The Winter Dance Concert opens this week, and students are busy running every aspect of the production in tandem with our wonderful technical faculty. It is a wonderful time here at CalArts. Everyone is engrossed in polishing their papers, programs, and performances. I am really looking forward to the Opening Night Reception on Thursday (Dec 6) where we will all be able to come together after the performance and celebrate as a community. Our show at REDCAT opens next week and will be an exciting event to attend. - Kate Fox
So I guess in my first 8 weeks here at CalArts I’ve encountered many examples of what it means to collaborate in this thing we call college, and also (more importantly) in this thing we call life. I GET IT if Critical Writing Arts, Dance and World Cultures, CP Lab, First Year Orientation- everything I could ever encounter, or hope to encounter, at CalArts 24/7 didn’t make it clear enough: The goal and key to successful art (or as far as it can possibly be articulated, for we know the process is theoretical, but life is problematical) is C O L L A B O R A T I O N.
That said I think we should be more sensitive or rather aware of the types of collaboration at our disposal whilst attending college-this college in particular, I’d like to inspire you to dig deeper into what it means to collaborate on another level most of us probably don’t often think about: Collaboration from Past to Present; for the FUTURE. I was inspired by this particular artist named Savion Glover through his book simply titled Savion, he is a tap dancer and this idea of past to present collaborationis something that he has made clear and prominent throughout the tap world, and I’m wondering what would happen if we took his particular idea of collaboration for tap dance and applied it to any style or medium of dance in general.
“I’m young to be preaching about history, but I know I couldn’t do what I do if it wasn’t for all the cats who came before me, who developed the steps and the spirit and the culture of tap…they encouraged me to pick up where they left off.” -Savion Glover
In the tap world there exists this communal respect amongst artists individually. The cool part about tap is that it is competitive but friendly, respectfully. Tap artists know their history, where certain steps originated and are always careful about giving credit to other tap dancers who might have established certain steps before them (so much so steps are named after their originators). They are sensitive to the fact that possibly every genre of moves has probably been touched on or discovered, but the ongoing challenge is to increase vocabulary, stylistically. The concept of expanding on certain moves taken fromother people known as “stealing”(in the tap dance world) is actually less of “stealing” and more of (ready ahem) collaborating.
It’s an unspoken collaboration in that it comes from a mutual respect of tap being more than just amoment when a person performs for self-fulfillment, not to say those moments aren’t included, but the bigger goal of tap dance is remembering where tap came from, how it came to be where it istoday, where it is going in the future, and how we can get it there most effectively. In other words it isa continuous collaboration and education from past to present remembering, absorbing, respecting, integrating.
If this is the mentality that has been the standard (and successfully so) for tap dance, it should be thestandard for dance universally. I think this means being familiar with dance history and taking just asmuch of an individual active interest, educating ourselves about dance previously as much as we doevery day in our core technique classes.
I think this means studying leisurely enough to not have to depend on course requirements to do theeducating FOR us, but rather learning to let those classes, and there teachers, enhance and exemplifyinformation we have already proven to seek ourselves.
If nothing else this idea will be helpful so that maybe instead of creating dances that tend to have thesame choreographic problems (because nobody bothered to understand the difficulties or advantagesof those who attempted the same work before them) we could learn from each other’s mistakes aswell as those before us to enhance and perfect our artistic work, more honestly and aware. This ideaof past to present collaboration will make us more aware globally which I think is something that thisschool pushes, but at the same time I feel gets lost, at times, simply because we’re young, experimental,consumed with ourselves naturally because college is something new and out of the ordinary; for manyit’s the first long term experience away from home.
That said, I think this will be a challenge for all of us to try and take a more active approach in thecollaboration process for the sake of our art form, we can only start to move forward if we understandwhere we’ve come from.
“When I tap dance for people, they’re not just seeing me, they’re seeing me and they’re seeing BunnyBriggs,Harold and Fayard Nicholas, Gene Kelly, Sandman Sims…” ~Gregory Hines (Tap dancer/mentor to Savion Glover)
Whilst attending the numerous concerts and classes the American College Dance Festival Association held, I felt a sudden swell of pride in being a part of the Calarts Dance School. Our creativity, talent, and desires for stylized detail and stunning individual aesthetics is overwhelming, especially when put alongside other schools within the region.
