Monday, April 25, 2011

The Arts: Opportunities & Funding

These days, I am grateful for the opportunities I have to make and share work. When I was young and dreaming of a career in the arts, I used to wonder if anyone would every want me—if anyone would ever offer me an opportunity to perform. (Part of that is the glassy-eyed dreaming of youth, and part of it is the way performing artists, in our entertainment economy, are disempowered—a subject for another post!). Thankfully, for now, opportunity to create and share work abounds—the issue, at this point, is how to pay for it.

Photo by Sheila Fox
Duncan was no stranger to the struggles of fundraising to support her artistic goals. Though audiences paid well to see her dance, she battled with managers and producers who swindled funds, and she also had moral issues with being a high price ticket item and ultimately wanted to share her art for free. She also wanted to found a tuition-free school (needless to say, developing a capitalist business sense was not high on her agenda). Many artists follow this pattern—we want to make work and we want to share it. But, somehow, we also have to figure out how to eat and pay rent…and repay student loans (yet another topic for future consideration).

The best solution I can currently come up with a lot of jobs. And, right now, I have a lot of jobs! Miraculously, they all seem to be jobs in the arts. In addition to creating, performing, and teaching, and I am also deep in the process of fundraising for Austin’s Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum. This Thursday, April 28th, from 6:30-9:30, we are having a party—with food, wine, music, and fabulous silent auction items. This year’s check-in and check-out processes will be computerized through Auction Source, so get ready for bar code stickers for the bidding. If you’ve not bought tickets and want to come, visit Garden Party for more info and a link to online tickets.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, Photo by Sheila Fox

Day jobs, or multiple jobs, generally provide financial support, but there is a cost, and the data entry for this recent event has been no small feat—hence the eight and twelve hour days I have put in. Must be why I dreamed of dancing Duncan Dionysians last night—my body must be neurologically compensating, while I sleep, for those long hours of sitting at the computer. (Hmm…the neurological effects of dreaming about dancing—definitely a future subject to explore).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Klytemnestra Premiere

Last weekend we opened Divergence Vocal Theater’s new performance space to two sold-out, standing-room-only crowds. Kyle Evans and Meredith Harris beautifully played Dominick DiOrio’s haunting score, while Misha (voice), Miranda (acting), and I (dance) visually shaped the soundscape. For this project, we spent several weekends in development, and now that Divergence Vocal Theater has its own space, we’ll be able to spend even more time creating, exploring, and refining new repertory.

So, what exactly are we creating—what is the context for this work? I mentioned a few weeks ago my attempt to describe the non-linear, non-narrative nature of the piece to my cousin, who has not been exposed to much experimental or avant-garde performance. He was dubious and concerned about “getting it.” But after I suggested that he not try to intellectually understand it, but, rather, to just let the images and the music wash over him like a wave, to not try and hold on to what he was experiencing, but to simply watch the images like impressions from a dream, he “got it.”

Many years ago, I performed in the chorus of Now That Communism is Dead, My Life Feels Empty, written and directed by Richard Foreman. In attempting to contextualize the work that DVT is creating, I am reminded of audience’s responses to Foreman’s work. We developed that show over a four-month, full-time rehearsal process and it ran for a four-month period. The actors came for our first rehearsal completely off-book, and the development process consisted of staging and restaging the text, exploring images, tempo-rhythms, and sensory impressions, and then completely discarding them.  Around November, we had a show with a brightly colored set and an almost circus-like feel. We opened in January with a black set and more subdued staging, but the shared memory of the many stagings of the show, drafted through our rehearsal process. Even though the audience only saw the final version, many remarked on how they intuited imagery from earlier drafts.

This kind of performance asks for audiences to experience through a mode of reception that is sensory and somatic, rather than rational and intellectual.  It also asks the performers to create from a space that is not clearly cast, but is intuited, inspired, trusted. I look forward to continuing this relational collaboration—stay tuned for details about the official party to open the space later in May. I’ll be back in Houston for festivities and for more performances!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Carnival Ah! & Spring Workshop

One of the most oft-quoted Duncan sayings is her line about a “school of life.” As I try to find my way with this work in the world, I keep coming back to the myriad ways Duncan’s dance is hard to define. It blurs boundaries between concert and social dance forms, between dance and theater, between art and life.

Klytemnestra rehearsal
Perhaps Kate Cleary put it most succinctly recently when she said it was a somatic movement practice that has been academicized. It is a dance form built on intuiting specific movement pathways resulting in a movement vocabulary that can be codified, but the dancer is still tasked with generating the movement from his or her own source. There is a map, a blueprint, but Duncan’s dance is not simply a mimetic art form.  You can’t just pretend to splash—you actually have to get wet.

