The final episode of the series Stargate SG1 is entitled “Unending.” It’s a rather complicated episode involving the cast being in a sort of suspended timestream, but luckily for you the only aspect that is relevant to this post is the title. 

In working with Lali and Young Jin on the Akram Khan material this semester, we were told to see the moments of sharp “hits” not as endings but as hits that then rebounded into the next moment (often, if not always, a moment of relative softness). These moments then in turn move into the next movement in a phrase. Watching myself and my fellow dancers work with this comment, the difference was immediately apparent. It kept our energy visibly moving through the phrase rather than allowing it to stop in these moments where we were tempted to lock up. Creating the idea of (un)ending at these moments allowed us to craft our way through the phrase. In my mind I imagine the way we move our energy through Khan’s phrases as though we are sculpting with a limited amount of pliable putty.  In sharp “hits” we gather it up into a central peak, but rather than it solidifying in that position, it flattens itself out naturally, flowing back into a pliable mass, still active, and then immediately swept back up by us into a new form – here a wave, there a flower. This, to me, holds something essential of the incredible dynamic of his movement and about the insight of our teachers.  

The use of the breath in Khan’s phrases also echoes this theme of (un)endings. The breath doesn’t stop – the end of every inhale is the beginning of an exhale, and so on. The deep connection we were taught to find between the breath and the dance was life-changing for me. The shaping of these breath dynamics allows Khan’s phrases to carry incredible energy and power in sweeping arcs, gentle releases and sudden pops. The exhilaration of “breathing” through one particular phrase, from a piece called Bahok, is a feeling I will not soon forget. Everything comes alive. Connecting the life force of the body, breath, to the dance allows for a palpable connection between the movement and that life force, an idea I hope to be able to work with in the future.

In my three years in Yale Dance Theater, I have always wished that each project did not have to end. Never has that feeling been so acute as with the Akram Khan project. Experiencing the way that Khan’s movement felt on my body, the way that his principles of movement cultivated that experience, and watching Lali and Young Jin has changed my own way of approaching dance training and composition. I have new-found motivation to train myself physically, knowing that this type of choreography exists in the world, knowing what it looks like when performed by incredible dancers, and I wonder how his principles of fusion and breath can be applied to my own cultural dance form, Irish step dancing.

This, then, is an (un)ending as well, an exhale at the end of my Yale career on its way into the inhale of my future. I will carry with me in my breath and in my body what I have learned from Yale Dance Theater, and I could not be more grateful to Emily, Lali, Young Jin, my fellow dancers, and all of the previous coaches for the experience. 

First Encounters


I have these blisters on my feet now

(underneath my big toes)

From twisting, pushing

trying to hit the or in four


Sometimes twisting my arms I don’t know

If I’ve done it right

Until the explosion of arms

right on the or in four


Rebounding, I grab


maybe a staff

or an orb

of power

whatever it is, I know

it’s important

it has weight

I give it weight

where it doesn’t exist

between my hands

gripping the now-heavy air

with fingers so alive

you can see them from the audience


Engaged in a battle (ritual?)

I’m only half-seeing

The sweep of my hands against my body

(the last e in three)

The extension of my arms, planting my foot

(TWO. Don’t forget the head. Without the head it looks like


I feel the energy in every motion

The way it crackles


sweeping, now barely (briefly) contained

before brushing across my chest

dropping to my left

my hand

my gaze

on and not before the or in four


Here at the start

Breathing, looking left

Waiting for the drop


Do It Wrong


As a senior, I’m not used to feeling off my game, so to speak. That being said, Yale Dance Theater never seems to fail in making me remember what it feels like to be a n00b (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newbie). Every year, I think I’ll be better prepared for what we do in the first class than I was the year before, and every year I’m proven wrong. I love it.

