Friday, October 28, 2016

Performance as Process in the Birthplace of Freedom

What if the performance wasn't (isn't) the final product?

A theatre director reflected to me - "dance is really different in that there are only two, maybe three shows, if you're lucky. In theatre, we have at least a two weekend run, and then, six shows is a minimum."

Is this because of cost? Funding? Availability? Process?

I've been lucky enough to work in both what I'll call Traditional Theatre and Concert Dance settings. (and lucky enough to work in Entertainment Settings). The difference? In my mind, Traditional Theatre and Concert Dance performances have limited runs whereas Entertainment Settings may have many, many performances - think a well-planned theme park, casino, or cruise line show. All of these venues have value.

As a performer, I learned so much from doing 4-8 shows a day at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. I learned how to read and relate to an audience. I learned how to read and relate to my cast. I learned stamina - physically, emotionally, and performatively. I learned how to take care of my body, mind, and heart space in and out of the "job" setting. I learned the value of the performance "job" and the difference between dance/ art being a "job" and a "passion". I learned that creative expression can be a part of monotony and that monotony can be a part of creative challenges.

Fast forward over a decade and I'm still learning and sharing.

I've been lucky to have been put in the position of directing several university productions, linked to academic learning. Because I believe that performance is a vital part of the artistic and educational process of dance, I push my students to perform - not only to outwardly express themselves on stage, but also to use performance as a means of discovering more about themselves, their art, and the roles they play as educated, artistic-citizens. Logistically, what does this mean? In the past, when my academic classes have been tied to performance, it has meant that I challenge my dancers to practice performing in class and prepare at least two performances for the public. Many of my students may not become professional dancers, but performance skills are vital in our current workforce. My students will need to communicate; make presentations; talk about their journeys, trials, and successes; understand how to relate to their peers and managers; improvise in moments of uncertainty. Performance trains them for this.

And performance also provides information about the process (to students, professional dancers, and choreographers).

What do I learn about myself in performance (as a professional dancer)?
I learn about what has made me comfortable and subconsciously uncomfortable in the process.
I learn about my habits and interactions with people - how do I relate to/with my fellow performers and audience? With regular performance practice, I have the opportunity to change, challenge, and/or reinforce these practices.
I learn about my reaction to environments - how to I respond to a slippery stage, an unwelcoming audience, an empty house, an enthusiastic house, a faulty sound system, an inconsistency in lighting? I have an opportunity to reflect on and change my ability to react and improvise.
I learn about the work - what intuitively feels right? what feels challenging? Dance, for as many formulas as there are for technique and composition, is still an art. And it is the basic human instinct and intuition that deems it art (instead of sport, recreation, or drill). What do I learn from my intuitive need to communicate?

This learning process has been a great collision point between my own beliefs and the practices of KYL/D.

For the past seven years, I've been growing from and alongside KYL/D. Kun-Yang and Ken challenged me with developing InHale in the fall of 2008 and in January of 2009, we had our first Performance Series. This seven-year-process/series has been a journey of learning about the Philadelphia Dance Community and beyond; learning about the challenges of limited resources; learning about production and direction; learning about the Philadelphia Dance Audience; learning about community; learning about process; learning about performance; learning about direction; learning about learning...

In her reflection/ review of KYL/D's 30th InHale Performance Series, Hannah Joo wrote "What is special about InHale is that it provides an alternative to this notion that the artist's worth is defined by the product by highlighting the artist in process."

Something I've learned over the past severn years is that I and KYL/D are deeply invested in process. Of course, there comes a time when a product needs to be delivered, but InHale and KYL/D's most recent journey of Home/ S. 9th St. have demonstrated that process is an important part of the product. And educating audiences about the process within the frame of performance is equally important as part of the product.

This 30th InHale did feature more "works in process" than any in the past.

This 30th InHale did feature more "different modes of collaboration" than any in the past.

This 30th InHale did feature more variations of the female voice than any in the past.

This 30th InHale did feature a diversity of styles, themes, backgrounds, and modalities for presenting these female voices.

As curator and director, some of these features were subconscious, but the ultimate performance was very much intentional.

I've been affected and effected by the political climate. I've been aware of the challenges women and artists face, in October 2016. I'm aware of the many relationships between women and seemingly inanimate forces of nature and objects. And I'm aware of my intuition as a person, artist, and woman.