The works that represented Calarts at ACDFA March 23-26 included MFA 1 Cesilie Kverneland’s hate, much love, with no metal or steel, Lindsey Lollie’s The Next Step Is To Go Back, my own solo work And Then My Cat Died, as well as Laura Berg’s Sovereignty. Laura performed her solo with solidarity and perfection the first night of the conference leaving the audience breathless. Out of the 38 different works that performed throughout the weekend, Laura’s was one of eight performed at the Gala alongside works from LINES/Dominican University, CalState Long Beach, Arizona State University, and Loyola Marymount University. From the eight performances performed at the Gala, two of Keith Johnson’s, instructor at CSLBU, pieces were chosen to be performed at the National ACDFA Gala this summer in Washington D.C. Sovereignty was the first alternate.
Lindsey Lollie was able to perform her solo in the informal concert, which was not adjudicated, but she was later approached and offered a full tuition scholarship to the Rennie Harris summer intensive.
All in all, ACDFA was a great experience that allowed me to appreciate the students and the work we show at Calarts. I am pleased to be so spoiled and surrounded by beautiful dancers, creative minds, and artistic points of view that are very rare anywhere else.
The thing that jazzed me most about coming to the Institute four years ago was that I would be teaching students with varying levels of technical abilities and performance experience, who were open, perceptive and embraced being in the moment, taking it to the edge. Sampling, testing and tasting movements to the fullest capacity will add depth and variety, plus it’s really fun to work in class from that place!
After years of teaching and saying similar things in different ways in a variety of settings, it is much more fulfilling and artistically relevant when I can go beyond the perfunctory: up-down-left-right of things in my instruction. To go beyond the basic rudimentary functions of movement when teaching students is icing on the cake for me. I can click into another place when that happens… I like to teach from that place!
I am interested in dancers exploring their humanity, sexuality, persona, technical ability and theatricality through the context of the movement I give them. I want them to experiment with not only the physicality of movement i.e. shape, form etc… but I also want them to pose questions for themselves that involve critical thinking in ways they have not yet considered.
What does this step taste like? What does this combo feel like? What color is the plie or exercise I am doing have? How does what I feel like at this moment inform this step? What act of my own humanity can I add to the room by my presence and my moving through space in this agreed upon experience?
Whether they are thinking about a hamburger and fries for lunch, joining the Occupy LA Movement, or the metaphysical concepts of string theory, dark matter or the nature of the cosmos itself in their delivery and/or performance of a particular exercise/phrase/combination, all physical information is important and has validity. Everything is relevant…at the threshold of revelation…
I experienced this several times with each level. Last Halloween (I hope the fact that I was in costume wasn’t the reason…) the BFA 3’s and I had a really good class once I explained to them some of these concepts. Most recently, I taught a class with the BFA 4’s that was laden with low energy and less than full mental and physical participation, it was not a stellar moment for the class.
The next day I talked to the students, brought up some of these points and my thoughts about how to take class, and reminded them of what is expected. I mentioned to those students pulling energy from the class that it wouldn't be tolerated. I commended those students adding positive energy to the class by being present and pushing themselves to places where they could grow. Needless to say, after that we had a wonderful class. Here are two emails I received after that:
First thank you for taking a moment to talk to our class today. I think you said a lot of important bits that are useful for all of us to keep in the forefront of our minds. I know for me that even though I'm an adult (more or less) I often get consumed and distracted by my self-created mental struggles. Especially in times of creating work, I can focus on the negative and be full of self-doubt. What you reminded me of is to focus on the positive. The fact of why I love choreographing is the thrill of problem solving, working with my dancers and having something that's my unique creation to share with others. Your chat today helped me gain perspective that will help me push forward these next few weeks. So thank you.