There’s nothing so liberating as feeling utterly clueless. For the entirety of the first YDT rehearsal with Reggie Wilson this semester we worked on rhythmic phrases Reggie had created based on manipulation of gumboot dancing from Africa. As Aren mentioned, it bears a decent resemblance to “step,” at least for the uninitiated such as myself. I have literally never felt so completely clueless as I did when Reggie showed us the first phrase and told us to “show him,” as in repeat what he had done. I actually laughed aloud at the time because it seemed so absurd that I would be able to do what he had just done after seeing it once. Imagine if someone spoke half a sentence in Russian to you, and then asked you to repeat it (speakers of any Slavic language, substitute a more distant language from your own). Now imagine that you’re a little more confused than that. That’s how I felt. It’s terrifying. But at the same time it’s also freeing. Often when intelligent, skilled people approach a task that is new to them, they hesitate. They consider – should I do it this way, or that way? Will anyone notice if I do it slightly wrong? Will they know I don’t know what I’m doing? – and then, even when doing it, they second guess themselves. Oh, maybe I should have done it that other way…

This wasn’t like that. There was no way to hide the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. More than that, I just had to jump in and do it, because I obviously wasn’t going to get any better at it just standing there. I also couldn’t second guess myself, since I had no clue how to execute the phrase properly. The freedom not to worry about the fact that you’re not going to do it right, or even close to right, the first time, is fabulous. After just going for it a few times, laughing at myself, and finally beginning to catch on, I felt like I could learn just about anything. Russian? Sign me up! Hip hop? ok so maybe not anything.

In all seriousness though, I am writing about that feeling, that absolute freedom of being totally, hopelessly wrong in my first attempt, because it’s a feeling I don’t want to forget. I’m not a risk-taker, but if I could remember that strange fearlessness in my day-to-day life, there are things that might seem less like risks and more like taking that first step with the rest of YDT two weeks ago.  

A Cunningham Event


I’m not a fan of endings, but as endings go, ending the Yale Dance Theater’s Cunningham Project with our two lecture/demonstrations was far better than I could have imagined.

Many different things contributed to the sense of purpose and solemnity, but also joy and pride that I and the other dancers experienced during these two showings. For one, as discussed in many of the post-show question and answer sessions, the space made a big difference. Dancing in a space as vast as the gym, both in terms of floor space and the extraordinarily high ceiling, completely changed our sense of the expansiveness of the movement. In particular my experience of performing a slow solo as part of the “four slow women” section suddenly had a greater sense of focus and perspective as the movement stretched to fill the enormous walls.

Of course, having an audience also changed our experience of the work. There was a pride in presenting our work, and in demonstrating to many at Yale the growing resources for dance at Yale as represented by this amazing project.

Most importantly, I found that having an audience and performing in the basketball arena gave me, and perhaps my fellow dancers, an overwhelming sense of the history of the work we were performing. It’s one thing to learn work in the studio, and to understand the work itself from the inside, and in truth that was the only thing I was expecting to experience in bringing that work to fruition in a performance – satisfaction in my knowledge of the work and in our performance of the steps.

As it turns out, and perhaps it was narrow-minded of me not to leave room for this – the environment and the audience made our performances about much more than just showing that we had mastered curves and tilts and triplets. We not only faced the enormity of the gym, but heard about how it related to the various places Cunningham used as locations for events. We did not only see the audience as family and friends, attending to applaud our efforts, but realized that the audience was composed of people who had never before seen Cunningham work – and who are not likely to have many opportunities to see his work going forward – alongside people who love and follow his work and have an even greater awareness of not only the works we were performing, but also this event, in Cunningham history, than we do. Putting our work over the semester in this context suddenly made it about much more than the sum of leg and arm motions. Presenting excerpts from Cunningham class, I realized we were giving people a glimpse into an entire world of dance, really, and a world we were privileged to have such thorough, if still brief, access to. It was the sense of place, of history, and of responsibility to represent Cunningham’s work to those who had never seen it before and to those who followed it faithfully, that made the lecture demonstrations transcend simple presentation for me. It was, truly, an event.



