Monday, June 27, 2011

Tunic Travelogue: Part III

Bags packed, last Tuesday we headed back to Genoa—this time to the airport for our flight down the coast to Rome. Driving into Genoa is stunning, and this time the visibility was greater than when we drove into the city for our Saturna appearance. I can now say that I have seen both the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, if from a distance.

From Rome we grabbed our bags and found the train to Terni—a bit confusing since the main train terminal in Rome is called Termini and we wanted the train to a town about an hour outside of the city. We bought tickets and raced to the platform for a train about to depart. When we arrived in Terni, Liz Maxwell from the Art Monastery came to pick us up in a crazy yellow minivan. We were off to the town of Labro to stay in the restored monastery and prepare Friday night’s performance event.

What a fantastic collaborative week! This leg of our journey was facilitated by one of my colleagues—the fabulous, Europe-based Duncan dancer Julia Pond. When Fiorenza contacted me about coming to Italy to share the work we created in Moscow last fall and to expand our repertory, I contacted Julia about arranging a showing at the Art Monastery, an American-initiated art program focused on reclaiming historic Italian monasteries for cultural events. The world just keeps getting smaller—who knew that one of the project’s co-founders, Betsy McCall, was a classmate of mine at Yale? In fact, I had a great time connecting with all of the talented and creative Art Monks, and discovering that we share mutual friends in the States on both coasts.

My first glimpse of Labro was breathtaking. Driving through Italian countryside feels like riding through a painting, and the town of Labro is scaffolded onto the crest of a large hill. The monastery, which has been restored as a hotel as well as a performance space, occupies an opposing hillside, and the view from one to the other is extraordinary.  The Art Monastery staff holds office space overlooking the cloister, and they live in an apartment just up the hill. We ate communal meals for lunch and dinner, cooked by musician extraordinaire Charles Darius, under a tent outside at a large table lit by paper lanterns. In the mornings, Fiorenza, Sylvia, and Cheryl walked across to Labro for café and brioche.

Technology continues to amaze me, and I spent my mornings making Italian coffee in the office where there was wireless internet access. We started rehearsals each day at ten o’clock, and worked from 10am until 1pm in the afternoon when we broke for lunch.  Rehearsals resumed at 3pm, and we made the most of the intimate theatre space.

The stage was small and a covered trap door occupied the center of the dancing area. I made some creative choices about choreographic pathways, and envisioned how I might bring the dancing down the center aisle and into the audience’s space. The electronic keyboard was an adjustment for Fiorenza and Sylvia, and they experimented with the levels to find the right sound. For this event, the musicians were audience level, right in front of the stage, and they framed the dancing area. We spent a while debating whether to bring a screen in and out for the projector, or to cast the images directly onto the brick wall upstage. We eventually opted for the brick wall, which created a rich texture and sense of depth in the space.

Thursday was quite full, as we broke from rehearsals at 5pm and I rode into Rome with Charles and Molly, an interesting writer and San Francisco-based fire dancer and burlesque artist. In fact, we talked quite a bit about fire performance, and one of the most surprising moments of the week was a lunchtime conversation when Cheryl shared her experiences twirling fire baton in rural Iowa in the 1960’s!

The purpose of the Thursday night trip to Rome was multifold—we saw a great musical performance by some Italian friends of the Art Monks, including accordion, sax, stand up bass and drum kit. Evidently Italians love classic American jazz, and Charles was recruited to belt the lyrics to the band’s rendition of “Summertime.” Our pianist Sylvia added “Summertime” to our rep as an encore/finale of sorts, and Charles and Liz joined us Friday night for that number.

We also hooked up with Betsy and Julia in Rome, where they had spent several days reviewing restaurants and hotels for popular travel site Gogobot. Reconnecting with Julia was one of the most rewarding aspects of this part of the trip, and I was thrilled when things worked out for her to join us for that show! I first met Julia in New York when she was dancing in Lori Belilove’s company and I was apprenticing. I’ve always loved Julia’s movement, and years ago we talked about collaborating on something together, but then she moved to Rome for graduate school and I eventually moved on to Austin. We had a great time on Friday with an intensive rehearsal session creating new choreography and improvisational structures for the Schubert Waltzes Sentimentales and for pieces by Debussy, Faure, and Gade. I’d love to continue to develop some of the work we started on this trip, and I’m looking forward to dancing for Julia later this summer in the northeast (stay tuned for details about our July 30th showing in Old Saybrook, CT).

