Tuesday, September 20, 2011

dance process journal #19: lots of Philly Fringe footage

I thought about posting more than one full performance from our Fringe shows, since the dance was different each time -- but I've decided that might be a bit much!  So I'll just post one full performance, and two clips of highlights taken from several shows.

In this first video you can see the whole dance from beginning to end.  I really enjoy watching the dancers taking their individual movement phrases across the grass in the beginning of the piece, and the audience participation at the end of this one was especially good.

Next, a clip of audience moments from several shows.  I can never watch these without smiling... thanks to all who watched and danced with us!

While looking through the footage, I've continued to think about why I enjoy watching this dance and what I see in it.  The movement is repetitive and ever-changing.  There's not really a story, even though there are some dramatic and thematic elements.  In large part, this piece is "about" its movement qualities, its dynamic shifts, its continual variation of levels, pathways and points in space.  The dancers struggle with each other, with themselves, and with the environment but it is an abstract struggle.  For me the dance embodies something about living in the moment and adapting to changes.  At times I am simply observing the strength, beauty, creativity and commitment of the dancers.  They are all strong and interesting movers and maintain a very consistent focus throughout these performances.  They dance with strong intention and allow their emotional expression to happpen in response to the movement, rather than imposing preconceived emotions.  I like that the dancers come to each tree, bench, or dance partner and just have to find a way to do the task.  They don't know how they will achieve it until they get there; they just have to go for it.

In these Washington Square performances, perspective and distance affect the dance more than they have done in other environments.  The effects of distance become even more noticeable when framed by the camera's lens.  At times some dancers are in closeup when others are quite far away.  On the second day there were many more birds flying through the space.  The birds, wind, and moving trees are interesting to have in the dance, along with the people passing by or staying to watch.  Of course, in these Fringe performances the thematic material of the dance is underlined by the presence of the memorial to the Revolutionary War soldiers.  The grass and earth itself is a partner in our dance here too -- for many reasons, and specifically because the Square is a burial ground.

In the clip below I've collected a few more performance highlights that are not included in the first two videos.  I know this is a lot of footage and I doubt that most people will watch it all!  I just really enjoy watching the various  choices that the individual dancers make, and I wanted to share some more of those choices here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

dance process journal #18: short Philly Fringe excerpt

We performed our Philly Fringe shows on Sunday and Monday of this week, and I was able to record four out of the six performances.  It will take a while to look through and edit the footage but for now I'm posting a short excerpt from our Sunday shows.  In outdoor performances of this work, our encounters with audience members become a more visible part of the dance so I've chosen to have the dancers get closer to and sometimes more directly involved with the observers.  Even if people choose not to dance with us in the actual audience participation moments, they still become a much more visible part of the performance than they would be in a darkened theater, adding another spontaneous, unpredictable element to the piece.  In this excerpt two of our observers seem a bit unsure of how to react to the dancers working so close to them.  We also had a wedding party taking photos beside us on Sunday after we chased them off of the performance space; I don't know if they watched our dance! 

The dancers performed so beautifully and valiantly on this difficult terrain.  Dancing on grass proved to be more tiring than dancing on a flat surface and we were also covering a somewhat larger distance in this particular space.  The quieter, leaning moments became vital in helping the dancers to recover and prepare to reengage with the explosive pushing and struggling movement.  Some cast members had also danced in a very demanding show over the previous two nights, so there were varying degrees of physical exhaustion happening. I was so proud of them all for the focus and intensity that they maintained throughout our Fringe performances.

I was also truly moved by the number of spectators who approached us to make cash donations.  The park doesn’t allow a tip bucket, but many people came up and handed us contributions.  Unfortunately our IndieGoGo campaign did not reach its goal, but I am feeling grateful for the support we’ve received in this short time.  Our fundraising started fairly late in the game (IndieGoGo recommends a campaign of about three times longer) so I'm thankful that we have raised as much as we have even though it fell short of covering our costs.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

dance process journal #17: Fringe Rehearsal 2 - the dancers discuss process and environment

We had our second rehearsal on the grass in Washington Square today.  The dance is looking much stronger now after two rehearsals in the park.  However -- I'm finding it nearly impossible to get the footage I had wanted to get for you while running the dance.  There were still just too many adjustments to make, and we don't have much time left before the show.  I needed to focus on rehearsing the dancers rather than running video.  If I decide to share my choreographic process for a different dance in future, I will really try to find someone else to run video because my first priority must be to work with the dancers.