When developing a semester-long project such as this one, I imagine there are many questions to be answered. Particularly with an artist such as Merce Cunningham, who has an enormous body of work and also a challenging, well-developed technique, there are many ways one could go about immersing us, the students, in the work. What is the value of giving us a chance to delve into many works from his prolific career versus the value of getting an in-depth look at one work, the value of learning repertory versus training our bodies in Cunningham technique. Six hours a week may seem like a lot to those of us booked with classes and other projects, but with so much we could learn it is an extraordinarily short amount of time.

In light of all of this, I think that Jen, Meg, Emily and everyone involved in the planning of this project have done an incredible job of balancing these different facets of the Cunningham experience, if you will. We had the incredible experience of working extensively on a large section of one important work (Roaratorio), gaining glimpses of other works (Numbers, Canfield, Pond Way), and also working on the technique itself during hour-long warm-ups as part of each rehearsal.

In looking at Cunningham’s work over time through the four pieces we touched upon, I am hesitant to draw any evolutionary line. These works demonstrate that there is a fair amount of range in his work, and based on that alone I think tracing any sort of development would take a much broader examination of his works. That said, learning excerpts from Canfield, Numbers, Roaratorio, and Pond Way makes for a really interesting comparison-in-motion. In all of the works, the presence of Cunningham technique is unavoidable – and thank goodness we got to work with the technique as much as we did! There is a strength of balance and an awareness of shape, line, and rhythm that runs through each piece. However, these four works show these fundamental principles being used to create naturalistic, moving landscapes (Pond Way), interactive, indeterminate games (Canfield), and so on. Although the works do not have a story to tell, each carries with it a sense of mood, and even within the larger structure individual sections carry their own little atmospheres, changing the shape of the energy onstage almost tangibly as dancers enter to begin sprightly jigs or meditative “shiftings” in Roaratorio. The use of a certain shape, rhythm, or even indeterminate structure does not in and of itself create this sense of mood, but rather the combination of all of these elements – and in the snippets of work we have learned, it is amazing how many different ways Cunningham uses his building blocks of shape, rhythm, and structure.

As a brief and unrelated aside, we have now rehearsed with music several times in order to prepare for the performance and adjust to dancing our own rhythms while hearing something else. In general this wasn’t really much of an adjustment at all. As expected, the music and the dancing function in their own realms, and it is not particularly challenging to keep track of our own rhythms, especially since we have been working in them for so long now. However, performing our Roaratorio excerpt to a recording of the Cage score yesterday I encountered a bit of a surprise. Running under the various other sounds in the score was a clearly discernible tune used in Irish step-dancing. The way that Irish step-dancing is performed to Irish music is extremely regimented rhythmically, and in learning Irish dance one spends an enormous amount of time in the studio listening to music and waiting for the right bar of music on which to start – whether one is performing for the teachers or simply practicing in the background. It took a lot of effort on my part not to get sucked in to that mode of listening to the music – listening to it intently and waiting for the right bar. Certainly I wasn’t going to cue my movement off of it, but the effort was to avoid the level of distraction from the Cunningham work that would arise if I allowed myself to run through my Irish dance steps in my head. A fascinating surprise! It makes me glad we had a chance to rehearse with the score at least once rather than having the score and the work put together during the performance itself.

Perspective (On the Inside, Looking Out)


Confession: In the past, I haven’t particularly enjoyed watching Cunningham pieces.

Now that you’ve all caught your breath after that shocking revelation, allow me to explain a bit. I most certainly appreciated his work choreographically and found it to be both interesting and innovative on that level, but in terms of watching dance for enjoyment, I always found it a bit….clinical. I tended to describe my feelings towards it by analogy to an artist – in my opinion it is possible to absolutely appreciate the innovation and genius of an artist while not particularly enjoying actually looking at his or her paintings. And with Cunningham, while the genius of it was evident, the beauty and the draw of it evaded me.

