Giant Steps Phrase Two

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Written 2/22/17

Inside (Writing as I dance, exploring my phrase):

My movement in this phrase comes from a place of necessity, moving where I have to. Definitely being alone, being in the weird (really peak for me) half-conscious state. But the glass half-full one, not the half-empty one – on the way into consciousness, not on the way out. Morning, not night. The second half of the phrase I didn’t make deliberately. I made the first half, and perhaps it’s the waking up. Jolted by an alarm, first awareness of bright light through the curtain. Then it’s more mellow and I follow my body instead of telling it what to do. The music is the sun and it guides my movement. Most of my pushing and pulling is from above, my arms move secondary even though they pull me. Maybe I should change that. No. I like that they’re a reaction to my torso, specifically my back. I want more stillness through my heel. I want to fall backwards into the chug directly out of the hip circle so it’s all about the pelvis weight. I don’t go down to the floor in the first moments because it was to forward, I want to feel breath in the whole phrase. Shifting back and forth is sleepy. I like it and it’s pedestrian. Again not forced, which is really essential to the feeling. The message is a feeling. The medium is not the message! I’M NOT TIRED WHEN I DO IT! But I’m creating a breath and feeling in my body like the end of sleeping. Whoa. The relationship to the music is really important. It’s the reason why I chose each movement. Mainly the rhythm. I had difficulty replicating the phrase with accents in the right places. I want to see the accents in the movements, but have them each be different. Like seeing accent marks on sheet music, if each were a different color or something.

Outside (Investigating whether the way I hear the music matches the way I feel the movement I created):

Part 1 – a stick image of each movement I created 

Part 2 – tracing the phrase as I hear it 

“Inside” helped me solidify the intention and story behind the movement. However its abstract direction made it hard to focus on the relationship between movement and music. So I created “Outside,” an experiment to visually confirm my deep listening. I did this by comparing the texture and shape of the way I hear the music when I’m not moving to the texture and shape of the movements isolated from the music, I hoped they matched.

 

The Dead Shall Be Raised

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Written 2/1/17

Wednesdays are slow. Getting to rehearsal zaps what little energy my thighs and body think they have left. The two flights of stairs up to the studio seem like four, and at the top I pant three times as much as usual.

But being tired actually helps with the dancing. I stop thinking and I allow my body to move. Fatigued, my limbs and core go where they’re comfortable, where they want to be. Everything becomes more efficient and precise because I stop deciding and start doing. When the extraneous thoughts leave, so do the extraneous steps.

It’s backwards, but being tired propels my focus in our explorations – our investigative improvisational exercises that bridge classwork and movement generation and choreography. They are hard for me because I think too much. I try so literally to feel a ping-pong ball ricocheting through my flesh and I get stuck in all the thinking. If there’s only one ball, how is it in both ankles? Should it get caught on all my internal organs? The answers are all bits of useless information for the explorations. The exercise is about feeling. But when I get tired my concentration becomes less intellectual and more kinesthetic. I find my groove.

After three hours of dancing, I leave revived! My body more open, my mind running, my eyes glowing, my blood zooming, I leave the studio awake! Somehow expending energy energizes me more. The harder I push myself, the more I want to work.

A true embodiment of the clichéd reminder, “You get out of it only what you put in.” Although I feel like I get so. much. more. Yes I’m sweaty and slightly bruised, more dehydrated, and quite hungry; but I’m also brighter, happier, and stronger.

Mother Tongue Exploration

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Written 1/25/17

Amanda asked us today: “What spice are you adding to the pot?”

