Category Archives: Midway Avenue

Frankenphrase and whisper down the dancer

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I’ve been slowly accumulating a phrase. Well accumulating may be the wrong word because it hasn’t been growing in sequence. Certain movements and moments have been traveling with me since august, determined to remain. Some disappear and resurface. Some things tag along for a while and then drop off for good. Some slowly morph into a new shape

The phrase as a whole is a concise response of sorts, born of my time alone in the studio. At times it is a comfort for me to return to. At other times its a bear I wrestle with. Why are you here? What do you mean? Why don’t you feel the way you did before?

As I spiral off into improvisational exercises, writing assignments and movement tasks, I occasionally check in with my phrase. I bring it new material, gifts for it to reject or absorb.

What am I saying with this phrase? I dare not attempt a summary as its purpose is continually shifting.

Here is a video of the phrase in its current state.

Untitled from Nichole Blog on Vimeo.

(the battery runs out at the end and it cuts off…but the phrase was almost over so its okay…)

I recently used this Franken-phrase as the starting point for a group experiment: I performed it only once for dancer #1 while the others left the room. Her task was to recreate that phrase from memory: to build a repeatable phrase of the same length coming as close to that original phrase as she could come. But instead of simplifying what she could not recall her task was to lie and fabricate the missing details. and to precisely set this new phrase.
Dancer #1 then shows Dancer #2 this new phrase. Only once.
Repeat process for Dancers 3, 4, 5, 6 in a whisper-down-the-lane type process.

In then end we have a 7 fully developed phrases. I am fascinated by: what changes, what persists, what gets dropped immediately and what replaces it. The six phrases sit together like a family portrait of sorts.

Here is a video of the six dancers performing these phrases all together: (they begin in the order in which they saw/created their phrases)

Untitled from Nichole Blog on Vimeo.

Ugliness is fear

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Ugliness is just fear.
I took a workshop with John Jaspers a few months ago and he referred to Theodor Adorno’s aesthetic theory, by paraphrasing that the experience of ugliness is directly related to fear. And that beauty only exists as a contrast to ugly; as a response. We used this as a foundation for an exercise. The assignment was to address something we are afraid of and manifest “ugly” in relationship to that. Or more pointedly: dig in a sandbox you don’t like to dig in.

For Jasper’s assignment I listed my fears and chose a few to focus on. (listing your fears in a matter of fact fashion is a worthy exercise on its own. I highly recommend it). I focused on my fears instead of the word ugly. This seemed to be the goal of the exercise and I find it easier to locate the things I fear than to concoct an idea of ugly. It made me realize that I rarely use the term ugly. I placed my voice at the center of the exercise. And combined it with an unpunctuated movement state: un-awkward, non humorous, unpunctuated movement. I drew up a quick study in which the vocalizations and the movements did not respond to one another. They stayed on separate tracks. And when I performed it I realized it actually pointed to another set of fears: non-communication, compartmentalization and repression. We all have long lists of fears. Some we can name easily and some we can’t bear to write down, artistic and personal fears that bleed into one another. I appreciated Jasper’s push for us to create a rigorous artistic response as opposed to a simple confession.

I found this conversation and this assignment interesting.
Beauty/Ugliness is a complicated discussion point often at the center of heated debates: how we each define these things and what we do with the information. But fear is personally palpable.

If we think something is ugly – is it just triggering a fear? I can get behind that theory. When we are searching for beauty are we running from our fears? Maybe but that seems a bit cynical.

So digging in the sandbox of your fears – what does that do? I both loathe and love the challenge of doing so. But I sincerely loved watching the short studies that came from each dancer in the workshop. The dancers performances were -in my opinion- quite beautiful. Beautiful because they showed vulnerability and struggle; they were full of questions that hadn’t been worked out and they were so specific to the individual performing them. And these are things I find quite beautiful.

A few weeks later I had a voice lesson with Mike. My husband is a singer and a voice teacher. Every now and then I ask him for a lesson. “The difference between breathing without sound and breathing with sound is simply the decision to do so. The place where we make that decision (to sing or speak) is the same place in the brain that houses all our memories and all our emotions.”
I’ve never asked him how he learned that, what scientist revealed that or what study proved it. It makes perfect sense to me. I want to believe it and I know that information can really help me.

I’ve always put my body forward with abandon, studying methods of opening and releasing, yearning to perform and be seen, to make dances and share them widely. But I’ve never been quick to speak in public. I’ve learned to move through it as a teacher, but I have some blockades to dismantle as a performer. And my singing hang-ups are specific and raw. I know where they come from but it’s not easy to face it. Singing directly into these memories and these tight areas of my voice has been a fascinating process. On the other hand I do sing freely for my son. He is seven now and I’ve been singing him to sleep every night since his birth. He thinks I have a fantastic voice. To him it’s the sound of love. With him it is uncomplicated.

Finding my voice: Quite literally.

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Several recent experiences are feeding and pointing to the birth of a new voice, or at least new uses for an old voice. For most of my career I’ve been primarily working as a dancer and a silent actor. It’s true I speak in the work of others – namely Headlong Dance Theater – and yes I’ve studied acting a little – but rarely do I speak in my own work and I guarantee I’ve never sung you a song from the stage. And I certainly don’t talk in public about my life experiences. But perhaps that’s changing?

The primal gutterance of water
Theater and Neuroscience project with Dan Rothenberg – November 2011

The voice of my Mother
Women in Comedy project with 1812 productions – August 2011

The events and movements of my past as mixed with Xavier LeRoy’s past
Workshop with choreographer Xavier LeRoy – September 2011

“Diary dates” as prompted by Wendy Houstoun
and the many many wendy exercises – June 2011

Singing through barriers – vocal work with Michael Kiley

Vocal class with my collaborator and husband

P.S. Ideally I will give each of the workshops described above their own post at some point soon

Midway Avenue and the Haunted House of Nostalgia

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this title was stirring in my brain in the wee hours of the night. and it was halloween night i should note.

i grew up on midway avenue. and when i visit this space in my mind it is crammed full of memories. Most of them are mine but many are intruders: imagined scenes from books, movies and news stories have been staged there by my subconscious… they needed a space to unfold so i placed them in the rooms of midway avenue.

as i tour the space my own memories co-mingle with characters from novels, the gory remains from a script, or accumulated information about a friend’s past. it can become difficult to parce out what is mine and what is borrowed.

midway avenue is the memory map i’m using for a structural exercise i’m exploring in my solo practice. And each time I visit I find something new.

And the title I really like is this:
Midway Avenue and the Haunted House of Indecision.

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…