I just wanted to thank you for your talk this morning. It was much appreciated. I think it is good to have a teacher talk to us the way that you did because it reminds us (well at least me) that I am still a student and I still have time to improve and affect others in a positive way. It is easy to forget this after four years of what seems like the same routine. But you really reminded me that I am blessed to be here at this school and I should take advantage of it. It really meant a lot to me. On a more personal note, I also want to thank you for telling specific students about unacceptable behavior in class. It was about time that teachers say something about student attitudes in class and I really admire the fact that you did. It really drags the energy down when one student is always spitting out negativity. It was really great that you spoke to those issues. Thank you.
I want dancers to be mentally active in class even if they have to fake it at times as there will always be steps they don’t like, or that feel weird on their bodies. They must learn to trust the instructor and find a way to make it work. Over the course of a career, dancers will dance many ballets that they don’t care for or that challenge them in ways that are out of their comfort zones. Even going through the BFA 4 existential angst of being here, they must find their integrity through what they are doing in class and be professional. I want them to learn and infuse and imbue their movements with consciousness. Whether they have come from a high level of rigorous training or not, my colleagues and I are trying to prepare them for a lifetime of dance, not just a few performances.
Having the ability to even begin to jar your psyche in these terms and hopefully answer such questions can only happen when you free yourself through your technical training to allow room for play and exploration. A lot of unpleasant, hard work of tedious repetition has to take place before they can begin to peel off those layers and truly dance. As Katherine Dunham once told me: You should dance so deeply that your bone marrow turns over!
Going to default shapes is my way of telling young dancers that if they have put in the work, the default shapes (muscle memory) are there and they just need to access them and move beyond them. I want them to spend less time being encumbered by the mechanics of movement, as the foundation has been set or is settling and movement should flow from them by this point. I want them to have enough maturity, confidence and personal creativity to find a deeper meaning in how they move and take class, as there is always growth to attain as an artist.
If they learn to always go to default shapes and take each step to its optimum level in their execution, delivery and expressivity, they can find a more profound dimensionality to their training. If they can create this universe consistently when taking class a whole new set of wonderful possibilities and choices lay before them upon which to build and conquer. This process never stops no matter what level of technical proficiency they reach. Moreover, a little trust and faith in that day’s lesson plan can help them through the plateaus, peaks and low points of the daily training.
A great work of art, if it accomplishes anything, serves to remind us, or let us say, to set us dreaming, of all that is fluid and intangible. Which is to say, the universe. It cannot be understood; it can only be accepted or rejected. If accepted we are revitalized; if rejected we are diminished… Henry Miller
I was watching a colleague’s work earlier today. We do a lot of that here. We watch, observe, report and then watch some more. Then it comes time to create, to be watched essentially. And in all this watching, reporting and being observed I am discovering that I have a whole new set of questions about what actually constitutes dance and how it is presented. Questions that don’t necessarily induce anxiety in me but scare me just enough to start looking long and hard at my own process. Lately, I find, I am faced with the question of space. What constitutes a dance space, physically, mentally and spiritually? Am I trying to alienate the space or integrate the space and am I inviting my audience to participate and become a part of the work or inviting them to simply observe? Space it seems is blurring a bit for me lately, and I think it’s time I decided where I am putting my system of values as a choreographer and how integrated I want my work to be as an artist and my life as a fellow biped navigating gravity. I’m curious. Where does dance happen for you?
I was studying at the Atlanta Ballet and my teacher was Carl Radclift who was a partner of Bella Lewitsky in Lester Horton’s Company, he also danced with Jack Cole. Bella was doing a workshop and this was in 1970 I believe at Florida State with her company who’s members were Gary Bates, Fred Strickler, Rebecca Bobile, Leslie Brown, Sean Greene, Iris Pell they were all there. The workshop was three weeks long and I just really sparked with Bella. And Bella sparked with me and she invited me to CalArts, which was the first year it moved to Valencia. But my father said NO! you are not going to that fly by night school that just opened, forget it! So I stay at the Atlanta Ballet and in the spring my father said: you really need to go to school! So I go to the University of Utah for one quarter, and I did not like being there because there was not enough dancing. Then I meet Bella again at Eastern Michigan University doing another workshop with the full company and again she invited me to come to CalArts and writes a letter to my parents telling them of my talent and so they relinquished and allowed me to go to CalArts.
