Wednesday, November 19, 2008
When you live as an artist you observe, you feel, you experience and you are aware of the highest highs and the lowest lows in life. It doesn’t matter really what you do for a living. For those destined to an artistic path, life manifests as a work of art no matter what you are doing. You could be an accountant, a lawyer, an engineer, or a student, anything...but as an artist, you have a point of view about ideas and emotion, you have interesting outlooks on everyday behavior, and your most mundane activities are sacred. Especially as a dancer or other performing artist, life is an open experiment. You, and everything about you becomes public property in a way. Perhaps that is why dancing is so compelling. The dancer is and becomes the work itself. A dancer feels and has the ability to magnify her or his experiences, and in doing so gives others permission to feel, to think, to analyse and to ponder. The dancer gives the spirit a voice, brings thought into action, and physicalizes the unknown. That is impact.
Ironically, as meaningful as dance is to those of us who practice, to many who only observe dance, the artform sometimes becomes only decorative, fun “entertainment.” (which is fine, but there is also more...) Or conversely, when viewing concert/artistic dance, the movement can seem confusing, abstract and difficult to “understand.” It does take some investment on the part of the audience to process the depth, but Modern Dance Pioneer Isadora Duncan points out, “if I could tell you what I mean, I wouldn’t have to dance it.” I wonder, who completely “understands” Beethoven or other classical music greats? We experience the art, we feel it, and sometimes works of art strike a chord in us, they ring true to our spirit and we “understand” even though we can’t explain why. The artwork (dance in our case) gives us a language other that words and an expression other than verbal. Our bodies become our voice... our anatomy - our grammar.
Oh no...here she goes with the philosophy stuff again....
That usually happens to me after we show/see the dances we have been working on since the beginning of the quarter. It seems amazing what we do - all these interesting ideas and dances are created with such limited time and resources. One of the challenges of working in the arts at a polytechnic university is that students have labs, projects and classes (darn academics...) that get in the way of rehearsals and casting opportunities. We have only one big fully staged and supported dance performance a year when we really need at least two. With only one dance studio (but it’s ours and we are so thankful for it), it means we rehearse at 7 am (yes really, just ask the students) and on Sun evenings. It means the show will be an epic if we take all the dances that audition.
Orchesis is full of wonderful inspiration, but is not without its drama, growing pains, disappointments and challenges. As in many dance programs at universities, the desire for quality and excellence doesn’t come without a price. This is college and what that means is that sometimes dancers don’t get roles they want .... sometimes they are not right for the part, their skills are not what is required, or their schedule and their priorities are not working with the rehearsal call.
Honestly, and sometimes sadly, the cold hard truth is that no one is “entitled” to any role because he or she is a senior, a past Orchesis member, a good student or a friendly face. A role in a dance is earned, and “luck is when opportunity meets preparation.”
- do they know that this is because we want them to be their most excellent, that we want the program to be strong for Their benefit??
Student choreographers are challenged to justify their choices, to clarify their movement, to dig deeper into their artistic intentions, and to make connections between their emotional, artistic, and intellectual lives?
- do they know it is because we want them to grow, to strengthen their artistic voice, to not settle for less than the best they can offer?
In college we hope and expect that discipline comes from self motivation and drive. Students are expected to listen to and apply feedback, to observe detail, and to push themselves. We want them to reach higher, be stronger and more powerful, and to be smart. As teachers we have other interesting things to share with them about art and about the body rather that just acting as their disciplinarians. We hope that self discipline is already in place.
-do they know it is because we want to share a wonderful world of dance with them?
Sometimes we have to tell students things they don’t want to hear - critiques and bad news.
- do they know we still care about them and think about them all the time?
- do they know that loss and disappointment doesn’t mean that an experience is bad, that it can still be valuable and fun?
- do they know that hard work and taking things seriously actually makes things more fun and satisfying?
Sometimes I forget they are 20ish and I am 43ish - some of them seem to worry if they are “liked,” (so do I, but not as much), I worry wondering if they grow, question and understand (perhaps so do they, but not as much).
They want frozen yogurt after a long day of rehearsal - I want a glass of wine.
And you thought we were just prancing around huh.........
Photo: Prem Ananda premphoto.com
Pain. I never thought of it as both a physical and a mental thing. Well, I mean I have, but I have never thought of combining these two different types of pain to create something miraculous. This weekend I became in pain physically by throwing my body around in Chad Michael Hall's piece(it was quite fun though), but I never knew I could use my mental pain of emotion to help express and move my body in this dance.
