The Art of Making Dances

Among other things

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JOB POSTING: NORTHERN NJ AREA

A dance studio I am working at in Northern NJ is looking for a ballet teacher on Monday nights from 5:30 - 9:15 to teach multiple levels of ballet technique and pointe. If interested/available please message me for more information. Thanks!

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And All The Stars Were Crashing Round: A Reflection

This past summer I worked at an amazing performing and creative arts camp as a choreographer for their 2 musicals, and a dance specialist for their dance department.

During the first session of camp back in early July, a good friend of mine, Aaron, who happens to be the husband of one of my favorite people in the world, Lu, approached me with an idea.

"I have this song, called ‘The Crane Wife’ by the Decemberists. Have you heard of it?"

I hadn’t.

Eyes lit up with excitement, he proceeded to explain what the song is about from the lyrics, and his vision for this dance piece.

After playing me the song and explaining his ideas, he looked at me and said, “All I need is… a choreographer…”

So despite having too much (or what I thought was too much) on my plate already, I agreed to do it. He had such a solid idea, and was so enthusiastic about it, I couldn’t not help him!

The rest of the first session continued to fly by, and I’d receive periodic updates about the project. The head of performing arts was going to construct a projection landscape for the cyc. Costumes was going to provide wings for the crane wife. A sound designer had already cut the music.

Aaron mapped out the entire trajectory of the piece.

A lone woodcutter leaves his house to collect firewood. He is rugged, independent, and strong. One cold night, he leaves his house to collect more wood, and sees a shooting star. As he follows the star, he comes across a white crane. She was a helpless thing, with a red stain, an arrow in her wing. She could not fly. The woodcutter tried to help her, but she feared him and tried to escape. Gradually she began to trust him, and he carried her back to his house to heal her wounds. He helped to lift her beneath the rising moon. And as she stood to fly away, he released her, and she was healed! Away she flew, and with her, took a piece of him. He returned to his house, filled with sadness. He was drawn outside once more, and returned to the place where he found the white crane, and as he did this, the white crane returned to his house, just missing him. And on it went like this, just missing each other, until finally they found each other once more, reunited, and flew away together as equals.

Then auditions for the second session dance show were upon us, just like that. Aaron could not be there, because just that day his wife and my very dear friend Lu was admitted to the local hospital with what was thought to be a serious infection.

I cast the dancers, and scheduled the rehearsals to fit both of our schedules, and the schedules of the dancers.

The next day I learned that Lu’s infection was not an infection at all, but leukemia.

It was a complete shock.

Everything stopped.

The entire staff at the camp was in a state of utter stillness and silence, it seemed. Yet, we all had deadlines, and had to keep working.

It was then that I realized the story of the piece was becoming strangely like the story of Lu and Aaron. It was too relevant, too real, the metaphor was too close to reality. I didn’t think I could do it.

The first rehearsal came, and my wonderful dancers entered the room. Aaron came. He needed a distraction and a respite from reality. Lu was really sick.

As I explained the piece to the dancers, we touched briefly on his Lu’s illness. We couldn’t go into detail to any of the kids at camp, so all they knew was that she had a serious illness and was getting the help she needed.

They didn’t know the severity, or the relevance to the piece, or how terrifying the reality of the situation was.

As I communicated the movement both verbally and non-verbally, my two dancers seemed to read my mind. On the first try, they would not only perfectly execute my ideas, but take them a step further. I was astonished, inspired for the first time in days, and overwhelmed with emotion. I made eye contact with Aaron, and saw the first glimpse of a smile in a week. Something incredible was happening before our eyes.

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Within 2 hours, we had finished setting 2/3 of the piece.

At the next rehearsal we finished.

And so it went. Between the hours of constant work, I’d visit Lu and Aaron at the hospital. Aaron would rarely make it back to camp except for rehearsals, but the dancers would inspire us, and a beautiful tribute was emerging.

I decided I needed a quote to put in the title sequence, because we decided to dedicate the piece to Lu. In looking for that quote I came across something called the 1,000 paper cranes project.

It is a Japanese legend that someone (or a group of people) who fold 1,000 origami paper cranes are said to bring good luck to someone in need, or even heal someone from a serious illness.

I had to do this for Lu. During a time when I didn’t know how to be helpful, this was a way.

The next day, I approached people at camp, and organized a process. The camp director told me that the 1,000 paper cranes used to be a camp tradition for Peace Night, a night on camp commemorating the events of Hiroshima, as well as world peace. The tradition had fallen by the wayside in recent years, and each time someone would attempt it, they would barely get to 500 cranes. Coincidentally, Peace Night is one of Lu’s favorite nights at camp.

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After spreading the word to a few people that the cranes would be for Lu, within 24 hours we had almost 2,000 cranes. (We never continued counting after the first 1,100 were tallied, and people kept making them for days!) Counselors, staff, CITs, and campers folded for hours on end.

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We strung them, hung them for Peace Night, and then moved the cranes to the summer theater to be hung for The Crane Wife. This project was becoming so much bigger than a dance.image

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Meanwhile in the rehearsal process, because my dancers are so young, they were having trouble getting into character. They were supposed to be in love, but in rehearsal seemed a bit distant emotionally, and had on their resting “dancer faces”. The lifts and partnering was becoming choppy and disconnected.

