Last week I performed as part of Koresh's "Come Together" Festival. The two companies with whom I've been working since 2009 - the Nora Gibson Performance Project and Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers both performed. And both performed on the same night. I am so grateful to have been a part of the festival and to have performed with both of these organizations.
Nora's work is like sprinting for 10 minutes straight, and trying to look beautiful at the same time. It's also crazy brain work because choreographically, she manipulates limited space and sequence. Do you remember that Math problem that went something along the lines of "Take any ordinary paper. Now fold it in half. Now fold it in half again... How many times can you fold it in half?" The answer, no matter the size of the paper is 6, and the final size of the last segment is .8cm... with a formula of 2n*0.125 according to several sources. I think that Nora is constantly trying to disprove or re-prove that theory with dance. She also uses musical structures as inspiration and a host of other things. My job is to execute the work flawlessly. (Yikes!)
Equally challenging, but in a very different way is the work of Kun-Yang Lin. Perhaps this is the more scary. Kun-Yang pushes me to be emotionally and therefore physically vulnerable - more vulnerable than I'm comfortable - but he provides a safe place for which this can occur. He pushes me beyond what I know as a performer, therefore asking me to find something new within myself. I need to move from places internally that I've either not yet discovered or ignored for whatever reason. He challenges me to find those places, ask those questions, look into the depth of those hidden places and emerge in a state of honesty. (Eekk!)
So performing these very different works in the same evening terrified me. For those of my readers who are not performers, it takes time and practice to drop into a performance mindset.
Whew.. that was obscure. Let me try to make that more clear.
Mindfulness. This is a practice that is growing in popularity. I encourage you to check out Jon Kabat Zinn, Taoism through the lens of Deng Ming-Dao, Yoga, The Jefferson Hospital Mindfulness Institute, or Google Contemplative Practices
The practice has been around for thousands of years, so if this is the first you're reading about it, please do some additional research.
In (VERY) short, the practice demands that the practitioner exist in the present moment. Don't we always do that? Not really... how many times a day are you multi-tasking? Eating and... watching TV? Reading? Driving? Writing? Studying? Talking? Are you going over your to-list on your way to work/class/social engagement/etc.? Have you ever "missed" something (a turn, a building, a person, an appointment) because you were thinking of something else?
Mindfulness demands that we let go of all of those extra activities and exist in the present moment. Personally, I found that when I began engaging in this practice, I was actually less efficient at multitasking.
(What?!? Why can't I eat, schedule a meeting, hold a conversation, carry three classes of papers and another three classes of dance shoes and music and a change of clothes, and try to transport myself from one location to another at the same time?? My initial reaction was "$&*#! I used to be able to do this! What the $%#! happened? Oh wait, I'm not really supposed to be able to do this. This is a little insane. I can't do this anymore because I'm practicing not doing this anymore and becoming more efficient at being present and doing one thing at a time. Oh." Four bags dropped. I put the banana down. And the cell phone. I stood against my car, took a deep breath, and appreciated the sun and the small hills of Pennsylvania - technically part of the "Appalachian Mountains" but not quite mountains any longer. And laughed at myself for trying to be mindful and over-productive at the same time. Super counter-intuitive.)
Performance, like mindfulness, demands that we be exactly where we are. However, that "Where We Are" becomes something depending on the work. Sort of like opening the closest and ending up in Narnia. Every time is a little different, but demands full attention and curiosity.
For many performances, I prepare by focusing on the work and getting my head and body space ready to enter this particular World. For Thursday's performance, I was challenged by existing in two different Worlds, separated by only a few minutes (and I had no Starship Enterprise to ease my transition).
Part of my practice for this performance was to return to why I love dance. And in doing so, I discovered a buried gem from some of my students. In it contained notes of excitement and gratitude for the gift of dance, personal empowerment, and performance. And so I gained a new and familiar but long-lost sense of courage determination, and Performance.
So, thanks to Koresh for hosting the Festival. Thank you Ken, Kun-Yang, and Nora for trusting me with your work. Thank you, dear students and friends for the reminder that dance is a wonderful gift to challenge and transform.