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.

Reflection on the Semester

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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.

The Final Performance

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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.

 

Going to See the UBW Show

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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.

 

Falling and Trusting the Floor

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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.  

A Reflection of My Time with UBW

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Urban Bush Women came at a time in my dance career where I needed a sense of introspection and internal strength. While I had accomplished many of my academic goals, I found that I had acquired a sense of restlessness. UBW gave me an avenue that pushed me outside my comfort zone. Exercises such as the ping pong ball helped me to explore the crevices of my body that I had neglected. Rediscovering my “mother tongue” gave me a sense of the movement that I consider to be home, whether that be party dancing or ballet. And transcribing music into movement, helped me to acquire deeper listening skills and pay attention to the minute sounds that form a symphony. Our instructors – Amanda, Courtney, and Love – were inspirations in their own right. Their spirit brought a level of comfort and magic into our dancing space. I trusted them and my fellow dancers in a process that required a level of vulnerability. Their suggestions were always good-hearted and helped me to become a more conscious dancer. I grew more confident in my body. Recognizing and honoring how amazing it was that my body carried me every day and fulfilled every movement I wished to convey. My fellow dancers were just as inspiring. They pushed me to let go of my inhibitions and present to the space my most authentic, genuine self. We not only created art, but we created a family. From the warm up party to our pelvic exercises, class was a place of solace. I am very grateful for UBW’s mentorship and know that the philosophies I learned will carry me well beyond the marley we danced upon every Wednesday and Saturday of this spring semester.

Faith in my Choreography

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Giant steps is one of the many phrases that we learned with UBW this semester. It is structured around Giant Steps by John Coltrane, a jazz phrase that starts immediately with an upbeat cadence. After learning the standard phrase, we were asked to choreograph our own number. At first, I was hesitant. For the past eight years, I had always been self-conscious about my choreography. With many songs I would choreograph a whole dance in my head, toy with the idea of performing it with my group, and then scrap it before anyone could see it. Dozens of could-have-been dances lie in a graveyard section of my mind. Sometimes it is laziness. Not wanting to go through the effort of aligning each movement to a beat enough for me to teach it. But most of the time it is fear. The fear of having my choreography critiqued or judged, interpreted or seen. Despite these reservations, YDT crafted a space in which I never felt such a fear. When were given half an hour to choreograph I released my mind to the music. Feeling an ease that comes once in every dozen attempts. Elements of ballet, hip hop, west african, and contemporary naturally crept their way into my combination. I had no idea what it looked like, but it felt like me. Not to forceful, not too technical, and not too complicated. And when Courtney and Amanda asked me to perform my combination again, I was a little shocked. For the first time in a while I had allowed my choreography to be seen. But by making it with my comfort in mind, I had managed to make it something that everyone could enjoy. Having faith in the art you make takes time and confidence. It takes a level of fearlessness and the power to let go of all reservations. I thank UBW for giving me the mental and physical space to reach this realization.

What’s On Top?

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For a majority of our UBW classes, Amanda, Courtney, or Love would ask our circle of dancers, “What’s on top?” In the moment, it was many things. That problem set that I started too late in the week (again) and would have to stay up late to finish. The meetings I had to plan or the emails I had to write. The soreness in my shoulder. Or the person who was being unresponsive and dismissive for a reason I couldn’t target. In the first minutes of class, that question absolved all of my worries. As we went around the circle, all of my fellow dancers were honest and candid. We released our worries into the space and promised ourselves that we would dedicate the next three hours to the art, one that was healing and therapeutic. It was in these moments that I realized that YDT and UBW were more than just dance classes. In the middle of my stressful/busy routine that is Yale, these classes cleared my mind and centered my focus on something greater than the minutia of everyday life. It brought me back to the beginning. The beginning of class also signified a type of check-in. Amanda pushed us to be honest about what were feeling. It was okay if we weren’t in a great mood. Or if we were sleep deprived or tired. In many ways, those negative feeling became fuel for a more productive and inspiring class. That despite the things we carried into the studio, we were capable of placing them aside and putting our best selves into the movement. This was just one of the lessons I learned, and I am very grateful for developing the ability to acknowledge what is one top.

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.