Saturday, December 31, 2011

Duncan, Blake & Desire

I am not only artistically inspired by Isadora Duncan. I am also inspired by the various artists who influenced her—the poets, composers, and philosophers. And I’m inspired that she drew on such varied sources for creative fuel. As much as I love the specificity of Duncan’s dance technique, I also admire the example she set as an artist intent on carving out her own, unique expressive pathway.

I’ll never forget the first time I read Walt Whitman. In my sophomore English class in high school, we were assigned Leaves of Grass.  I was so moved by the beautiful imagery and the ecstatic philosophical perspective conveyed through Whitman’s words. Indeed, more than once I have looked for Whitman “under my boot soles,” or, more appropriately, as a Duncan dancer, under my barefoot soles.

Another of Duncan’s poetic influences, who has long inspired me, is William Blake. As a sophomore at Yale, I took romantic poetry with Harold Bloom and became entranced by the “Book of Thel,” a multi-plate poem that builds off of the cycles of Songs of Innocence and Experience.

The “Book of Thel” is a bit of an allegory.  Thel, one of the daughters of Mnemosyne, lives in the Vales of Har, the land of the unborn. Curious about the realm of experience, she converses with a cloud, a lily, and a clod of clay in order to get perspective on what it is like to cross the threshold of birth. In the final part of the poem, she basically gets a free pass to see what mortal life is really like. In Blake’s poem, she is overwhelmed and flees back to the safety of Har. Thel’s name, which is an ancient Greek reference that translates as “wish” or “desire,” is usually read as ironic, for Thel fails to satiate desire through her refusal of life.

Thel gives in to her fears, but I’ve often wondered what would happen if she was unable to return? Is there a way to confront fear of the unknown, of the pain and suffering that serve as counterpoints to ecstasy and joy? This is a huge theme for me artistically—how can one pass through the fire of experience and retain joy. Can an expansive, or innocent, life perspective survive the trauma of grief?

I believe it can. And I believe that the example of Duncan’s life and the technology of her dance technique offer models for the transformation of suffering into joy—for the simultaneous embodiment of full experiential knowledge and the retention of an innocent heart.

This month, I was thrilled to restage the trio version of my “Thel,” a choreography inspired by these questions that was originally staged in 2007 during my first year of graduate school. This time, I staged it for a showing at Austin’s One World Theatre, probably the most scenic performance space in the city, set in the hill country just off of Bee Caves Road.  Yelena Konetchy and Kirsche Dickson joined me for this performance and our rehearsals focused on creating a strong sense of ensemble. Breathing together—acknowledging the power of this work to shift the energy of a space. I look forward to more collaborations with both of these dancers in the year to come.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Site Specific Settings

I love site specific performance. And there is certainly a relationship between Duncan dance and nontraditional performance spaces. Natural, outdoor settings make a great venue for tunic-draped dancers, and when Karin Carlson asked me if I was interested in sharing any work for her Silk Road project, of course I said yes.

I first met Karin several years ago when she came to a Duncan workshop I taught at Dance Discovery. There were about five people in that workshop—two adults and three teenage students who drove up from San Antonio. It was a mixed group but we had a great time exploring basic Duncan work as well as creating new compositions based on natural dance movement principles.

When I put together my first site-specific piece in Austin as part of the Frontera Fest’s Mi Casa Es Su Teatro in 2007, I asked Karin to participate in an outdoor structured improvisation set in a field in East Austin. That piece, Rooted, consisted of five dancers, two men and three women (and the first time I ever put men in tunics), and each dancer created movement based on a score of planting, uprooting, traveling through space, and re-planting in another location. This is a movement metaphor that I often come back to, as it resonates with the transitory and migratory nature of contemporary culture—not surprisingly, it is also a theme that came up in the Talk to Me Movement course I co-facilitated with Peggy Lamb for Truth Be Told at the Lockhart work facility in the fall of 2007.

The pieces presented in the Silk Road worked with a wide range of different themes and movement metaphors and ranged from solos in silence to group works with recorded and live music as well as text. Choreographers set their pieces at different places along the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, and audiences gathered just across from the downtown Austin YMCA. Yelena Konetchy and I set the stage with our tunic-draped skips, and then the audience followed a swath of silk fabric to the first large sculpture of yellow metal rectangles before following a path that wound down to a small bridge, a side ditch drain, and back up to another metallic sculpture.

