Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Numbering the moments

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away." ~Anonymous

When I truly have a moment to dance - to let go of my insecurities, trust the movement and my technique, trust my body and the stage, I am fully experiencing life. 

In Nora Gibson's upcoming performance, 2^57,855,161 - 1, I feel like I am fully dancing. Fully living. Engaging in the creation of something universal and beautiful and timeless. 

The actual number "2^57,855,161 - 1" is the largest known prime number as of January 2014. We've been working with the concept of prime numbers since the summer and Nora's been diving into some serious number theory research. 

Me and Melissa. Photo by Nora Gibson

(This integration is awesome! Scientific! Bridging the STEM aspects and Art! Creating connections between seemingly separate but very interrelated concepts). 

As I do, I've been making connections between the work and my own, personal experiences.  

Prime numbers are divisible only by themselves and 1. They stand alone and cannot be further broken down. For me, understanding prime numbers is metaphorically like understanding the elements of myself. What are the basic building blocks that comprise me as a dancer, artist, and person? What are the elements of myself that cannot be further broken down. And in revealing these, I am able to be honest and vulnerable and free. 

In a recent Facebook post, Philly author and super smart individual Merilyn Jackson wrote, "So sorry to have to miss this. Gibson is brilliant, though IMHO, one of the least appreciated, underfunded artists in Philly. You may think the cerebral nature of her work is too abstract and has no emotion. But think of how happy you are when you have a wonderful, creative idea. Its the kind of emotion found in Merce Cunningham's or Lucinda Child's work -- the joy of doing something well pulls you right in. You, go."

As Merilyn writes, Nora's work has been criticized as cold, but, as I experience, it is so full of power and life and joy and struggle. Lewis Whittington is spot on in his piece for the Dance Journal, the work is rigorous and exact (full article). And that's part of what takes my breath away - literally and figuratively - about doing the work. 

It's hard. And in order to properly execute it, there's no time for anything other than complete present-mindedness. (Of course, that could be argued for many forms of dance and performance). That present-mindedness creates pure beauty and joy. 

So, please join me this weekend as the Nora Gibson Contemporary Ballet takes the stage with 2^57,855,161 - 1.

Behind the scenes. Photo taken by Michael McDerrmott of Mikronesia during rehearsal

I'm dancing with Amy Novinski, Gina-Marie Battista-Shifferly, and Melissa McCarten. The music is being performed live by Mikronesia and the evening is shared with Bryan Koulman. 

Here's more info:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Thank you, Franklin & Marshall

Lancaster, PA is popular for many reasons. The unique lifestyle of the Amish. The excellent food and crafts created by the Amish communities. In 2013, neighboring Litiz was voted America's Coolest Small Town by Budget Travel (admittedly, it is pretty cool). It's history. It's proximity to some of the country's largest cities. And it's dance...?

I was invited to be a guest artist and teach a master class for Franklin and Marshall's dance program. (They have a Dance Major, a Minor, and Dance Company and classes that are available to the entire college community). What an amazing experience! Thank you, F&M!

The bright, windowed studio with lofted ceilings took my breath away as I peered into the space before my first class. And it's good that the ceilings were so high because the students had so much energy! In the classes that I observed and the classes that I taught, I was inspired by the enthusiasm and the "dive in head first" approach to movement and movement ideas that these students embodied.

F&M has a powerhouse faculty, many of whom I know from previous worlds in my life, but it was really exhilarating to see so many talented movers and thinkers in the same space!

Sometimes, as an artist, I feel isolated because I spend a lot of time by myself, either traveling to classes, rehearsals, and performances, or planning classes and rehearsals, or reviewing choreography, or training on my own for the specific needs of my body. But, when I have the opportunity to see the creative community in action, like I did at F&M, I'm grateful that I'm not alone on this journey! I'm grateful for the many dancers who are continuing the process!

#whydancematters #danceon

Franklin & Marshall Dance

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thank you, @CSTempleU!

Thank you, Creative Spirit class and David O'Conner!

David, a brilliant director and educator in the Philly area, invited me to his class, The Creative Spirit at Temple University. The class, David explained to me, was currently exploring "Play" as part of the creative process and going to see the New Zealand dance company, Black Grace soon. "If you could tell someone the best way to see a dance performance - maybe someone who never saw one before, what would you tell them" he asked me.

It's more about the experience and what you, as an audience member bring to the performance.

"Like taking a trip..." David mused...

How do I talk about dance to people who might not have experienced it before?

David uses social media as a pedagogical tool in amazingly awesome ways! He asked his students to tweet their take-aways. Here's what they had to say:

"related when she said her "mom put her in tights when she was three and that was it" and that she "loves motion"...Saaaame"

"Jessica loves movement, and even when she leaves she always comes back to dance"

"I think it's amazing Jessica's whole life if now built around an activity her mom influenced her to do when she was 3 years old."

"Doing something physical such as dancing can change the experience"

"dance has a way to transform your emotions and bring joy"

"movement brings happiness... Definitely true"

"the story about the veteran was powerful; movement engages people"
(David asked about particularly striking moments when I realized that dance was something I needed to be doing. I told the students a story about pulling a veteran up to dance at the Festhaus when I was working at Busch Gardens and how he looked a little lost at first, but then erupted in a big smile. Dance creates connection, makes people happy, and can eliminate feelings of isolation.)

"I think it's very cool how in everyone I see they are reluctant to dance but once they start dancing it becomes fun for everyone"
(even though we were in a lecture hall, I made the students dance!)