So in the fall of 1972, I arrive at CalArts with Donald McKayle on faculty, Bella Lewitsky and the entire company is there in residence, Mia Slavenska was teaching ballet and Bella invited me to be an apprentice with the company. I am in school from 9 to 6 everyday taking ballet, modern, improvisation, composition, rehearsing and being other student works and then I rehearse with the company from 6 until 10 at night. So one of the first things that happens is Bella is going out on the road. As part of their work in the Institute, the faculty was required to produce work as working artist. They still had to show work, write, compose, make films all that! So Bella goes out on the road and she leaves me at CalArts. So I continue at CalArts and I meet Susan Rose and a lot of the graduate students that were working at that time. And I start dancing with them and I am really enjoying being a part of the School of Dance and the Institute as a whole. At that time there were only 600 students in the Institute and you were able to attend other classes in the Institute. One class I took was an art class taught by Mimi Shapiro and John Baldesarri is in the class. This is the time when the feminist movement is starting to take hold with Tina Metsker teaching classes, and a big influx of women like Judy Chicago, Yvonne Rainer, and Simone Forte coming to campus. At the time there was a lot of support by the government for arts education and artist and a lot of traveling artist were coming through LA and CalArts. It was a time when the faculty were not the only teachers, the Institute brought in artist like Manuel Lume, and these artist would not only speak or teach but set repertory as well. This happened every semester, which you could audition for and get cast in. There was also a lot of Interdisciplinary work going on at the Institute. I remember my first year at CalArts I choreographed a play, and so you were always mixing many, many disciplines at that point.
So in my second year Bella took me on her next tour and I was away a whole semester working with the Lewitsky Company. We traveled through Europe performing but we were doing almost the same thing that was happening in the program at CalArts. Because she was the one that was instrumental in developing the program of dance, touring with the company was an extension of the program.
We would always have technique class, improvisation (there was a lot of lecture demonstrations on that tour, so improvisation was a big part of the lecture demonstration), so improvisation at CalArts was Bella’s style, which became the syllabus of the course. Also we were made to learn other aspects of touring such as lighting, costumes, management; in other words you learned what is was like to run your own company which I think goes back to what Lester Horton taught his dancers in his company. These aspects were a big part of the curriculum of the dance program at CalArts, even stage-manage. So as a member of Bella’s company, we were required to learn all of these elements when we were on the road. And in those days we would drive everywhere; we never flew. We would get the same training as if we were in school but with a smaller group of dancers. But we were only doing Bella’s repertory. We did not get to work with other students who were developing their own choreography or had the opportunity to work with artist-in-residence.
There was a great group of artist in the company but when we returned to campus I told Bella that I wanted to stay in school to have what I felt would be a richer experience for me and being only 19 years old I felt that I needed that experience to a complete dancer.
CalArts changed my life, it opened up a world not just for dance but a world of art and art making. I received a great appreciation and understanding of visual art, music and the beginning of understanding film making, which is now my career.
CalArts at that time was such a wealth of teachers, and it really came down to who was teaching in the Institute that gravitated me to the program. It was very engaging and prolific and you felt like you were challenged every step of the way.
I also met my husband there, so it couldn’t have been better!
During that time was extremely fertile ground for artist like John Baldesarri, Judy Chicago who are now leaders in the art world. So after graduation were you drawn to New York or where did your path lead you?
Well I graduated in three years since I had already had a semester at the University of Utah and I worked with Bella on tour and I had fulfilled all my requirements of choreography, etc; which at that point I was less interested in and more interested in being a dancer.
