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.