Saturday, November 27, 2010

Updates and looking back

I'm including a video from our performance in September. Yes, it's from a while back, but I think it's important to follow up with what I had started several months ago; especially because this was a change from my normal way of working. So, included is a dress rehearsal of Song of Euterpe.

The music was graciously permitted by Dante Bucci. The performance by Megan Quinn. The opportunity provided by BillH Photography and the CEC.

Thank you!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Re-staging "In a Small Space"

Mark your calendars for December 4th and 5th! I'm re-staging an older work with Ellen Gerdes called "In a Small Space" at the Etc. Performance Series. The work includes music by Reading native David Cullen, a wonderful person and musician. More to come on the process of getting the work back into our bodies.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

after "after the fall"

Like the leaves, the performance exploded and faded. All of the dancers at West Chester performed beautifully. I did write small "bios" for my dancers detailing what their commitment meant to me and how I felt they were present in the piece and in the music. However, I believe those are words for them and not to be published without their consent. Bios are very personal, which is why we so often write our own, I guess. Obituaries, very similar, but we don't have a choice in what they speak about our lives.

I want to take this moment to thank my cast.
To thank Gretchen for allowing me the opportunity.
To thank the West Chester community for welcoming me.
To thank Chris and Mark for their continued support, ideas, inspiration, and collaboration.
To thank those who chose to see our work and took a moment to digest it.
To thank those who will continue thinking, working, and challenging.

I would also like to thank you for taking this journey with me.

I welcome any thoughts or comments on the process or the performance. I'd love to hear your feedback.

falling leaves...

Chris worked extensively on the music the weekend that I was in Arizona for the National Dance Educator's Organization Conference. The conference was incredibly inspiring and Arizona was beautiful! I loved being able to sit outside in a tank top and read by a pool, knowing that back in Philly, I would soon be wearing gloves and a scarf.

I received the music and plugged it into the car as I traveled up and down the interstates that following week. While I was away, the leaves of the trees began to change and the intensity of the colors struck me dramatically upon return.

As I synced Chris's work with the video of rehearsal, the movement and sound instantly took me back to the moments on the highway. Reflecting on the changing of the leaves, I began to appreciate how the trees and the leaves joyfully announced their death and their change. In our culture, we do not proclaim our deaths grandly, like the leaves. It was almost as if the leaves were/are celebrating a change. Almost as if they know that they will return - or that some essence of them will return - and when they leave, they will continue to contribute to the betterment of their environment. There is no mourning. There is no sadness. There is a brilliant announcement of change. A brilliant announcement of things that were and things to come. A beautiful explosion of color and excitement that disappears just as quickly.

The dance studio at West Chester sits a top a hill, next to a bountiful forest. The week that I made the connection between the season, the movement, and the music, the trees at the University were screaming in reds and oranges and yellows and greens. I tried to capture that moment with my cell phone, but in doing so, I immediately realized that I would fail. Yes, my phone does not have a great camera, but I would be unable to box up that moment. And that moment would last for me only that day. By the following week, the trees had lost many of their leaves.

And so, in response to the call of the forest, I need to let go of those things which box me in. I needed to let go of those things to which I try to box. In response to the leaves, I need to continue to journey into the moments after the fall.

This is a scary, but exciting process. One filled with a hopefulness for things to come.

I saw each of my dancers in Chris's music. He has a way of being able to bring an individual's energy to life. Through the work of my dancers, the work of Chris, and the piece itself, it is my hope that whatever process started within us will continue.

Thank you.

after the fall: Steps in the Process... Inspiration, visualization, and movement

In continuing to work, I was asked by our lighting designer to provide visual images. Generally, when working in collaboration it is a good idea to have multiple points of reference from which to speak and clarify. Language is often fleeting and personal. Images and sounds, even text, can be more concrete examples of ideas.

Up until this challenge, this work was based purely on text and my impressions. There were no visual images... until I looked deeper into myself and my research.

The obituary page.

The obituary page is a very interesting page in the newspaper. In the past, it was a series of grids, with words in small columns. Now, it oftentimes contains pictures. From a spatial and structural perspective, this outline became important. Each obituary is a different length; the columns are not equal in size, but similar in shape. Try this experiment: look at the obituary page. Fuzz your eyes a little so you cannot read the text, but only see shapes. To me, these shapes for a sort of skyline. From a philosophical perspective, I became angry that a life could be shaped into a small box with limited description. It seems as though I have spent a large portion of my life "thinking outside of the box" and not "fitting into the box." I wondered how many of the people who lay before me in black and white spent their years doing the same, only to be relegated to a box as the only public evidence of their life.

The Philadelphia skyline.

The images of the obituaries led me to this particular picture of the Philadelphia skyline. The buildings form a sort of grid pattern. They suggest that people live there, and that people have their stories, there. But there is no actual evidence of people in the picture. The sky is hazy and casting a pastel hue over the buildings. The moment is soft and almost nostalgic, but devoid of evidence of human life itself. Against the green tree tops, the builds are harsh and cold. In truth, this could be any skyline. It is particular to me because this is where I call home and this is where I see an absence of humanity.

Photo by Marcia Lippman in Dance Ink.

I love the essence of this photo. It is soft and elegant. We see bodies - female bodies? We see arms reaching, fingers clasping, touching, feeling. I experience a sensation of warmth, safety, comfort. Yet, they have no heads. We do not know who these people are, just that they are people, and they need people. They need each other. They are close - physically, but I sense emotionally, also. They could be anyone and no one.