So for me the training at CalArts was prominent and it enabled me to be the dancer that I wanted to be. It gave me a solid foundation especially in modern dance and the Horton technique in particular. So after graduation my future husband and I moved to Venice, Ca and I connected with a group of dancers (some of which were former Lewitsky dancers) Fred Strickler, Gary Bates and with dancers coming out of UCLA, Melony Snider, Cathy Copper and we form an eclectic. I was only 22 years old at the time and the rest of them were much older and had much more experience especially in choreography. However, I did teach dance and composition in private high schools based on my training at CalArts. When I wasn’t teaching I was working with this eclectic and we worked in a church in downtown LA creating work, rehearsing and teaching and we had some touring at that time.
You know life was a lot cheaper at that time and I think we were paying $150.00 a month rent in Venice for an apartment and we used public transportation to get around. Life was not that expensive and your wages were a lot less. We did not get paid to dance but we wanted to stay in the field and you did whatever you needed to do to stay in your field. My feeling was (and still is) that if you move outside your field you would most likely drift from your profession. So whatever it took, giving workshops, teaching, you did it to stay in the profession.
Then in 1975, I saw the program Dance in America and Twyla Tharp’s work “Sue’s Leg” was on and I knew at that moment that I wanted to dance for her. So in 1979 with the help of Lynn Daly and Fred Strickler, who knew dancers that had worked with Twyla, arrange for Twyla to see me in class with our company and she said that I did fine but she was auditioning more dancers. So I go to San Francisco to watch the company at Zellerbach Hall perform. Twyla was auditioning a girl from San Francisco Ballet and so I took that audition, which lasted for three hours (I was young, 26 at the time and had nothing to loose) but really wanted to dance for Twyla.
After the audition I returned to LA and three weeks later I receive a call from the company and was told they wanted to bring me to New York with no string attached and no guarantee. They wanted to see me work with the company along with seven other female dancers for a week. And then they will see if I am right for the company. So I go to New York and by the end of the week, Twyla invited me to join the company. I moved to New York and danced with Twyla for the next eight years, 52 weeks a year. We did a lot of traveling and she made a ton of dances during that time with a company of only 12 dancers.
The company she started in 1963 was pretty much still intact along with some new dancers like William Whitener, Chris Icheta and Richard Colton and this company stayed together until 1985 when she choreographs “Singin’ in the Rain” on Broadway. We all were a part of the production and we had to sing and tap as part of the production.
Then life changes and I dance with Martha Clarke. However, I do go back to Twyla periodically but I work with Martha Clarke as Assistant Director and as a performer for five years. Then I begin to transition out of dancing and begin to choreograph, and in 1988 I work on my first film as a choreographer. I am still working in the downtown avant-garde scene with David Gordon and I become his assistant director when he is making the transition from dance to theater or a combination of both.
Then in 1992, I leave New York and I am pretty much finished with my dancing career as a performer.
I then move into choreographing for film and television in 1994 and that is what I have been doing every since. At present I am working on the series “Mad Men”.
In 2008, I went back to school at the American Film Institute and directed my first short film. Since then I am still choreographing for film and television but began moving towards directing and my latest film “Abuelo” has done very well and has been selected for several film festivals around the country.
My latest venture is producing, directing and editing a documentary film on the choreographer Jack Cole. So my roots are always back to dance!
Dance is what I know and CalArts is the foundation of all that.
Being at CalArts and being able to take classes in film, music, and visual art gave you a strong foundation to make the move from a career in dancing to a career in film.
Yes, having had the opportunity to take classes in these other métiers gave me not only a foundation but a way to communicate with film makers, visual artist, etc. which has helped me in my career as a dancer and now as a producer and director.
CalArts gave me the tools necessary to branch out into different areas of the arts and use that knowledge to bridge career paths and at the same time keep me directed towards my life long goal of being a dancer and involving dance in projects.
As I mentioned earlier, if you move outside of your field you most likely will drift from your profession. So my advice to any young artist is to find a way to stay engaged with your art practice and let it be the guiding force in your life and your career.
You have recently returned to campus to attend an alumni reunion. Did you see a difference in the students, choreographic work, etc since you were a student?