Mental pain? During this past year I have felt as if everything I loved has been taken away from me. Back in March, my grandma passed away. At the end of August, my boyfriend (well, ex-boyfriend now) of almost two years ended our relationship and broke my heart into pieces. Then in October, my grandpa passed away. At this point I felt as if I had nothing. I have never felt so devastated and alone. I had lost three major things I cared for the most in my life. I didn't know what to do. Right after my grandpa's funeral I met up with the rest of the Orchesis Dance Company in San Fransisco. Of course I was still sad but it was nice to be surrounded by my friends again. It was in our first master class at the Alonzo King's dance studio that I realized, hey, dance is therapeutic. Dance is what keeps me sane. I didn't realize until then how much emotion and passion I put into my dancing. From this mental pain that has been growing and growing this past year, I took it all and used it to power my dancing. The death of my grandma and grandpa, every lame excuse my ex-boyfriend has given me to make me mad, and just about every other little thing that made me feel like nothing, I felt that pain and used it. I don't think I have felt this strong in my dancing in a long time.
Those who say to leave everything that's happening in your social life (whether dramatic, bad, or good) out the door when entering the dance studio? BS. I say take all those emotions, whether you're angry, happy, sad, or stressed, and use them to dance. If you put your heart into it, it will make you feel better, and your dancing will be phenomenal.
Photo: Keith Mosher
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Chad Michael Hall came to Cal Poly this past weekend. Some of the dancers had seen his piece "Multiplex" last year at ACDF. So this year we (Orchesis) brought him in for a residency. In 3 days he coached the dancers in learning his piece "DoubleSpeak." Many bruises and sore (understatement) bodies later, we have a dance. It was wonderful to watch some of the dancers transform as they worked to embrace the very physical work. "DoubleSpeak" (according to Chad), is a fast-paced, high-energy, multimedia movement expression that demonstrates what it looks and feels like to be fed up with adversity, public scrutiny, and political euphemisms. The dance explores the duality that exists in us regarding our feelings about what we “should” say versus what we want to say.
Chad chose a cast of dancers with very different skills and levels of experience. This gave the group a very diverse, pedestrian and authentic quality - it could be any group of people. It was wonderful seeing dancers' faces light up in the class he taught when they discovered they could actually do a particularly difficult and intense movement. Chad was demanding and direct, and at the same time friendly and open.
It is also wonderful to see this kind of work as it compares to the Robert Moses work that Bliss shared with us a few weekends ago. Both dances are complex, physical, and densely choreographed. Yet the quality and intent of the dances are so different. The sophistication of the Moses work, and the raw physicality and energy of the Hall piece are wonderful gifts that we are able to experience and perform in Orchesis. And then there are all the other dances............
Photo: Diana Stanton
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
A new member's thoughts....
On Thursday night we showed the student pieces that are auditioning to be in the show. Kathleen's dance was the first one that was shown and after the dancers performed what material they had so far, Kathleen got to talk with Diana and Maria about her choreography and where she was headed next with it. I guiltily was eavesdropping a little bit to see what advice, critiques, and praise Diana and Maria were giving Kathleen. With each successive dance piece I watched the movement closely and listened to the feedback for the choreographers. About half way through the dances, I realized that the reason I was listening so intently and taking notes was that I was wishing that I had choreographed something and was experiencing this process of developing my own choreography. I was taking what advice was being given for future reference because I now am thinking of what and how I would choreograph. I realize how invaluable it is to have this type of critiquing and I was imagining that I could have this type of help with something I was choreographing.
One thing that has been so surprising for me in Orchesis is seeing the process that the student choreographers are going through. This is my first year in Orchesis, but, I saw the Orchesis performances two times prior to being involved now. Both times I saw the shows I was so amazed at how skilled all of the dancers are and how intriguing the choreography is. When I found out that a lot of it was student choreographed I was even more surprised! I guess I just assumed that these students were natural choreographers and it probably came so easy to them. I didn't think of myself as being capable of choreographing such interesting movement.
Now that I am seeing the process that the choreographers are going through I am understanding the hard work that goes into it and also that it is a process and that no one has everything perfectly planned out from the start. There is a lot of experimentation and testing ideas and getting ideas from your dancers. Seeing the process makes me feel that I am capable of creating movement that is interesting and reflects ideas I have. I only wish I had gained this awareness a little sooner so that I could have possibly auditioned to choreograph for the show.
Now I have been inspired to begin choreographing. I have a song that means a lot to me and every time I listen to it I see movement in my head to go with it. I already have a progression of how the whole dance would enfold with stage directions for the first minute and a half. I don't have actual movement, but I have the meaning behind what the movement will be. I'm getting really excited about it!
It feels good to be working on something that is my own original idea and is complex in its meaning. I'm going to keep watching the choreographers processes as they expand their pieces and listen to the advice that Diana and Maria have for them so that I can apply it to what I am doing. Even if no one is going to see what I'm doing right now, maybe someday people will! I can't wait!
Photo: Prem Ananda premphoto.com