This 30th InHale was a reflection on me as much as it was a reflection of the Dance Community in Philadelphia, the artistic community beyond dance and Philly, and the issues of the country at large.

Earlier in October, I presented at the National Dance Education Organization's national conference with KYL/D's Rehearsal Director Lingyuan "Maggie" Zhao. We discussed the ways that KYL/D advocated for dance education through the various works-in-progress showings of "HOME/ S. 9th St." In the 18 months before it premiered at FringeArts, KYL/D previewed HOME at several in-process showings. These showings allowed me (as a performer) to learn more about the way the performance was being received and how my role as a performer was implicating what the audience viewed as Kun-Yang's creative voice on national issues. I believe that Kun-Yang Lin did, too, as Artistic Director, not only from his personal experience of the piece, but also in hearing about audience reactions from the piece. Those audience reactions came from people who were experiencing KYL/D for the first time (for example at the Philadelphia Art Museum showing at Art After 5) or people who were long-time fans of KYL/D (for example at private rehearsal showings). KYL/D utilized the performance practice to gain insight into how the final piece would unfold at FringeArts in November, 2015. But honestly, the piece continues to unfold in rehearsal as we prepare for future performances.

The art of Live Art is never dead. It continues to evolve.

And this is one of the reasons why I am so grateful for KYL/D's InHale.

As curator, I get to see the creative voices of artists evolve! I am witness to the process of performance and perceived final products; process; ideas; dreams. I cultivate possibilities and challenge limitations on artistic intent.

As an educator, I get to facilitate the space between dream and reality - for artists, participants, volunteers, and audience members. Creative challenges pose opportunities for me, the tech crew, artists, and audiences. But this is a lesson in real life. What impossibilities can we create with few resources? And for funders - if we can do this much with our limitations... imagine what we could do with a little bit (or a lot) of resources!

KYL/D's InHale has presented over 700 artists from the Western Hemisphere. Literally - from over 14 states and Mexico. KYL/D's InHale has made Philadelphia a hub for international dance exploration.

I'll leave that there....

But one more time.

KYL/D's InHale has made Philadelphia a hub for international dance exploration.

Dance is language that every population on Earth understands. In this political climate, why are we not investing more in a language that can bridge boundaries?


Last Friday, at KYL/D's 30th InHale, I previewed a new work:
"One foot yet in this wonder place,
One testing new ground that feels more like home."*
*from Michael Lancaster's "Heading Old" August, 2016

Here's part of the story:
After many months of correspondence and art sharing, a collaborative proposal emerged between Michael Lancaster, Ellen Rosenberg, and myself.

Michael is a retiree from the Army and a poet. Ellen, among her many stories, is a photographer.

Both of these individuals have been influential in my growth as a person and in reflecting on and learning about life.

My dancers, Katherine Kiefer Stark and Jennifer Yackel, granted me permission and time to explore some of the facets of my communication between Michael and Ellen. Another collaborator, Paul Fejko, allowed me space and time to throw ideas and movement at him and to absorb my process and return with a musical reflection of his own.

I spent days holed up with this information - from Michael, Katherine, Ellen, Jennifer, and Paul. I could spent more days holed up in my head, but the beauty and challenge wouldn't get anywhere, publically. KYL/D's InHale presented an opportunity for me to share and learn from the performance process.

As Joo mentioned, InHale provides an "organic state of the choreographic evolution."

Life and therefore dance, does not exist in a vacuum. Therefore, I need the performance process as part of the organic state of choreography. In undergrad and grad school, this was a part of learning. Why is it absent during the professional experience? Is it...?

And speaking of the professional experience...

In figuring out what The Embodiment Project was, I met with a small business team. We talked about the process of developing a "product", researching it, redeveloping it, and then launching it. As I described my creative process to them, they looked at me quizzically, "Why are you here? You've done all of your research and development already. You have a product."

"And that is why I'm here" I wanted to say. It's part of our creative process to try, reflect, redesign, and try again. That part is nothing new to creative development. As artists, we redesign and research everyday. We're constantly perfecting our product, no matter how many times it's been tested.

The hard part is the sell...

And that is why there is so much value in understanding process!

In my work, process is so intricately woven with education. KYL/D's InHale, my own research, my teaching practice, and KYL/D's journey of sharing HOME/S 9th St indicate the intrinsic value of performance as process, and process as a form of product.

