Thanks to the BiLateral Exchange I spent three weeks in Budapest, Hungary from September 17th – October 8th, 2015. This was a true gift for my artistic work. It took me away from the demands and distractions of my daily routine, it changed my perspective on my work—and it took place in a beautiful, inspiring city.
This type of residency is special – and vital – because it plugs an artist into the stream of a foreign artistic community, to discover from the inside out what the ecology of that dance community looks like, feels like, sounds like.
The BiLateral program was the brainchild of Lois Welk (founder of the recently departed DanceUP) and Gergley Tallo (who runs Workshop Foundation in Budapest). These two cultural connectors, who are fierce advocates for their respective dance communities, met at an international conference and dreamed up a scenario in which they could allow artists from one dance community to visit the other for an extended period of time. For the past few years the project has been hosted by Philadelphia Dance Projects and Workshop Foundation and would not be possible without funding from The Trust for Mutual Understanding. The beauty of the residency’s vision is that it taps into and relies on the buoyant network that already exists in given dance community. Given a few key introductions and entry points, most artists will then start to travel down the web of experiences, drawn by their individual curiosities and buffeted by the generous spirit inherent in any dance environment. Knowing who those key starter introductions are in a given community is an essential piece of the puzzle. And here-in lies the success of this program.
Gergely Tallo (director of workshop foundation), Gregory Holt (correspondent for Philadelphia Dance Projects), Gabrielle Revlock (resident artist) visiting the costume storage in Juryani.
This residency acknowledges and celebrates the fact that dance artists are continually filtering their experiences through all their senses. Their bodies are absorbing both the tangible and the ineffable, and that information is transforming them – and therefore their work – in both seen and unseen ways. Dance is a social practice, often born of very intimate relationships between people. For me the dynamics between the performers and their relationship to their environment is influential and often the key fuel of any process. So the chance to meet people in and out of the studio, the opportunity to travel to a new friend’s home for dinner, to navigate the subway systems, to hear complaints and fears about both their dance community and the political changes around them, and most importantly to allow conversations to spill from a workshop into a late night dinner back into a rehearsal, all felt very important to the process.
For me this residency was a powerful mix of structure and freedom, with multiple avenues of engagement throughout. There was space for solo introspection as well as both facilitated and impromptu interactions. I arrived with a lose plan and had a few colleagues I wanted to connect with, but was otherwise open to whatever came my way. Three weeks was an excellent amount of time, allowing me to find a rhythm, to get to know people and places, to have repeated interactions that deepened over time.
I was set up in an apartment, which I shared with the other Philadelphia artist on the Exchange, Gabrielle Revlock. We had access to as much studio time as we needed, but there was no pressure to use it. We were introduced to artists, presenters, and curators, and given tours of all kinds about the things and places we were most curious about. The structure of the three weeks came together in response to our interests.
I took notes throughout the trip. I’ve organized them below into several “avenues of engagement”, or entry points into the community.
- Making new connections
- Seeing work
- Continuing existing relationships
- Taking classes, attending workshops, dropping in
- Teaching class, leading workshop
Living Pest and Rehearsing in Buda meant crossing the beauty of the Danube at least once a day
It’s beautiful here. In a way that is both singular and familiar. I’m reminds me of so many other places in the details and texture of the city – giving me a feeling of comfort, nostalgia, stimulation and curiosity all at once. Some of those places/similarities I can name but others are an intuitive recognition of ineffable qualities.
But maybe this is my way of getting to know new things, to sense the connections and familiarities. Like saying “that woman has the nose of this friend, the eyes of this other and the voice of my old school teacher. But her walk is somewhere between that famous actress and my father. And her relationship to leadership reminds me of my aunt” This is also something I do: Frankenstein together the recognizable traits as a first draft of understanding someone, eventually letting their individuality overtake and erase this initial template.
Sometimes stumbling through a new place is useful and the missteps and wrong turns make for unexpected discoveries. But other times it nice to feel a more efficient flow when guided by the wisdom of someone local.
Making new connections and multiple interactions
The head of Workshop Foundation, Gergely Tallo, helped us to have some pointed introductions and tours and otherwise helped foster others as they arose. There was also a young dancer who made herself available to us, making our introduction to the city quite smooth: Adele was the one who picked us up from the airport, handled our trans passes, designed the facebook invitations to our performances and pointed out the atm machines, restaurants and bath houses. She took us to late night music venues, and introduced us to her community of peers and teachers. She was also the voice of a young dancer navigating the Budapest arts community. With one foot in the training program where she just graduated and the other in the midst of starting a new company and auditioning for European tours, she was a wealth of information about how the community functions.