Well instead of dancing in my kitchen or feeling groovy with cousins, I was at home in my bed. Home is solitude to me (of the best kind) and closing my eyes during the exercise was like the first few moments of waking up. Before I really do wake up at all. The biggest feeling was against. Pillow against hair, sheet against face –

So the spice I add is cinnamon. Applesauce without cinnamon is flatter, less warm. Cinnamon has a little tickle. It’s the feeling of cinnamon, not the taste, because growing up I used to sneak into the drawer in the kitchen – I don’t know why sneak because it wasn’t off limits – and smell the slightly old sticks that we never seemed to use. Cinnamon is an addition to me, not a main ingredient, and my movements were deliberately selfish, smooth, and a bit luxurious. Although still young, still in the moments of the day that rest on the edge of coming into consciousness. The other thing about cinnamon is that it can very easily be too much. I added a little too much cinnamon today and drowned out the clear flavor of the beat.

Start to Finish

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Part I

After the first or second “House” rehearsal I asked Renee if she wanted me to call a cab.  “I can’t just flag one down from here, can I?” she said.  “Uber works too,” she said.  And, “I saw those legs go up,” she said.

I wouldn’t have considered the legs “up,” but it had been a solid 90o arabesque day, no wobbles.  Like weather, it wasn’t reliable or constant, but my balance was mostly sunny for that rehearsal.

I also know it was early on in the rehearsal process because my next question was about what else I could do.  I told Renee how appreciative I was of the organization and centering of the Floor-Barre warm-up, but I craved strength through any suggestion of further exercises to prepare for our future work, and I suppose, the performance.

Strength is subjective and relative, but losing it has worried me for ages, I realize.   Every summer while traveling or at camp I think that surely hiking only a few miles or a little leisurely swimming will mean returning with a tan, lots of stories, and no strength.  The first week of college, too: I went to dance auditions daily so that I was attending regular ballet classes.  In the YDT information session before the Trisha Brown project (attendance: three – Aren, Emily, and Me), I asked if I should worry about staying in shape for the rehearsals and I asked about whether the guest choreographers would give any technique or strengthening classes in our allotted six hours a week.

So my question to Renee wasn’t new or unique.  She gently inhaled in the way she does when she’s telling us what our bodies are telling her, but this time it was a world, a career, a lifetime of bodies that gave her the words she spoke to me.  Contrary to later iterations of “more of “it’s not enough, not enough,” she told me to believe what she believes: that by coming and working on the principles she gives us during Floor-Barre time after time – focusing on length, opposition, organization, and under no circumstances tightening – the strength and desired body would come.

Waiting until Saturday was hard.

Renee’s plan required too much trust, it was too uncertain, and mostly, it was too early in the rehearsal process.  But of course, what she advised eventually happened.  I used an enormous amount of brain energy to convince my body to do less.  While feeling a taught slack-line stretched so tightly from toe to scalp that nothing in my body wavered, I had to somehow relax around it.  Tight was short while long was smooth and stable and spacious. It was all about finding space.

In our first conversation, Renee alluded to something akin to an “aha” moment: the proverbial light bulb or eureka that seemed highly unlikely in our four short months. But one day, on the second side of the final Floor-Barre exercise, we turned over and lengthened one leg on the floor with our backs in line with our bodies while plié-ing our free leg high and to the side.  And without Renee’s words or hands, my hip found space and my leg floated.  Everything was soft in a held, lengthened way, and I found the freedom to move.  It was really cathartic, like pressing send at 11:59 after writing a paper all day, or stepping into a long overdue shower.  Even better was the next rehearsal when I found it again, along with the affirmation that I hadn’t just been lucky.

The point though, goes back to the trust I put in Renee despite any uncertainties, expectations, or reservations.

 

Part II

The performance was about love, diversity, heritage and beauty.  But it was built on trust.

Trust in Renee with our bodies.  Seeing the slightest imbalance between heart and hips. Reading the delicate overworking of an anxious ankle.  Hearing our voracity to push everything and patiently, calmly, telling us to believe in length, opposition, and – of course – story.

Trust in Matthew to each week untangle the jumble of folk songs, personal stories, and mismatched dancers while following a sporadic schedule and high pressure time limit.

Trust in Caroline’s wings.