Klytemnestra rehearsal
This is one of the ways Duncan’s dance is closely aligned to theater—to accomplish the movements you have to really do them.  A few weeks ago, I wrote a bit about Duncan’s close artistic friendship with Russian theatre revolutionary Constantine Stanislavksy. Stanislavsky’s legacy to actors is the concept of action/objective. You have to do something in order to get what you want.  If the actor does not accomplish really doing on behalf of the character, then the audience is not going to believe the character.

I think dancers can benefit from training in the art of really doing, of synchronizing intention and physical action. This is what brings movement to life and makes the dance matter, both to the performer and to the observer. This is one of many skills that studying Duncan’s dance technique can teach.

Klytemnestra rehearsal
I’m feeling very blessed to have so many opportunities to share this aspect of Duncan’s work in the coming week. Tomorrow, my Modern Dance I students will take the stage on the Rio Grande campus of Austin Community College for an open technique class from 1:30-2:40pm. If you are in Austin and want to try this movement, join us as part of Carnival Ah!, ACC’s annual spring humanities festival. I’ll be teaching a straight-up Duncan technique class, tunic and all. 

If you can make it to Houston on Sunday, April 17th, I’ll be teaching a three-hour Isadora Duncan Spring Workshop at Divergence Vocal Theater’s new space, after the premiere performances of our newest collaborative opera Klytemnestra. And if you are interested in all things Greek, check out Nancy Wozny’s "Greek Drama Gone Wild" article about Houston’s latest Greek invasion.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tunics in Washington, DC

Sharing a common language, a common vocabulary of expression, is such a special aspect of being a Duncan dancer. Last week I traveled to Washington, DC, for a round of spring board meetings for the Noyes Rhythm Foundation, and had the good fortune to dance with a few local Duncanites as well.

Dancing at Isadora's Legacy studio
As I’ve mentioned before, this first year of board service for the Noyes Rhythm Foundation has been such an incredible experience. Not only am I becoming more steeped in nonprofit policy and administration, but I am also working with an incredible group of brave and generous women. We are visioning for the future of the Noyes work in a way that makes me very excited to see what the next years will bring. If you are a tunic-draped barefoot dancer, consider gifting yourself a week of movement in the woods, with beautiful live music and lots of space to breath. I’m very much looking forward to gracing the boards of the pavalon this summer (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, the pavalon is the Noyes outdoor dance studio—an open air studio with a vaulted ceiling and no center beams, a pavilion named as a gesture to the Parthenon in ancient Greece).

Dancing at Isadora's Legacy
In addition to our pre-board meeting, Noyes Rhythm movement sessions, I also donned my tunic for Duncan dancing with two local DC area dancers. Roberta Hoffman, director of Isadora’s Legacy: The Center for the Preservation of Modern Dance, has been dancing the Duncan work for many years. She generously invited me to her studio, where we improvised playfully, and I danced some of my Schubert waltzes. Roberta also screened video for me of her dancing several Duncan repertory pieces and of interviews she conducted with 2nd-generation Duncan dancer Hortense Kooluris. She told me wonderful stories about the thriving community of Duncan dancers who gathered when Lori Belilove first opened her New York studio. I am still trying to find a way to get an adult class going here in Austin—Austin dancers, if you have never had a Duncan class, you really don’t know what you are missing!

"Waterstudy" at Isadora's Legacy
On the note of Duncan dance in Texas, it was so great to have class with Cynthia Word (who is a native Texan). Miscalculating the walk (read “hike”) from the DC metro to the studio (DC metro is great, but it is not NY), I arrived at class a few minutes late. Thankfully, the dancers were still warming up, exploring a spiraling pattern on the floor.  We moved from floorwork, to traveling barre phrases, to locomotion (skip turns and signal turns!) to an image-driven improvisation. What joy to step (even late) into a class with dancers you have never met before, and share a common language of breath and movement! As we closed class with the “Tanagra Figures,” I felt deeply appreciative of the opportunity to carve familiar pathways through space with a new group of dancers.

Duncan lived her life as a global citizen—it fits that, in a contemporary era, her dance movement, even if practiced by a relative few, spans countries, as well as continents. One unique element of Duncan’s work is the relational quality of the gesture. Duncan crafted dialogue through movement, and I’m honored to be part of the gestural conversation.