Gabi and Adele on the steps to our apartment
A few days after we arrived Gabi and I made presentations about our work to the community. It was a casual gathering in which we presented our work via slides, video and conversation. This helped to start dialogues with other artists, and begin to make connections than could expand during the residency. We also attended a three-day movement workshop at the beginning of the residency. Both of these situations led to discussions and relationships that then had time to grow throughout the trip.
I’ve been thinking about the importance of repeated points of engagement, allowing relationships to build organically and thoughtfully.
Some of the artists who were of significant importance during this trip were artists whom I’d had some small interaction with in the past. The residency allowed us to continue those relationships, widening our understanding of one another and the networks we are a part of.
For instance Adrienne Hod was the visiting artist from Budapest to Philadelphia last fall. While she was in Philadelphia I caught a glimpse of her process through a showing of her workshop with local dancers and conversations with her about her process. A year later, my visit to her city allowed me to see Adrienne’s work and process in a new context. By seeing her finished work performed by her company of dancers, hearing her students talk about her, and later sitting in on a rehearsal of her newest work in its very nascent state, I was able to understand her role in the community as an artist who has been working and teaching there for 15 years.
At one point Gabi and I visited Sin – the organization and location that supports most of Adrienne’s work – This was a great opportunity to see a work-in-progress in its early form revealing the types of structures that her dances are sourced from and to learn about the role Sin plays in an artists career. At another point we met with the director of Sin who gave us a tour of both the building and its history, providing another perspective on the scope and goals of the organization as a whole, as well as its place in the ecosystem of the cultural economy.
We were piecing together an understanding of the dance community through multiple interactions and observations.
Some posters for the L1 Dance Festival
We arrived when the L1 dance festival performances were in progress. The artists performing that weekend were from Germany, Italy, and Slovakia, we had missed the performances by local artists. As an audience member I absorbed each individual work that was presented, as well as observing the curatorial flow of the evenings.
It’s notable that performance work travels with ease across Europe. Experiencing the cultural ferment that was aided by beer gardens in the performance spaces, audiences full of people who were familiar with the performers on stage, and post-performance discussions. There were long evenings of watching and discussing.
We attended evening performances of L1 festival at MU Theater. The festival is structured and professional yet loose and always changing.
The first performance was scheduled to start at 7pm but instead the evening began with a discussion of a show that had happened two days before. (It was pretty great to piece together an imagined version of a dance based on the Q and A) Therefore the whole evening got pushed back by a half hour, but no one seemed fazed: People were committed to spending the full evening there: watching, listening, talking. The program consisted of three more full performances, each followed by a discussion.
Each discussion took place downstairs near the bar, allowing us to escape the stifling heat of the theater for a change of environment and activity between each performance. Beer and wine were always available in the lobby and a beautiful garden courtyard to sit in benches and smoke, drink, chat, and feel the breeze. The crowd was always evenly split between those participating in the talkback and those grabbing the fresh air.
In general the audiences seemed very dedicated to being there, and we were all thoroughly enjoying the trek up and down the steps with time to begin to process each performance a bit before the next one began.
The first live performance of the evening was a solo created/performed by an American, Matthew Rogers. Below are my notes and impressions:
Matthew Rogers –Greeting us with his eyes, inviting us, taking care of us.
Delicate and Deliberate movement of a single prop, a rope
Delicate and Deliberate movement of his limbs.
Writing on the body, the rope. The letter. The father. What is the father? Tere O Connor, his actual father, the US, New York as a perceived epi-center of dance, the expectations of the press? All of it? Maybe all of it.
Finding him again and learning about the journey he’s been on. He’s climbing a later and referencing a NY Times quote by Claudia LaRocca describing his performance in Cover Boy. I was at that show, I remember that review… oh, that must have been the last time I saw him. Huh, so this is what he’s been up to. He’s in love. He moved to Slovakia with a love. The quote. At first I find it disconcerting. I just got off of a plane from US, and feel so far from New York right now. I want to tell him that we don’t need to know about that quote right now, that isn’t necessary. We want to be here, to appreciate this piece for what it is. But then I realize this dance is a rustling through the attic of his influences and remembrances, and that the quote is perfectly placed in the structure of the performance.