Yes, the facilities have expanded and there are more students on campus. However, I got the same feeling of experimentation from the students that I was a part of when I attended. CalArts is a great place to be to work on being innovative and experimental with your art practice. As well as be around students from different art forms that can inform you. Being in a small community allows for making close bonds with fellow artist and these friendships can last and endure through your entire career. Graduates from CalArts are indeed very unique and are exploring new ways to move forward with their art making.
The energy, creativity and commitment of the faculty and students is still present and alive today.
At the beginning of the Fall semester an audition is held. For the first year students, this audition is usually a completely nerve-racking surprise (as was the case for me since it happened on our second day of classes) and for many of the second through fourth year students it is the highest anticipated audition of the year. I am of course speaking about the auditions for our annual Winter Dance Concert.
Why all this surprise and anticipation? This is the students’ chance to work with guest artists and faculty. My first year our guest artists were Barak Marshall, Daniel Charon, Trisha Brown with choreography set by Kathleen Fisher, and Rosanna Gamson, a member of the CalArts faculty.
This year we have two repertory works set by Danielle Agami from world-renowned Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin and new works by faculty members, Colin Connor and Stephanie Nugent. This year, I had the opportunity to work with Ms. Nugent on her new work Yes Is Not Passive, a twenty-minute foray into the nature of one’s own conscious decisions to engage or disengage with one’s communities (both personal or greater in scope).
The work has been equal parts sweat and in-depth cerebral engagement with the process and performance. It’s no easy feat to run through this work in its entirety without coming to the enth degree of the body’s exhaustion. The hardest and most rewarding part of this work though has to be the ability to emotionally engage with the content, fellow performers and an anticipated audience.
We premiere next week here on campus in our world famous Modular Theater and then the week after at downtown LA’s REDCAT. We, the performers, are exhausted, excited and most of all ready.
When I walked into the Sharon Disney Lund Dance Theater last year as a BFA1 for my first ever Composition Class with Rosanna Gamson, I had absolutely no clue what I was getting into. The class started out pretty slow; taking notes, doing rhythm exercises, a few improvisation activities here and there, but I don’t think I really realized what this Composition class was all about. A couple weeks into the semester Rosanna gave the class its first assignment: to choreograph a three minute solo on another classmate drawing off of inspiration from a portrait of our choice. I was absolutely terrified. I thought to myself, “This is impossible! There is no way I could choreograph anything for myself, let alone another person! How am I supposed to do this assignment?”.
I had never really choreographed anything before in my life and whenever I had played around with choreography I never liked anything I came up with. I had such a hard time developing movement that flowed together and made sense and I also never knew what to choreograph about. I had the realization before I even came to CalArts that I was destined to be just a dancer, not a choreographer, because “I couldn’t choreograph to save my life”. But I did the assignment, as uncomfortable as it was for me. As the weeks went on, we had to choreograph duos, trios and eventually groups and all of it was mandatory, so I had to come up with something if I wanted to pass the class. As each assignment came and went, I started to realize that I was getting more and more into the art and the process of choreography. I found myself getting excited to see what the next rotation would bring, who I would get to work with, whether we got to use music or not, and what the inspiration would be. It became a thrill to come up with choreography on myself or in my mind, put it onto another person, and then see how it would morph and change shape. Sometimes it would even turn into something completely different than what I had come up with in the beginning.
Rosanna had this incredible way of pulling ideas out of me that I never thought I had. She made me think in new ways and look at dance in a whole new light. I had complete freedom to come up with whatever I wanted in her class as long as I had some way of backing it up. Now that I think of it, I believe that this is how I really found my voice as a choreographer. I discovered, through that Composition class, that I am not the biggest fan of strong narratives or elaborate storylines when it comes to my personal choreography. I really just love movement for movement’s sake. So last year I did just that when I created my first ever complete piece of choreography entitled “Flux”. I set it on four dancers and auditioned it for Last Dance Concert. It had no narrative, no plot and no real meaning. It was simply material I had come up with that I felt really showcased the dancers and created an aesthetically pleasing experience for the audience. When it made it into the show, I was so excited that something I created was being recognized and appreciated, and also that a dance with no narrative made it into a dance concert, which I had not seen too much of.
