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 However, I believe those are words for them and not to be published without their consent.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.