Thanks to this rehearsal process so far, it evades me no longer! That’s right, my secret is out – I’m a convert. Learning some of Cunningham’s work has enabled me to enjoy watching his other works in two ways. First of all, now that I have a small amount of experience with the technique from which his work is then constructed, I am more clued-in to the details of his movement. Like learning any language, I can now “read” some – though certainly not all – of the movement in many of his pieces by relating them to the fundamental building blocks of his technique that my body is now familiar with. To start with, this makes watching his work more enthralling. Secondly, being “inside” Roaratorio as we’ve learned it and started to really put it together has given me the ability to see beauty, artistry, and dynamic changes within his work that I was missing in my previous observation. As I see it on the bodies of my classmates and being assembled in the studio I suddenly have access to the way different sections work together, create juxtapositions, striking moments, and – although certainly not a story, or even “characters” – naturally some sort of emotional landscape, if you will. Having this perspective from “inside” even one work is a bit like flipping a switch – now these elements are evident to me in his other work as well, even when known only from the “outside” – making them vastly more enjoyable to watch, as well as just as choreographically interesting as they always were, if not more so.

Let Your Body Set the Standard


Cunningham technique has always struck me as being very much about form – and particularly about the visual, geometric appearance of form. In this way I classified the technique as being “like” ballet, which has an enormous emphasis on the appearance of form. Learning Cunningham technique, and particularly getting corrections while learning the technique, has taught me a more nuanced view of how the technique views form, and of how this compares to my experience learning ballet.

In Cunningham technique, I’ve learned that more than an emphasis on the appearance of a particular position there is an emphasis on what each individual’s body is actually doing in the position. Take for example the lower back curve, in which only the “last five vertebrae” or so, are curved. Turns out, that really is all you are supposed to do – even if your lower back curve looks nothing like your neighbor’s or your instructor’s. It would be completely incorrect if you extend the curve higher in your back simply to achieve the same level of curved appearance as someone else. Instead of basing the goal on some external ideal, the goal of the movement is to perform a specific physical task to the extent that your body can, and what every part of your body is doing is essentially specified for you. The visual appearance may vary from person to person while still being equally correct, in a technical sense. The appearance (relying on strength, flexibility, etc) may not be ideal, but it will be correct. Needless to say, this was a bit hard for me to grasp at first, accustomed as I was to ballet, in which, frankly, there is a great emphasis on having your extension equal to or better than that of your neighbor, in some cases regardless of the bizarre things your body may have to do to achieve that. Of course no teacher would outright recommend such behavior, and ideally it would be corrected, but as always there is a significant gap between ideal and real.

My personal example of this different approach to technique, in which your own body really sets the standard based on what you can achieve while maintaining completely proper placement, is fourth position. Sounds so simple, right? Apparently not. As it turns out, as much as I like to think I have a good grasp on my body – on where my body is an what each part is doing – I apparently have pretty much no idea what my hips are doing (or at least had nearly no idea at the start of this, ideally I’m improving). So, when doing pliés in fourth position during the first few classes, I went to the same fourth position I have been using for, at this point, more than half my life. Then, I received the correction that prompted this entire discussion of technique and ideals – cross my feet less and turn in my back foot a bit more so that my hips would be flat and square instead of tilted at the bizarre angle they had apparently achieved without telling me. Woah. I mean, woah. In ballet, fourth position is fourth position is fourth position. Uncrossed is not an option. It’s just wrong. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what your hips have to do to have your feet be crossed – I’d never even considered what mine were doing (clearly?). The fourth position that I now use for exercises in Cunningham class would send my ballet teachers into some kind of apoplexy. But, in Cunningham technique, this blasphemously uncrossed fourth is an enormous improvement over what I had been doing – a fully crossed, turned out fourth position with my hips at some strange angle to accommodate this arrangement of my feet. There you have it, Let Your Body Set the Standard (and try not to faint at the sight of your uncrossed feet in the mirror, that’s important too).