When I came back for Year Two at CalArts, I knew that I wanted to do another piece right away. I had come up with so much material over the summer and I needed to see how it looked on the dancer’s here. I was so inspired by the dancers that agreed to work with me, that the creation of this piece came so natural and unforced. I was drawn to seeing the dancer’s move in fluid patterns and beautiful pathways that really showed their training and technique. When I found out that it made it into the Open House Dance Concert, I was so honored that my second piece got into another show. I titled this new piece “Don’t Think Too Much”. I was sticking to my aesthetic of movement for movement’s sake and I didn’t want the audience to wonder what the piece meant or what the story was. I received a lot of great feedback from the faculty and my peers and it created a comforting sensibility to produce more work and expand my style of choreography.
In the future, I hope to work with live musicians and collaborate with other artist’s here at CalArts. I am very excited to see how my choreography will evolve and broaden and am looking forward to showcasing more pieces with my time here at CalArts. For somebody who thought they would never have to, or want to, choreograph, I am so happy to say that I have learned to love choreography and movement development and it has completely effected the way I look at my art form, in the most positive way possible.
Here at The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance all BFA II students are required to contribute and perform a solo for a two night concert as part of our graduation requirement. A chance for us to really showcase our individual talents as dancers and choreographers. This project, with all its honesty, intensity and pure emotional distillation...... scares the hell out of me...
Let me start by saying that I personally don’t even like solos. Never Have. I don’t like making them, I don’t like performing them, much less my own and I absolutely detest watching them. I can’t tell you how many times I have been totally engaged in an evening length piece of work and then suddenly lost all interest because of a solo. I certainly don’t think it has anything to do with the performers, it’s not that these solos haven’t been executed well, I think it has much more to do with that fact that I find them on an intellectual level masturbatory and self indulgent for the most part.
So here we are, one week away from the concert and how is my solo going? Well, let’s start by saying that I was not without a support system. I was able to bring up my concerns in our composition class where we are being openly guided by faculty member Stephanie Nugent. I found that I was not the only one in my class with this concern and that we were and are having a very shared experience as individual choreographers. It was also suggested to me that I look for a solo, anywhere, that appealed to me in even the slightest way. I have Tiara Jackson’s And Then My Cat Died to thank in a very big way for that one.
So several rehearsals later (mostly involving my laying inert on a studio floor with my face in my hands) and a good healthy amount of collaborative work with film designer Ian Raymond and costume mistress extraordinaire Emily Moran, I have managed to weave together pieces of my life experience, unconscious self wisdom and a whole lot of sweat into what I think is a thoroughly satisfying and powerfully personal 3:24 solo.
Have I changed my mind on how I feel about solo work? I think my Taurian nature might have to remain stubborn on this issue. I have however, through this process, my peers and faculty, gained necessary skills and tools to help me work past these psychological stops in order to do my job as an artist and to do it well. I am truly experiencing the value of my education here at The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance knowing with full confidence that I will leave here with not only the tools for success but the confidence to be successful in my own way.
Hofesh Shechterʼs Political Mother is a punch to the face, direct and punishing with enough force to press you ﬁrmly in your seat without chance of escape. The sick thing is, you only want more. These two bloggers got a chance to attend the US premier at UCLA's Royce Hall. We should probably start with some full disclosure and come right out and say that both of us are already biased fans of Shechterʼs work, though this was Gregʼs ﬁrst time seeing any of his material live. Still, Lindsey, a veteran audience member from 2009ʼs Uprising/In Your Rooms, was taken completely by surprise and catapulted full throttle into the experience along with the rest of us.
The piece begins with a gentle male choral and from the dark a standing ﬁgure half-clad in pseudo-samurai armor pieced with Israeli tactical gear stands under two slightly angled down pools holding a mediaeval lance, suggesting that this is a ﬁgure from all wars and he is willing to die for honor above all. The title of the piece is projected on a scrim slightly behind the soldier and high above as if to give the effect that the tittles hang above him in midair. The whole effect alludes to the beginning of a ﬁlm epic. With swift and deft precision, the soldier runs himself through to gruesome effect, the lance fashioned to appear to actually penetrate his midsection. He takes a long while to expire and we sit dumbfounded and uncomfortable.