And that quote takes me on a very specific journey motored by my own life and experiences. I remember that show and that review. I have my own feelings about him as a performer, about that work, about Claudia, about the New York Times, about New York …All of that floods into the piece. This slowly unfolding contemplative terrain is now populated with a stream of these images and thoughts. I realize that this dance was the last time I saw him. This was the last project he did in New York. And that this dance is a glimpse into where he has been since then, this is the current landscape of his thoughts, populated by past images, remembrances, questions about what fathered him and how he feels about it.
What a strange first performance for me to take in at the beginning of this trip, in all my jet-lagged haze of transition.
Once a year the city holds a bulk trash pickup (announced at the last minute) and the streets look like this
Continuing existing relationship – Video work and friendship with Viktoria Danyi
I used some of my time in Budapest as an opportunity to explore a working relationship with a dancer I’d met several years prior.
Viktoria and her daughter Lea
My relationship with Viktoria started when she toured through Philadelphia in 2012 with her company Bloom dance collective. The curator, Anna Drozdowski, saw a kinship between the work Bloom was doing and the work I was doing with my ensemble of dancers at the time. She organized a daylong retreat for us to work together in the studio. This led to a group dinner and the beginnings of curiosity between us. Viktoria had a 1-year-old child on tour with her at the time, and I had a 5-year-old asleep upstairs. We are both married to another artist. There were overlapping and diverging artistic values as well as shared scenario of raising a child in a dual artist partnership.
This residency in Budapest allowed Viktoria and I to take a next step forward, exploring a few days in the studio just the two of us, and traveling through the city together, allowing conversations to drop further into topics both artistic and personal. While in Budapest I did a lot of video work with Viktoria, practicing my fluency with the camera, exploring structures with her in the studio, and learning more about both her and her city.
At the end of this time we had gathered video footage to create a small film, but we had also begun a friendship, and gathered ideas for continued work together, should the opportunity emerge.
Simply preparing for and executing all the filming was exciting. We worked both in the studio and out on site.
On one of the days we shot footage at Keleti Station (where thousands of Syrian refugees were camped out for the weeks leading up to my arrival here). It felt so big and empty there. It was pretty moving to imagine it crammed full of people, and to know those people are now crammed somewhere else, unable to move forward. Throughout the visit I tried interviewing Viktoria in various ways: through performance structures, in coffee shops and in studios, assuming I’d use some of the audio in the film. I loved hearing her talk about Budapest, her family, and especially about her feelings about the refugee situation and the way it has divided the country. The fears she has about the conservative bent of the Prime Minister run deep.
In the weeks leading up to my trip to Budapest, the news was filled with images of Syrian refugees migrating through Budapest, with crowds of people stranded in the Kelati train station in the center of town. Unable to pass through without proper documentation, thousands camped out in the station waiting areas. The Hungarian prime minister’s treatment of the situation was severe, creating a strong divide in local and international reactions to the situation. By the time I arrived to Budapest the conflict had been pushed to the borders of the country with firm decisions to deny refugees entry through the country.
These signs were all over the city. Paid for by the government. The text translates to “The People have decided: The country must be protected.”
The dancers I talked to were visibly rattled by the recent events. When walking through the center of town and especially passing through the Station, I could feel the absence of those bodies and voices, and sense the echoes of the tension and questions that had build by their presence. In some the growing empathy and outrage, in others the growing fear… the temptation to push the uncomfortable situations out of sight, to place blame and reject complexity.
Taking classes, attending workshops, dropping in
Gabrielle Revlock, Gyula Berger, Megan O’Shea, Judit Keri during a workshop led by O’Shea and Keri.
In any dance studio a mini-community forms. Both verbal and non-verbal connections occur. Experiencing a colleagues teaching style is another window into their creative mind. Gabi and I participated in two in depth, multi-day workshops: Anna Nowicka’s workshop and Judit and Megan’s workshop. We also attended a few shorter one-off classes of varying styles: Gyula Berger’s technique class, the Kontakt Jam, Anna’s yoga class.
Notes on Anna Nowicka’s workshop on dreams and images:
Polish artist, Anna Nowicka’s weeklong workshop fell on the tail end of my time in Budapest. I was hesitant to sign up for it considering its hefty time commitment at the end of my relatively short stay. But I was intrigued by her description, and knew I wanted to spend some of my time in the hands of another artist’s leadership… and Anna Nowicka turned out to be an ideal guide.
Close your eyes
Focus on your breath. When we focus on our breath, the things that are out of order have a tendency to fall back into order…
Imagine a number 3, now a number 2, now a number 1.
Now, step outside of your body to look at it.
What do you see?
Take a walk around the body. Take the time to really see it.
