I’m heading back to Philadelphia this morning. Its been such a gift to experiment here in London with Wendy, Matteo, Greig and Rahel. The wealth of experiments and the conversations that sprung up in response to each experiment are invaluable.
At several points in the process Wendy and I tested the idea of putting a few items together or developing one or two things further but that seemed inappropriate somehow. Its so rare to have the opportunity to truly explore for the sake of discussion; for the sake of mining the form and testing the ways it functions; deciphering the things that excite and the reasons you gravitate towards one thing or another without the pressure to package it up. It seemed important to stay in that mode. It quickly became clear that this was an exciting opportunity for all of us involved. The chance to keep things open, to bounce from one exploration to the next, to pull things apart and to look at their messy insides, was illuminating.
I look forward to fleshing out some of the ideas that sprung up over the last two weeks. I look forward to bringing some of these starting points to a room of dancers. But most of all I look forward to re-entering my process with a renewed perspective. My thinking about dance making has shifted and widened and I’m excited about the ways that will influence my work.
I met Sokari at a party in Philadelphia just before I left for London. She is a sculptor based in London, with a studio not far from where I’ve been rehearsing. I stopped by her studio / home yesterday and stayed into the evening chatting with this amazing woman. She works with metal. Most of her sculptures are larger than she is. And many of them live in her home now. Its incredible to wander around the house being eyed by the powerful energy of these works she has created. She describes sculpting a work as a conversation. I can feel that. These metal people have been spoken to, they are empowered, and they speak. Its noisy in the silence of that studio!
We perceive and we cannot go backwards from there. Only forward. Whether or not we consciously remember what we’ve perceived it has happened. Though the moments we perceive are forever passing us by, our perception is feeding our momentum forward. We use knowledge of the past to plunge forward into the unknowable future. Rahel Vonmoos is a Body Mind Centering Practitioner. She led a warmup the other day that focused on the kidneys as a place of power and support: a place from which to motivate movement. I had the image of a motor, a soft circular belt at the base of my ribcage pushing me gently forward; the world flying past and curling around to press from behind. The day of explorations fostered a decisiveness and listening in the three of us. Starting. Restarting. Starting in the middle. Performing as if we knew what was going to happen. The rhythm of listening and deciding.
As I near the edge of my time here in London, this phase of my creative research, I think about the ways my perception has widened. I think about these new perspectives living inside my body, traveling with me forever in some way or another. It has been two weeks of listening, absorbing, deciding, waiting, repatterning. In the dance studio, on the streets of London, in the tube, the museums, the pubs, in my quiet apartment, and in the long lovely moments alone…
I had a visit with Cassie Friend and her 8 month old son Frank. It was so fantastic to see an old friend amidst a trip full of newness. (Cassie, originally from the UK, lived in Philadelphia from about 1998 – 2002 as a member of Pig Iron Theater company. She’s a spunky performer and a wonderful woman and is now settled back in UK, in Reading, and has a successful theater company – Red Cape.) It was great to talk about the thrills and panic involved in running a company, performing in that company and being a Mom. For both of us running a company was never the starting goal. But in order to carry out the productions you dream up you need a structure to support it. And then you have to continue to support that structure. Balancing time between administrative and artistic work becomes a delicate tightrope act and with a baby in your arms… well… things get even more exciting. Its helpful to talk with a like minded artist and friend about the fears frustrations and joys of the scenario. And it was so good to hold that adorable Frank!! At this point in the trip I miss my son Simon quite a bit so Frank was a welcome bit of therapy.
“Nothing Personal” – the dance Wendy and I continually joke about me making. The dance where I tell you everything that the dance is not about, listing all the things I am not going to tell you, showing you all the things I am not going to do. A place to put the things I secretly want to place in a dance but feel uneasy about including. If I arrange them as “Nothing Personal” – perhaps the structural frame allows me to slide back and forth between personal and universal / playful and dark. Who knows maybe you will see this dance at some point. No promises. And if I don’t make it… well… its nothing personal.
At the TATE modern I found myself drawn to the two photography exhibits:
Burke + Norfolk: photographs from the war in Afghanistan
And the night before I saw Gardenia by les ballets C de la B, at Saddler’s Wells which is still bouncing around in my mind.
These three artists frame the details of someone else’s story, yet their own story unfolds around the edges of the telling. They are not placing themselves at the center of the work yet they show quite a bit of themselves through the structuring of the art. I’m left seeing a beautiful collaboration between artist and subject – a blurring of intention and longing and exposure.
Now, in some ways it is quite unfair to lump these three artists together as their work is quite different from one another. But since I took them in in succession they initiated certain train of thought. In each of these scenarios I could feel the hand of the creator. My interest extends past the images and the performance. I want to know more about the people on stage, more about the people in photographs, and I want to know more about the relationship between these people and the artists telling their story. In Norfolk’s case that is the underlying intention of the work. By seducing you with the beauty of the photographs you will hear his opinions about a war-torn country and imperialism.
All of them hope to alter your perception of the world around you, through the intimate human stories they frame.
Short descriptions of the works mentioned above:
Simon Norfolk is collaborating with a man he’s never met. He chose to shadow and respond to the photographs of Afganistan taken by John Burke during the second anglo-afgan war (1878-1880). But he’s also collaborating with the subject of his photographs: The people, the landscape, the moment in history.
Alain Platel and Frank Van Laecke directing a cast of nine: 7 of whom are transvestites and transsexuals in with a long history as cabaret performers. Most have retired as performers at this point and you can feel their thrill in re-entering their drag personas in this theatrical, highly choreographed environment. We watch them transform from older men shuffling about in suits to extravagant ladies shining for the crowd. The cast also includes a young male dancer and a biological woman. Stories and images emerge and wash away, build up and then tumble along within the composition of the dance. In the marketing materials and interviews the directors stress the desire to make a play about getting older with dignity in a world where aging is not allowed.
Diane Arbus is a longtime favorite of mine. It was amazing to see so many of the photographs that I’ve gazed upon in books again and again.* Her goal was “to photograph everyone” and she ended up gravitating toward those on the fringes of society. She became very close with her subjects gaining their trust and producing quite intimate images.
*Director David Gammons introduced me to Diane Arbus in 1998 when he asked me to dance in a project based on her photographs. Rehearsing for the project was one of the strangest most disturbing, lovely, transcendent experiences. And, oddly enough, I met my husband Mike while performing this show. He was working at the fringe venue for the production so he was there for every one of the shows.