Sunday, September 25, 2011

Updates from Indonesia...

I'm sitting right inside the open French doors of our little cottage house, or home stay as they call them here. We're at a cute little out of the way place called Rumah Kaka with lovely hosts, tabacco, corn, and sugar fields, birds singing, roosters crowing, and gekos sharing our space.

We performed Saturday night - the second of three full evening concerts. Yesterday, Sunday, the company and an attentive group of photographers and festival volunteers took us to the Barbardor Temple - the temple that inspired Kun-Yang's work, company development, and the Mandala Project. We entered at ground level. Mr. Pinto, a photographer for National Geographic, Reiki practicioner, yoga instructor, guitar player, and geologist told us that the bottom levels were covered in dirt and grass by the government. The Temple is one of the wonders of the world. Carved into the many lavers of stone is a book of stories. I could have spent days looking at the intricacies of the carvings. The details of the people, the leaves, the objects they used were all clear, even after thousands of years. The story tells of the life cycle and, according to Pinto, the first few levels tell of the creation process (sex). The government considered it pornographic, so they covered it with dirt and grass. Apparently, only a few people have seen those images and they were present during the original restoration and excavation. So, I climbed many, many, many steps. The sign outside of the entrance provides a brief description on how to approach the Temple. You enter on the east side and circle around three times at the first level before moving onto the second. Each level begins at the east side, but there are stairs in each of the four directions (so, we just trusted what they said was east). The company entered into the Temple and experienced it in different rhythms, but we were always closely watched by our wonderful guides - our entourage of festival workers and photographers, now our new friends. There were moments in my personal journey when I felt my energy drop from a nervousness high in my chest to something lower and not nervousness. Moments when I thought I would burst into tears, moments of extreme calmness, moments of total awe.

As I reached the top, Kun-Yang asked the company to walk the final circle together. In silence, we traversed. Each step concentrated and deliberate. Focused. Aware. Complete.
For me, it was impossible not to be totally aware of the height at the top of the Temple, the mountains and towns surrounding, the glow of the sun, the murmur of hundreds of visitors. Part of my practice with Kun-Yang is cultivating awareness and this was a moment of clarity and understanding. Those who built the Temple understood that the journey to the top was as important as the being at the top; that it took several hours of walking and climbing and reflecting to let things fall away, internally. Externally, they provided a visual example within the Temple - the top of the Temple was filled with strategically placed bells with Buddhas sitting inside. The walls at the top held no reliefs, as if they had been let go and the stone was allowed to exist in its own, natural form.

Later yesterday evening, a master mask maker came to visit us. He's preparing for an international tour, but made some time to journey to Rumah Kaka to talk with us. To just spend an evening with us. He shared that Javanese dance is made up of four elements. Abstract movement, gestural movement, speaking and opera. I never would have thought about dance as singing and speaking, but in this context, where everything is connected, it makes sense. He said that the act of performing and working with masks and dance is about listening: listening to the mask, listening to the space, listening to what is around you. Maybe not with your ears, necessarily. Dance is a form of communication and as dancers, we usually do most of the "speaking". It is important for any conversation, any relationship to have an amount of listening. In dance, listening to the time and the space.

Seated cross legged on the couch in our cottage, he demonstrated abstract movement, gestural movement, speaking, and opera for different characters. In moments, he transformed into a prince, a king, a servant, and back into a friend, just spending an evening with us.

I was deeply moved by his willingness to talk with us about his process and his artistic journey. He's invited us to visit his studio on Tuesday.

This reflection will continue... but for now, I have to close. We're headed to the field to rehearse and begin a new journey.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Indonesia, here we come!

We leave for JFK is about 36 hours... I'm getting a bit nervous. So, in order to distract myself, I decided to do some research. Here's where we're going:

Stay tuned... if I have internet access, I'll keep writing about the journey.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Composition 101

The year before I took Composition 1, I went through a very traumatic physical and emotional experience. My instructor told me after the semester was over that it seemed I was using Comp. as a theraputic tool. "Yeah... it seemed like you were working through some hard stuff." And that was it. No question about what happened. No assumptions. No judgements. And perhaps that was the perfect reaction for her to have. So much that I still remember it almost a decade later.

The issues are in the tissues.

Composition 1 is one of the more difficult classes I think that students of dance take. It's something that is usually scheduled in their second year of academic study. The elements are "simple" and I try to present them in a way that is academic (almost coldly scientific?), but the truth is that, when working with the body, you can't separate the spirit and the mind. The body cannot lie.

I often hear that presenting your own work, or showing a self-created, self-performed solo is almost so scary that it can be inhibiting. The self-made solo is raw and honest in a way that performing someone else's work is not. As a solo-artist, I put my self, my process, my soul on the line.