Rhythmic Brainteasers and the Euphoria of Getting it Right


During one of the first few rehearsals, while struggling to learn and execute a section of Cunningham’s 1998 piece Pond Way, I commented to my friends around me that “seriously, my brain hurts as much as when I’m doing quantum mechanics problem sets!” It was a joke, and I got a few chuckles out of them, but it’s completely true. Trying to piece together the seemingly disparate arm motions and leg motions of the phrase we were learning was causing the identical brow-scrunching, concentrate-‘til-it-hurts feeling (and let’s be honest, I was probably making the same face) that I have when my pchem professor is going through a derivation too fast. It’s the same feeling I would often have while working on Tharp choreography last year, but in that case the feeling only arose when I was faced with a challenging manipulation to perform on existing material, whereas here my mind goes into the same place simply trying to put the material on my body to begin with. I love it. Sure, in the moment it’s challenging and sometimes frustrating, but so far dance and mathematics/chemistry are the only places I can get that feeling (physics is a bit too frustrating, I’m afraid).

It’s not for nothing that I’m a chemistry major, in addition to being crazy about dance studies, I love logic, math, and making my head spin with hard questions. So far what we’ve learned aligns ridiculously well with these preferences – that isn’t to say that it feels amazing or natural on my body, or that I’m doing a stellar job, certainly not – but it does mean that my brain is having a fabulous time trying to learn it all. Over and over again, no matter what phrase from what piece, the precision and logic of facing, steps, and rhythm is undeniable, and it provides exactly the “hook” I need and want. I can repeat it over and over to myself to its wonderfully consistent rhythm – left, right, diagonal, back, front, back, tilt, etc, etc. as I attempt to learn it, and that ability is invaluable to me in terms of getting it in my head and my body. If I can memorize it easily in my mind, I’m that much closer to having it in my body, because at least I know when I’m wrong and can correct myself.

No matter how much I struggle in the beginning, mastering these phrases comes with the same euphoria as finishing that really-hard-too-many-integrals question on a problem set. It’s a completely different feeling than, say, learning Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A, which intentionally does not repeat or follow any particularly evident pattern. The two probably take about the same amount of effort, but it’s a completely different mental exercise to me. Learning Trio A is the equivalent of memorizing a grocery list, in order, except on my body, whereas “getting” a Cunningham phrase feels almost as good as getting out of a math exam knowing you’ve done well. It’s fascinating to me that two different versions of what would certainly seem to be the same thing – memorizing movement with your body and your mind – can feel so completely different based on the kind of choreography, and this idea is something I hope to continue to investigate over the course of the project.

In addition to enjoying how learning this choreography relies on the same mental channels as my pchem problem sets, I really appreciate the sense of rhythm in the phrases, most especially those we have learned for Roaratorio. Now, in truth, I’m not all that good at counting music. I can hear the rhythm and move to music just fine, but give me anything with complex or changing meters and well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want me as a conductor. However, undeniably thanks to my Irish step-dancing background, I am well-practiced at listening to and learning the rhythm of movement material. In Irish step-dancing, most especially in the hard-shoe form, rhythm is 100% as important as the steps themselves. If you are learning what to do with your feet but not the proper rhythm for those movements, you might as well not be learning it at all. Seriously. Your teacher will stop you in the middle of what you’re doing, not matter how perfect the actual steps are, and literally forbid you to keep doing those steps until you have the rhythm right. More than listening to Jennifer actually give the counts of the “jigs” or other segments in Roaratorio, I just learn the rhythm and sound of the steps as part of the step. This is again helpful in my process of learning the material because, along with repeating the pattern to myself, I can almost “sing” the steps to myself at their proper rhythm. This is another Irish dance practice – steps are never spoken aloud in any way other than to their rhythm. I’m trying as I write this post to speak one of my steps aloud without doing so to the rhythm of the beats, and it is extremely difficult. In the particular context of Irish dance, steps, not only on my body but also in speech, are inextricable from their rhythm. This is not helpful for all of the material we have learned so far, but it is helpful in much of the Roaratorio material. My biggest challenge going forward, I anticipate, will be moving past the euphoria of being able to master steps and rhythm to focus on the details of execution and technique.

