Sunday, April 24, 2011

On a personal note

After my yoga practice this morning, I opened to Mary Oliver's "Sunrise." Here's a link to the poem:

After reading the poem, I needed a moment to pause. In the midst of our world, I realized that Ms. Oliver was making a statement that it is difficult to find happiness. But not so difficult that it is impossible. She reminded me that happiness and joy are choices that can be made. And that these choices are very, very powerful.

It was a fitting reflection on this day of new life and celebration. Happy Easter. Happy Passover. Happy Earth Day. Happy New Beginnings.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Preview for Kun-Yang Lin/Dancer's PIFA Performance

We're doing some really exciting work combing the Center City Opera, masks created by Hua Hua Zhang, and choreography by Kun-Yang Lin.

Through the mask work, I'm experiencing a deeper understanding of my body.

Here's a link:

Check out PIFA:

And come see the company perform!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Macro issues, micro application

I spent a lot of time en route. NPR has become a wonderful traveling companion. In January, much of the air time I heard was spent investigating the changes and challenges in Egypt. I was so impressed by the non-violence and the effectiveness of a large population to create such a drastic, positive change for social justice.

Hearing these stories reminded me of the energy of my dancers. They each have a very unique voice, but together, they can sing harmoniously - if that choice is made. They could also create dramatic dissonance should they not come together.

Globally, I was more impressed to hear about the challenges of Libya. I understand that both of these situations are extremely complex. But, in my very simple, very limited understanding of these huge issues, there are some similarities. Both situations began with young people wanting social change. Both situations demanded a change in the way the people were being governed. Both situations involved large groups protesting. However, the situation in Egypt was much more peaceful that what we're seeing evolve in Libya. Why? What was different? What choices were made that provided the different outcomes?

How is this relate-able to a small community several thousands of miles away? I asked my dancers this question.

From an outsider's perspective, it seems that two similar situations had very different consequences based upon choices that were made. I challenged my dancers to look into their own lives and see if there were choices they made that resulted in conflict or other choices that resulted in non-violent resolution. Each side needs to give a little and negotiate. However, choices decide the result. And there is always a choice.

On a macro level, is this piece about Cairo? Maybe... but it's more about how individuals can come together to create peaceful, positive, social change. We have so many examples in our immediate situation to which we can relate. On a micro level, it's about how these young dancers can make decisions within their own lives that shape their immediate future and the future of those around them. These decisions can be as "small" as being frustrated with something (a grade; someone wearing the same clothes) and starting an argument with someone or taking a deep breath and trying to see the situation from another perspective (maybe they really could have put more effort into the work; maybe that other person has really good taste). In both instances, energy is sent out into the greater universe. We get to choose if that is positive or negative energy. And that will cycle back in some way.

My choice is to strive for the positive change. This is a contact challenge, but I believe the reward will be great.

A new dance, new dancers, new ideas, new times...

I had been asked to create a new work with a group of young dancers as part of their training to be professional artists. I intended to come to the process with several movement phrases that I would manipulate. My focus for this project was to create a work from the least common denominator. My personal goal for the new year was to find ways to simplify, in all aspects of my life. I wanted to investigate this in my choreography.

My first rehearsal with these dancers demanded otherwise. These dancers were/are full of life and energy. They are young, but have so very much to say. They are learning about themselves and the world in which they live and they process externally. I was thrilled to see their enthusiasm, and terrified that i would need to struggle to embark on this process of simplification or change my direction.

I taught them a phrase. They executed it well.

Then, we sat in a circle and I told them I was feeling extremely challenged. I had expected to set something on them, but their voices were too strong for me to ignore. True to my previous work, I needed to incorporate the kinesthetic stories of these dancers into this process, regardless of what my previous goals or expectations might have been. It is my responsibility as a choreographer, educator, and citizen to respond to the needs of my community as they are presented to me. I needed to oblige.

So, I gave the dancers some homework. I asked them to create a movement phrase of about ten things that exemplified their prime number(s); or, to create a phrase that revealed their most pure self... Whatever that meant to them.