There's a certain level of honesty too.. I can't hide from myself. I don't get to diffuse my experience with other dancers in the room. Even if the movement is just movement for movement's sake, the execution and listening to my body will release a truth that I may not be ready to accept. Not quite yet.

But at the same time, I want and need to be able to listen and to know and investigate. It's a scary place, but it's a good place.

So, I'll dive more deeply into body, time, space, and energy and hope that these tools will reveal not only the dance, but a bit of my own truths.

Relationships with strings.

Metaphorically, of course. These puppets don't have strings.

String: 1) cord or thread used for binding. 2) to stretch (in as to string along).

Interesting. Binding and stretching. That seems about right.

I'm participating in a performance with Hua Hua Zhang's Visual Expressions at the Annenberg Center next month called "Two Hands." Loosely, the performance explores the relationships between east and west, through dance, music, theatre, lighting and costume design, and puppetry.

As someone used to working soley with her body, this process has been trying, but fascinating! Yesterday, I was listening as Ken and Kun-Yang were debriefing over Western Puppetry and Eastern Puppetry. Ken said (and I apologize if I misquote), "Western puppetry is about manipulation whereas Eastern puppetry is about having a relationship." I think he could probably have made this statement about anything West vs. East. We manipulate our bodies, our friends, our families, our careers... or at least we try to. Usually, at least in my experience, unsuccessfully. My experiences in studying Eastern philosophies is that the relationship - the negotiation - is part of the process and the result.

This process, with Hua Hua, is quite difficult. Creating a relationship with myself, with another object, with the space... sure, we practice this ALL THE TIME, but this process has made me question how much I dedicate to the relationship.

Working with the puppet is hard. I do try to manipulate and control. But the puppet - whatever that is, wants and needs to have a voice too. Kun-Yang compares our work in his choreography to puppetry. It makes sense to me. One of his sayings follows something like "In dance you have body, time, space, and energy. The body is you and the space is the puppet. The relationship between you and the puppet is time and energy. Your relationship to the puppet is like your relationship to the space."

Relationship. That's another hard word. (I inadvertently typed "work" instead of "word" - Freudian slip? Perhaps not.) Relationships are hard work. And they require practice and constant vigilance. Work.

I'm learning that I cannot "push" forward. In order to grow, sometimes, I need to sit back and allow the relationship to happen. This is proving true both in my art and in my life. As dancers and artists, I don't believe we can completely separate the two. We constantly live in and work with our instrument. We don't get to "leave it at the office." So right now, instead of pushing for more reflection and depth, I'm just going to sit back and allow more of the conversation - the relationship - to unfold.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Reflections on "Dance" by Deng Ming-Dao. Part 1 (see Ancient interpretations post for reference)

eek. In naming this post, I am beginning a series of reflections.

First, Social dance and Becky's wedding.

Second, Doris Says...

Social dance and Becky's wedding. I love Becky and need to publicly congratulate her and Kelly. Becky is a beautiful person through and through. A dancer, choreographer, entertainer, leader, stage-manager, friend.... I don't know Kelly very personally, other than he is a perfect complement to my dear friend Becky. And that's all that matters. Oh, and Kelly's a clown. And so's Becky's father. Really. Did I mention that this wedding was full of performers? Say what you want about professional clowns, but I've seen few performers, other than dancers, as comfortable in their bodies. Amazing!

And so, this wedding was full of completely embodied experiences, complete with a secret flash mob. Of course, I took part! Early in the evening, I just observed. So many people dancing! I didn't know many of them, and I'm sure that many of them didn't know each other, but it didn't matter. (As a side note, I did not see any excessive use of alcohol at this wedding, so these were not drunken dances.) Everyone participated. Everyone danced. Everyone smiled and laughed and wow... the excitement of being together and sharing in a celebration through physical (dancing), mental (the pre-ceremony and post-ceremony engagements), and spiritual (the ceremony itself) participation was so clearly evident. Social status didn't matter. Levels of education didn't matter. Levels of dance experience didn't matter. Body shape didn't matter. Clothing style didn't matter. What did matter was the celebration of the human experience. And the experience was SHARED THROUGH THE DANCE.

Usually, I get caught up in this and am compelled to be moving myself. Who wouldn't? And I do make it a personal prerogative to get those who aren't moving, on the (dance) floor. (So beware) Because, really, you (strange people who aren't dancing) wouldn't be standing at the edge of the dance floor, or watching the action with a bopping head if you didn't want to be there, too. You can pretend you don't want to be in the middle of all those moving, engaged, energized bodies, but you can't deny the smile, nor the next 45 minutes you'll remain on the dance floor after I pull you in. It's intoxicating and invigorating in a way that no grown or manufactured drug can be. There is nothing that can replace the shared energy of dancing. I've been witness to this since I was twelve and allowed to attend the (dry) cast parties after the Nutcracker. And the Catholic, middle-school dances. And the high-school proms. And the many weddings and events I've attended since.