In a very different sense than the coldness of the obituary and the skyline, this picture ignores the personality of the individuals by negating their faces and their entire body. As I express in my earlier entries, what are we without our bodies? (No matter what those bodies are, we are our bodies.)

As a society, we negate the personhood of an individual all of the time. Granted, sometimes we must for personal safety, security, and sanity - but when did this begin? When did we have to start negating people to protect our own personhood?

The costumes.

My female dancers wore tunics in deep red, brown, and a yellow-green. The tunics were embroidered around the neckline in the same color as the rest of the dress. In this way, the detail was difficult to see without looking closely. Space between the threads and the flow of the fabric allowed the dancers' skin to peek through. Watching the dancers move, I am aware they have something under the tunic, but I cannot gleam what.

My male dancer wore "diaper pants." These are pants that the dancer wraps around him/her self, tying in the front and in the back. The pants are loose and allow for movement of the front and back panels. This also allows the dancer's skin to peer through the costume.

Like the pictures, the costumes allow for the viewer to see pieces of the human skin. Although covering the individual, the costume allows the viewer to catch glimpses of the living breathing entity under the fabric.

Each of these also contains elements of "old." When discussing these with my dancers, I scattered the elements in a tight space on the studio floor. In a previous rehearsal, I asked them to write their bios for me. Many of them listed the traditional facts bios contain. I added these to the pile. The dancers observed that the objects looked like they belonged under glass in a museum exhibit. Like a museum exhibit, these objects looked like they one contained or helped define a life with stories and laughter and tears. However, scattered together, they looked empty and antique.

My dancers also noted that with the addition of THEIR bios, these objects became part of THEIR stories. And then some of them became very angry that their stories were relegated to a small space on a studio floor. That any one person's stories could be relegated to a small space under glass.

My working title for the piece became "through the glass."

In developing much of the movement, I gave my dancers the assignment to draw their names with their bodies. I asked them to draw their names with their heads and noses, with their upper bodies, with their lower bodies, and to create a phrase that traveled, used their entire body, and spelled out their name. We manipulated these phrases with time, space, weight, and breath. I hesitate to dive more deeply into the hows of the movement because through the course of the eight weeks, the intention became more important to the development of the work.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Trenches - phase 1 of after the fall

Angie is a dear, dear friend and colleague. She and I created two duets for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival and performed them in the fall of 2010. Angie was one of my dancers in microcosmic current and I was hers in The Rented World. These performances premiered last spring. We have an incredible working and personal relationship.

Trenches began as an exploration of words. I created the movement vocabulary from the rhythm of her obituary.

Angie and I spend several conversations in deep discussion regarding the work. I approached Trenches as an investigation, as my beginning research. It was helpful to have a performance deadline to generate and perform a work, even if it was only in process.

I questioned the need for obituaries. Angie agreed that she had cut out obituaries of people she had known and pasted them in her journal. I questioned if this was a common practice. Obituaries made/make me angry. They say nothing about the person other than dry fact. Birthday. Death day. Education. Job. Family. Interment. (which is a strange word in itself... maybe a different investigation...) At her memorial service, people talked about her apple pie. Her giant dinners. The way she cared for the neighborhood. Her obituary said none of these things and it angered me.

Angie pointed out that we do this with our bios. Oftentimes, dancers and choreographers will have bios in programs. If you've ever been to a live performance of a musical, play, theater, or dance, you will be familiar with this custom. Angie noticed that we often write our own bios and they often contain information regarding education, training, and other professional experiences. The bios that we write rarely contain any personal information.

(My bio now lists that I enjoy the beach, mind-body practices, and puppies.)

And we worked.

I decided on the title Trenches for several reasons. 1) A bio or obit is a brief glimpse into some one's life. Anthropologists and archaeologists when digging for artifacts will first dig small sections in an area; small plots several feet away from each other and several feet deep. These plots (or trenches) are designed to provide a view into the earth and a glimpse at a life or lives that might have been lived there. If several trenches in one area provide some artifacts (defined as anything that a human used), the dig commences. If nothing is found, the team moves to another location. 2) Trenches were small pits dug as part of World War I. These pits provided security of life, and sometimes provided shallow graves for previous lives. Similarly, obituaries provide evidence of life and a very shallow representation of life.

Tracy Scott Silverman kindly granted me permission to use his version of "Here Comes the Sun" for this work. The choice to seek Mr. Silverman's work and choice to use it are intuitive. His version is sad and hopeful. Mr. Silverman is an extremely talented violinist, musician, and artist and I encourage you to check out more of his work. He sometimes travels for performances to PA, so mark your calendars! Here's a link to his website and some of his music:

I have not fully processed the work that Angie and I created, but I'm including it so you can see the beginning stages of this process. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey. I appreciate your feedback.

I'm terrible at saying good bye...

I had the pleasure of taking a workshop at the Chi Movement Arts Center with Losang Samten. (Please look him up or the workshop. This was an incredible opportunity and one on which I will spend much time reflecting.) The workshop explored the sacred tradition of Mandalas. Among other words that resonated with me deep in my heart and in my root center, (or visualize any point where you ground yourself), was the story of a Tibetan monk who passed away; his body remained in tact for eighteen days. This reminded me of a class with Dr. Allen. We watched a video of Tibetan yogies who were able to predict or postpone their death. The idea of controlling the body to this magnitude, or to be this in tune with one's self and the universe is completely amazing and enthralling. I have such a profound respect for these stories and those who the stories surround. I don't believe them to be just stories...