Site-specific dance work puts movement in conversation with space, with landscape and architecture, and puts art in dialogue with life in a way that integrates creative expression and daily experience. The art into life aspect of this kind of performance work enables audiences to look through a creative lens at other aspects of life as well, and when we bring creative purpose to lived experience, we discover that intention can actually transform circumstance. Plus, it is a lot of fun to encounter dance and performance in unexpected places.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Autumn Whirlwind

Fall is finally here—on the calendar at least—and October is shaping up to be chock-full of performance projects. In some ways, the events I have lined up for this month recap three major collaborations that I started within the past year, and I feel blessed to be able to continue each of these rich artistic dialogues.

Mid-October saw the Houston premiere of Divergence Vocal Theater’s Autumn Soiree, a haunting and ethereal decapitation-themed seasonal offering. I had a great time morphing between Anne Boleyn’s fearful inner spirit, Isabella and her famed pot of basil, and Annie of Edgar Allan Poe fame. Besides casting long shadows over Alison Greene’s spine-tingling incantation of the woman in green, digging a lover’s grave during Misha Penton’s haunting harkening of Isabella’s tragic fate, dueting with an eerie puppet, and even issuing the evening’s one blood-curdling scream, I also contributed choreography to one of my favorite piano pieces—Edvard Grieg’s “The Poet’s Heart,” played beautifully by Jeremy Wood. We ran for two packed evenings in Divergence Vocal Theater’s space at Spring Street Studios, and, as usual, the Houston audiences were warm and supportive.

The following weekend was the first ever Umlaufaloopa Arts Festival, at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum in Austin. My young dancers from The Girls’ School of Austin were joined by local professionals in an hour-long concert featuring dance games, original Isadora Duncan choreographies, and a reconstruction of Loie Fuller’s “Lily” by Jessica Lindberg. Yelena Konetchy and Jessica joined me in dancing a few of Duncan’s early Schubert choreographies, and we finished with a group scarf improvisation including young dancers from the audience.
What a joy to share this dance work in such an unbelievably beautiful setting! 20th Century American sculptor Charles Umlauf was influenced by the work of Auguste Rodin as well as by Rodin’s pupil Antoine Bourdelle, two European sculptors with whom Duncan shared artistic relationships. (Interestingly, the Musee Bourdelle in Paris hosted a retrospective of that artist’s renditions of Isadora Duncan in 2010).  We’re looking forward to sharing more Duncan dance at the Umlauf in May 2012.

The final weekend in October meant another performance in another city—this time back to New York for a workshop and showing of Il Senso in Movimento, my collaborative project with clarinetist Cheryl Growden Piana, pianist and visual artist Fiorenza Bucciarelli, and video artist Dino Miglio. This showing marked the US premiere of our collaboration, with previous performances in Italy and Russia. The event was produced by the Noyes New York School and included workshops in Bones for Life, led by Cheryl, and in Noyes Rhythm, led by Linda Rapuano with accompaniment by Blake Rowe.  Who knew that the last Saturday in October would bring such a crazy snow storm? I missed seeing friends who had planned to come in from upstate New York and from Connecticut, but it was so wonderful to see everyone who did make it, especially Lori Belilove and a few of her dancers including my former student Rachel Herzog (who came with Lori to Noyes camp in August) as well as Sam Humphreys and Morgana Rose.

Next weekend? Back in Austin for a site specific showing called "The Silk Road." Also save December 15 for performances of an original choreography "Thel," as part of The Present at Austin's One World Theatre.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Wind & Fire

Elemental themes are primary in Duncan dance. The body is in relationship with the earth, with water and wind and other natural forces. We teach small high sways with the image of tossing a flame from palm to palm. We are encouraged to catch each other’s wind as we explore ensemble improvisation. These aspects of Duncan dance are the reason why the movement is sometimes characterized as “natural” dance. We look to the movement of forces in nature to learn nature’s organic movement patterns in order to apply those principles of gravity, suspension, resistance, and release to our own bodies. Nature is dynamic. And Texas, this week, has experienced one of her most dynamic forces—fire.