Trust in Holly’s hips.

Trust in MC’s hearts of palm.

Trust in our knees and strong bases to support us through heart, mind, and soul…

Trust in the music and in ourselves to translate the music.  Trust to illustrate the mood, and be the tumbleweed.

Trust in our voices to carry the words and place them just-so in front of the world.  Trust in our voices to reach the man in the aisle seat, and trust in our voices to reach the woman on the street.

Trust in the musicians.

Trust in the audience to care and to listen.

Trust in our hair not to spontaneously unravel.

Trust in “one little girl,” in MC delivering Karlanna’s words of mothers and lettuce and toughness.

Trust in our months of work that could never be more than glimpsed in a 25-minute proscenium production.

Trust in sharing, not proving.

Trust in our bodies that we built.  The smooth, racecars we slowly learned to drive as Renee moved to the passenger seat.

Trust in Emily for masterminding a project that incorporated so much and impacted so many.

Trust in the movement to carry our messages, and trust in ourselves to dance it.

Filling Infinity

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When I do the choreography right, I feel full.  But I’m simultaneously making more and more space.  Because the space grows forever, full can never be reached, and yet that’s the goal. 

According to the gas laws of concentration, the more space that one dancer’s individual energy fills, the more dilute and wavering that energy should be.  Instead, as the space expands and energy spreads and fills to the edges, it gets stronger.

 If the space isn’t filled, my movement is false – it’s the shell of the dance and I’m not present and it’s not right.  It can’t possibly look right like that.  Like a paper mâché’d balloon with a hole in it: the layers of glue and newspaper support the balloon’s frame despite the substance flowing out of the puncture.  But it’s hollow and the air inside is now “flippant” if it can be, flippant because air ambles in and out with no necessity, no fight, no strength, no purpose.  A raw balloon blown up and tied, that balloon is full.  Poking it causes it to morph; the air inside sustains outward pressure and focuses on maintaining the life of the balloon – all of the molecules working with the same intention.  There’s strength and also fragility.  Don’t pop it. The fresh balloon has a lifespan.  Unlike the paper mâché balloon, which is set, quite literally, the fresh balloon might wither without perfect conditions or full cooperation of every molecule inside.

That’s Matthew’s movement for me. 

I feel sometimes, especially when it’s first given without any repetition, like the paper mâché balloon.  I am dancing the choreography but my energy doesn’t fill the space.  My energy is constant and I make the outlines or the carcass of the dance. But over time, I aim to release what’s in my head and let it flow into a fresh new balloon and blow it up, hold it up, fill it. 

 

Snippets

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BRL 303, space designated at stage right wing

 Naomi: It makes sense!

Aren: What makes sense…?

Naomi: The cuts, and the way they work and Newark in general!

Aren: ok…

Naomi: Well I’ve been studying proteins in biology and that’s exactly what these Newark cuts are!

Aren: oh ok…

Naomi: Well the way the edits and phrases are structured mimics the intricate protein conformations!

Aren: Right…

Naomi: It works because –

 

 

It’s all the same:

Proteins are made up of amino acids at the most elementary level.  Strung together, they make long, still very basic forms called alpha helices and beta sheets. The alpha helices wind and curve, while the beta sheets fold in a more rigid pattern.  The tertiary structure of proteins forms from the combining, intertwining, and overlapping of individual alpha helices and beta sheets to create specific conformations. The final protein is a compilation of many linked tertiary structures that together fulfill a specific task as a single unit. 

 

The Trisha Brown’s choreography is made up of moving shapes at the most elementary level.  Strung together, they make long, still very basic sequences called First Phrase and Cranwell.  The First Phrase travels and flies, while Cranwell is much more held and sculpted. The “edits” of Trisha Brown’s choreography form from the combining, intertwining, and overlapping of individual segments of the First Phrase and Cranwell to create specific interactions.  The final work, Newark, is a compilation of many linked edits that together express a specific concept as a single unit.  