This workshop addressed many things I care about. Dovetailing, converging, recontextualizing ideas in ways that were sometimes comforting and familiar, sometimes illuminating or jarring.
More than anything the space to be in someone else’s process, while being in someone else’s country, was expansive. I felt both hidden and exposed, and free to be more myself than ever.
Return to your body.
Open your eyes.
Now write down everything you saw.
The consistent shifting from internal to external imagery was an ideal situation for me to embrace at this moment in the trip.
close your eyes.
Spend time with that image as it is.
Then start to move. With that image. As that image.
I appreciated how long we spent going inward, pursuing one idea, before being prompted to include another. I was grateful for the opportunity to truly embrace Anna’s pacing and give myself the time to unravel one thing before building into the next.
I found myself in movement states and conversations that felt both foreign and familiar, the exhilaration of being seen with fresh eyes in a new context, and the comfort of engaging in a shared language of values with someone from across the globe.
The structure of the workshop invited the experiences and reflections of the group to inform the progression of the explorations. Anna’s prompts and research materials were a gateway for the embodiment of the group and the flow of conversations, and she remained responsive in her approach to her role as our guide. There was an inspiring mix of committed and curious movement artists in the room each day, creating an immediate sense of community.
At one point in a discussion Anna lamented the obsession with production, using Capitalism as a metaphor for over creation in movement. The need to produce produce produce …And accumulate. We lose appreciation for the specific moments, the things, the events. Why not have one pen? And hold on to it. Instead of having so many pens that we don’t need to keep track of the trajectory of the first, we get another and another. And fill a drawer.
Asking us to think about our physical choices through this lens was pointed. How can I spend more time with one idea before moving on to another. In dance. In life. This is a question worth reminding myself.
The baths! There were so many baths to choose from. Some sprawling, some intimate. Each had its own personality. Few had outdoor spaces like this one. All had pools of various sizes and temperatures nestled inside of gorgeous architecture. Often dome shaped ceilings with tiny slits of sunlight/moonlight streaming down at crisscrossing angles.
There was one night when I stopped into this bathhouse after teaching to find a party and these musicians on the steps. Turns out it was a celebration of the 450th anniversary of this bathhouse.
Dropping in – Contakt jam
Gabi and I went to the Friday night Jam at Kontakt Budapest Center. So interesting to experience a jam – and a contact community- in another country. Contact Improvisation was born in the US, and I became immersed in it while in college near North Hampton, one of the main hubs for Contact Activity, with Contact Quarterly produced there and Earth Dance right up the road. Some might say the hay day of Contact Improvisation has come and gone but one can’t deny that the form is alive and burgeoning all over the world. And the originators are now in their 60s, touring the world teaching workshops with celebrity status for those who are devoted to the form.
It had been a while since I’d been to a jam… one that wasn’t an invitation only, dancer situation, but instead a truly open level, open age and mixed-experience contact jam. I had to re-remember the etiquette, the slow beginning, the comfort with strangers, the wild play, the care for other bodies, the very old and the very new, the fluid dancers and the awkward beginners, the room feels like San Francisco in the 70s.
I enjoyed this non-verbal meeting place.
There were a handful of moments when someone asked a question or tried to joke and I had to smile and explain that I didn’t speak Hungarian… and it was so great to know we could communicate so clearly on one level without ever even realizing or remembering that we don’t share a verbal language.
Teaching class, leading workshop
Teaching a Class
Experiencing the etiquette of the students. Allowing space for verbal translation. Experiencing my familiar structures on new minds and bodies.
Gyula Berger* invited me to teach a workshop to the students of the 2-year training program he runs. Students ranged in age from 18 – 32 and came from a mix of different countries. In Philadelphia I regularly teach to a similar age group / commitment level at Pig Iron’s school for Advanced Performance Training (APT) and Headlong Performance Institute (HPI). *I met Gyula in the first workshop I took during the L1 festival. The workshop took place in his studio and he was a participant in the work. He then came to the Monday night meet-the-artist event and there is where he invited me to come teach in his program
Here are my reflections from the class:
Every word I spoke had to be translated so the rhythm was completely different from what I am used to as a teacher and guide. I realized I how much I talk when I teach, allowing a continued stream of images and suggestions to come forth inspired by what is happening in the room. And I realize how much I rely on that rhythm. Breaking this up for translation shifted my perception and my flow. I began to enjoy it. The little breaths of air left time for me to reflect on what I’d said as I listened to the rhythm of the translation (and I also wondered what changes in meaning were occurring via the translation). During the class the students were so focused on understanding and embodying the work that they never asked questions or verbally reflected on their experience despite several opportunities to do so. I found this vastly different from, say, my APT or HPI experiences, where the questions and interactions flow freely. But when the class was over they really started to talk. And it was clear that new philosophies for moving in their body and moving through the world were opening up. One of the dancers was latched on to the structure that embraced physical resistance strategies. We were working physical ways of saying yes, saying no, and simply existing as a companion to someone else’s proposal. He was drawn to this spirit of healthy articulated conflict and or periods of waiting/listening. Putting this into his physical palette triggered his curiosity about the ways this could exist in other areas of thought. And action. I was so touched and moved by our discussion.