Pedernales One/Spicewood Fire, Highway 71
Duncan, herself, was no stranger to the experience of fire. In our 21st century, Western world, we are relatively sheltered from the devastation and loss that fire can incur. In Duncan’s time, when more building was done from wood and the use of candles and gas and kerosene lights was the norm, incidences of fire occurred more frequently. In the first chapter of her autobiography, Duncan writes, “My first memory is of a fire” (My Life). She goes on to narrate having been tossed, as a young child, from a burning building.  Later she writes of a time in New York, when her family lost everything in a fire in the Windsor Hotel, where they were living and where her sister Elizabeth was teaching dance. In fact, Duncan credits that second fire as the catalyst that propelled the family’s move to Europe, where Duncan synthesized her artistic ideas and found her audience.

In the natural world, fire purges, creates space, and clears the way for new growth. But its method is destruction and it is very difficult to hold hopeful space in our hearts when encountered with the loss of homes and relics of family history.  As a result of the fires that have raged through central Texas this weekend, many families have seen their homes burned to the foundation. They have lost everything but their lives. Fire prioritizes our perspective. We are grateful for the preservation of life, and we experience directly the impermanence of the material world. We also realize that survival and new growth require the support of community.

There are many opportunities to give and to provide support for those faced with the prospect of rebuilding their lives. Firefighters are also in need of assistance to continue battling the blazes. The Texas Wildfire Relief Fund is organizing ongoing support (water, food, equipment, etc) for firefighters, and the American Red Cross of Central Texas is providing resources for those who have lost their homes.  

Movement in Duncan’s work is ebb and flow, a rhythmic giving and receiving. The perspective of fire enables us to express gratitude for what we receive and inspires us to give to those who have lost. May we maintain such gratitude and empathy in all aspects of our everyday lives.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tunics in Texas Retrospective

Time fascinates me. We measure it in even increments, yet we experience it with tremendous rhythmic variation. There is no even meter grounding human journeys in predictable regularity—unless of course you embrace a perennial philosophical perspective and mark seasonal and yearly cycles as indicators of time’s passage. But even then memory invariably highlights certain events and erases others completely.

Duncan wrote, “I believe in each life is a spiritual line, an upward curve. And all that adheres to or strengthens this line is our real life; the rest is but as chaff falling from one’s progress. Such a spiritual line is my Art” (The Art of the Dance).

Anniversaries invite reflection, and this week marks a full year of weekly Tunics in Texas blog posts. Last year when I started writing, my intention was to create a contemporary forum for Duncan’s ideas—to argue for the continued relevance of her dance practice and for a renewed look at her advocacy for physical and creative freedoms. I have largely explored this through examining my own practice and experiences as a Duncan dancer in a 21st century global landscape.

Duncan’s life spanned the turn of the 20th century, the transition from the Victorian era, through the vehicle of the industrial revolution, to the modern world. My experiences span the turn of another century, shaped by the internet, cell phones, and digital technology. Means of personal expression and global communication continue to expand and evolve, and yet the issues of women’s rights and human rights, restricted freedoms, lack of access to education and resources, and an imbalanced pooling of the world’s wealth continue to persist.

That Duncan used her status as a performing artist to raise awareness of critical issues and that she envisioned her art as a means to alleviate suffering and bring beauty into the world are but two ways that the example of her artistic life informs and inspires me as a modern exponent of her work.  I intend to continue to use this blog as a platform to examine my artistic practice as a Duncan dancer and to explore how this creative perspective intersects with and informs the world around me.

And has the year been global! I’ve based my reflections here on my current status as an Austinite, but my dancing journey has included multiple regional adventures (mainly Houston with Divergence Vocal Theater) as well as national and international collaborations with musicians and other dance artists in New York, Connecticut, Italy, and Russia. In this next year, I hope to continue to develop these artistic relationships and, through them, to share the beauty, joy, and creative potential of Duncan dance.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Expanding Projects, Expansive Possibilities

One of my favorite Duncan lines is her insistence that, even though she appeared alone on stage, she never once danced a solo. I love the physical and thematic metaphor of relationship in her work.  In Duncan’s dance, the objectivity of the body is a metaphor for human subjectivity, and this weaving of life into art is a multidirectional conduit—it allows art to flow into life as well, and enables aesthetic expression to become relevant in contexts beyond the confines of the concert stage.

The healthcare industry and the jail/prison system are two such contexts, within which I have been working during the past few years. I’ve written here before about both Colors in Motion and Conspire Theatre, and I am excited to announce that both of these projects are on the cusp of expanding in new directions.  

