Today we started with a warmup. We started with extensions of the back and arms through port de bras. While Ruth read we worked through contractions of the back and arms. Some of the arm shapes are quite challenging, but really interesting. In all arm movements, Taylor’s style creates a half circle shape, rounded and held firm, or it creates arm positions with right angles. There is the S shape of the arms where you start with arms horizontal, parallel to the floor and then bend one slightly up, and the other slightly down. This position can be reversed, or used with movement across the floor. Another arm shape is the boxed arm position. Back, abs, and arms are engaged to keep the arms in a right angle position. Arms can face down, with the hands toward the floor, or they can face up towards the ceiling. Ruth also mentioned that in Taylor’s work, all movements should feel like an extended version of your own limbs. Rather like an extra phantom limb, your legs and arms extend beyond your body to give a fuller, more energized movement.
After the warm up, we moved to across the floor exercise combinations. This took shaped concepts from the warmup and translated them into movements that spanned the entire room. I very much liked the jumping combinations with the right angle arm shape. There were also a few variations of the waltz step we learned that used the s-shape of the arms through movement.
After finishing across the floors, we took time to learn some of the phrases from Party Mix, including Carolynn and Dan. This was fantastic, as it took element from all of the exercises and put them into characters. There was lots of jumping and moving and shapes. We are really starting to create a piece. The characters all have their own personality, and each character has their own unique phrase.
It really is fantastic to watch all of the piece start to take form.
It has been an honor to be a part of Yale Dance Theatre. As a mere freshman, I didn’t really know what the program was about. I saw the memo about the audition, and I decided to show up last minute. I’m so glad that I did. Working with Urban Bush Women was wonderful. A thousand thanks to Amanda, Courtney, and Love for their guidance and inspiration. It was a pleasure working with them. Some of my favorite parts were the tipping phrase, ping-pong/mother tongue, and of course all of the dancing parties. Over the course of this project, I learned a lot about modern dance, which I had never done before, and I also learned a lot about myself. One of my biggest take-a-ways from working with these wonderful women was honoring — ourselves, the space, and each other. As an individual, we all have different talents, strengths, and weaknesses. Sometimes, you come into rehearsal in the middle of exam period (lol when is it NOT exam period), and you don’t feel like you have anything to give to the space. However, each of us had to honor our bodies and our minds. UBW really encouraged us to use our baggage, “what was on top”, in our work. Baggage is part of a story, and a major part of UBW is sharing and communicating our stories. I really appreciated that we shared our feelings and energy at the beginning of each rehearsal. That we re engaged with one another, that we honored each person before sharing the artistic space with them. I thought that was an incredible element and also what made this semester so wonderful. Dance and life don’t ever have to be separate. In fact, they often go hand in hand. Working with our memories and honoring our bodies was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. I’m so grateful that I got to work with this amazing group of people.
Last night we finally got to showcase all that we learned this semester. Performing in front of a live audience was nerve racking and also exhilarating. We had really good crowds for both showings, and I was proud of us for all the work we had done together. We started the piece with a party circle, where each of us created an eight-count on the spot focusing on one part of the body. My focus was the neck, and I actually started the circle (so exciting). This exercise we used a lot in warm up and it was awesome to be able to share it with our audience. After that, we walked throughout the space, continuing our usual warm up material. We demonstrated our scaling-up and scaling-down techniques as different people called out numbers. Then we went into one of my personal favorites: counting to the floor. For eight counts, four counts, two and then one, we moved ourselves to the floor, and then got back up again. I remember how impossible this seemed at the beginning of the semester, and now it’s just another part of the practice. I actually think it’s fun. After this, we went into our two different floor phrases: the X phrase and the pelvic phrase. I was in the pelvic phrase. This phrase has always been one of my favorites in class, but I have to be honest, it was a little unnerving to do in front of a crowd. We were REALLY getting into our pelvises and there was a moment where I giggled because I didn’t know what to do with my face or where to look. However, after the show, people said that it was one of their favorite phrases. After the floor sequences, we went into our ping-pong phrase. This one, to me, was the most intimate. Finding your mother tongue can be challenging — you go into a place of memory. Doing this in front of people almost felt like being half-naked on stage. Our eyes were closed the whole time. We started by imagining that our ping pong ball was small and in our heads. It moved to our necks, shoulders, ribcages, torsos, pelvis, legs, knees, and finally feet. This section of the piece felt like the longest and was definitely the most demanding. The ping pong ball then had free range, allowing us to fully find our mother tongue. We again scaled up and scaled down — energy-wise — until we were at a zero. We stayed in this moment for a bit, just breathing. I was dripping sweat. We then opened our eyes and the audience erupted into applause. Their energy fed us energy and our energy fed theirs. A very intimate experience. We then moved into the choreographed phrases. I was in the “Giant Steps” section. We prepared this section with a lot of deep listening exercises and lots of mother tongue exploration. I was extremely proud of how it turned out. My duo, alongside another, repeated the phrase twice. It is definitely one of my favorite phrases in the piece. The Tipping Phrase went after us. This phrase was performed to a drum beat solo and I loved watching it as much as performing it (in class). After the conclusion of this phrase, we went into the conclusion of the piece. We started different rhythm groups and the audience followed. We then had another little party and then ended the piece with a bow. It was wonderful and I am so sad it’s over. Working with UBW has been a wonderful experience.