Leading a Workshop with Philadelphia and Budapest artists:
Exploring familiar structures in a new context
I’ve been exploring a series of improvisational structures and movement scores with a rotating group of artists in Philadelphia over the past couple of years. In various travel situations I’ve experimented with those structures with new bodies/minds. While in Budapest I led a workshop that used these structures but also allowed me to introduce my video camera into the work.
One of the themes of my current research is how bodies get to know one another, with interview structures and physical structures embedded in the work. I explored this in Budapest during a one-day workshop with Gabi, Greg as well as a few artists I met at the Monday night meet-the-artist event. I introduced the camera into this studio work for the first time while there.
There were six of us in the rehearsal room: 3 from Budapest (Viktoria, Anna, Johanna) and 3 from Philadelphia (me, Gabi, Greg). There was a range of familiarity among the groups and led to interesting interactions within the movement and interview structures. Two of the dancers (Julia and Anna) had connected with us during the meet-the-artist presentation.
Most of the exercises I introduced explore ways of getting to know another person, making use of physical empathy, experimenting with translation of action, and conducting interviews with each other.
Later, I also extended this activity to on-site video work with Viktoria, asking her to choose several locations that held meaning for her and we worked and filmed in those spots. One of these was the walk from her home to her daughter’s kindergarten. Another location was Keleti train station, which has been the scene of dense and emotionally intense traffic due to the immigration crisis.
Towards the end of our stay we held a performance of finished and unfinished work. I used this platform to show Midway Avenue, 45-minute solo that I’d been touring in the US recently. It’s a pretty personal work that references my childhood home in Philadelphia and I was curious about how it would be received or read in another country. Gabi performed a short finished solo as well as an in-progress solo.
The audience was filled with many of the people that we’d met over the past 2.5 weeks. And I realized how many fascinating people we’d connected with in such a short period of time.
This informal performance was another way of getting to know some of the people we had met in workshops, classes, and meetings. A way of showing another side of ourselves and a glimpse of our work: It also became a simple way of gently tearing down assumptions about what American work can and should look like. Offering an example of smaller lower budget companies performing their individual explorations. This performance occurred toward the end of our stay so we were able to perform for a community of people we’d met, but not at the tail end of the stay so we were able to engage in fruitful discussions about the work with colleagues who saw the show.
Several participants from Anna Nowicka’s workshop came to the performance. They were so enthusiastic about giving us feedback that we ended up organizing a dinner the following night. The five of us (spanning four different countries – Germany, Poland, Hungary, US) got together to cook food and then discuss the nature and importance of feedback in general before diving into the feedback of Gabi and my dances specifically. Its A nourishing experience all around.
There’s that point in the trip when you realize its all gone by way too fast. There are so many things you want to continue, to return to, or to get to in the first place. There is always the balance between wide sampling and focused attention. Although this trip was geared toward a wide attention and a range of entry points, I recognized that Gabi and I did really focus on the experience of being a dance artist in Budapest. We did very little sightseeing aside from the baths. And we both recognized that one important entry point is embracing someone else’s vision, becoming part of a mini community… and the two workshops we took allowed that to happen in just the right way.
Notes from my last day:
The nature of this visit had us settling into a routine, we have an apartment, we know where to shop, we have rehearsal space and a rhythm of taking trams and meeting friends and taking classes. We’re starting to understand the dynamics of the dance community and a bit of its history. Doors are opening. And I could imagine the paths we might head in were we to stay. As Gregory (originally from Paris) said tonight: “You guys just dropped right into the dance community, functioning in a way that took me years to do when I first arrived” This a true testament to the excellent support provided to us and ultimate success of this program. We had access to space, people, and information right away without the hassle of starting from scratch. But we also had the freedom to move toward the people and programs and personal schedule that made the most sense to us individually. This combination is truly unique in a residency program.