I believe that one woman who meant a great deal to me had a similar awareness. I will eternally respect her awareness, and I am angry at my own ignorance. I can regret and blame myself for not being more available to her in this life, or for not being aware, but that is unfair to her and her decisions. But I miss her. She demonstrated for me true kindness, forgiveness, generosity, frustration, love. Through her life, she allowed me to see what it meant to be a real, loving, hurting human being. She had incredible strength and determination and drive. And although her aggression was gentle, she could command a room. Or, she could disappear into the background if that was her choice.

I really miss her.

When I would visit, she would tell me stories. All kinds of stories. Stories from the Depression. Stories about World War II. Stories about her mother. Stories about her cousins. Stories about tap dancing. Stories about cancer. Stories about hospitals. Stories about surgeries. Stories about her children. Stories about dogs.

And we would look at pictures. Black and white pictures. Pictures yellowed with age. Pictures that had scalloped edges. Pictures of me and my stories.

With her pictures she had obituaries of people she had lost.

What a strange practice, I thought. Why, with all of these pictures, was it necessary to keep this evidence of death? She maintained so much evidence of life.

When she passed, one of the first things I did was print out her obituary. I have so many memories and concrete objects from her - including some of her art work. But her obituary remains folded in my journal.

I hate saying goodbye, but I also believe that this was her clear decision. I believe that I will never really have to say goodbye and that in whatever comes next, she is at peace.

after the fall... entry 1

I've been hesitating to write about this process. I've avoided, because when I begin I feel a tightness under my sternum. I can't say that I feel it in my heart, because I know that my heart lives just slightly to the left, under my sternum. No, this feels like a constricting of the small muscles of my rib cage, closest to the center of my body.

I hesitate because I have grown so deeply attached to this process and my dancers. Eight students at West Chester University and I only had eight rehearsals together. They generously granted me their trust. I can only hope that they come out of this process having learned something about their kinesthetic knowledge and the incredible stories that their bodies can tell. I deeply respect them, their stories, and their courage.

The dancers and their department head are graciously allowing me to write about the process. The words are still coming to me and I believe they will take some time, but it is important that I take some of the first few steps. And so, let's begin....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

West Chester University Dance Concert Press Release

West Chester University Dance Company


Reception/ Perception

Madeleine Wing Adler Theatre

Swope Music Building and The Performing Arts Center

817 South High Street

West Chester, PA

Friday, November 19th, 8pm

Saturday, November 20th, 2pm & 8pm


Department of Theatre & Dance Box Office (610) 436-2533


$15 Gen Adm, $12 Std w/ID & Srs

West Chester, PA-West Chester University Dance Company, in cooperation with The College of Visual and Performing Arts and the Department of Theatre and Dance, is proud to present Reception/Perception, the annual fall faculty and guest artist dance concert. Faculty works by Gretchen Studlien-Webb, Liz Staruch, and adjunct faculty Lisa Lovelace will be presented, in addition to guest artists’ works by Megan Bridge and Jessica Warchal-King of Philadelphia. Three select student pieces will also be showcased.

Studlien-Webb, the director of the West Chester University Dance Company, will present two works. The first is a premiere, as yet untitled, that represents a look into the inner self with each dancer developing their own character though dynamic quality shifts and individual movement invention. Dance Into The Light, v.3 is a reconstruction of an energetic dance in which the interplay with lighting is fundamental and strategically imperative. Lighting for this concert is by Philadelphia-based designer Mark O’Maley.

West Chester faculty member Liz Staruch will present the start of a year-long project incorporating film and dance performance entitled The Camera Betrays You. The project, funded in part by a grant from the West Chester University Provost’s Office, is an artistic collaboration between Staruch, three professional dancers from Philadelphia and New York City, photographer Victoria Zolnoski from Johnson State College in Vermont, and O’Maley. Raw footage from the first site specific shoot at the High Line in New York City will be presented during this concert.

Interruption is the new piece from adjunct faculty Lisa Lovelace. This dance is a playful look at how we try to be hospitable to the constant interruption of our lives. Using cell phones, the dancers receive calls, text friends, and have conversations. As an independent choreographer, Lovelace has performed throughout Philadelphia and surrounding counties. She has also been a recent guest artist at Eastern University and St. Josephs’ University.

Megan Bridge is a dancer and dance maker based in Philadelphia. She currently co-directs , a platform for her collaborative work with Peter Price. They have performed their work at venues and festivals in Austria, Germany, South Africa, Poland, Lithuania, New York, and Philadelphia. Bridge’s work Cellular Tremor is not about cell phones vibrating. But her interests lie in the bio-mechanical unfoldings of the post-human.

Jessica C. Warchal-King, a member of the Nora Gibson Performance Project and apprentice with Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers in Philadelphia, will present after the fall. The work questions the way we compartmentalize the human experience and delves into ways that our bodies provide our narrative. Warchal-King recently received her MFA in Dance from Temple University. The work includes original composition by Christopher Farrell.

The student pieces by Angela Frezzo, Lauren Quattrone, and Dominic Caton and Alisa Silverman set on fellow WCU dance students were selected through an audition process.

Music for "after the fall"

"after the fall" is a new piece I'm setting on a wonderful group of students at West Chester University. Here is the music, created by Christopher Farrell. More to come on the process, soon!!

The performance is November 19th and 20th at West Chester University.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Study of Euterpe, music and the muse

Megan and I began this process several months ago. After microcosmic current, and the other performances that occurred in the spring, I needed time to decompress and process; I also needed to continue working. I will be eternally grateful to Megan for agreeing to show up in the studio with me. She (very gently, but strongly) demanded that I continue working on the creative process; in return for her time, patience, honestly, and understanding, I was responsible for creating a new work for her.

In this new work, I decided to attack a critique that has weaved in and out of the past three years.