For the next three months, Colors in Motion will be featured on the homepage of Kripalu’s website—click on “Take a Zen Moment” for a sample of Colors in Motion’s dynamic digital footage. This project integrates varying combinations of watercolor, music, movement, and poetry through innovative digital video technology to create calming and centering sensory experiences. This project is being marketed in the healing arts and healthcare fields with the goal of full-scale projection to generate holistic environments, synthesizing external harmonious stimuli with internal, somatic harmonic experience. Give us feedback by taking Kripalu’s survey about your experience with “Take a Zen Moment.”

Conspire Theatre, founded by Austinite Katherine Craft, brings theatre classes to incarcerated women in the PRIDE (People Recognizing the Inherent Dignity of Everyone) program at the Travis County Correctional Complex. I co-facilitated classes there with Kat for over a year, and we worked with some amazing women. One of our former students, a talented spoken word poet and rap artist, is achieving quite a bit of recognition for her work—check out Dan Solomon’s article about her in the Texas Observer.

Recently, Conspire launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds to expand its programs at the TCCC—Conspire will continue to work with the women in PRIDE and will also begin work with women in the maximum security part of the facility. Check out this article recently published online through Austin's Culture Map. I taught through Conspire at the TCCC as a volunteer, and I am so excited to see this organization gain the fiscal strength to compensate facilitators for their time and efforts. The prison and jail systems rely on outside organizations to provide educational programming and opportunities to inmates—spread the word about how to fund these important and effective initiatives! They literally change the directions of peoples’ lives, providing empowering, creative experiences, community support, and skills to make self-actualizing choices.

The great lesson in Duncan’s work is freedom—through breath, through movement, through cultivation of intuitive listening and self-awareness, we learn that we can live joyfully from our hearts in any context. How beautiful it is to witness the expanding possibilities of these two organizations as they remind us that creativity and the arts are vital tools for healing within our bodies, within our relationships to one another, and within our relationships to the world around us.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Return from the Wild

Closing the Noyes Camp is becoming an annual ritual for me.  I like having a few extra days on the property after most people have trickled back to their other lives. I love the solitude of tracing light-dappled paths through the forest for the last time (this year), sleeping alone in tent city, meandering down to Job’s Pond to bid farewell to the blue heron, the family of ducks, and the swarm of lily pads that, by August, have fairly swallowed the west end of the pond. Scattering dryer sheets to keep the mice at bay in the attic archives and heave-hoeing the massive blue tarp onto the freshly-polished Pavalon floor are meaning-filled closures of my favorite summer haunts. Of course, leaving this year is made easier by the knowledge that we set the fall board meeting at camp, and I’ve already booked my plane ticket for the end of September.

Coming out of the woods is hard! Although I do feel lucky to have escaped much of the extreme Texas heat this summer, air conditioned interiors are an adjustment. I find it difficult to be inside and feel claustrophobic, boxed in by walls. I’m grateful to be returning to work at Austin’s Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, another beautiful and art-filled outdoor sacred space, and I even sounded a few notes on my recorder in the garden this week.  I’m also looking forward to the start of classes in the next few days at Tapestry Dance Academy, and to my two levels of Duncan dance at the Girls’ School of Austin, starting in September.

How to resume a regular schedule without losing the calm center gained from a few weeks of rhythmic dance practice in the woods? How to re-enter our fast-paced, technologically driven culture and retain a sense of groundedness, of space in the body, of release at the bottom of the exhale? Every fall, it seems, I ask myself these questions. This year, the goal is to stay in the music, to explore fullness of breath—and to get back in my tunic as soon as possible!

Monday, August 8, 2011

An Early Modern Dialogue

I have written before about the synergy between Isadora Duncan’s dance and the work of her contemporary Florence Fleming Noyes.  Both women developed movement practices in the early twentieth century that work with a high center and are informed by the line and shape of the body in classical Greek statuary.  Both women danced barefoot in tunics and in accordance with organic (or natural) movement principles. The work of both women has also been preserved and passed down through body-to-body lineages of dancers for over a century.

I came to the Noyes Rhythm work as an Isadora Duncan dancer, but my process in the Noyes work has been to shed my Duncan dance identity in order to enter fully into the Noyes Rhythm experience. My immersion in Noyes has, nevertheless, been informed by my Duncan work, and last week Lori Belilove, Artistic Director of the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation and my primary Duncan dance mentor, came to spend a week at Noyes as the Artist in Residence. The week also brought a few other Duncan dancers to the Noyes work, including Beliloveable Rachel Herzog, whom I also taught when I was working with Lori in New York, and Audrey Cozzarin, who came up for an afternoon.

