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?