I have received criticism that my past work is not always musical - or that some of my mentors do not understand how I use music. Let me break down two common ways of working with music: Complementary Sound and Movement Partnerships and Simultaneous Experience. I feel that Complementary Sound and Movement Partnerships can be best explained by Mr. George Balanchine. He said "See the music. Hear the dance." Many ballet companies perform his work and his collaborations with Igor Stravinsky. (The Houston Ballet has some clips of his work on YouTube if you're interested.) Likewise, Martha Graham's collaboration with Aaron Copland on Appalachian Spring is a strong example of Complementary Sound and Movement Partnerships. This relationship is one where the dance and the music are representative of each other. The choreographer may choose to follow the specific rhythm of the music. A dancer's jump on a high level may correspond with a high note in the music. A character may be associated with a specific instrument, like in Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. (There is much more to the definition, but for that, I encourage you to investigate the work on your own.)

Merce Cunningham and John Cage are the most famous examples of Simultaneous Experience. Cage (a composer) and Cunningham (a choreographer) would produce concerts where the dancers would hear the music for the first time during the performance. Cage would create his music. Cunningham would create his dance. The two experiences would occur in the same space and time for the first time during performance. This type of work demonstrated the significance of chance in our everyday life. Sometimes beautiful "accidents" happened. Sometimes the work just existed. I personally think it is quite fascinating that Cage and Cunningham were successful is translating life chances to the stage in this very real and honest form.

In my work, I am interested in the way a musical piece sounds, in the way it vibrates in my body, and in the research that the artist did in its creation.

Study of Euterpe was/is a practice of Complementary Sound and Movement Partnerships. Rarely, do I begin a work with a predesignated piece of music. This was an exciting and painstaking challenge. Megan and I worked intensely in our rehearsals listening to the music, listening to my body, listening for the most honest response to Mr. Bucci's music.

Mr. Bucci plays the Hang. It is an incredibly haunting instrument and resembles a UFO. It is quite as well; the instrument creates a haunting resonance that seems to float and linger in my own kine-atmosphere, slightly above my field of vision. The piece I chose with which to work was Evolution. I was interested in this instrument and Mr. Bucci's work because of the many tones, sound levels, and harmonies that can be created. Similarly, I believe that a solo body can create a symphony of sound, energies, and dynamic qualities. Like the Hang cannot be performed without its musician, the space cannot exist without its dancer. I view the space as my instrument and my body as the musician, dictating and deciding the notes with information from the space.

In creating this Complementary Sound and Movement research, I listened to Evolution constantly. First, I just listened. Then, I tried to break the work apart - to discern its levels and repetitions. I listened to Evolution while I performed everyday activities (dishes, laundry, etc.) to allow the music to enter my subconscious. In this way, I could interact with the music on multiple levels. Evolution has a circular quality and accumulates. In the moment when I, as a listener, thought I had the pattern figured out, the music shifted in a surprise twist and dove into a new direction. Initially, I improvised with Evolution after it had entered my subconscious. Its twists and dives became familiar to me and in my own rehearsals and improvisations, I listened as my body repeated similar patterns. These patterns developed into Megan's vocabulary and together, we fleshed out and played with the polyrhythmic qualities of Mr. Bucci's music as it swelled in our bodies.

I've titled the work Study of Euterpe because Megan and I are just beginning to dive into the performance of the piece. This work, in its current stage, is still an exercise in Complementary Sound and Movement Partnerships. I am fortunate to have the time, the space, and the willingness of a dancer and friend to engage with this delicate research.

Euterpe is the Greek muse of music and lyric poetry, one of the nine muses of Apollo. Her name means "rejoicing" or "delight." It is appropriate to acknowledge her in this process.

I'm posting the piece in its workshop form. This is still an academic and physical investigation. We're still exploring. Thank you to Megan and Mr. Bucci for your inspiration.

A very special thank you to Nanette Hudson Joyce for her incredible lighting design and for the opportunity to exhume the process.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Upcoming events

September 3th:
Global Music and Dance at Temple University
Premiering a new solo:
Study of Euterpe
(More information on the process coming soon!)

September 14th and 16th:
Esther's Cavalcade of Stars
Part of the Philly Fringe/ Live Arts Festival at the CEC Meeting House Theater.

September 25th and 26th:
BHPhotos Presents... Choreography Showcase II
at the CEC Meeting House Theater in West Philly.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pictures from the performance

Photos by Bill Hebert. Lighting Design by Jimena Alviar.

Pictures from the performance

Photos by Bill Hebert. Lighting Design by Jimena Alviar.

Pictures from the performance

Photos by Bill Hebert. Lighting Design by Jimena Alviar.

Pictures from the performance

Photos by Bill Hebert. Lighting Design by Jimena Alviar.

Pictures from the performance

Photos by Bill Hebert. Lighting Design by Jimena Alviar.

Monday, March 22, 2010


From Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary

Micro -
1: very small, especially
2: involving minute quantities or variations

Cosmic -
1a: of or relating to the cosmos, the extraterrestrial vastness, or the universe in contrast to the earth alone
1b: of, relating to, or concerned with abstract spiritual or metaphysical ideas
2: characterized by greatness especially in extent intensity, or comprehensiveness

Current -
1a: running, flowing
1b(1): presently elapsing (the current year)
1b(2): occurring in or existing at the present time (the current crisis)
1b(3): most recent (the magazine's current issue)
2: used as a medium of exchange
3: generally accepted, used, or practiced, or prevalent at the moment

More stories from the collaborative studio

Last week, Chris and I spent two hours in his recording studio listening to the music he had created, watching the choreography, and discussing successes and adjustments. It was a luxurious period of just working!

