Category Archives: Directing my dancers / Directing myself

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Residency at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC)

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In early October, I was in residence at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC) in Tallahassee, Florida. I was invited to lead choreographic explorations with the dancers of AXIS Dance Company, an amazing organization based in Oakland, CA with a mission to create, perform, educate and support “physically integrated dance,” a contemporary dance form that evolves from the collaboration between dancers with and without physical disabilities. This residency was transformative for me and helped me solidify some thoughts I was exploring about process.

More information on AXIS Dance Company and the residency

On Being in the Studio Alone

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At first I thought: it sure is quiet in here. And then I realized: Wow its noisy and its crowded. There are eyes in the walls. I’m being watched.
My own energy was bouncing around the room with no one else to interact with it and send it back to me. No audience. No collaborators. No designers. Just me. I could feel and hear my thoughts in a new way when I was the only person in the room to focus on.

During the first few sessions I also realized that the critic sneaks in more easily when I’m alone. She sits in the corner with arms folded, paces in the distance, whispers in my ear. This can be distracting and oppressive but it can also fuel a passionate drive to press onward and to move beyond the nagging doubt. Some days she doesn’t show up at all and there is a breezy ease to letting ideas tumble, letting thoughts and movements ripple out.

The most striking thing about working alone is that there is no verbal conversation at the end of an experiment or an improvisation. Instead I sit down with my pen or lay on my back to process and to remember what just happened.

All my adult life I’ve been working as a collaborator. I helmed many collaborative projects, participated as performer/choreographer on the team of countless creative processes, even the solos I’ve made have been collaborative: Fail Better was a collaboration with Director Jennifer Childs, Set Designer Matt Saunders, Sound Designer Rick Henderson, Lighting Designer Mark O’Maley… and as a team we built the work together from the ground up.

One goal with this mentorship was to temporarily step away from collaborative creation in order to hear my voice on its own, to let ideas evolve uninterrupted and to experience the echo of my thoughts.

Making a solo in this particular way is – for me – almost like building a new system. I’ve worked hard to learn how to helm collaborative projects with integrity and how to participate in dynamic group processes; how to be direct and clear with my ideas while also allowing the brilliance of my team to help shape the work. As a performer I strive to pay attention to the flow of a project, building material that suits the work and making choices that acknowledge the goals of the whole. I am inspired by the energy of a room of people all making something together.

In a collaborative team we question one another and strive for the things we are passionate about. Since we question one another we don’t need to question ourselves quite as much.

Alone in the studio I need to find ways of questioning myself. I find I start playing different roles to challenge myself; wearing a variety of hats, as if each of these selves is pushing for a slightly different vantage point. I need to push myself, encourage myself, challenge, inspire and interrogate myself.

And then I realize this is familiar. Although I am a collaborative artist in adulthood, I was an only child with working parents in childhood – “latch-key kid”. With plenty of time to myself I learned that instead of getting lonely I should get creative. Splitting myself into many became a game to cure boredom. I could be my own friend, my own foil, and things could change at any time.

Will this childhood game serve to help me as I, in effect, collaborate with myself? I have a sneaking suspicion that it may become part of the material the solo deals with…