"What happens next is a barrage", as Shechter later described at the talk back, as waves of experience that donʼt let up for at least the next 20 min. This involved a rock band positioned on a multi-level stage behind a scrim at the back of the set. 5 drummers, 4 guitarists, and the scariest vocalist to be found (he may have been possessed) played a score also composed by the choreographer. Loud, really loud, is the best way to describe the music at ﬁrst. Heavily driven by rhythm and somewhere between death metal and traditional middle eastern sound the music ceaselessly moved us forward. No time to think, and only until the music stopped did we realize neither of us had been breathing. Later we realized how incredible the cast members performances were to even be able to compete, much less work as seamlessly as it did with this overwhelming wash of sound. It is a true talent to have two strikingly powerful forces not wash one another out. A brilliant collision.
The ﬁrst piece of movement we are introduced to is a duet on two males that basically sets up the language and material for the rest of the 70 minute piece. The movement was ﬂuid, heavily rhythmic, and bounded about like an aggressive folk dance, as if they were picking a ﬁght... with everyone. There was a general sense of agreement in the composition, unisons that worked to great effect, an army of performers that vacillated between, peasant, refuge and soldier; every one of them having a reason to express frustration, anger and a deep and boiling rage. The movement, above all, was human. It has a humble quality, you almost feel as if you might be able to join them given the chance because they are expressing, through their hunched shoulders and pleading gestures, that they too have lived your need to be heard. They shout silently through raised hands that are never seen, and hands that wail unanswered by their superiors. They rally in circles, their legs giving out on them in mock exhaustion and they rise and fall in a never ending attempt to make right the ravages of war.
The piece offered moments of quiet that were just as nerve racking and tense as the loud. They allowed us to process all that we had witnessed in the heavy overly saturated sections of movement and sound, but they all inevitably landed us right back in the roller coaster. There came a point about 65 minutes into the piece where we agreed that enough was enough and it was all becoming too much. In actuality, Greg felt that it was almost ruined by its length. But Shechter might have used this effect of relentless and torturously long experience on purpose because last came the most satisfying of all the acts. Up until this point, it had felt like Schechter was burying us under a great weight, a pile of heavy stones imbued with the captures of war and human indignity.... thatʼs when the Joni Mitchell started to play.
In the last two minutes, a point where both cast and audience are exhausted from sound, light (the lights where just as overwhelming as everything else), exhaustive movement, and sheer content, shechter retrogrades everything you have just seen at high speed. The cast dances as fast as they can, quite literally backward, the most notable and important sections of the piece. this section, within its two minutes, speeds up and every movement memory that is recalled feels as though one of the stones in the pile is being lifted off of you until ﬁnally the man who ran himself through at the beginning suddenly stands and pulls the lance from himself before a complete blackout.
Schechter doesnʼt stop there however even going so far as retrograding the house being ﬁlled up by brining the lights in the audience to half. Audience members at this point became confused in the best possible way. Some stood immediately and started toward the exits (mostly the blue hairs), others stood from sheer rage-ﬁlled joy. These bloggers were screaming and applauding as loud as we knew how. Schechter knew this moment would make the audience stand up and disagree. When ﬁnally the lights came back down and the Joni Mitchell ended there was a general sense that no matter how we felt about it we had all just been touched, forcibly and in an incredibly profound way.
On the way home we ritualistically and thoroughly extracted every single iota of this piece because it was all worth talking about. The one thing that we realized most is that we have our work cut out for us. Political Mother is a game changer, it has undoubtedly set that bar for the next wave of choreographers. Bold, ambitious and meeting fully every single one of its own expectations. It is a work to be reckoned with, a timeless message that is hard to argue and dancers with such incredible performance quality and stage presence. A truly complete work on every level.