Committing to the 24 Preludes – belated notes from London

By | London, Midway Avenue, Process, Uncategorized
Early on in the London rehearsal phase I decided to work with the commitment of using the 24 preludes in their entirety.  In order.  (whether or not this becomes the final decision it felt right to commit to it very fully for a couple weeks) The decision came out of a conversation with Matteo Fargion and Rahel Vonmoos on the first day about the music.
This is the structure I’ve been working with for a long time, but I’ve been leaving the door open to the possibility of skipping tracks or using additional Chopin pieces outside of the preludes.
It feels good to commit to the full preludes and embrace that challenge as part of the work.
The use of this particular piece of music began as an exercise: A structure to organize within, a frame to push against… At first it felt temporary – like a necessary first step in assembling an unruly amount of material, a shell I would shed at a certain point.  But I quickly became intrigued by the pieces and the specific ways they cradled, coinsided and clashed with the content of my material.
When I show this draft to new people the music is always at the forefront of the experience and the decision to use Chopin carries weight and brings up questions.
For the work-in-progress version I’ve been working with for a while now, I only made my way up to the 17th prelude.  At the conclusion of my time in London I now have a draft of the full 24 preludes.
Embracing the challenge of sticking to this structure in full and recognizing that as a key component of the dance is so far proving very helpful.  Psychologically and in practice.
With the intentional limitation I feel like I can address more specifically the elements I do have in my control and at my disposal.

i.e. Silence (length between preludes), volume, style of the recording, source of the recording (full sound system, a radio onstage), and the relationship between my voice my movement and the music… which is a big one.

First rehearsal – Marlybone Gardens

By | London, Midway Avenue
I started the process by meeting up with Rahel VonMoos and Matteo Fargion.  I performed the 30 minute draft of the solo I’ve been working on.  We had a great chat about where it’s headed, where the strengths and problems lay, and how they might get involved over these next two weeks.
I rehearsed at a space called Marylebone Gardens–  a pop up theater and venue created and hosted by Theatre Delicatessen.  TD is using the space that was once a BBC building and sharing the rooms to artists at very low rates.
The set up of the space was an inspiring start to my process.
(but with only a tiny electric heater in the corner – it was a bit chilly!)
I love this system of temporarily converting unused space in a densely populated area.
LMCC does of great job of this in NYC – its no simple task – and the small theater company doing it here is working its tail off to keep the program going.

Marylebone Gardens is in the heart of an upscale shopping area.  During this pre-christmas season the foot-traffic is high – and its so great to see a sign for free entrance to a photography exhibit nextdoor to a shop selling $600 shoes.

Return to London and return to solo

By | London, Midway Avenue


I’m back in London.
When I came for the initial workshops with Wendy Houstoun it was Spring 2011.  I didn’t know what I was going to uncover or where the work would take me. 
Its quite fitting that I’m returning in December.  The distracted attention and open excitement of spring is behind me.  There is still wonder and anticipation but also a determined focus on the road ahead. 
I’ll be here for two weeks.  I’m looking forward to several studio visits from two artists I met briefly during my initial research in 2011: Matteo Fargion and Rahel VonMoos.  I’ve invited them to come take a look at the material I’ve generated and to engage with me in conversations and explorations to deepen the process. 

But let me back up…
And give a brief overview of the last year and a half.
I put the solo aside to work on a major new work: The Garden.  
The work I did throughout DMD/DM greatly informed the ensemble work of The Garden, and several of the dancers from that process performed in The Garden.  (though I still feel like there is a dance waiting to happen – born from the material we generated during the group process of DMD/DM.  but that’s another story.)
Over the last year and and a half I revisited the draft of my solo a few times.  In December 2012 I performed a 15 minute version for the NPN conference and again during a workshop for the writers of Thinking Dance.  Both of these showings led to lively conversations with presenters and artists I respect.  During the conference I struck up a friendship with solo artist Dan Kwong, which led to a studio visit with him in March of that year. 
I love allowing this solo to be a launchpad for larger conversations about process. 
Thanks to a grant from The PCAH and an invitation from FringeArts to premiere the work, I’m now focusing my attention on turning the solo process into a fully produced performance.   (evening length performance)
This phase of producing the work begins with a two week intensive period in London with studio visits from Matteo Fargion and Rahel VonMoos, two artists I worked with briefly during my initial research visit in 2011.  In between these sessions I will work alone in the studio. 
The goal is to return to Philadelphia re-inspired by conversations from colleages and mentors about the process of making this work.  I’ll filter those conversations and focus my energy on the completion of an evening length production. 
I’ll be working with a design team in this final phase of the process, shifting what has been a long expanse of working alone with brief visits from outside eyes, to working more intimately with people who will help me see the vision to completion.  This design team is coming in fresh to the project, and it’s strange to imagine inviting them into what has so far been a very vulnerable process.  
Prior to coming to London I spent a few days with composer Troy Herion (one of the members of the design team) – introducing him to the process and the solo and inviting him to ask question and provide provocations.  I love the way Troy thinks about structure and we had a great time batting around ideas.  The more I invite people into the room with me the more I realize that I need to remain a strong filter for the process.  At this point I know the heart of the work intimately and I need to trust my instincts.  I’m also very attached to things, so the provocations from Troy and Matteo and Rahel are welcome kicks in new directions.  Its incredibly inspiring and invigorating to allow myself to try new directions, but also empowering to trust my instincts as I construct. 
So, here I am in London. 

Processing my recent work with Troy, embracing the voices of Rahel and Matteo, and spending a lot of time alone, processing, wondering, constructing, dismantling, fine tuning. 

By | London

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.

Sokari Douglas

By | London

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!

Perception is not reversible

By | London

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…

Cassie and Frank

By | London

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

By | London

“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.

By | London

This is me doing an imaginary social dance divided up to fit into a count structure that was originally devised by John Cage. (Matteo and Wendy joined forces for this assignment…)

And this is me reading the cheat sheet for the structure

TATE and Gardenia

By | London

At the TATE modern I found myself drawn to the two photography exhibits:

Burke + Norfolk: photographs from the war in Afghanistan

Diane Arbus

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.

millenium bridge, outside of the TATE

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.