Monday, April 25, 2011

dance process journal #12: all-terrain photo diary

We've been so busy with performances over the past few weeks that I've only now managed to sort through all of the amazing photos that Bill Hebert took during our first all-terrain showings in Philadelphia.  There are so many great ones that it was hard to choose just a few!  I've posted lots of them on a new page on my website, where I've written a bit about each location.  You can see those photos here.  In this blog, I'll express some of what I experienced as a choreographer reflecting back on the day as a whole.

It was fascinating to watch as We the People transformed itself in each environment -- and the dance also transformed each environment in which it happened.  I particularly enjoyed the busier historic areas where the dance offered an additional perspective to people who were already visiting and thinking about the founding of America.  What is freedom, who is free, how do we achieve a functioning society given the extreme range of opinions and beliefs?  Philadelphia was created as a place where all would be free to worship as they chose.  The struggle to reconcile diverse political views and ideals has been with the United States from its birth.

photo: Bill Hebert
Showing the dance next to the Liberty Bell was especially poignant to me.  I had the dancers begin by looking through the window at the bell and reading the information posted about it by the window, as if they were tourists themselves (which in a way we were) and then to begin dancing out from there onto the plaza.  As you can imagine, this was quite a surprise for the tourists.  We had a lot of people taking photos and watching the dance with interest.  Some of the dancers had not been to these places before, and I felt that their performances were influenced by their encounters with the locations.

photo: Bill Hebert

Even in a theater, once a dance is being performed onstage it is out of the choreographer's control (and even more so with improvisation).  When we arrived at each spot, I gave a few general guidelines for how I would like the dancers to use the location but once they began I mainly just let them go.  I had to accept that many things would happen that I might not have envisioned, and I was also curious to see what new ideas might arise from the dancers' encounters with these spaces.

photo: Bill Hebert

Throughout the process of making this dance I have questioned my own choices more than I normally do.  This dance is created via improvisation, but I do give the dancers many directives and limitations.  I often ask myself why a certain choice by a dancer does not seem to fit this dance, and I consider whether maybe it does fit if I shift my perspective.  What is the audience seeing, and how much does it matter to the audience what choices I make choreographically?  How far can I allow my own instincts and perspectives to be shifted by other ideas before the dance becomes an entirely different piece, and how much should I allow that to happen?  I have been asking myself these questions, while at the same time I do feel that it's still important to listen to my own instincts about what works and what doesn't.  This choreography is a dialogue between my own ideas and the things that are introduced by the dancers, the environments, and/or the onlookers.

photo: Bill Hebert

This was the first day that we debuted our audience participation ideas and we didn't know whether our onlookers would be willing to join in or not, but it was so much fun!  I was highly impressed with my dancers for being encouraging (without insisting) and we had some delightful audience participation in a couple of the more feasible locations.  I look forward to doing more with audience participation in future performances.
photo: Bill Hebert

There are lots more photos from each location on my website; click here to see more of Bill's beautiful shots!

I'm still playing catch-up a bit in this journal, since we have already gone on to perform in the Re:Vision Series in NYC.  We had an amazing time there too and took the dance to another level, and I have lots to share with you about that.  I think I'll have some video and performance photos soon but for now, a few backstage pix are here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

dance process journal #11: take it outside!

We took the new dance out for air this past weekend and it was so much fun!  It was our first day working outside, and also the first day that we had this many dancers (4 dancers from Philadelphia, and 3 from New York).  We danced our way east across Center City Philly visiting six different locations.

Even though it was our first time outside, we invited people to come and see us.  Since we didn't know what the weather would be like, or how well each location would work, I decided to play things by ear and post each location on my Twitter page shortly before we arrived in that spot.  I chose quieter, out of the way spots for our first few locations before going to areas where I knew we'd have more of an audience.  Between tweeting, directing, and trying to capture video, I felt that I was not able to do any of these things as well as I would have liked!  But overall, the day went really well.  It was truly wonderful to see the surprise and delight on the faces of many of our onlookers.  I was thrilled that some people even joined in with the dancers when invited to do so.  Unfortunately I didn't get any footage of the audience participation.  I will really try to get some of that next time!  I couldn't record nearly as much as I wanted to, as my cell phone battery was taxed to the max and I had to save enough power to tweet our locations... and I needed to observe the dancers some, too.

Here's a clip from one of our first locations.  This day was kind of like an open rehearsal, since we're still making the dance, so you'll hear me giving directions to the dancers.  We still need to work on some things but my wonderful dancers (Loren Groenendaal, Rebekah J. Kennedy, Darcy Lyons, Kumiko Nasu, Virginia Pedicord, Katherine Kiefer Stark, Barbara Tait) really threw themselves into this and did an amazing job.

We faced different challenges in each location.  Sometimes the dancers had nice, tall walls to work with but very little open space, and/or more cars, or more pedestrians.  In other spots they had more space to spread out, but not much in the way of a wall.  I would have liked to have stayed longer in each location and to have spent more time making adjustments in how we used the features of each different environment.  However, this day was mainly about our journey across town and trying out a number of possible spots, rather than exploring one or two spots in depth.  We'll definitely revisit some of these places.

The clip below is from our final location of the day and by this point, the dancers were exhausted... at least they were still laughing!  And they managed to perform once more, before we called it a day.  This was another one of our out-of-the-way spots but by the end you'll see that we still drew a bit of a crowd. 

In some ways I wish that we had gone outside the first time without announcing the locations at all, so that I could have focused more on directing the dancers and getting a bit more video.  I didn't get any video footage of my favorite two locations, historical landmarks where we had much more of an audience and some great audience participation.  We did have the wonderful Bill Hebert along with us taking photos all afternoon, so I may have some still shots of those locations to share with you soon.  In any case, I hope that we'll be dancing in those busier spots again.

What a fun day... and we'll be doing it again before long!  We plan to do several more outdoor showings over the next few months, both in Philadelphia and in NYC.  However, our next performance will be in a theater, in the Re:Vision Series in Manhattan's theater district on April 15th and 16th.  I do plan to be singing for both of those performances and it looks to be quite an interesting show.  Tickets and more info are available here.