What an amazing week! We had a full schedule of Noyes Rhythm work in the mornings and two hours of Duncan dance in the afternoons. It was a full camp, and the Duncan dancers opened up to the Noyes work, and the Noyes dancers caught the spirit of Duncan. It was great to see dancers from both practices begin to make connections between the movement forms. We also had informative dialogue about the different intentions of the practices and held space for the similarities as well as the distinctions. 

I do have to admit, early on during playtime, I realized that my dancing was more Duncan when I passed close to Lori and more Noyesian when I flew past Clio (Noyes master teacher Nancy Nichols), and it was a great challenge to let go of my awareness of the presence of so many teachers and just have my own playtime experience. We had some wild and fun improvisations this week, and our dancing was supported by the presence of two amazing pianists.

Saturday Night was a riot—and the irreverent spirit of Saturday Night was in full force when the two emcees opted to portray Duncan and Noyes time traveling to the year 2011. I ached from laughter when they incorporated Rachel into a skit as their mutual student and asked her to simultaneously dance as woman (Duncan’s perspective) and to embody animal rhythms (metaphor of many Noyes techniques). Rachel hysterically portrayed confusion when told she had no body and no head and was also asked to explore conversational gesture. After so many years of work within both of these techniques, I especially appreciated the push and pull of that particular skit.

There were several more serious memorable moments in the last Saturday Night of the season, including Noyes master teacher ThaLia’s (Barbara Luke) interpretation of a Chopin Nocturne, sharing the Duncan Tanagra Figures with the Noyes community, and Lori’s offering of Duncan’s choreography The Mother. I was also tasked with directing the last masque of the season, and I chose to work with the story of Danae, mother of Perseus.

In honor of the passing rhythm metaphor in the Noyes work, and of my personal experience of the passing rhythm between Duncan dance and Noyes Rhythm, I asked Rachel to dance Duncan’s Chopin Prelude as the first part of the masque introducing the character of Danae as a self-realized, young woman. Then a group representing the tower closed in on her, as she struggled for escape. We worked with a metaphor of creative, feminine energy that cannot be bounded and contained, and the group dancing Zeus’s shower of gold came down from the hill carrying lanterns through the darkness.  The two groups then patterned through space, circling and weaving together before moving into an image of Danae and Perseus locked in a barrel and cast into the sea. The masque concluded with a series of strong chords sending the dancers heroically off into the darkness—emphasizing the aspect of Danae responsible for gestating and birthing a heroic force.

I also made my recorder debut playing duets of two songs—“Cukoo” and “Oats, Peas, Beans, Barley and Corn.” After a few do-overs, and the realization that laughing while playing recorder does not produce the most pleasing tone, I managed to play something recognizable. Thank goodness for that, because during last week’s auction fundraiser, I did auction off a recorder serenade for next summer, and even though I have made my debut, there is still (whew!) ample time for improvement.

All in all—a rich and inspiring week. I am looking forward to an expansion of the dialogue between these historic, yet still so relevant, dance practices and the tunic-draped women that comprise these communities.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sibyls in CT

What a whirlwind! The Sibyls showings were fantastic—many thanks to all of the friends and colleagues who came out in New York and Connecticut to see the performances. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring and sharing this work.

During our second week of rehearsals, we had space daily in the afternoons at Jennifer Muller’s Chelsea studio. This was my first time in her space, and the loft studio has a great, homey feel. There are several desks up front, a kitchen area with a counter and fridge, and the Marley floor, mirrors, and barres demarcate the dancing space in the rear. Beth danced with Muller’s company The Works for nearly a decade, and it was great to spend so much rehearsal time in the space where we would have our first public showing of the Sibyls piece.

There are several sections to the Sibyls piece, and while much of the choreography had been set, some of it was still in structured improvisation form. In the European showings of the work, my role had been played by a much older dancer/actress. So this week, we spent time more fully choreographing and refining the movement aspect of my part. It was great to work in this way with Julia—she has a strong, clear vision for what she wants, and I enjoyed being directed by her. Her discerning eye for developing movement quality and vocabulary in collaboration with the dancers makes working with her a satisfying and mutually creative process, and I had fun exploring the sensuous, earth quality she created for the Oracle. I especially enjoyed dancing the duet we made with Beth—it has been years since I have danced with these women, and it was great fun to play with them again onstage in the space of performance.