Wow. Okay, so let me try to articulate the pure magic of UBW live. Wow, wow, wow. Let me start by saying that Modern dance in general is a much more intimate experience than other styles. While ballet and jazz are engaging and can be very emotional, modern dance has an element of vulnerability that amplifies the experience. The piece we went to see was done in two acts. The first act began with a solo — much like the improvisation we have been working on in class. There was a lot of deep listening and the dancer was stunning. You couldn’t look away, the audience was dead silent, and some of the soloing ended up being without and music. I’m not sure how long she soloed for, it felt like a very long time — in the best way. The other dancers joined her one by one, some of them running, some of them crawling, some of them walking. The energy was unlike any performance I’ve seen before. You could feel it. The first dancer continued to solo as the others froze. They didn’t move at all, but they seemed to be giving the soloist energy. You could FEEL them giving the soloist energy. She kept going for what seemed like forever in dancer time (I’m sure her body was about ready to slump over), and then they all burst out in a beautiful group, improvisational phrase with staggering amounts of energy. It was glorious. The second act had a live pianist, which I later learned played something different at every performance. We saw the quartet in this phrase, which was magnificent. MAGNIFICENT. They moved as one, listening and responding to one another. Their energy was endless, I don’t know how they did it, it was amazing. You could hear them breathing, and they often breathed together. Their tipping was immaculate. How they could go from moving all over the space to coming to a complete standstill at the same exact time is beyond me. Falling didn’t even look like falling, it looked like momentum and just another part of the phrase. Beautiful. There was also a lot of vocalization in this piece. Scatting and singing and call and response. I thought that was beautiful and added to the vulnerability of it all. And they were not miked!! You could hear everything that they were saying, singing, and even how they were breathing without the use of microphones. I don’t know if they are just extremely good at projecting while dancing, or if I should attribute that to how dead silent the audience was. I cried after the first act and I cried after the second. It was fantastic. They jumped so high and moved so quickly. I have such an appreciation for them and I can’t wait to implement the things I saw into practice.
For the past couple weeks, we have been working on falling. I’ve never thought about falling as a dance practice before. It has been challenging, thought provoking, and fun. UBW uses this technique in the “Tipping Phrase” of Walking with Trane. Amanda showed us a few parts from the quartet, which was magnificent, to help us get a better idea of how to fall properly. To practice, we started with some exercises across the floor. At first, each of us stood facing the front of the room and tipped slowly to the side. This did not work very well. I anticipated that we would fall similarly to Amanda — piece of cake. Totally kidding, we were horrible fallers. It was scary, and each of us tried to catch ourselves long before we were near the ground. But hey, they were our first attempts. After a few unsuccessful tries, we altered tactics. Falling to the side was a bit much to tackle first because you can’t see the floor at all. Instead, we fell forward. This way, we could build gradually — build our relationship to the floor, recognize our relationship with gravity, gage our momentum, etc. We practiced this for a few classes until we were comfortable with our falling. Then we tried falling to the side again, and it worked so much better! We all have grown so much, I love it. Crazy to think that it took us multiple classes to re-learn how to fall, but it was wonderful. I hope we incorporate it into the final performance.
Why do we dance?
The past week has made me really think about dance as a practice. I have been raised in an environment where form is rigorously enforced, and working with Urban Bush Women has challenged the way I think about dance. When encountering this new area of dance, I find myself forgetting the form and focusing intently on how the movement itself feels in my skin, honoring where my body is in the moment. It’s incredible. Many of the exercises we practice are hard for me to emulate because I’m used to having a mirror in front of me to watch myself. However, this first week of working with Amanda and Courtney has already helped me push myself and grow. The works challenge me physically and mentally. Experimenting with different movement, finding my mother tongue, practicing with the ping pong ball in my body. It is hard work. Trying to hone in on the raw movement that makes us dancers is something that I haven’t really played with before. Trying to re emulate the feelings we first had when wanting to dance as young people is a task that demands a lot of us. I can’t wait to keep learning and to see where this journey through new movement leads.