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.