In our NDEO presentation, Maggie and I discussed the diverse venues and populations in which/ to whom KYL/D shared HOME. What we discovered through the sharing of HOME was (at least in my own perspective) that our "audience" was much larger than we expected because we were willing to be vulnerable in the process. I, as a white female born in the US, had a unique position to say "I don't have the same experiences as you (immigrants/ minorities/ desperate populations). I have my own stories from my family's immigration and the World Wars. I also acknowledge my white privilege; but I experience challenges as a woman and as an artist. How can we work together? I have some ideas, but I'm limited. What are yours?"

Maybe it's not the ultimate solution, but perhaps it can be part of the larger conversation. Apparently, as Loo suggests, it already is.

So... thanks to everyone who's supported me, KYL/D and InHale over the past seven years. It's been a journey in learning about who we are as artists.

And, I think it's important that we're doing this work in Philadelphia during this time in history. InHale has found a pivotal place in the birthplace of freedom.

Monday, October 17, 2016

KYL/D's 30th InHale is Friday! and a new work

KYL/D's 30th InHale is this Friday!

Click to reserve your spot: Tickets

Not only is this InHale #30, but I'm also sharing a brand new process inspired by time, change, moving forward and looking back, letting go and creating new adventures. I guess it's appropriate that this piece is being created in the autumn because it feels reflective of the changes happening in the seasons externally as the Earth continues to rotate and internally as my own journey continues to unfold.

A shot from my (almost) daily journey. They change day by day....

I'm grappling with the shedding of leaves and of time, but also learning to accept that in the shedding a more simple beauty emerges. The leaves on the trees are absolutely beautiful now, but the silence and clarity of the bare bark in a few weeks will also be stunning, in its own way. My new friends, Ellen Rosenberg and Michael Lancaster (among many others who circle in my sphere) have been encouraging me to question, listen, and challenge my perception of time and of change. It's from their gentle prodding and the support of my dancers that I'm able to work through my molting in this new work. 

Paul Fejko has also provided me with original music for this performance. I'm excited to see what Friday brings and what I'll learn from sharing the work. 

Heading Old 
by Michael Lancaster, August 2016

Have been years now on the salt ponds
twelve years plus one have been
poems tracking generations
long past, generations
deeply forward, life after life
arriving, being, passing to
life matter: mud, water, new life,
grasses, birds, fish uncountable, 
crustaceans, shellfish
food and life, immortality. 
In consciousness, I am 
circular life, yet limning its cadences
in cadences as urgent as life even as
my cadence slows from its 
primal assertion to be my father
miming his pace as I sought his side 
and then strode strongly past succeeding
his dreams immortal in me. 
In time my children and theirs stream
my immortality in their urgency. 
And now my cadence slows to bird song,
soft, space, vulnerable to all,
mine to teach me a rarer, slower
exquisite truth, the Spirit's charmers, who
soar at such speeds as to defy vision,
who bring passion and beauty as 
they companion my slower life,
on a fall day of grace and pale sun,
and lovely muted colors, breezes turning my
hair to winter's white, warm yet
in memory, in grace, vision, astride
one foot yet in this wonder place,
one testing new ground that feels more like home.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

NDEO 2016

I'm heading to the National Dance Education Organization National Conference this weekend to share the research process of "(in)visible veins: Rivers Merge" from last year.

Shortly after the September 2015 performances, some of the students wrote about their experiences, publicly, in the DeSales publication for Dance Majors: (in)visible veins: Rivers Merge.

And some students shared their reflections with me:

"I learned that while dance is always unique to the individual, that does not mean it 'doesn't work' on someone else. Each body has its own story to tell, so I feel that it is necessary to hear it from everyone."

"The little things in life are what make it beautiful. I learned that I often disregard them and I hope to appreciate the small things more now."

"I will focus more on things seen and unseen throughout my life, and how they affect me."

"It affected me in the sense that it made me more aware of my surroundings, as well as the energy that I contribute to my surroundings. It was inspiring to know that with this work, we were given the power to change our hearts and our minds."

A few moments from the performance:

I'll also be co-presenting on KYL/D's "HOME/ S 9th St." and the ways that company used the process to share and educate about dance performance and practice. 

I'm looking forward to re-connecting with dance educators from across the country!