Concluding Remarks, an Amalgam of Thoughts


As a warning, just in case you didn’t get this from the title, this post is going to attempt to encapsulate a great variety of my thoughts and musings coming from this entire project as well as the final performance. With that disclaimer taken care of, there’s nothing left but to dive in!

This project was an amazing experience. Like if a prospective student came up to me on the street and asked me about my Yale experience, there’s a good chance that this would be the first thing that would come to mind, and that I would spend the next fifteen minutes rambling excitedly to them about it. This is true for several reasons. First of all, the people I’ve met, or in some cases gotten to know better, through this project: Jenny and Katie, Rose, Sara, Emily, Juliette, Patrick, Derek, Elena, and Aren are amazing, and spending time with each of these people as part of this work has really added a lot to my Yale experience. Secondly the chance to move for three hours, twice a week is invaluable when you do as much sitting around working on problem sets as I do. I was often at my most productive after Wednesday rehearsals, when I could go back to my room feeling like I had done something different for a few hours. However, just because I was moving doesn’t mean I wasn’t learning. In fact, the number one reason I would call this experience amazing is because of how much I’ve learned. My brain did a lot of work during rehearsals, and not just in terms of remembering steps. To a certain extent, rehearsal is not so different from reading for a class, the goal of which is generally to absorb the thoughts of the author and assimilate them into your own understanding of the topic. Similarly, learning Eight Jelly Rolls, particularly from such knowledgeable sources as Jenny and Katie, a significant amount of what’s going on inside my mind and body is absorbing the information they present and incorporating it into my existing framework for what dance is. The great thing is that this gets to happen through my mind and my body. For someone potentially interested in dance academia, and at the very least very committed to the intellectual consideration of dance, there’s nothing like moving through a choreographer’s work in terms of research and fuel for thought.

Now to try to get down to some of the specifics of what I’ve learned, or started to learn, over the course of the semester. In terms of dancing and my body, I’ve learned the difference between placed or held weight and true weight, a distinction I had never considered before this. I’ve also been able to connect my experience Irish step-dancing to my experience of other forms of dance. Irish step-dancing is so different from ballet and even modern and post-modern dance in general that there was never any overlap between the way I learned Irish dance and the way I learned other material. So much of Eight Jelly Rolls relies on the rhythmic structure of the steps that one day while being taught the phrase for the second section, it suddenly dawned on me that I was approaching learning this material the same way I approach learning a new Irish step-dancing combination. This was great for me, as I am generally much better at learning Irish step-dancing steps than other types of material. This is rather challenging for me to explain, but because it relies so much on rhythm and sequence I consider it to be more of an intellectual challenge than a physical one, and I am habitually more comfortable with the former than the latter. As a dancer I’ve learned a lot about what it feels like to improvise. I have improvised some in the past, but particularly having to repeatedly improvise based on the same instructions from week to week in the Mournful Serenade solo, the final section, etc, gave me an idea of how improvisation can and must change over time. The first time we tried the Mournful Serenade improvisation, it came very easily to me. Having only recently managed to get most of the steps in my mind, they were fresh and exciting to explore. Several weeks later, I found myself struggling to do anything I personally found interesting or enjoyable in this same improvisation and realized that it was at least partly because I had become more comfortable with the material. The ever-practical Jenny stepped in to rescue me from this conundrum, advising us to consider the way I was interacting with the floor in each moment, and to spend the improvisation working through the material, considering what it is, how it can be different, what is essential about it, etc, etc. With this deeply engaging physical/intellectual task (I’m starting to feel like I need a word for this, phystellectual, intsical, nope that’s not going to work, tell me if you come up with a better solution) I realized that I had actually only become comfortable with the material superficially, and that I could work on this new improvisation task for three hundred repetitions without ever running out of things to explore. Learning Eight Jelly Rolls at the same time as I was taking Advanced Dance Composition has also made me aware of how much I learned choreographically from this experience. Observing the exquisite, intricate, and oftentimes undeniably baffling construction of some of the sections, my understanding of choreographic possibilities was greatly expanded. (Anecdote: When I say baffling I’m mostly referring to the second section, originally a duet between Rose and Sara. The first time I watched it, which was during the fall semester for a class, I spent the entire time wondering what the instructions could possibly be. Somehow it achieved a marvelously spontaneous feel while also being clearly structured, and the variety of situations occurring between two dancers was mind-boggling!! Well, I joke that I really shouldn’t have wondered, because this semester I got an answer, and it was about as complicated as I had assumed it would have to be). The other main take-home in terms of choreography is the usefulness of a really well-constructed phrase. In working on my project for Dance Composition I really tried to take this point to heart, taking the time to develop one phrase that I was really pleased with, and then playing around with it. Sometimes I think of the relationship between Tharp and her phrases as the same as that between some tribes of Native Americans and the buffalo. Go with me here. When you find a really valuable resource like the buffalo or a really rich phrase, you don’t throw it away until you’ve gotten literally everything out of it that you can. In some cases, like the Mournful Serenade solo, Tharp allows the thorough use of material by allowing the performer to work with it over and over and over and over again, and in other cases such as the “drill phrase” in the fifth section, Tharp choreographs a small catalogue of variations on a phrase. As I learned from Jenny’s anecdotes, sometimes a phrase would get worked through this way by the dancers and would then disappear for years, only to show up later in another piece, or perhaps never, and I imagine that’s just because it wasn’t interesting enough. A scrawny buffalo. Speaking of baffling…let’s move on.

The only other thing that I feel is vital to address in this post, seeing at it’s already getting to be sort of mammoth, is the format of the final presentation. Basically, I am such a fan. When presenting a work which I personally find to be so thought-provoking, important in the canon of dance in America, and fundamentally awesome as Eight Jelly Rolls, I’m understandably afraid that people just won’t get it. Okay not so much get it as appreciate it. I know my friends, and equally understandably (well that’s a bit of a lie but moving on) they are not as invested in dance as I am. They want to come see me and support me, but they’re more likely to say, “so when is that jelly bean thing again?” than anything else. Based on all of this, I think that a lecture/demo style of presentation is invaluable. When I saw my roommate after the performance, her first comment was, “That was SO INTERESTING!” Now, I don’t mean the kind of “interesting” that you say when your cousin shows you a picture that is supposedly of a llama but actually looks more like a pizza, I mean the sincere kind. And coming from a Yale student, finding something to be legitimately interesting is a really valuable experience. This was the feedback I got over and over and over again from the people I knew who came to see the show. “I learned a lot,” “Wow I didn’t know anything about this coming into it, but it taught me so much,” etc, etc, in addition to comments about how I did a good job, instead of empty “great job, congrats, thanks for inviting me, wow you can kick your leg really high, etc, etc.” It makes me so happy that I want to go shout “My dance performance was interesting and educational!” from a rooftop somewhere. Listen, I never said I wasn’t a little bit weird. Dance like this really, really, really deserves to be appreciated, and if the only way to do that is to break it down to a certain extent and let people in on what’s going on and how it’s constructed, then I think that’s absolutely what needs to happen.

This process also brought up a lot of interesting and important (and occasionally frightening) questions about dance reconstruction and staging, but you’ll have to hope that one of my classmates addresses those, since I fear if I go on I may end up writing some kind of yak analogy.

Finally, to EVERYONE involved in and/or responsible for this, THANK YOU and lots of love.

Two Heads (and Bodies!) are Better Than One


One of the things I am most enjoying about the Yale Dance Theater Pilot Program so far is getting to rehearse with two rehearsal directors, both of whom danced extensively with/for Twyla Tharp, Jenny Way Rawe and Katie Glasner (henceforth Jenny and Katie). First of all, they are both incredible, lovely to work with, and clearly know the movement and the movement style exceedingly well. In terms of my personal thoughts/musings, getting to work with them in the way that we do (three hours with Katie on Wednesdays, and three hours with Jenny on Saturdays) is proving to be a fascinating study in how individuals experience/know choreography.

