Monday, May 25, 2020

Some Gave All

This Memorial Day, its especially poignant to remember those who have granted us the freedom to
... disagree
... create
... gather
... be separate
... continue
... question
... celebrate
... mourn

Some Gave All... and some of us don't realize what All has been given.

"Thank you" will never be enough.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Dancing and Drawing Gratitude with Dixon Place

Thanks so much to Sangeeta Yesley and Creative Performances at Dixon Place in NYC for the chance to collaborate with visual artists around the theme of "Gratitude" this Memorial Day weekend. Email to sign up!

Click here for more info about the in-person series. It continues despite the challenges of Covid-19.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Zoom as a choreographic tool - tech considerations

No matter the context, Zoom (or any virtual meeting) is a type of performance. We get to choose how and what our audience sees and how we respond in real time. This is similar to practicing performance in the dance studio classroom or rehearsal space. We make conscious decisions about how we present ourselves while in the process of learning and growing. It is a practice to make decisions in preparation and in real time.

Here are some of the things I've learned from the Zoom-field:

1. Set. What is your "set"? What are you inviting your audience to see and learn about you through the way you create and order your space? When I'm teaching, I understand that I'm getting a private look into my students' lives, based on their space. I need to be aware of how, where, and when they're moving. Some folks are working on carpet or uneven flooring. Some only have the space of a yoga mat. Some are in a different time zone. As I prepare them (and myself) for performance, I remind them that their "set" also becomes part of the performance. Do they want their closet door open and if so, what is the process of making that choice? What do "we" as "audience" members learn about them from their "set"? How does their set inform the narrative of the work? Should it? Conversely, if one chooses to use a virtual background, what does that say about their "character" (both the choice NOT to share their space and where they choose to place themselves)?

2. Costume. How does a dancer choose to "costume" themself? This is not only about a) choices of exposure, b) choices in ability to move, and c) choices in design, but also d) choices in color. Based on how the set is arranged, costume color may be a factor in seeing the movement. For example, when I was arranging my space to teach and perform on Zoom, I initially created a "black box" to reduce light (more on lighting coming up) and create a seamless line of vision for my audience. (My "studio space" is being borrowed from an otherwise colorful and crowded room.) However, I quickly learned that, because most of my work/dance clothes are black, I blended into my set. This was resolved with light colored sheets. I've also come to realize that loose-fitting clothes are not ideal for seeing the lines of the body. In person, they may accentuate the flow of the movement, but that often can be lost in the chance bandwidth of virtual performance. 

3. Lighting. If a dancer stands between a light source and the camera/ computer, the dancer is backlit and in silhouette. Most computer cameras don't capture this as clearly as a professional photographer, videographer, or the human eye. If a dancer stands under a light, the detail clarity is better. The best option I've discovered is an additional light behind the computer camera shining at the dancer. Like most lighting situations, having light shining directly into your eyes is not ideal for performing or balance, but we're talking about adjusting for and to the audience, in this context. In addition, please be aware of the sun. In live performance situations, presenters and theatre directors have taken care to control most aspects of the space, including ways to block the sun. But, depending on your space, the sun could enhance your lighting or be a distraction. Sunlight through windows is a wonderful addition to our indoor, isolated lives. The opportunity to be outside in nature with some Vitamin D is a gift. But, filtered sunlight in a virtual space can be blinding and distorting. Again, choose your lighting with awareness. 

4. Angle of audience. Distance + an upward sight angle for the audience in person = psychological elevation of performance, a range of sight-lines, and choices for the audience to witness the performance. With virtual meeting platforms, most "sight-lines" are close up and the upward angle is less flattering than it can be with distance. This can often be controlled "behind the scenes" with additional props and angling of the digital device. 

5. Distance of audience. Most of the digital meeting platforms are designed to focus on the face of an individual. Dance is usually designed for the entire body to be viewed. Body part dances can be made with the focus on just one part of the body, but a dancer needs to play with their space in order for a full body shot to be visible. Distance away from the recording devices is necessary for a full body shot. This might not be possible in all spaces. But with careful awareness to set, lighting, angle of movement, additional props, and sound, a consciousness performance experience can be created. 

6. Angle of movement. Digital platforms present in two-dimensional movement. I've found that angling the body on croise allows for more of a three-dimensional experience of movement. (croise with an accent over the e). Movement that is presented "flat" front or side can be lost, especially if part of the movement is away from the recording device. 

7. Mute yourself. Sound travels and just as a performer needs to be quiet backstage, a Zoom-performer needs to be aware of the other sounds in their space. Many live theatres and performance spaces are equipped with devices to transmit or muffle sound effectively. Most personal spaces aren't designed this way so, please still silence or turn off your phones and other noise making devices during the performance. If you're sharing music, there are a lot of tutorials for the best ways to do this on your platform. Thank you to all of the folks who have taken the time to share their best sound practices while social distancing.

I'm learning as I'm going and I'm grateful for the collaborations of other artists and professionals.

What have you learned? What are some of your Zoom best practices? 

Screen shot of my performance in Dr. Nathan Thomas's live-streamed Zoom play "The Feast" performed on 4/22/2020. Yep, it's blurry. Such is Zoom-life. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Zoom as a choreographic tool - chance bandwith

JCWK Dance Lab artists had a rehearsal in preparation for our inaugural Ten Tiny Dances - Virtual #quarantineart premier.

In leading my university students through a Zoom creative process, I've been impressed with the ability to see and create unison movement, despite differences in internet space and bandwidth.