I was also able to spend time with a few other Duncan dance colleagues while I was in the city—Faith Kimberling and I managed to grab dinner on Tuesday night and we caught up so late that I ended up sleeping over. Thank goodness for friends who can lend you pj’s and dance clothes! Wednesday evening I cooked dinner in Brooklyn with Jessica, Rosita Roldan, and Rina Rinkevich, and we had the most amazing Spanish rice and beans (thank you Rosita) and a great rubarb pie by candlelight in Rina’s backyard.

Thursday evening we previewed the little difference words make/song of the sibyl at the Muller studio, and had a warm and supportive audience. It was great to see Lori Belilove, John Link, and Cherlyn Smith there. Cherlyn and I had a great laugh when she started to give me feedback, and I knew she’d have comments about my costume and hair (it was our first costumed run, and I hadn’t managed to properly pin my cross-your-heart elastic over my tunic and had one or two long-hair-in-my-face moments). Nevertheless, the feedback was strongly supportive and I thoroughly enjoyed sharing the work.

Friday we headed up to the Noyes School in CT, where we gave a preview performance in the Pavalon by kerosene lantern light. Many thanks to the Noyes Rhythm Foundation for generously housing and feeding our traveling company and providing the perfect atmosphere for informing the subtext of the piece. The evening was threatening a storm, and while the rain held off for our showing in the historic, outdoor dance studio, the winds did seem to blow through on cue.

The Saturday showing at The Kate was beautiful—the tech went smoothly and the lighting for the Sibyls was exquisite. The house was also warm and supportive, and I’m looking forward to seeing the video footage of that full-production showing. In just under two weeks, we put together an amazingly tight show. I’m holding out for another run of this piece in the future.

Yesterday, Julia drove me back to Noyes—I’m looking forward to another creative and inspiring movement experience in this coming week. Noyes Rhythm classes in the mornings and Duncan dance with Lori in the afternoons. I’ve been embodying a dialogue between these two practices now for several years, and I can’t wait to put my teachers in direct conversation and see what new insights emerge.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sibyls in NYC

Our first week of New York City rehearsals for Julia Pond’s the little difference words make/song of the sibyl has flown by.  What serendipity to be staying at Looking Through Trees’ composer Chris Chalfant’s Bay Ridge apartment while we are rehearsing in Park Slope. This has been my first time working at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX), but it has been a convenient and easy commute on the R train and such a pleasure to spend my first few days in the city in Brooklyn. I always have to have a diner meal when I come to New York, and I ate a great breakfast of eggs, potatoes and toast before our first rehearsal.

This year has been full of creative collaborative experiences, and I’m excited to be working with two of my former Duncan colleagues. Julia developed this forty-minute dance/theatre piece first in Italy and has also presented it in England, where she is currently based. Our Saturday, July 30th performance at the Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center (The Kate) in Old Saybrook, CT, constitutes the US premiere. We are previewing the piece next Thursday, July 28th, at 7pm at Jennifer Muller/The Works studio in Manhattan and will do a second preview at the Noyes School of Rhythm in Portland, CT on Friday, July 29th.

My role in this piece is twofold—I’m both dancing and acting as the Oracle. This is the first time in several years that I have worked with spoken text, and the poetic monologues are evocative and rich in imagery. I love exploring the resonance of sound and finding ways to deliver strong language in an organic and believable way. These poems are haunting, and I’m enjoying permeating the boundary between the poetic, verbal landscape and the nonverbal, movement realm.

Julia is setting this piece on a new group of American dancers, including our Duncan colleague Elizabeth Disharoon, who also has choreographed a new suite of dances that will open the show. This week we have sketched through some sections that will be choreographically developed in the coming days, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all takes shape. We added the musicians on Saturday, and I’m once again grateful to be dancing in dialogue with live music. I’m also speaking a bit in dialogue with the soprano’s ethereal vocalization of a 13th Century chant about the sibyls, and the viola da gamba accompaniment completes the soundscape.