What did I mean by that? A prime number is a whole number that cannot be divided or broken down into any other whole numbers. I see them as complete individuals, but important building blocks for future numbers. Three is a very simple prime number. Twenty three is a bit more complex, but similar in that it is a prime number. I think that by looking at these building elements, we can learn a lot about each other. Genetic scientists say that there might be less than a percentage that differentiates one person from another.... Such a small difference on paper, but such a large difference in practice. So, I wonder if we could brek down ourselves into our prime numbers, at least for this moment. What might we find?

I understand that we change and elements of our identity change. If we could identify what our purest elements are, right now, what might they be? I encouraged my dancers that I was asking them to commit to elements just for this exercise and acknowledge that at the end of this process or semester, their elements might be different.

We began work in January.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More congratulations are in order

I am often reminded of the importance of gratitude.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to experience another evening of enchanting performance. During the past three months, I have watched several emerging artists claw, rip, tear, cry, groan, and flourish through their artistic processes. I challenged them with the same questions I included several weeks ago.

Each of their voices is very different, but each was very clear and evident in their work. The pieces were well rehearsed and researched.

Thank you for including me in your process, seniors. Thank you for taking the giant leap into the unknown. Congratulations!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Taking a Moment to Pause

The past few months have been very full. I've performed with Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers at the Painted Bride and Montgomery County Community College; each performance contained a different program. I performed with the Nora Gibson Performance Project at the CEC Meeting House Theater. I'm setting new choreography on students at Temple University and choreographed Oklahoma! for Alvernia University. Oklahoma! opened this week and runs through next week. In the midst of all of the work, I find myself needing a moment to reflect on everything that's been happening.

I've been performing for years and years in many different venues. Every performance is different and exciting and terrifying. The moment of performance is so magical because it is so immediate and fleeting. Although this is true in life, there is more of an urgency with the energy of performance. There is nothing to which we can grasp and keep forever. When it is over, we have only the memories and the feelings created by the moment.

Each performance is an investigation. I am, by nature, very analytical and for better or for worse, bring this quality to all of my work. Including performance. While I find it valuable to investigate performance during class and rehearsal, and teach performance, and write about performance, there is also a time when I need to let myself experience performance.

Yes, I am totally capable of this, and I am a strong performer. However, in rehearsal, I am often told that my mind gets in the way of my body. Or that my thinking body is so clear that it inhibits the ability of my living body to shine out.

Last night, I sat in the audience of Oklahoma! and was so clearly reminded of how incredibly fun performance really is. And in that reminder, how enjoyable the moment can be. Reflecting on Oklahoma! and it's importance is a different post, but I will state that this is the University's first ever musical production. We've engaged with the entire musical, as originally created. (Many companies choose to cut or edit some of the dancing or scene work. We've doing it all - including the whole 15 minute ballet.) With good reason, I think many of the performs were nervous about opening.

How they shine on stage!

I am so impressed with the work that they've done. More so, I'm so impressed with the performers that they have(are) developed(ing) into. These young artists have grown and developed by leaps and bounds over the past several months. Many artists do grow through the rehearsal process. But these young artists have transformed themselves and in doing so, have transformed a small theater into a giant territority. I no longer see the individuals with whom I've worked. Rather, I see a community of pioneers struggling day to day to make their dreams come true. I am entranced with individuals whom I've never met and will never see again; but for three hours, they reveal their secrets and their stories to me and those who are lucky enough to sit in the audience.

I am impressed by how clearly their bodies are telling these stories, as much as if not more so than their words and songs. I am energetically charged as one character sucks at his teeth and rolls his eyes while another is giving directions - her shoulders tense, torso forward, and arms extended strong and high. My heart breaks at another moment when a character is so angry it looks like he's going to burst or break something; his body taught, arms and neck bulging, and feet planted wide- only to completely release in surrender and despair in the next moment. His form shrinks, his torso drops, and his limbs release into dead weight. He hasn't physically moved, but he has energetically shifted his entire kinesphere and the atmosphere of the theater. Their bodies are telling these stories.

Last night, these young artists reminded me how precious the moment of performance is. They reminded me that I need to really embody and live in it - and that I can analyze it after it's over. They reminded me that it is possible to completely transmit someone to a different place for three hours solely by commitment to the performance and the space. They reminded me of the sacredness of what we do. That sacredness is to be celebrated and relished.

So, thank you, young artists, for transforming me. Thank you for reminding me why it is we do what we do.

And with that... off to another rehearsal...