New Space

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The movement:

The shapes felt more organic in a space that already held objects and art.  We as figures felt less artificial. More natural.

 

The audience:

            The most intriguing part of performing was the audience’s relationship with us.  It was a bystander audience.  They arrived at the gallery with no obligation to watch our movement and no expectations for our performance. And that made it so easy to perform. Eliminating commitment and money created an entirely different dynamic between the performers and spectators.   Instead of required anticipation brought on by sitting behind a curtain before a traditional performance, our instantaneous audiences had the freedom to stay or leave and were truly curious about our movement. 

            Practicing movement studies, Sticks in particular, in the studio is tedious and I’m focused on getting it right, moving – or not moving – my limbs to make the pattern of movement happen. But performing with this type of spectator, one with a predetermined, genuine interest for art, and one with continuous freedom to engage or disengage, allowed for an entirely different thought process. 

             In front of this spontaneous, flowing audience in the open environment of the gallery I wasn’t so separated.  The distinct parts of the shapes created by the sticks, my body, and the other dancers previously needed to be melded and pieced together.  Instead, in the gallery, the people and the sticks felt stronger and closer, like a single structure. 

 

The floor:

            In the studio, Group Primary Accumulation was about perfecting the sequence of gestures, having the mental stamina to not lose count, and staying in line with the other dancers.  In the gallery, everything changed because I lost my senses.  Performing on the terrace meant feeling the floor much more than in the studio.  The scratchy surface of the outdoor tile intensified my awareness of even the slightest movement against the ground.  The deep etches between tiles made kinesthetic spacing easier.  But direct exposure to the sun meant I was blind. Only during 4, 13-15, and 28-30 could I quickly catch a bright glimpse of the dancers around me and attempt to relieve my forced reliance on aural cues.  More than anything else, when performing Group Primary Accumulation in the lobby of the gallery, I focused on the security camera above me and thought about the permanent recording of our experience from some security office in a remote part of the building.  I liked the idea that even a security guard reviewing the tape could at any moment experience our live art. 

Seeing From the Knees

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           If the body were a double decker bus, we’d be that coveted front seat on the top floor: as far forward and with the same – but elevated – visual perspective as the driver. But that seat lacks the steering wheel, and thus the power to chose a direction; like we, the knees, can’t do much more than follow the feet.  We don’t typically have the power to choose the body’s trajectory. 

            Trisha Brown’s choreography however, lets us lead.  When the body is thrown in the air, a quick impulse, a break on either side of us dictates the direction and controls the body’s landing.  We are finally driving the bus, not just riding along. 

            Bending is our specialty.  Usually, we bend and the body lowers above us simultaneously.  But with Trisha’s work, we get to branch out, and our folding powers power shapes and movement.  Somehow she makes us less a set of gears and more a machine.

            That’s not to say we don’t support the body in Trisha’s choreography.  We balance the spine, the feet, the pelvis, and the arms.  And we often collaborate with the shoulders when working with the floor.  The shoulders and we see each other from afar most of the day.  Walking to class or eating breakfast simply doesn’t require the two (well really four) of us to have more than a long-distance relationship.  But to fulfill Trisha’s shapes, we must communicate directly as we pass the weight of the body between us. 

            With the elbows, it’s not that we work in collaboration so much as we often mirror them.  To be honest, although they can reproduce our angles and extend our lines, they simply don’t do as much of the heavy lifting. Literally. 

            We do have to be careful making shapes though.  It’s easy to over or under form the 90-degree angles, and arguments often break out between our front and back over whose angle should be perfectly right.  But it’s mindless banter, because the outside wins according to Trisha.  And she is always right.  

            Although for most day to day movement we work in tandem, Trisha’s choreography tests our ability to function separately, completing entirely contrasting tasks simultaneously.  It’s a funny feeling, not always cooperating in perfect symmetry.