Before I begin my discussion of my impressions, let it be noted that Katie and Jenny openly admit that they have different approaches to teaching the material, and that this is exactly what makes it so fabulous to be able to work with both of them. Now back to my ramblings. Where was I? Oh right, as someone who frequently stages Eight Jelly Rolls, Katie has a very “step-oriented” approach. She makes sure that we have the basics of the phrases – footfalls, rhythms, arm placements, pelvis placement – before we move on to manipulating them as the program dictates. She also takes us through these basics at a pretty reasonable pace. Jenny on the other hand, while she certainly knows the material equally well, has a more “style/energy-oriented” approach. Working with her we tend to go through material faster, allowing us (or at least me anyway) to get a less-thorough- no, that’s not right – a different impression of the material. When I first learn a phrase from Katie, I’m highly aware of exactly what the steps should be and should look like, but slightly less aware of what they should feel like. When I first learn a phrase from Jenny, I’m not always able to get a complete grasp of where my feet should be before we start trying it out with manipulations, but I have a good sense of what the energy should be like throughout the phrase and what it should feel like as I do it. In both cases, once I then rehearse said material with the other director, I get a fairly complete view of the material.

It seems to me that these different approaches come at least partially out of Jenny and Katie’s individual understanding of the movement. Katie seems to have a more codified, linear, thought-based knowledge of the material, informed by her muscle memory, whereas Jenny’s knowledge seems to come largely from her body’s knowledge and her muscle memory, informed by intellectual knowledge. It is always amazing to me to see her go through a phrase and then comment to us about how she didn’t do it exactly how it’s codified because she automatically falls into the solutions and habits she developed when performing in the work. This brings up all sorts of interesting questions about dance preservation (of which we know there are no end!), but I’ll leave that for another post.

Working with both Katie and Jenny over the past few weeks has also helped me to learn what works for me as a dancer learning material. Just as Katie and Jenny know the material in different ways, so I’m sure the group of dancers learn material differently. I find that certain phrases work better for me when learned in the Katie style, and others in the Jenny style. The moments of choreography where the end result is intended to be precise, such as most of the drill phrase (and especially the complicated program of retrograding, inverting, varying energy level, etc that goes along with it) for example, are easiest for me to learn and master with as many slow, painstaking passes and detailed instructions on where, when, and how to place my feet as possible, thus with Katie. On the other hand, the Mournful Serenade solo and the improvisational section of composed of social dances in the eighth jelly roll are easier for me to learn and rehearse with Jenny, because to a certain extent the end result needs to be based more on style and exploration than on precision. In the case of Mournful Serenade, I particularly appreciate learning the material from Jenny because she herself learned the material entirely from video, without codification, so she gives us less steps and more freedom. I’m sure that learning the solo as Katie teaches it will eventually lead to the exact same place, but as I was discussing with Emily, I find that if I’m given too many exact instructions for this particular section I lose the ability to be as free and relaxed in the movement as I feel is necessary for me to do it justice. I know myself well enough to know that because I’m not entirely comfortable with the style yet, if given enough details I will cling to them rigidly (remember I’m a Yale student, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that I’m a little obsessed with doing things “right”) rather than having the freedom to explore.

Enough about me, Katie, and Jenny – I would like to turn briefly to my previous post. I would just like to thank Sara Rudner for commenting and filling me (and anyone reading) in about her experience of dancing Mournful Serenade. It is incredibly interesting and thought-provoking for me to hear which aspects of her experience I was able to detect from watching and to learn about those aspects I was unable to detect (notably exhaustion). Also as someone learning the solo it’s nice to hear that we are intended to draw upon the music during the improvisation, as I would have an incredibly hard time not doing so. The comment undeniably made my day, so thanks again.