"Engaging in physical activity, movement makes people happy"

"Joy could be a form of social justice"

"this thing dance makes people happy and builds a community"

"Dance is a form of joy and it brings everyone together"

"I never thought joy could be a form of social justice, I like the mindset Jessica formed around this statement"

"Art can bring joy"

"Joy is a form of social justice that can be created from dance"

"Art can bring joy. With dance people can feel happy and build community through the body movements."

"Owning your natural movements"

"Didn't know dance could be used as a form of therapy"

"Mind + body + spirit + community = release"

"it is fun when other people get you to dance, a smile does appear, even if you don't think about it"

"I can't wait to use dance and movement in my own work with Parkinson's patients!"

"Sometimes it takes a little weirdness to get others to participate and feel comfortable with dance"

"I get how dancing can completely transform your feelings"

"The ways that we place our bodies says alot about our relationship"

"body movement is really important when you are analyzing a person"

"Dance is inspired by every movement"

Thanks for the chance to share my dancing story with you, David and @CSTempleU! #whydancematters #danceon!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Thank you, KYL/D, InHale, & the Philly Dance Community

KYL/D's 24th InHale Performance Series was pretty awesome! Thank you to KYL/D,  the many artists, tech people and volunteers, and the community that came out the support and engage in this amazing evening of dance and performance!

At every InHale, I am grateful for the opportunity to make new friends and see the artistic growth of old friends.

I am also especially humbled by the support I received for my newest work (in)visible veins. Thank you to my dancers, David Cullen who provided me with permission to use his version of Bach's 6th Cello Suite, everyone who came to see the performance, and to everyone who provided me with feedback!

Thanks to Brandi Ou for taking this shot of (in)visible veins during our tech. Thanks to Ashley Frankhouser for the very cool lighting! "It looks like a horseshoe crab shell" someone said to me! Dancer, KC Chun-Manning.

And thank you to Kind, Inc. for providing delicious Kind Bars for us to keep us going (the artists and the audience)!

I was a little extra busy this InHale, so I'm sharing some photos I neglected to post from October's InHale. Thank you!

Our amazing Stage Manager, Lighting Designer, & Sound crew Ashley Frankhouser talking with choreographer Meredith Stapleton and Technical Assistant Corey Melancon checking off the list of things that need to be done to produce the performance. 

Me and Technical Assistant Amy Schofield prepping the space for the performance. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Ingredients for the Metaphorical Soup - or the choreographic process

"So, what is this dance about? The one I'm going to see?"

This question is often asked of dancers and choreographers.

Often dance, an abstract art, is about many things and the audience is invited to have his/her own experience with the work.

Well, I answered, there are a lot of things that are inspiring the work. I see myself as bringing all of these seemingly different ideas and elements together and combining them in time and space. I make a giant circle with my arms. Kind of like I'm making soup.

"Okay... so what are the ingredients?"

I've been really interested in horseshoe crabs. I've been talking with some scientists and researchers and doing my own research on the little critters. They're really fascinating.

Horseshoe crab research goes into the soup.

The horseshoe crab story contains many metaphors for the human experience. For example, they have a very active interior covered by a calm, quiet exterior. (How many times have we needed to portray a calm exterior when the very opposite is happening interior, emotionally?)

They're not often noticed but play a very important role in the ecosystem. (How often have we felt like we are not noticed, despite how hard we're working?)

They molt and shed their barnacles (and all of the baggage that they've gathered) when they outgrown their current shell. (How often have we had to let go in order to grow?)

Molting takes a long time. (Growing, letting go, shedding. As with horseshoe crabs, as with our lives).

Horseshoe crabs are very vulnerable after molting, but in time, develop their original sturdiness.

There's more... But, I think you get the point.
Horseshoe crab metaphors go into the pot. 

Thinking about the soft body that emerges after the molting process reminds me of Mary Oliver's poem, Wild Geese.

Wild Geese goes into the pot. Mary Oliver reads her poem and provides some reflection

I'm also interested in the female experience. And I think that part of that experience is the strength and resilience to keep going, despite time and struggle. It's another metaphor from the horseshoe crabs because they have existed, almost unchanged, for millions of years, despite global changes.

Resilience goes into the pot. 

Dance and movement is my medium.

Dance and movement go into the pot.

In using dance, I'm engage contemporary choreographic structures and listen to my own intuitive creative voice.

Choreographic structures go into the pot. 
My creative voice goes into the pot. 

I'm working with five women who bring their experiences to the work and I invite them to share these experiences in the rehearsal process.

My dancers go into the pot. 

I'm playing with Bach's Cello Suite. It's timeless. And it wasn't originally intended to be a famous work of art.

Bach's Cello Suites and research on them go into the pot. 

I bring all of these things together and see what emerges.

"So, over time, things start boiling and rolling. And if I ladle out a bowl at any point in time, it could be a little different because of the boiling and rolling."

Yes! And that's one of the reasons I think performance practice is so important. The practice of performing is like taking the ladle and getting out a bowl. Does it need more salt? A choreographic shift? I can return to the process after the performance with more information. For the next performance, the piece will be a little more developed. A little more "cooked".

So, it's not about one thing, but an integration of many things. The audience member also brings their own elements to the table so, while I cannot control those, I still accept and honor them because together we're all engaging in the creative experience.

It's not linear, but neither is making soup.

Have you created something? What are your ingredients?  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

KYL/D's 24th InHale Performance Series

I'm showing part of my research at KYL/D's InHale Performance Series!

My dancers - Jodi Obeid, KC Chun-Manning, Marcie Mamura, Katherine Keifer Stark and Belle Alvarez - and I are looking forward to sharing explorations we've made thus far and hearing reflections on the work.

Please join us and check out these other amazing artists: