Wednesday, February 24, 2016

KYL/D's 27th (!) InHale Performance Series & "Unspoken"

The early 2016 excitement of performances culminates this Friday at KYL/D's InHale Performance Series.

I've written much about how meaningful this series is to me. For this performance, I'm especially excited to share more research on HomeFrontLines with Unspoken: Everyday Hope.

Katherine, Melissa, and I have taken some of the lessons learned from the performance of Unspoken at An Evening of Duets and continued to research the work. In a review of the show, Megan Stern wrote of Unspoken: "Rather than portraying a relationship, the dancers highlight and illuminate each other, but seem to exist in different realms." Thanks, Megan, for getting the work! (We were playing with the idea that two individuals could be experiencing the same "thing" but in different times and spaces. More specifically, I am interested in understanding the way that military people/ families/ spouses can feel isolated, despite having peers in similar situations. I've been interested in this time/space continuum and how it relates to the way we approach or shy away from relationships for some time now.)

Read more: Evening of Duets Review

But there's more than just my work at this Friday's InHale!

Get your tickets: KYL/D's InHale on the DanceBoxOffice

Check out the artists:

And here are a few moments that Bill Hebert caught from Unspoken at An Evening of Duets: 

Isolation... Of the foot

I love Katherine and Melissa for their discipline to technique, craft, and individual expression of their artistry!

Vulnerability. Questioning. Power. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Old Dog, New Tricks - hyperextension

I love learning about bodies!

Our bodies hold our stories and provide clues to who we are - even if we are not conscious of our own embodiment!

And... bodies are also a source of contemplation, competition, and manipulation.

As a dancer, I inadvertently advocate for physical manipulation (albeit with positive intent!).

In a recent rehearsal, ballet teacher and beautiful dancer Amy Novinski provided me with some tips on how to increase the line of my arabasque.

Amy has a beautiful arabasque line! (She's also a beautiful all-around dancer and teacher!)
Read more about Amy: Amy's bio
She suggested that I begin with engaging my deepest penche with the use of the barre, and pulse my gesture leg (I pulse about 10 times). Then, keeping my leg at that level, I use the barre and my back muscles to lift my torso (only a few inches) and pulse my leg again. I repeat this several times until my torso is upright and my leg is ideally at the same level it was originally.  Repeat on the other leg, daily. I've been working on this.

I've also heard that arabasque is as much about the torso moving forward to counterbalance the leg, as it is about the extension of the leg behind the body.

I'm interested in extensive research, so I also asked for the advice of Dr. Laura Katz Rizzo. She suggested that the hyperextension in my legs, and the fact that I give into that hyperextension, was primarily to blame for my struggle with technique - not just with my arabasque.

As a dancer, I've learned that I need to understand my body in order to be able to properly use her, and manipulate her. For me, this means that I understand the kinesological mechanics of the joints, muscles, and boney structure. I'm also interested in the way that food digests (or not) into the physical form and the way that physical properties (food, activity, hormones) effect/ affect the emotional, intellectual, and biological properties of the brain.

A prominent dance scientist told me in a Kinesology class about the screw-home mechanism in the knee. Loosely, it's the ability of the tibia and fibula to "lock" into the boney structure of the femur, supporting and effectively stacking the bones of the leg. Because this is a biological and physiological mechanism, it should provide the dancer with a natural support (even in hyperextension).

But, aesthetics and nature don't always agree.

I asked Dr. Laura Katz Rizzo the same question I asked Amy. How do I increase the degree of my arabasque? I also asked her why my body wanted my arabasque to veer outside of my alignment, into a "seca-basque", a line that twists the leg and the pelvis.

Dr. Laura immediately noted that I was standing, and sinking into, the hyperextension of my knees. She suggested that proper ballet technique wasn't designed for anomalies like hyperextension, and to execute the technique properly, I needed to adjust my habitual alignment.

I had heard from a Graham dancer that I needed to keep my knees slightly bent in order to properly execute Graham technique, but I also thought that was a "fault" of the technique and aesthetic. Now, hearing it again from a ballet scholar, I realize my need to re-evaluate my thinking and practices.

I've embodied this research in my practice - in classes, in teaching, and in rehearsals.

Here are my findings:

When I don't "lock" into my knees, the joints hurt less, but the muscles and "stuff" surrounding my knee joint are more sore.

"Sinking" into my hyperexteion transfers my weight into my heels. In order to counterbalance and maintain a sort of "natural" alignment, my tail tips back and the top of my pelvis tips forward. I can engage my abdominals, but not enough to prevent most of my torso weight from being supported by my lumbar spine, creating low back pain. My ribs and my thoracic spine jut forward and my shoulder girdle drifts back to create a counterbalance. My head and cervical spine have figured out their own negotiation, but it's all based upon the support I have from my lower body. In practice, when I slightly bend my knees instead of fully straightening them, I find a different sense of alignment and balance, physically, but also emotionally. (Please refer to my post on Vulnerability).

I'm finding that if I can drop my tail and fully engage my abdominal cavity, I am able to release some of the tension in my heart center/ thoracic cavity in order to maintain a sense of support and stability. Emotionally, this releases some of the stress of my heart-center and allows me to be more vulnerable, artistically.

Check out this article that explores how our bodies hold stress: Releasing the Stress by Releasing our Body

The aforementioned article and my own, personal research makes me question how much of our social interactions are based upon on physical well-being. How much of our socio-policial-economic environment could be changed if we only paid attention to our bodies and their needs?

There are so many current examples in our country and our world that could benefit from this type of investigation. (I won't get into the economic, biologic, and ecological drama of Flint, Michigan at this time... but I encourage you to think for yourself...)

What are your own thoughts and findings?  

Time + Experience < or > or = Value?

Time + Experience < or > or = Value? in current, socio-political, and therefore translated into real-economic, Western culture?

I sat, as a dancer, at a recent rehearsal. I was one of 8 - dancers and choreographer - with open calendar and planner. The question presented, a question that demanded at least 20 minutes of negotiation, was "When can we all meet again?"

It's a simple question, but I was taken aback by the demands of the other artists' time. And my own.

Time was focused on making money to pay bills (mostly meager living expenses and student loans) - Time was spent not focusing on art-making.

Working at a restaurant.

Teaching dance to children at a studio.

Teaching dance as an adjunct at a college or university.

Tutoring students in a non-dance-related subject.

Nanny-ing or baby-sitting or another domestically-related, paid task.

Administrative work, both for non-profits and for-profits.

Landscaping, construction, or other labor-based work.

Coaching in a somatic practice.

(These are all important fields and practices, but do not necessarily advance the practice of art making or creation. This post argues for a need to value and define time and experience as a commodity in art-making in order to compete in a capitalist economy).

As we sat discussing schedules, I was frustrated that 1) we all needed several different income sources to make ends meet; 2) not one of us was able to focus solely on the creation of art AND maintain a sustainable lifestyle; 3) it was required of each of us to sacrifice one thing for another (in other words, none of us had "disposable time" which we could freely allocate as we individually preferred. Our schedules were full from dawn to dusk, mostly with commitments to meet financial needs.) All of us had many, many years of experience and training at a professional level. And yet, the relationship between our time spent in practice and study was not equivalent to the monetary level we reaped.

In some articles, professionals outside of the arts have commented that professionals in the arts and humanities should have chosen different career paths in order to be financially and economically sustainable (I'm not even saying successful. I'm also not including articles here because I'm sure you've read them or experienced them yourself. Or, you could easily google "adjunct pay", "artist pay", or "dance studio pay" but even these searches are not reflective of regional, local, or individual practices). The argument for careers in the humanities and liberal arts is complimentary to what admissions professionals say on studying the arts and humanities, and advocate for the continuation of the liberal arts environment. These subjects do create educated thinkers and members of society. However, often, these subject do not provide immediate careers in areas that are financially profitable (or allow access to large donations to/by corporations, political affiliations, research organizations, or non-profits) and therefore able to pay off student loans.

My students, and many "children" of the current economy, argue that its difficult to be a "person" and be "someone who makes money". My students want to be humanitarians in their chosen line of work and study. They also want to pay off their student loans. A nurse or a special-ed teacher isn't going to make as much money as someone who sells technological equipment. But, what is the greater value?

Most people in the military or professional, artistic inquiry are providing challenging, deeply intellectual work, but aren't compensated for their time and energy.

What is compensation? Time. Money. Resources. Energy. Space. Experience.

I argue, as many of the interviewees in many articles, arts and humanities are not commodities to be bought and sold. They are opportunities to create holistic individuals interested in advancing knowledge and engagement.

As we, as a culture, move more deeply into the political election season, I need to ask, as an activist, an artist, and an educator what are our "American" values?

How do we value Time?

How do we value Individuals?

Do we value the moving body?

Do we value the physical body?

Do we value creative inquiry?

Do we value inquisitive thought and research?

Do we value craftsmanship?

Do we value artistic investigation?

Do we value ongoing practice of a tradition?

Do we value tradition? How do we define tradition?

(Why do I really need to be asking these questions, publicly or privately?)

In our current culture, I question how we can achieve the needs of our value systems (or at least my perceived value systems) if we cannot achieve the needs of our basic systems?

I refer to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (as demonstrated below) and realize that many who are processing at a seemingly "higher" level are not actually fulfilling their/our basic needs. Perhaps we need to be addressing this as a culture and as a society. (Why is it that people in the Middle East have access to the Internet but not drinkable water? Why is it that people in the US have access to the Internet but not drinkable water?)

I see many of my activist-minded friends asking "why?" - as evidenced by the posts on social media that are going viral. I don't need to re-iterate them here... they're filling your social media walls and channels. (These do belong to the Safety Needs and Love and Belonging categories.) Don't just "like" or "save" the links. Read them! Challenge yourself! How can you add to the conversation? What is your value and what do you value?

I witness many artistic-minded and socially-minded colleagues struggling financially. How can we maintain an element of artistic and/ or social inquiry if we can't support our bodies and minds with enough calories to get through the day (physiological and safety needs)?

How can super-smart students be expected to enter into socially-based careers without the funding to support them? My college-age students are not seeing the financial stability in socially-focused careers. And they're right. There is limited money in public (or private) education, urban (or rural) planning, public (or private) health care, art for arts' sake, nation building (locally or abroad). I might seem pessimistic, but I've witnessed many failures and few successes on each of these fronts.

In a very primal fashion, my heart aches for the people who view the world in bold colors. The people who not only see black and white, metaphorically, but who also see blue and green and red and yellow. The people who see the grey and pastel, and honor them for their dimension, but also challenge all of the colors for their true value. When I write about "seeing colors" I don't mean mystics who see energies or auras, but everyday people who recognize the nuances in our lives. The people who can recognize, appreciate, value, and encourage different "wavelenghts" of experience, background, and knowledge.

Are we all a little bit mad? Aren't we all a little bit mad?

I realize that art and education cannot be scripted to a 21st Century capitalist business model. I wonder how a capitalist business society could exist with an artistic culture and an educational, developmental structure. My dream is that society would find a meaningful, valued place for each. Do you have a suggestion?

Until then, I'll stay in conversation with my colleagues as we struggle to find rehearsal time, space, and a place for dynamic shifts in defining "American Values".

Monday, February 1, 2016

Evening of Duets

I've been hesitant to talk, privately and publicly, about my dreams and work for HomeFrontLines

I've been pushed and prodded by the Universe to get this project in motion and more information will be forthcoming. 

But for now...

I'm honored to be presenting part of the project at Philly's annual "An Evening of Duets" presented by Melissa Chisena. This particular program has a(n) unique line-up of artists from Philadelphia, NYC, and DC. (Grammar side note - an extensive Google search couldn't answer my inquiry of "does 'unique' need 'an' or 'a'?" to personal satisfaction... So, readers, you choose.)

Melissa has invited me to share "Unspoken". This is a new work featuring the artistry of Katherine Kiefer Stark and Melissa McCarten. With it, I'm still exploring what it means to be on the other side of the military and how families (more specifically women) negotiate persistence, courage, fear, isolation, and connection. 
Read more about the other companies in the Evening of Duets Press Release

Get your tickets here

And check out more information about the companies and the performance: Evening of Duets website