He and I have spent the past month exchanging e-mails, files, and ideas for clarification. After our session, Chris created more layers for the final section and identified each dancer with a melody, chords, or series of tones! He based these musical identifications off of the choreographed movements, the quality of their individual movements, and the things they said in his interviews with them about the process. I'm so impressed with his attention to them, as individual performers and I deeply appreciate his involvement in this exploration.

At our final rehearsal on Friday, Chris detailed the music for the dancers, explaining each musical identification. It was interesting for me to hear 1) how he interpreted the dancers as individuals and 2) how he interpreted the movement as a whole with its swells and dips.

I've been listening to the music almost non-stop for the past week and a half and am so intrigued that in listening, I feel the same vibrations that I felt when first investigating the work. In essence, Chris took what I said about my physical experiences and put that into the music. It should make sense that sound vibrations resonate in my body, but I was and continue to be surprised that the resonations occur simultaneously with the movement descriptions of the felt experience.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Last week, Chris asked several of us to come to his recording studio. He was playing with inserting some of our voices into his work. One of the questions he asked me was "What do you hope your dancers will get out of this process?"

I was surprised by the question. Usually, choreographers are asked, "what do you hope your audience will take away from the work?"

But there has been a great deal of work on the part of my dancers... more than just what the audience will see in twenty-five minutes.

My present (and I believe this will continue far into the future) research goal addresses understanding the body as a form of empowerment. An idea can't be destroyed as long as the body in which that idea inhabits exists. Throughout history, violence is enacted when one body takes control over another body. Our society is heavy with dis-empowering messages, especially regarding the body. The media is laden with images of how the body should look and move. Corporate America decides what we put into our bodies and how our bodies are taken care of - or not taken care of, as evidenced in the current health care crisis. I believe that if a person is empowered through a knowledge of his/her body, that person is more likely to take responsibility to for the care of his/her body. In taking responsibility for one's self, the individual also takes responsibility for his/her surrounding environment. There is more to this that I'm still working out, but I believe there is a strong (if only potential) relationship between dance, individual empowerment, and positive social change.

Dance is an empowering force. Dance involves, requires, demands a holistic understanding of the working, moving body. Dance requires knowledge of the anatomy. Dance requires knowledge of the psyche. Dance requires knowledge of space and time - environmental awareness. I believe (and have seen evidence in the classes that I've taught) that dance empowers individuals by allowing them to have a multi-dimensional relationship with their bodies.

Back to Chris's question... My hope for my dancers is that, through this process, they've developed a deeper awareness of their bodies and the stories that their bodies tell. I hope they learn to notice the habits of their bodies - both positive and negative. I hope they've gained a new knowledge about their bodies and will continue this process after the performance ends. I hope that they will use this knowledge about their bodies to make positive changes within themselves, and therefore, make positive changes to influence their environment. I hope that they've learned and grown from this process as much as I have from them.

A friend posted this on her Facebook page, and I find it relevant to my hopes for this process and for my dancers:


In these final moments, when most of the work is done, the fine tuning begins: the details. I've asked Chris to change some of the levels in the music - it's intriguing how the level of the bass can influence the listener's perception. Little things are becoming very important; little things like the small gestures and focus of my dancers. We've been working on clarifying how far their/our focus needs to be; identifying the difference between a 20ft focus, an internal focus, and a 3 ft, immediate kinesphere focus. We're defining how to draw the energy up through the body and and training the whole energetic being to focus - 20ft, 3 ft, beyond the performance space, into another performer...

I'm paying closer attention to the little things like the detail on the costumes. I realize that these details may not be grossly noticeable from the audience's perspective, but I believe that attention to these small details clarifies and enhances the process of the performers and of the experience of the audience. In these moments of clarifying, I'm beginning to really enjoy this process more deeply...

Saturday, March 6, 2010


We were able to get into the theater for one rehearsal. What a difference being in the space makes! The reality of the performance began to sink in, both for me and my dancers.
I've finalized the set.
The posters are printed.
The costumes are almost complete.
Chris is completing the music next week.
I hope to pick up the postcards on Monday or Tuesday.
The program is almost finalized.
It's coming together!

Less than three weeks to showtime!

As I was heading home from rehearsal today, I began to reflect upon the immediacy of the performance experience. As artists - performers and choreographers - we spend months preparing for a singular moment. In that moment, the community - the dancer and the audience - comes together for a shared, magical experience. If anything goes wrong - a dancer falls, the technical equipment malfunctions - there is no second chance. In that regard, it is no wonder that my heart still races in the moments before I enter the stage space. No one will live or die because of my performance, but I only get one chance. I only have one brief opportunity to communicate with my audience on a kinesthetic level. I only have one brief opportunity to share my story with them. I only have one brief moment of pure honesty and vulnerability.

In performance, I do expect everything to go right. After months of preparation, that one moment should be perfect. But, of course, the human experience is not perfect and technicalities happen.

This too is part of the excitement. The excitement of the unknown. The excitement of taking a risk...

These last few weeks are filled with tension. Last minute details that can only happen at the last minute - things like program order and printing. Things like costume fittings and final performance notes. The excitement and the risk is building. Likewise, the tension and stress is building, too.

I'm trying to enjoy this process. I'm trying to take a few minutes to smile at the tightness of my chest as I realize my work has been an exploration of what I am experiencing.

And although this work has been about communicating the felt sensations of energetic pathways, I realize that on March 26th and 27th the process both continues and ends. Because of this realization, there are times when I take the role of participant-observer, step back, and enjoy being in the moment. The frantic excitement of the moment.

This is what I love. This is why I dance. This immediacy. This vulnerability. This risk.

I look forward to meeting you in the moment.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Internal Reflections - Camille's thoughts on our set

"My first impression of the ladder and the chair was formed the first time I saw the group moving together in space with these objects. For me, the two objects serves as an abstraction of the environment that these bodies were living in. It reminded me of this picture that I saw of one of Martha Graham's works; I believe the piece was "Appalachian Spring." In the piece, instead of having a house on stage where the characters lived, there was only the frame of the house. However, at first glance, without any movement, it only looked like a couple of flat boards hanging around the stage. Likewise, I originally thought that the chair and the ladder were representations of a bigger habitat that this microcosm existed in."

Camille is one of the dancers in Microcosmic Current.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Four weeks to go!

It's a little surreal that the time is winding up for the performance. We spent a lot of rehearsal today talking about my psychological narrative of the piece, thus far. My dancers physically and vocally asked for clarification. I respect that. Sometimes, choreographers don't tell their dancers what they expect from a inner, psychological/energetic narrative perspective and it's up to the dancer to create that narrative, that rationale, for herself. As a younger dancer, I experienced this and always questioned if what/how I was performing captured the intention of the choreographer. I felt as though I could better shape myself into my perception of the choreographer's intent if I were aware of the intention and motivation. Looking back, I can understand why a choreographer would refrain from projecting too much information onto the experience of the dancer, especially if part of the intention is/was to draw on the personal experience of the dancer. In turn, the experience of the dancer's psychological/energetic narrative becomes part of the performance.

I believe in education through the choreographic experience. Part of my research begs the questions: How do you teach performance? How do you teach that moment of pure vulnerability on stage while being completely in control. How do you teach a dancer to be comfortable in that moment? How do you teach them to be ready to "drop into" performance mode?

It's more than a feeling state. It's more than remembering an experience that you repeat on stage. It's real and alive and needs to be present in that moment. All of the time.
How do you describe a strong performance? Presence? ....But how do you teach that?

I worry that many talented technicians do not learn how to perform and are therefore looked over in auditions and castings. I worry that many students interested in pursuing this life of a dancer will not have the opportunity to PRACTICE performance if they are not in an environment where practicing performance and teaching performance are valued. It's hard to teach these things that cannot be quantified. I've seen instances where choreographers expect the dancer to come to the rehearsal process with a strong performative skill. But, performance is a skill.... and it can be taught... and it can be learned and acquired with the right attention, dedication, and practice. It is important for us, as educators of dance, to remember the importance of performance practice.

A practice of performing. A practice of teaching. A practice of researching. A practice of dancing.

Side note: As I write, I've been referring to the psychological/energetic narrative of the dancer. In modern dance performances, there may not be a linear narrative - one that tells a clear story like a play or a musical. Here is where I/dance/artists delve into a different realm, one that I'm classifying as that of an energetic nature.

I believe that every body innately has the ability to move. Based upon our energetic makeup, our organic movements will be different. Some bodies create movement that other bodies cannot or will not. All bodies are capable of training that movement, which manifests in codified dance techniques, sport training techniques, and even ways that we sit at the computer and type or read. So, when I refer to the psychological/energetic narrative of the work, it does not have to make logical sense. Rather, the psychological/ energetic narrative is comparable to that of the narrative sense that our dreams make during sleep, but not necessarily once we have woken.

If I could offer some advise for watching many concert dance works of the late 90's and early 21st Century: remember that dream state; feel and see what your body is experiencing as an audience member and experience the work instead of trying to figure out what you're "supposed to" be getting. When you lift a glass of wine, do you experience the smell or do you try and figure out what ingredients were used? When you taste chocolate, do you quantify the ratio of coco to sugar or do you just experience the chocolate? I request that you just experience the dance and if something strikes you, then pursue why you were effected and what happened both on stage an internally....

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

on distractions

I received some very strong, grounded advice today from an unexpected source. Having been placed in a sensitive situation, the advice followed: Just do your work.

There will always be things to distract me... and some rightly deserve my attention. But, I must return to my work and return to my work with an undisturbed rigor.

And so... leaving this for now, I return to do my work...

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Pictured from left to right: Jessica Warchal-King, Laura Zimmerman, Angela Sigley

Pictured from left to right: Angela Sigley, Jessica Warchal-King, Laura Zimmerman
Photo credit: Thomas Bethell
These are some photos from our poster/postcard photo shoot!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Collaboration - a little history

Chris Farrell and I first worked together in the Spring of 2009.

Check out more of Chris's work at

I was working with five dancers with whom I had never before worked and was investigating new territory; I was beginning to delve into new places with my choreographic intention and exploring what it meant to educate through the choreographic process. During the first few weeks of rehearsal, it became apparent to me that I needed an additional voice. I asked Chris to provide some musical expertise. What followed amazed and still surprises me.

It seems that the younger generations are more technologically savvy than I. My dancers introduced me to Facebook and we used the social networking site as a rehearsal tool. We only had the opportunity to meet once a week, so I would privately post our rehearsals for them to review. Chris was able to access these videos and was simultaneously working on his own projects. A thread from one of his themes fit beautifully into the work.

In addition to the Facebook posts, our separate work, and our conversations, Chris came to several rehearsals with the dancers. I deeply appreciate(d) his interest in what the dancers were experiencing during the work; the dance is as much theirs as it is mine and I believe they are also collaborators to the process. I thank Chris for valuing them with the same regard.

In talking about our process, Chris stacks his hands on top of one another, as if he's building a ladder. "You have this idea, I have this idea, you build on this, I build on this..." In one of our conversations, he described the way the David is displayed in Italy. Michelangelo said that he reveals/ed what's already in the stone. In viewing the David, the viewer must pass through a gateway of partially finished works by Michelangelo, each revealing more than the previous. A hand begins to take shape, a face... until the final manifest is unfolded. In this way, the viewer is allowed a peak into the process...

Each time we come together, pass in the hall with a quick thought, or e-mail a slew of mental vomit, we are unveiling a little bit more of this creation. I'm very grateful and excited for the adventure. Thanks, Chris!

Here's a link to the piece we created in the Spring of 2009 - "at the edge of the turning tide..."


On Friday, I received a draft of the music from Chris. So very exciting! He was kind enough to sync his work to a video I had taken during the latest rendition of the choreography. At our last rehearsal, my dancers and I watched the video. The work is beginning to take a shape - and a life of its own!

The music is haunting and breathes a new energy into my dancers and into the movement. It's helping to clarify my intentions - internally and externally. It cradles the dance; the music is helping the dancers find new things. I'm so very excited about this part of the investigation. We're entering into a place of deeper research. We've done a lot of physical research, but the introduction of sound allows us the opportunity to leave our headspace and drop into the mind-body.

Thank you, Chris!!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Physical Research

In preparation for the time I was going to spend in the studio with my dancers, I did a lot of reading about the body: energy pathways, grounding techniques, the ways that thoughts effected the body and the ways the body effected thought...

Could I observe what other people claimed in their writings in my own body without superimposing their theories?

One evening, my thoughts drifted to the loss of a family member. I felt a rush that I can still only describe as a waterfall pouring in from above my rib cages. The "water" poured into the space of my sternum and carved out a space above the back of my rib cage. I was surprised at the intensity of the feeling and am still surprised at my inability to put words to the sensation. Although I can describe the feeling according to my anatomy, the sensation moved beyond my bones - as if my structure was formless and completely pliable. Even as a I write, I have a hard time recreating the memory without cupping my fingertips into an arch about six inches in front of my sternum. My elbows extend outward and my chest contracts, bringing my clavicles slightly above my shoulder joints. I can feel my breath shorten and my intercostal muscles (the muscles in between our ribs) tighten. In describing this, I am creating a shape. I am moving in order to recreate a memory that had no physcialized shape. But the sensation was very real.

In one of our first rehearsals, I asked my dancers to pay attention to their bodies. How did their bodies feel throughout the day? Did a certain part of their body always hurt? Could they identify why that part of their body always hurt or was there an emotion or event that accompanied the physical sensation?

There are words for these sensations: butterflies in the stomach; a lump in my throat; a brick dropped in my stomach.

Each of my dancers returned to rehearsal with stories that their bodies revealed:
"My sacrum always gets tight when I'm nervous."
"I was overwhelmed - I felt like I had a blowfish with all of its spikes inflated in my rib cage - where my heart was supposed to be."
"Every time... I got a knot under my left clavicle."
"I would get nauseous."

As they spoke, their bodies told more than just their words. Seated on the floor, her hands went to either side of her body to stabilize herself. Another stroked the tops of her quads with a meditative, rhythmic quality. Another rocked her palm against her sternum, as if to soften some tension. I asked my dancers and my composer, Chris Farrell, to continue to pay attention to their bodies and to continue to share these sensations. I believe our bodies can reveal truths to us, if we only pay attention. In paying attention, we better learn how to take care of ourselves.

These gestures became part of our movement vocabulary and therefore, part of the language we use to share our stories through the dance.

How does this relate to my original research on the chakras? I'm not drawing any definite conclusions, but many of the sensations my dancers described centered around the mid-line of the body. It seems that many people feel similar sensations in similar places. I need to do more research to come to any conclusive data, but it seems that there is a pattern of felt experiences within the body that correspond to emotions.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Preliminary Research - Wheels of Light

I invite you to view Wheels of Light before reading this post.

or go to and type in Wheels of Lights Jessica Warchalking. You should be able to find it.

What do you see? What do you feel?

In the Spring of 2009, I had the opportunity to take a course titled "Yoga and the Tantric Mystic". I have been practicing Western Yoga for about a decade; at this point in my practice, I began to develop an interest in enrolling in a Yoga certification program. I want(ed) to know more about my body, about the subtle energies that I (was) feel(ing), and the ways that my mental processes, my synaptic impulses, my chemical properties, my bony and muscular structure, my living fluids interacted and responded through this process of meditation and postural exploration.

I knew how I felt after practicing. I had a basic understanding of what my guides spoke during a practice. Before embarking on a deeper journey of my own, through a certification, I wanted to learn about Yoga from an academic perspective.

What followed has been transformative!

My first meeting with Dr. Allen, a scholar in religions of Southeast Asia, is forever burned in my memory. He simply smiled and nodded when I told him I was a dancer and interested in how the body and mind are connected through yoga; he suggested that my (pre)conceptions of yoga might be challenged during the course.