After making a number of adjustments to the piece, we took a break and I asked the dancers if I could record them discussing their experiences with the movement and how they approach working with this particular type of physicality.  I thought that I was recording them, but unfortunately the first great conversation that we had did not actually record.  We didn't have time to talk about those aspects again, so I just moved on and recorded a little bit of discussion about what it's like for the dancers to work with trees rather than walls to push against, and what it feels like to perform this dance in such an open space.  At the very end of the clip there's a bit of dance footage showing our current strategy for entering the performance location, and then a very short bit of the dancers beginning the conflict movement.  After that, I had to switch the video off and focus on watching so that I could give them feedback.  I think the discussion below will give you some insight into the dancers' interior monologue during this dance -- the mental/emotional/spiritual work that the dancers are doing along with their physical work.  It really takes their whole beings to create this dance.  I find their efforts quite beautiful and heroic.

Looking back at the experience of maintaining this journal, I really feel that I haven't shown you as much as I would have liked to have shown about the specifics of how the dancers are creating their movement.  In other words -- what do they have to keep in mind when they are partnering each other?  What physical adjustments do they have to make to each other, to the environment, and within themselves?  Dancing is such a complex and profound activity and even when the movement looks simple, as this dance might appear to be, the dancers are working on SO many things at once.  As most Graham dancers hear at one time or another, "tis a gift to be simple" -- but simple is not necessarily the same thing as easy!  Sometime in the near future, I will see if I can manage to get some video of the dancers talking about what they are doing as they move.

I was thrilled today, during one run-through of the dance, when three women came along behind me and stopped to marvel at the dancers' work.  They stayed for quite a while and continued to exclaim with delight at the dancers' various actions and skills.  I had to keep rehearsing, so I couldn't talk to them much about the piece but they were seeing so much for themselves.  It's exciting when observers can appreciate so much about what we are creating, since sometimes I wonder whether the audience notices the subtle adjustments that happen with each shift of the dance.  And I wonder how many viewers realize just how hard it is to do what these dancers are doing.  In the videos that I've already posted to this journal, I hope that you've been able to recognize something of the complexity that's involved in creating these movements.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

dance process journal #16: help us cover the costs of our Fringe shows!

Since we will be performing for free in a public park, donations are the only means we have to offset our Philly Fringe expenses.  Although we aren't renting a theater for these shows, there are many other expenses to cover.  Among them:  Fringe participation fees, the permit to perform in Washington Square, studio space rental, transportation costs for the NYC dancers to come to Philly for the shows, and last but not least a stipend for each artist.  My dancers have given much time and energy to this work since last November, and some of them are missing other work in order to participate in the Fringe.  I would really like to be able to give them each a $100 stipend for these shows but I will only be able to do that if we meet the $2,000 goal of our IndieGoGo campaign.  As of today we're a little more than 1/4 of the way to our goal, with less than two weeks left in the campaign.  If you can help with a donation of any size (even $1 is helpful), please click below to contribute:

If you visit our campaign by clicking the box above, you'll see that we're offering a number of fun perks at various contributions levels.  And since we are sponsored by arts organization Fractured Atlas, your donation is tax-deductible minus the value of any perks that we send you.  Many thanks to anyone who is able to help us in this way!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

dance process journal #15: a bit of costume silliness

We had our first rehearsal on the grass in Washington Square this week.  For our Fringe performances we'll need costumes that don't mind grass stains and dirt, and shoes that work for this terrain.  As with previous performances I'm going for something that shows the body's movement but also looks somewhat pedestrian and creates variety from dancer to dancer.  We can use some items from before, but an additional consideration is that temperatures will probably be in the 80s or maybe higher.  Plus a few things have gone missing! so I asked everybody to bring a number of options to rehearsal.  My dancers are nice enough to wear (almost) anything I ask, so there wasn't too much controversy when I asked them for their thoughts on the costumes.  But I can always count on them for some silliness :)

Working in this new environment was a big adjustment for all of us.  I really had to focus on observing and directing the dancers rather than videotaping the movement.  I'll try to get some footage from upcoming outdoor rehearsals once we are better oriented to the terrain, although I am also not sure how much video I want to post here before the shows.  I don't want to spoil it for the people who are attending, but I'll try to get a little something up next week if I can.  We have rehearsals scheduled in both Philly and NYC next week -- as long as Hurricane Irene leaves us with somewhere to dance!