Saturday was a travel day, flying back to Genoa and driving to Casselegio. Cheryl and I ran errands, including a trip to a tack shop for the horse Tigre and grocery shopping at the Bennett. Sunday morning, we drove over to Gavi, a beautiful town underneath an impressive and ancient citadel, and Cheryl’s sister-in-law Mina and her son Jacopo gave me a tour. We joined them for lunch back at the country house—amazing pasta, salad, focaccia, wine, café, and amaretto cookies. Sunday night we had our final concert in Mornese, for an audience of enthusiastic local supporters.

All in all, an amazingly eventful and generative two weeks. I very much look forward to the next iteration of this project and have already found myself promising to return next year—other possible performance venues include Austin, Houston, Sweden, Moscow, and who knows where!

 Pix coming soon!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tunic Travelogue: Part II

Museum Etnographica, Alessandria
The journey continues! I arrived Tuesday in Milan, grabbed my bag (practically the first one off the plane—that never happens to me) and I found the bus to Linate Airport, where I was to meet Cheryl. The international cell phone I bought a few years ago found a signal (whew), and I sent messages via text to let everyone know I had arrived. After I found Cheryl, we took the train to her apartment in Voghera where we picked up her car to drive to Cassaleggio for the week. I had my first real Italian cappuccino in a café before we left, and the barista was singing along to the Guns-n-Roses track playing on the sound system. We stopped off at a grocery store to stock up, loading fresh fruits, veggies, cheeses, and bread into the cart. We then wound our way through narrow streets into the hills of the Piedmont, past stone and stucco facades, churches and castles, through Lerma to Cassalegio where Cheryl’s husband’s family has had a house for nearly three centuries.

Cheryl and Tigre
Their home is a large stone and stucco structure with thick walls and green shuttered windows. I picked my bedroom on the second floor—one of the rooms that has not yet been redone and still has a mural of birds and flowers painted on the ceiling and vines on the walls. We explored the property and Cheryl pointed out the vineyards (they make their own house wine), the peach and cherry trees, the various cats, dogs, chickens, and Tigre, her horse. Tigre is too old to ride, but we took him for a walk with the lead rope and let him graze along the way. A very full and satisfying first day in Italy.

Dancing on the street in Genoa in front of Saturna Gallery
Wednesday morning I slept, and then we went to Fiorenza’s house for lunch before driving to Alessandria for rehearsal. Fiorenza lives very close to Cheryl and her husband Claudio, a warm and jovial forester, joined us for lunch. Then it was off to Alessandria for our first rehearsals at the museum.  The museum space is not traditional for dance, but Fiorenza has organized other concerts series there and it can seat up to a hundred people for a chamber concert event. We worked out logistics to make sure there would be enough room for dance and I was glanced at sideways as I warmed up on the floor—guess it is still quite radical in some places to lay on the floor in public!

Babin waltzes in Alessandria
The first rehearsals went well, and we made it through the Babin pieces. The “Hillendale Waltzes” are challenging for me and for the musicians, but the basic structure was still there and we had plenty of time for refinement before the first concert. Wednesday evening we joined Cheryl’s in-laws for pizza, beer, and tiramisu in Lerma—my first real Italian pizza with spinach and parmesan.

Fiorenza's art opening
On Thursday, Sylvia Gianuzzi joined us for rehearsals, and we finalized the program order. We dined again with Fiorenza and Claudio and learned that Fiorenza’s interview on Vatican Radio promoting our concerts was to air on “105 Live” the following afternoon. Friday we spent most of the day in rehearsal, and did two solid run throughs of the show—I also finally met Dino, who collaborated with Fiorenza on the projection and created some really interesting digital prints of photographs from our Moscow show.

Aqua Termi fountain
Our first official event was Saturday night in Genoa, and we drove through tunnels to that very old city on the Mediterranean Sea. The ships in the port were huge, and I was reminded that some claim Genoa as Christopher Columbus’ city of birth. We parked near a museum and walked up into the old town to a gallery called Saturna where we would perform as the prelude to a visual arts award ceremony. I started downstairs, at the entrance to the building, dancing on the street and then invited the crowd inside and up the stairs to a gallery space. We drew quite a crowd outdoors—I love site-specific work and bringing dance movement into urban and pedestrian settings. Art into life, right?

with Roberto Tagliamacco
After our showing we packed up and rushed off to Aqui Terme, where Fiorenza was opening an exhibit of her paintings, many of which are featured in the video projection for our concert. Sylvia Colizzi from Ravena, whom we met at the Moscow conference, joined us and we toasted Fiorenza with wine and snacks. I snuck down the street to see the center of that town, where there is a very hot and sulfurous fountain at the bottom of a gazebo. I dipped my fingers in the warm spring and felt very blessed to be having such an interesting journey.