Three early mornings a week (with the exception of a few mournful snowy Wednesdays) I sat enthralled. We dove into the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and "The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century" by Geoffrey Samuel. Some notes from my limited understandings:
  • Yoga means to yoke. Dr. Allen suggests that it refers to the yoke used in an agricultural environment to train a young bull to till the fields. The farmer yokes the older bull to the younger bull and the younger bull learns the path of the field by being dragged along by the older bull. Similarly, yoga involves the yoking of a teacher to a student. Yoga is a practice that is taught and not something that can be endeavored alone.
  • "Yoga" the word also can refer to a discipline or training.
  • Contrary to (my previous and many) popular belief, yoga is not a yoking of the mind and body. It's not a self-help technique. The basic idea of yoga is a separation of purusha and prakriti. Purusha can be translated as pure consciousness. Prakriti can be translated as material stuff. (This includes thoughts and constructs of the mind). Yoga is atheistic dualism, which means that "god" is not anthropomorphic and that two realities exist: purusha (pure consciousness) and prakriti (materialism).
  • There are eight limbs of yoga - asanas the postures popular in Western culture are only one of these eight. Yama - self restraint from actions (violence, lying, stealing, greed). Niyama - fixed observance (ritual cleanliness, simple living, fasting, studying the sacred texts). Asana - postures. Pranayama - breath control. Pratyahara - controlling the mind and withdrawing the senses. Dharana - concentration. Dhyana - meditation. Samadhi - realization. The Yoga Sutras explain these in great detail, which I am not. The Sutras are written in a specific meter, so it is vital to have a teacher guide you through them.
My mind is blown. It takes serious time and work to begin to wrap my thinking around these principles and ideas - especially with my previous context.

Jump to another classroom, spring 2009 - my students and I were exploring imagery to find the center line of the body. The chakras were suggested. At this point in time, I don't know much about the chakras except for their placement along the mid-line of the body. I e-mailed Dr. Allen for help. He suggested that I investigate these as a research project. Okay.

My research begins. I poured over old books and new websites. The search led me to Tantra, which we were reading about for class. I'm still trying to understand Tantra as a religion, but it's basic (is anything basic about religion?) philosophy is that the body is a microcosm of the universe. BAM! If the body is a microcosm of the universe and all of the power of the universe is contained in the body, then the body must - it MUST - be deemed sacred. If the power of the universe is sacred, then, the body is sacred.

At this point, I invite you, dear reader, to insert any and all ideas of the body that have been presented to you, up until this point. How the body is to be treated. How the body is supposed to look. How the body is separate from the person/soul that inhibits it.

I'll wait...

Our world is thwart with violence to the body: our current health care system; domestic violence; street violence; sexual violence; political violence... Violence occurs when power is enacted over a living body. It's hard to harm an idea - violence harms a body. To me, this philosophy clearly speaks against violence because the body is sacred.

It makes sense. I am a dancer. I use my body. I teach others how to understand and use their bodies. I believe in the power of education to empower. When someone has knowledge of their body, they are empowered. When someone is empowered, they have responsibility and ownership. They are less likely to give that ownership to someone else. Knowledge is power. Knowledge about the body provides the learner with ownership, responsibility, and power! Like anything researched for the greater good, this power can be manipulated. I believe that empowering an individual through knowledge about that individual's body gives him/her an opportunity to prevent someone else from taking that power away. Perhaps power will be another post... I'm getting off track...

The body is sacred.

As I read the academic literature, my body began to move. Could I locate the root chakra? Was my heart chakra open? I decided that if my research was about the body, I needed a project to reflect that research. This was a dance.

Wheels of Light is an academic investigation of the chakras. Through it, I do not seek to activate my own or the audience's chakras. I am not intending to provide the audience with a religious or physical experience. The piece is a pure reflection of what I have read and researched in the dance studio.

The piece begins with a minute of introductions. I introduce a motif that begins at the crown of my head and travels down the mid-line of my body. It "touches" each of the seven chakras, beginning at the seventh: crown. third eye. throat. heart. naval. sacral. base. ripple through like the kundalini. introduction of the wheel, the image of the chakras, energy centers, that have been described through time and distance. wheels of light, energy... circling...

The specific exploration begins downstage right. the root chakra. four spokes. located in the pelvis. emotional connection: physical strength, courage. in performance: four rocks of the pelvis. the movement is initiated by the pelvis. the hands form the shape of the kidneys. A shoulder stand - strength.

the sacral chakra. related organs: the digestive system, the sex organs. six spokes. emotional connection: desires, emotions, creativity, sexuality. my body stretches and breaks. how do you perform the birthing process? how do you show sexuality without being sexual? i fall into a plank. my body rocks.

the naval chakra. related organs: stomach, liver, gallbladder... emotional connection: personal power, ambition. ten spokes. what does ambition look like? in a negative sense, i imagine it is paralyzing. tension. i shake for ten counts. i release but recover and drop. controlled yet with a clear destination, my body contracts in the air.

the heart chakra. emotional connection: love. twelve spokes. gestures surrounding the area flow as reflections of things felt in the area and repetitions divided into 12.

the throat chakra. color: blue, silver, green - like water rippling. association: sound (waves). emotional connection: communication. sixteen spokes. initially, i tried to ripple sixteen times, but for artistic purposes, that was paired down. questions in performance: how does sound move? what happens when it's strangled?

the third eye chakra. intuition. indigo. seemingly 2 spokes, but really 92. what do i feel when this is activated?

the crown chakra. last and most difficult to activate. headed toward the path of enlightenment. when you're out of your body, what does/can the body look like? the movement is extending out of my head , my crown, into the greater space. how does that manifest in physical time and space? i release my body. my energy leaves and returns to familiar motifs. is it really possible for me to release into the seventh chakra when i'm in physical performance?

my mind races too much when i'm performing, but i realize it's because of my research... initially, Microcosmic Currents was a larger manifestation of this first research, but it's become so much more....

Ms. Deva Premal graciously granted me permission to use her music for Wheels of Light. I encourage you to seek out her music.

Dear Reader, I invite you to view Wheels of Light, again, in light of this information. I welcome your thoughts.