But this time, I watched. And smiled. And realized that no matter what, people will always find a way and a reason to dance.

Here's me watching. There was a whole 45 minutes where I observed and reflected:

And here's me participating:

I can't sit still for too long...

Why should anyone????????

Congratulations and thank you, Becky and Kelly!!!!!!

Part two: Doris Says... opened on Thursday and closed on Friday.

I performed a solo, as part of a commitment to Cassandra Cotta. She's got her own blog: and received a grant from Temple University to conduct some research.

As a trusted friend, she asked me to participate. Honestly, looking at the program for Doris Says... I thought it was too short, so I invited Cassandra to show what she was working on. And I suggested that I perform a solo based upon what was happening in my life, for her research (read her blog to gain perspective). There are few things that are as honest as true performance. Or true dance. Ming-Dao really strikes a cord with "You cannot think about dance. You cannot count the beats or tell yourself to do this step and that step. Instead, you have to act in a way that puts aside your everyday conscious mind. You just have to dance."

I've been going through a lot, personally and professionally, that doesn't need to be detailed in this post, but is admitted in my body. So, I titled my public investigations "Out of... (when everything isn't enough) and/or a dance for..." So the first three little dots mean "time" or "money". Yes. That honest moment of panic when I realized that I either sink or swim, compromise or lose, take a deep breath or suffocate... but also realize that I have/had a choice. And that's what the dance became about. The moment of performance was about making choices. I used my eyes. My focus. My attention. One dear mentor suggested that I had a clear understanding of the inward, twisting capability of my body. That I would be a strong candidate for the study of Butoh, which, very, VERY simply stated, is a Japanese art form of presentation that finds beauty in the grotesque. I took that as a deep compliment. He also told me that my performance revealed more of myself to him. (and I still had a long way to go....) I generally try to hide this (personal vulnerabilities), as a "What your birthday says about you" book on clearance in Borders so aptly described. But at the same time, I want my audience, my mentors, my friends to challenge me, to see me. As Ming-Dao says, "You can't hide yourself when you dance."

The second part of the title, "and/or a dance for..." initially meant my dear friend, Cassandra. But it became a dance for breath. A dance for survival. A dance for exploration. A dance for honesty. A dance for strength. A dance for Me.

We had the camera set up, but no one pressed record. Perhaps, that too, was a part of the dance. I remember it (on Thursday evening). I wish I could see it, take a little electrocuted car or elevator to the past. But I know that the moment can only exist in the dance. And that has passed. (passed, not past. i believe they have different connotations. like watching a dragonfly flit by, knowing that it has a journey, but that journey has eluded the viewer, and maybe not so important to the viewer except that the dragonfly and that viewer shared that moment in time....).

Just as I know that my dear friends Becky and Kelly are no longer living their wedding night, but are embarking on a new journey. Every day is a new beginning. Every moment is a new chance to dance. And to be honest. Because "You can't hide yourself when you dance."

From photo shoots from "Doris Says..."

And a personal fav... because this does capture many of my "thinking" or "what the....?" honest faces...

and I also happen to love Michael and Angie's expressions as well... oh, Doris... I wish we could chat over coffee or a nice bottle of wine.... until then... 

dear readers, please dance!

Ancient interpretations

Night times usually are accompanied by a reflection or two from Everyday Tao by Deng Ming-Dao. Some are strikingly appropriate for specific days and times. Others are simple reminders. The universe always provides small gifts. The each page contains a pictograph, which I assume, based upon the text, to be representative within the understanding of an ancient language. The pictograph is followed by a short description, and then a meditation.

Tonight, I opened to Part Six. The first two pages described "Art" and "Divination". The following two described "Tap" and "Dance"

I'd like to share "Dance":
"Wu. To dance,sword fencing, posture. This is a picture of a dancer. The triangle at the top is a hat, the decorations below are feathers held in each hand, and below are the two feet. When you dance, you move with Tao.

Dance is part of the very origins of Tao. When the ancients wanted to understand the movement of Tao, they danced. When the ancients tried to utilize Tao, they danced.
The shamans danced to bring rain. Priests danced in constellation patterns to call the gods. Meditators danced between their sittings for exercise and health. Mediums danced  to invite spirits into their bodies. Exorcists danced to control ghosts. Warriors danced to demonstrate their exploits and to hand down their techniques. Storytellers danced to bring history alive. Dancers danced for beauty.
You cannot think about dance. You cannot count the beats of tell yourself to do this step and that step. Instead, you have to act in a way that puts aside your everyday conscious mind. You just have to dance. You can't make it look any better than what it is, and if you are honest, you can't make it any worse; you can't hide yourself when you dance.
If you dance and you give yourself over to the movements, then you will know exactly what Tao feels like."

p. 97