Sometimes I really miss New York—it has also been great this week to take Duncan technique classes with both Lori Belilove and Cherlyn Smith. Cherlyn and I grabbed lunch after her class on Friday and had some great catch up time. I’ll also be seeing Lori in another week for her Artist in Residence experience at the Noyes School in CT. Friday night dancer Jessica Rogers and I celebrated Duncan-turned-Baroque dancer Alexis Silver’s birthday at a salsa club in Williamsburg. And yesterday, I was able to train it upstate to visit another Duncan colleague Marie Carstens, who just moved into a beautiful new home with an expansive lawn and a swimming pool—can’t wait to do some tunic-ed skipping in her backyard some day. Such joy to catch up with so many of my Duncan dance community here in the city!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tunics in the Forest: Part II

Today I took the train from New Haven to New York, where I’m rehearsing another project for the next few weeks. Two weeks in the Noyes work is just not enough—thankfully I’ll be back up at Shepherd’s Nine for the first week in August, which is also the last week of the season. Lori Belilove, Artistic Director of the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation, will be Artist in Residence that last week and I’m very much looking forward to participating in an embodied conversation between Duncan technique and the Noyes Rhythm work.

My experience of Noyes Rhythm continues to deepen. Tuesday morning I had a private lesson with Noyes Master Teacher Nancy Nichols, whose eye for stuck places in the body and talent for freeing them astounds me.  Recently, I have been working on releasing some chronically held tension in my right hip, and Nancy (also known as Clio) went right for that spot.

The Noyes private lesson is an interesting combination of hands-on adjustment and improvisational movement—think dancing Thai massage with live piano music. Noyes works with a conception of the body as units (generally corresponding to bones) and spaces (or joints). The torso is comprised of three units—the pelvis, the lower ribs/abdomen, and the shoulder girdle/upper ribs.  Freeing the spaces right above the crest of the pelvis (roughly at the waist or a few inches below the natural waist for some) and at the bottom of the sternum/mid-thoracic/diaphragm enables one to initiate movement from the midsection of the torso, which is a very different feeling than leading with the shoulders or the hips. The result is a wonderful sense of moving with the whole body, both integrated and free, that is characteristic of early modern dance practices.

I took my newfound sense of freedom into my dancing and into my teaching, and Saturday morning I crafted a class around the elemental theme of fire and the muse Erato. For the past several years, Clio has been working on clarifying how the nine Greek muses comprise a spectrum or palette of nine different movement qualities or feelings that can be used to structure class, and Erato was a fun way to finish class on a Saturday morning—especially since Saturday night is the impromptu performance night at Noyes and we were able to carry that energy over into the afternoon rehearsals. I have to admit, some of Erato crept into one skit I initiated for that event. “Eve in Diana’s Grove” spoofed off of our weeklong back and forth conversation about whether or not to eat the wild berries on the property. Irreverence must have been a theme for the week because the skit featured an appearance by Diana herself (another name for Florence Fleming Noyes, the founder of the practice).

The rest of the week was full, with reviews of historic group movement choreographies that our younger generation of teachers is practicing incorporating into our classes, so that historic elements of the work are not lost and even filming parts of these structures so that we have a record perhaps more accurate than human memory. We were blessed in this venture not only to have coaching by Clio, but also by the arrival of Barbara Luke (ThaLia), another Noyes master teacher who returned to camp this year for the first time in a few summers. I am very much looking forward to a “wafting” class with her when I get back up there the first week of August.

I’m also excited to practice more recorder with Birdi, who gave me a few lessons this week. The goal of the Noyes work is creative overflow, and finally for me this year the overflow has flooded into creating music as well as dance movement.  With the year’s wealth of collaborations with live musicians, I’m thrilled to have a portable instrument to explore, as I deepen and expand my knowledge of and ability to talk music.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tunics in the Forest: Part I

Last Saturday afternoon I arrived at the Noyes School of Rhythm, on Penfield Hill Road in Cobalt, CT, for two weeks of dance, music, and merriment, on a beautiful wooded property cupping a crisp and cool spring-fed lake. Summer has finally arrived!

This is my seventh summer to spend a period of a few weeks or more dancing in my tunic in the forest, accompanied by amazingly sensitive pianists and partnering with birdsong and breezes for several hours of movement each day.  I have missed only one summer since my first experience with the Noyes movement in 2004, and that was due to distance and graduate school economics. I am very blessed to be spending a total of three full (if not consecutive) weeks here this summer, and to deepening my experience in and understanding of Noyes Rhythm as both an apprentice teacher of this work and as a student.

