Susan, Stephanie are up in New York City to perform our newest work, The Chemistry of Lime Trees at the TriBeCa Performing Arts Center. We, along with Stefanie Quinones Bass, have been developing the work for over a year. The work is based on the true story of Bosko and Admiration from the Bosnian War of the early 90s. Boasko (a Christian) and Admira (a Muslim) fell in love while in high school, before the war. During the war they were shot and killed as they tried to cross from the Muslim side of the border to the Chriistian. It is still unclear who killed them.

In developing The Chemistry of Lime Trees we have explored bringing a theatrical approach to the work (more theatrical than my previous work). This means we are very concretely dealing with plot, characters and dialogue. No, it is not straight theater by any means. And, yes, there are sections that are more abstract, more dancey. But, overall we are characters more than we represent ourselves. This makes me nervous since my creative work is more straight dance with the performers being themselves, not "acting" as someone else. There have been many moments when I feel myself run up against my insecurities. But, I do know that Stephanie's dancing and Susan's sing are incredible - and that can't be a bad thing.

The performances are Thursday (6/9) and Friday (6/10) at 8p
At the TriBeCa Performing Arts Center. More info here. http://tribecapac.org/air.htm#lily


Q&A about "Primary/Scale"

This coming Saturday (5/21/11) the company will be presenting Primary/Scale, one of the largest and longest works the company has ever created. We'll be performing 3 45-minute instillation type works, each one using different material - 1,000 bricks, 1500 square feet of sod and, lastly, we'll be dancing in a big fountain with 150 bowls. We'll also be presenting dance films based on these elements during throughout the day on iPods. Come to the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival to check it all out. Below is alittle Q&A about the work. 

Q: What was the inspiration for PRIMARY/SCALE?

DB: As I was thinking about creating a work for the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival I became interested in working with materials in much the same way as painters or sculptures do. So, we decided to create three sections each exploring a different material - bricks, sod and water.

Q: Can you say more about what you're going to do with these elements?

DB: Yea, at the beginning of each section the bricks, or sod, or bowls will be stacked or set to the side of the performance space. As the work continues we'll move, build, manipulate and create an environment or set with the materials. At the end of each section we will have created something tangable - a set or instillation - much the same way studio artists create an object through their creative process.

Q: What about the dance videos on the iPods, how do they fit in?

DB: We're going to have two teams of two people with iPods moving throughout the festival showing short videos to one or two people at a time. This comes from an interest in working with scale. Again, thinking about the festival where there will be large sculptures or paintings and very small earings and such, I wanted to explore scale - big and small. The instillation works are on quite a large scale and these videos will be on a much smaller, intimate scale. We're trying to work both ends of the spectrum, as it were.


"Maybe we're..."

Here is a short video of some material Stephanie and I were working on in rehearsal together. The performance piece is based on a story of two lovers who died during the Bosnian War in 1992 - Bosko & Admira. They are often referred to as the "Romeo & Juliet of Sarajevo". We imagined, what if they were other famous romantic couples. This is just the beginning of working on it. We have more text and movement to develop. Enjoy...


Breaking Rules / Expanding Understanding

It is undoubtedly a cliché to say that you must understand the rules to break them, but that is certainly a truth in our work in dance improvisational performance.

When we create an improvised performance we (usually) established some ground rules or structure in which the performance will be framed. These rules can range from straight forward, like "there may only be two people on stage at a time", or "begin in a line, leave the line, return to the line". Or, they may be more subjective, "your goal is to support your partner's choices".

In rehearsal and/or performance there will be someone(s) that break these rules/structure once the improv gets going. Is this OK or not? Well, it depends as there is a difference between knowing you're breaking the rules and not being aware you are doing so. The second case destroys the coherency of the performance, in the first case it may or may not work depending....

There are (at least) two ways to knowingly break the rules in an improvisation. The first way is to break them because they get in your way, or they seem unnecessary or you just want to do something different. The second way is done in such a way that even though you are breaking the letter of the law you are actually expanding or redefining the meaning of the rules. It is breaking them, but not, at the same time. So, in a performance a rule may be "only two people on the stage at one time" and someone doesn't leave when another person enters. This is clearly breaking the rules, but (unless) you are constructing what you are doing in such a way that points to the fact of a duet happening. So, in actuality, the duet becomes more pronounced because of your presence - then, are you really breaking the rules?....This is hard to explain in words because it is an intuitive moment where you take a chance and push the edges of the structure and not break it.

I have often encouraged the dancers I work with to not break the rules but to "expand" the rules to the possible limits (with occasional breaking of the rules, as it's good for your constitution). By expanding the rules we are trying to see what are the limits, where can we go and still stay connected with one another and the work.

See us expand, break and bend the rules Feb. 4 & 5, 2011 @ Joe's Movement Emporium. (www.joesmovement.org for tickets).


Open Technology Project

I do like technology. There I admitted it....

But, I haven't really invited it into my dance making or performing much in the past. Last summer I created a solo for internet performance and a couple of times I've used video in performance. But, not really that much.

Next week at The PlayGround's performance of Ad Libitum 2.0 we'll be initiating a new project that embraces technology - the Open Technology Project - in which audience members will be invited to take photos and video of the performance and edit it and post it online. They will also be encouraged to Tweet, text or update their status about the performance while the performance is happening - I might even Tweet about the show while it's happening, we'll see...

My interest in doing this is to see how inviting technology into the performance space, instead of discouraging or banning it, influences the experience of the performance. I think there is an assumption it will make it less enjoyable or the audience will be distracted. That may be true, but I'm curious to do the experiment. 

I'm also curious about how different groups of people react and interact with the invitation to use their technology during the performance. Is it true that the younger people in the audience embrace this opportunity more fully or easier than the older generation - or this just an assumption? I'm curious.

We may also broadcast the performance live on the internet. We're working out the bugs. I'll let you know.