Dancing Roberto's piece in Alessandria
Sunday was our first full-length concert in Alessandria, and it was so much fun! I’m dancing a large portion of the program. Some pieces are fully choreographed, and some are not, but much of the music has clear themes and it is easy to hear the thematic repeats and development and to listen and respond within improvisational structures. We had a full house and a very appreciative one, and I met composer Roberto Tagliamacco for the first time. I have lived with a piece of his music for the past year and it was so gratifying to meet him in person. I will be working with more of his music in the future, perhaps even a new composition.

Tunics on the line near the vineyard
Monday, gratefully, was a day of rest, and Cheryl and I hung laundry on the line in preparation for the next week. We also had time for hiking and swimming in a nearby national park—Tuesday we fly to Rome and our journey continues!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tunic Travelogue: Part I

The Italian journey begins! Hardly seems real—today I fly Austin to New York and then to Milan for two weeks of performances in Italy. I love saying yes to projects, people, and creative ideas—and this past year, life has proved to be a wellspring of all three.

Just a year ago my friend Petr from Moscow suggested that I collaborate with clarinetist Cheryl Growden Piana and pianist Fiorenza Bucciarelli for a concert in Russia as part of the Embodied Sense in Motion conference hosted by Moscow State University in the fall of 2010. Cheryl is a Feldenkrais student of Petr’s and is a Bones for Life instructor, in addition to playing clarinet. Originally from Iowa, she is married to an Italian geologist and lives part time in Italy and part time in Moscow. Fiorenza is her Italian neighbor, and they have played many concerts together over the years. Also a poet and a visual artist, Fiorenza has begun to incorporate other artistic media into her concerts, and our Moscow collaboration included video projection of Fiorenza’s paintings.

After our whirlwind rehearsal process in Moscow and a very successful performance, we bade farewell, saying that we really must find another venue to present our collaborative work—either Italy or the United States. How amazing that a short eight months after our initial collaboration, we have booked four concerts over the next two weeks in Genova, Alessandria, Casaleggio, and just outside of Rome. For this short tour, we will also be joined by pianist Sylvia Gianuzzi, and will add a few piano pieces for four hands to our repertoire.  I will reprise the Victor Babin “Hillendale Waltzes” that I originally choreographed in Moscow, as well as a haunting piece by Italian composer Roberto Tagliamacco, whom I look forward to meeting at the Alessandria concert. Also joining us at the Alessandria concert will be Sylvia Colizzi, a mosaic artist and educator from Ravena, who was also at the Moscow conference.

So, I head to the airport, my bag stuffed with tunics (I’m costuming myself as well as the three musicians).  I land in Milan at Malpensa Airport on Tuesday morning and take a bus to meet Cheryl’s flight as she arrives at Linate Airport from Moscow via Rome. Together, we will take the train to Cheryl’s car and drive to her country house where we will stay for a week of rehearsals—first performance is a site-specific event in Genova. Updates soon!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Duncan Dance Camp

What a fantastic camp week! I have been so excited to get some of my Girls’ School of Austin Duncan dancers into a real studio space and to open this work to other young dancers in Austin. One of the most gratifying aspects of teaching this work is sparking the creativity of young movers and witnessing their empowerment through dance.

We started the week with a focus on the element water—water is very important in Duncan technique and wave rhythm is central to Duncan movement.  We brainstormed all different kinds of water—clouds, fog, rain, ice, snow, rivers, oceans, and even swamps. We referenced water in Greek mythology and made our own rainsticks and decorated them with collage. The girls were insightful and creative, and this theme enabled us to explore many levels and dynamic qualities of movement from stillness to storm and low-lying levels to high wispy clouds.

Interspersed with creative exploration was time for technique, and we began to work on our high lift line and to introduce variations of skips including double skips and skip turns. The girls have been working with the Tanagra Figures for a while, and they began to practice that movement study on their own. We also worked on a skeleton of the Bach Gavottes, which basically represents the scales of Duncan technique.

One of the girls’ favorite explorations was an improvisation structure with scarves. I’ve now acquired quite a collection of scraps of silk from tunics, and we piled them up in the center of the room and practiced dancing with scarves of various lengths. The scarves are a visible reflection of the body’s movement through space, and they also encourage full-bodied movement—like flying someone said.

We finished the week with a full program for parents, family, and friends, and the girls were costumed in tunics they designed and dyed themselves (my first time dying tunics with a group this young and I might have to borrow some of their ideas). Sharing this work with these young dancers fills my heart with joy, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have such an immersive experience with them.