Arrival at Noyes is often a whirlwind of welcomes and catch-up conversations, and this year was no exception—in fact, I arrived at the tail end of the co-ed week, and just in time to be audience for some raucous and inspiring Saturday Night performances. I also overlapped with a few members of the Colors in Motion TM Creative Team, and we shot some late night footage for the next evolution of that project, focusing on light dancing in painting, poetry, movement, and sound. I’m excited to see the raw footage shot by Christopher Graefe, with whom I hope to collaborate again before my northeastern summer sojourn is done.

This week has been filled with rest (read sleep) and beautiful rhythmic movement. Most days have been sunny and dry, and afternoons slip by with laps across the lake. The evening improvisational dance times have evolved spontaneous duets and group dances, some of which were reprised for Saturday Night. Only one day of rain, and that was a heavy downpour, a storm complete with thunder, lightening, mud and leaky tents. Rarely do we forego our evening “playtime” here, but we did spend Friday evening in the recreation room of the farmhouse, dancing to old gramophone records and trying to remember how to foxtrot. The windup record players still work (take that, new technology) and one even made it down to the Pavalon as a featured prop in a Saturday Night skit.

There has been space and breath in the dance movement this week—fullness characterized by the completion of the under-arc and the over-arc, both important realms in the Noyes work. Growth and light and lightness resonate through the folds and unfolds of the limbs, which merely echo fluctuations in consciousness.  Camp-brain seems to have taken over, and I found myself pinning a note to myself to my tunic this morning in an attempt to remember a to-do (would that I had this much trouble recalling my undone list in the outside world!). I am very grateful for this time of dappled sunlight though the trees and soft earth underfoot, as I skip over roots and under branches to dance again tonight, outdoors, lit by moonbeams and hanging stars…

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tunics on Dagoba

What would Isadora Duncan have thought of last weekend’s premiere performances by Dagoba Dance? Certainly she would have supported the mission of Big Range Austin Dance Festival, which annually produces several programs of shows featuring choreography by both emerging and established dance artists. But, I’m not sure how she would have responded to the Dance Carousel format—a sampling of short dances presented by ten choreographers, showing one minute of material at a time. And while Duncan may have appreciated the epic and archetypal nature of Star Wars, I’m not sure if she would have viewed it as appropriate subject matter for the dance.

Nevertheless, last weekend I premiered a new piece as part of Dagoba Dance in the Dance Carousel portion of the Big Range Austin Dance Festival. In 2007, I danced as part of a trio choreographed by Michelle Nance, an Erik Hawkins trained dancer and faculty member at Texas State, and out of that collaboration came an image of the planet Dagoba from Star Wars, a muddy, mucky, and murky environ. This spring, Michelle had the idea of presenting material as Dagoba Dance and spoofing on the familiar Star Wars theme—an entire commentary on the art of modern dance emerged!

A multi-media collaboration, Dagoba Dance featured music from Moscow guitarist Max Rotschild and dance for the camera sequences crafted by Ana Baer Carrillo.  The four pieces, “Marthleia” (Michelle Nance), “Robots” (Kaysie Seitz Brown), “Leia Noces” (Meg Brooker), and “WompRats” (Caroline Sutton Clark), each spun from a recognizable Star Wars theme or quote. The first piece juxtaposed iconic (and caricatured) movements from Graham dances with a textual narrative introducing the Dance Wars. The second piece featured images of tunic-draped free movement via video contrasted by a cardboard costumed robot berating her metallic body.

I choreographed the third piece, a trio which played off the “Help me…You’re my only hope” line, by pairing the furtive and secretive projected recording of Leia pleading for help with a stoic and severe choreographic reference to the Nijinska ballet Les Noces.  The link here not only jabbed at Leia’s famous braids and the braids-become-bondage metaphor enacted in the Nijinska interpretation of the marriage ritual, but also at the long versus short hair metaphor that characterizes the hierarchy between the ballet corpse and soloists or between bunheads in general and modern dancers.

Closing Dagoba Dance’s offering of four sections, and the entire show for that matter, was the “WompRats,” choreographed by the ever-witty Caroline Sutton Clark.  Skulking through the WompRat Basic, a trio of dancers donned rat masks and bore the bombardment of Nerf balls fired by eager audience members. Now how many years of dance training and performance does it take to pull off something like that?

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!