Monday, August 8, 2011

dance process journal #14: sharing some source materials

Our Philly Fringe page is now live!  Go here for more details about our upcoming Fringe performances of We the People on the afternoons of Sunday and Monday, September 5th and 6th.

Over the next few weeks we'll be rehearsing specifically for the Fringe while figuring out a new version of this dance to perform in Washington Square.  These performances will include some (optional) audience participation and I'm still deciding whether to include the "Spirit of 76" song in this version.  If we do use the song, we'll probably integrate it into the dance somewhat differently from how we used it in the theater last April.

I've been visiting Washington Square again for further inspiration and wanted to share some footage of the Square with you here:

The eternal flame monument is dedicated to the unknown Revolutionary War soldiers, hundreds of whom are buried in the Square.

During the creation of this dance I have been revisiting several of Philadelphia's historical sites and thinking (and learning) more about the founding of the United States.  We might think that America has become more politically polarized in recent years, but polarization is a challenge that's been with us from the start.  In his farewell address, George Washington gave a strong warning about the dangers that political parties posed to the new country:
"I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on Geographical discriminations.  Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party, generally.

"This Spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind.  It exists under different shapes in all Governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.  But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.  The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

"Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of Party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it."
(He says a lot more too, of course!  You can read the full address at this link.)

While exploring further throughout Independence National Park, at the northeast corner of 6th and Market I came upon a piece of public art created in 2003 by Alison Sky.  This text-centered work, Indelible, incorporates a number of moving quotations on liberty from Sitting Bull, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Yan Phou Lee, and others "representing those left out of the 'all'" in statements such as "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents.  Indelible highlights the robust condemnation  of slavery in a passage which was written by Thomas Jefferson to be part of the Declaration of Independence but which was struck out of the final version.  The impact of Indelible is further intensified by the fact that it is now located right across the street from a recently opened exhibit about the slaves who worked in Washington's household while he was President.  You can see some photos and read more about Indelible on Alison Sky's website here.

Friday, July 1, 2011

dance process journal #13: ReVision Series footage; Spirit of 76 (song for We the People)

So here is the "something else" that I've been working on -- I have just now released a recorded version of "Spirit of 76 (song for We the People)," out today on iTunes, CDBaby and Bandcamp.  I wanted you to be able to hear this better version before posting the ReVision footage, since we used this song in the dance for those performances and the audio quality isn't very good on that video.  You can listen to the new version below:

I've also written a little more about the song on my regular blog.

So, finally -- some footage from our Re:Vision shows in NYC!  

In adding the live singing to this dance, I wanted to move through the central space sometimes and not always stay on the edge, but I didn't want to distract too much from what the dancers were doing.  So I waited until they had danced for quite some time before I entered, and performed as a statue singing onstage and only occasionally drifting through the action.  Overall I felt this worked well with the dance.  The Tank stage wasn't very big and I was a little challenged trying to keep my feet from getting snarled up in the fabric, so I don't really like how I'm walking here!  I would try to find a better solution for that next time.  The dancers all did a great job and, since they used the side walls often, the stage didn't seem as small as I had feared even though we had 6 dancers on it plus myself.

Having the dancers "write on the parchment" background was an idea that came at the last minute, but I felt it added a strong layer and would definitely want to include that in future performances in theater spaces.  Next time I would get the projection to show as portrait rather than landscape, though.  We also changed the ending of the dance after this performance, just in a small way, by having a few of the dancers hesitate and then come straggling offstage after the rest of us.  I don't really like how we exit in one big clump in this video; it works better to have a few stragglers, which is how we did it on Saturday.

This was my favorite of the two performances, so I posted it even though my camera was a little crooked!

Performed by:  Loren Groenendaal, Lacy James, Rebekah J. Kennedy, Kumiko Nasu, Virginia Pedicord, Katherine Kiefer Stark, Barbara Tait

"Spirit of 76 (song for We the People)" credits:
Lyrics, music, vocals, cellos, electronics: Lacy James
Cover design: Mereminne Productions
Lacy James photo used by kind permission of Bill Hebert 

Liberty Bell photo used by kind permission of Tony the Misfit through Creative Commons