Performing

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All my life, I was taught that performance was the culmination of hard work. The fruit of my labor. A time to showcase what I had prepared for them, the audience. As a result, it’s always been polished, clean. Aesthetically and emotionally pleasing. Meant to put a smile on someone’s face, perhaps provoke a thought or two in their head. If it was a job well done, then it would trigger a round of applause and a sense of longing for the next performance, where if accomplished, would do the same. Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I learned that our performance with Urban Bush Women (UBW) was intentionally not created for an audience, but instead, for us.

As I got on that stage, alongside my fellow dancers, learners, and most importantly,  friends, I felt raw and vulnerable. Like a species that has always been in existence but finally made its way to a scientist’s microscope. I felt the need to explain to my friends in the audience what was going on, why we were doing that “ping pong thing”, or why we were shouting out numbers while accelerating across the whole stage, and why some parts of our performance were synchronized, while others weren’t. I wanted them to understand what I had come to learn, how I had grown and why this was important for me, for us. A piece of this desire was satisfied at the end of the first show, when during the question and answer, I sensed the audience’s hunger to learn more. Their curiosity completely energized me, and fueled my desire to keep on performing for the next show. However,  looking back at it, I am ashamed of that sentiment, as that spirit of filtered performance is exactly what UBW is not.

Art, at least the art I want to create and be a part of, is not meant for them, the audience. It was never meant for them. As Amanda, our teacher, would say, they chose to come to OUR theatre. They entered OUR haven, which doesn’t come with warnings our apologies.

As an performer, I am unsure if I will ever completely grasp this concept. Undoing a life’s worth of performative perfection is by far no easy task. But I have hope. For the first time ever, I was allowed to focus on the process, rather than the product, and though it was terrifying, I never want to revert from that freedom again. For this boldness allows for the artist to be more creative, to experiment more, and in the end, produce something special because it is ours. As a dancer, I can confidently say that I have not reached this point in my own work, but am so privileged to have been a part of a show and process, that did.

 

A Reflection on Walking With ‘Trane

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Some of us from YDT were able attend Urban Bush Women’s spring show, Walking With ‘Trane at Wesleyan University. This was the first time I experienced a dance show which used a combination of  live music, visuals, and vocals throughout the whole performance. It began with the soft lighting, which emphasized the shape and contour of the dancer’s body. I felt like I was peeking into something very intimate, as the dancer seemed oblivious to the audience’s presence, which made it all the more intriguing. As the lighting brightened, so did the dancer’s movements, starting off slow, but building momentum, and then eventually, a peak. This would eventually transition to  bright lights flooding in from the wings, as more dancers made their way to the stage,  which presented  a sense of urgency as the dancers interacted with one another in order to match the momentum of the music.

The music was truly something special, as the pianist, playing jazz legend John Coltrane’s works, flooded our ears with passion, and care. He added his own authentic touch and rhythm, while staying true to the beauty and genius of the original works. His synergy with the dancers is to be praised, as both him and the dancers carefully listened to one another, trusting each other’s judgement as they made their next move.  A few of the dancers were even vocal, which took me by surprise, as they would let out shouts filled with emotion, or sing to match the pace of their on stage atmosphere. Their voices, just like their dancing, were loud and powerful, captivating the whole audience and amplifying the whole room.
When the performance had ended, I felt an overwhelming sense of fulfillment and awe, as the artists stole my attention in the most authentic way possible- by staying true to the man of whom the show was named after, the whole time. Thank you UBW, for allowing me to glare into your genius.

Flexibility

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This week, we  participated in an exercise in which we had to imitate each other’s “ mother tongues”, that is, the rhythm and dance moves that come to us most naturally, the ones that remind us of home – wherever that may be. Mother tongues are pieces of ourselves that I find very intimate, as they  showcase to the world who we are through how we move. This is powerful, because every individual’s mother tongue is extraordinarily unique, just as they are. A part of this exercise of “deep listening” was having different people “showcase” their mother tongues, and having the rest of us imitate it in a sequence. This took a lot of courage, because not only does this require  placing a “pin” of some sorts on the exact movements that make your mother tongue unique, but it also involves replicating them so that others may seek to understand it. Completing this exercise taught me the beauty and importance of closely listening to one another. I may not be able to execute a person’s mother tongue in the exact way that they can, however, I can do my best to understand them by moving beyond the evident,  closely observing intricate details such as  their facial expressions, weight of their feet and variability between breaths. It is INCREDIBLY important for us to practice this idea in life as well. Without adaptability, we become obsessed  or only able to listen to ourselves, and this is what causes wars, damages families and destroys friendships. Deep listening is a skill that is not only intended for dance, but for the vastness that lies beyond four walls and a marley floor.

Ouvrir

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Open hips, open minds, open hearts. My time thus far with the Urban Bush Women has required exploring movements I did not realize my body was capable of making. My greatest challenge has been encouraging my brain to explore with the same keenness as my body. Up until this semester, I had not realized how conditioned I was as a ” classically trained” dancer, until I found myself feeling uncomfortable because we have not  required to make everything look “pretty”, and are encouraged to do other unusual things, such as sing a song out loud in order to articulate a rhythm. During class, I try making sense of each and every direction, and  in my poor attempts to rationalize, I forget to candidly listen. In my short time with the Urban Bush Women, I have realized that certain components of dance are not meant to be justified, and as an artist, we risk loosing connection with our work when we think too hard. Throughout the rest of this project, I look forward to finding small and significant ways to counteract my longstanding  biases.

As our teacher Amanda says: ” It’s work to dance from the inside out, rather than the outside in”.