In rehearsal with Sarena and Laura, I learned that I can see my students in unison because I've viewing from the outside. There's a delay in real time, I'm just not seeing the delay.

I had anticipated that Sarena, Laura and I could come together to create a unison sequence that would be recorded and then uploaded to the video-making platform. But, what Sarena and Laura heard and saw was delayed from my real time. The Zoom recording caught the speaker's perspective. Sarena and Laura were in unison in the recording but I was not. I wonder, if someone else on another device was doing the recording, all three of us would appear in unison.

Questions and applications for next time.

So, I did a pivot (ball change) in real time for a real rehearsal process taking place in the virtual sphere.

Could the delay in bandwidth be another opportunity for chance operations? How much can't we control - and really, what gets lost in the few seconds that digital information is being whirled through space?

I'm imagining that scene from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory where the child is sent in little pieces across the room... what gets lost when we're not perceiving each other in real time? (I was tempted to find a video clip to insert here, but I'll just challenge you to use your memory and imagination instead of innodating you with another digital interruption.)

As I edited the video, I realized that the effects of the blips and internet lags in the Zoom recording could have been created with editing in the post-rehearsal production process. But, I wonder again, if there's something to be gained in the perception of the real blips in real time through a third filtered lens and digital process.

How many times can you copy a copy?

I've heard from professional videographers and photographers that, although the zoom-in feature on a device is helpful, there is more "life" in the resulting product if the photographer actually moves toward or away from the object in focus. Personally, this life (or maybe absence of) also feels true in watching my Zoom rehearsal.

I'm learning more that I don't want to edit what's happening in real time. I don't want to think or assume or project that perfection can be achieved if we can just click the "undo" tab and try again. The action and the trying again is part of the process and the journey. There are no footprints or artifacts from which to learn or derive meaning if we just "undo" to redo. Again. and again. and again.

Life is messy. Creating dance is messy. The opportunity to learn and grow from and within the mess is brilliant and beautiful. I don't want to edit the messiness away.

Screen shot from the editing process of "InterruptingMayhem". 
May we continue to learn the value of time, process, and growth during this beautiful mess.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Zoom as a Choreographic Tool - Inspiration

Welcome to this Brave New World of creative placemaking in virtual space! 

I'm so grateful and inspired by the artists who have taken to virtual tools and social media to create and share their work through videos, live feed classes, and streams of previously produced live performances. Thank you, for your continued work and voice during these strange times! 

Several weeks ago, I received a request from Dr. Nathan Thomas, Theatre Director of Alvernia Theatre and professor at Alvernia University. He invited me to participate in a live Zoom play. This was/ is the first live performance in which I had participated on the virtual stage. I've witnessed live music performances, classes, readings, and in-process activity like rehearsals, but nothing that had the expectation of a theatrical performance. Of course, performance itself is a process and an experiment in real time. 

The result of "The Feast" was personally incredible. I physically felt the connection between the other folks who were performing. I could feel the energy of the audience. As in non-social-distancing-live-performance, there was a something palatable circling within those participating as actors and as audience. 

Screen shot of my performance in "The Feast"

Describing this magic was challenging during "normal" times. I'm struggling for words during this virtual time. (Perhaps, that's why I dance...)

I've spent many hours on Zoom in the past few weeks, but this experiment demonstrated to me that there is a space for live performance in this strange new time. 

With the play, I was the only one who moved away from the screen. The other performers stayed close to their devices, as we do when we're video conferencing. 

I've learned a lot about negotiating my space, lighting, and clothing from teaching dance over Zoom and creating videos to be streamed. In these first few weeks, I also learned a lot about separating my students into groups and leading them in "watching" each other and "practicing performing" through Zoom. I've discovered real excitement in sharing, performing, and watching from both my experience as a teacher/leader/ choreographer/ performer and the students' experiences as performers/ audience members/ learners. 

Could I combine my experience as a virtual performer in Alvernia Theatre's "The Feast," and the things I've learned from teaching over the past few weeks on Zoom, with my knowledge of a choreographer and producer? 

::drum roll::

A million thanks to Drexel University's Dance Program and the Drexel Dance Ensemble for encouraging this research! 

Dr. Miriam Giguere (Director of the Drexel Dance Ensemble and Drexel's FreshDance Ensemble, Chair of the Performing Arts Department in Drexel University's Westphal College of Media and Design, President of the Pennsylvania Dance Education Organization, and all around amazing woman) suggested that I work with the Drexel Ensemble Class I was teaching and direct the students in a live performance at our end of term meeting. Thank you for your support, enthusiasm, and leadership, Dr. Miriam! Thank you, also for permission to write about this journey here!

I also want to give a shout out to Sandra Parks (Director of Drexel's Dance Program, Director of Women in Dance, and all around amazing woman). Much of Sandra's research has been in digital collaboration with our physical medium and she has been an inspiration in virtual dancing space during these past few weeks. Thank you, Sandra! 

And... thank you to my Ensemble dancers who agreed to embark on this Brave New World of virtual creative placemaking and performance. (They all, individually, gave me permission to take this risk with them, write about the process, and post pictures from rehearsals.) I'm so proud of the ways they've invested in their own bodies and their creative voices - through practicing safe dancing techniques in non-traditional dance spaces, voicing openness and awareness about the restrictions and opportunities of their space, and their enthusiasm for coming together twice a week. We are not limited by little square boxes!

Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing more about this journey. 

Thanks for joining this adventure. Stay tuned! 

Zoom-ing about the choreographic process with my Drexel Dancers.