As tech approached, I sat them down (without Aaron present) and told them how relevant the piece was to the reality of the situation. I didn’t tell them the full truth, but I did say the piece was about Lu and Aaron. I told them, “You have the technique, you’re doing all the right steps, but your intention is what’s missing. The best dancers aren’t the best technicians. The best dancers are the ones who can go beyond their technical strengths and tell a story through movement. Who can connect to their audience and make them feel something. If all you care about is the steps and being ‘correct’, then what the hell is the point of dance?”

I then reinforced how important this piece was becoming, with all the people collaborating on it. Projections, 1,000+ paper cranes, just that week the program design was made and featured a paper crane, etc.

This all seemed to strike a chord in them, and I saw in their eyes they were ready to bring it. The last run through of the piece at our last rehearsal was nearly perfect. I had tears in my eyes. They were ready.

Tech night was the first time I got to see the projected landscape on the cyc. Stars filled the sky, a moon slowly rose in the distance. The music cue for the shooting star came, and a bright star flew across the cyc. My heart leaped at the sight. The lights continued to inform the piece perfectly, without ever overpowering the dance. It came to life.

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Dress rehearsal came, and the crane wife got her wings for the first time. Literally and figuratively. I couldn’t wait for Aaron to see it.

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The night of the performance came, and as the quote filled the screen, I heard a collective reaction from the audience.

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"For Lu."

"We may not have wings growing out of our backs, but healing is the closest thing that will give us that wind against our faces.” – C. Joybell C.

The lights came up, and stars filled the sky. The crickets chirping outside the theater added to the ambiance.

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The dancers were emotive, buoyant, and just a little ahead of the music.

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"Slow down my dears. There’s no rush tonight."

Adrenaline was behind them.

As the piece grew to a close and the music faded out and the dancers walked off hand in hand, I heard the audience burst into applause.

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Minutes after the show ended, Aaron found me and crushed me in a hug. There were no words needed. The piece had transcended our hopes and dreams. Was it perfect? No, nothing ever is. It was a 2.5 week long process, and at summer camp, and danced by young teenagers (albeit young pre-professional immensely talented teenagers)!  But it was moving, relevant, and a metaphor for life.

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*This has been one of the most incredible processes I’ve ever been a part of. Thank you Aaron for creating such an inspiring concept. I have never been more proud of a process and product. It meant so much to me that we made this thing come to life. So much love! Thank you so much to my lovely dancers, to Sam, to Matt,  to everyone who folded cranes, and countless others. So much love to Lu.*

***Please consider donating to help my friend Lu, at http://www.gofundme.com/cfscwo

She’s doing much better, but still has a journey ahead of her. ***

Filed under dance contemporary dance metaphor for life summer camp leukemia arts camp cancer

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Jacob’s Pillow

A winding road,

shrouded by trees, 

the only hint of dance: small flags

of some of the most reputable companies in the world,

lightly hugging the trees.

The road turns to gravel,

a gentle dust rises into the air,

as the rustic barns come into view.

the Ted Shawn theatre,

Doris Duke,

the Inside/Out stage,

a gorgeous outdoor space,

marley that fades into a gorgeous view of the Berkshire mountains.

The sun sets and casts a glow on the smooth marley panels.

The archives,

the store,

endless books and archive footage,

thousands of years of history.

I could cry.

Leave me here forever,

and I will still be reading,

watching,

learning.

Leave me here forever,

and I will dance.

My eyes couldn’t take it all in at once,

there were so many things to see.

Such a short trip,

a glimpse of history.

But enough to feel the gravitational pull, 

of my heart strings.

I will be back soon,

to rest my head on the pillow again.

Filed under jacob's pillow dance dance history love inspiration

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Move and be moved.

Being away from home is liberating.

I am the person I want to be here; myself.

There’s sad realization, when I think of the person I am when I am not here. 

She is not who I want to be.

She is sedentary.

She is lost.

She is confused.

Murky.

Not clear.

No clarity whatsoever.

No independence.

No way to express what needs to get out.

Like dirt clogging the pores of my conscious.

 Let your body move the way it wants to move. Employ a circling sensation, like waves of the ocean. Let it carry through your feet, ankles, knees, hips, legs, spine, torso, shoulders, arms, and finally neck and head. Circling, circling, circling. Move the way your body wants to move.

Choreographing a work of my own again for the first time in over a year has been immensely rewarding so far. I haven’t yet told my dancers it’s about me.

Don’t make it pretty. Feel what needs to be felt today. Increase your intensity to a 2.

People living parallel lives, coming together for brief moments of recognition and acknowledgement of the similarity in their paths.

But ultimately, it’s a journey and a path you must take alone.

Feeling alone in a crowded room.

Isolated.

Increase the intensity to a 4.

Like everyone else is moving together, moving ahead, but you are stuck.

Standing in complete stillness as everyone else grows around you.

Doing the thing. Doing the thing. Doing the thing. Doing the thing.

And you are not.


Intensity to a 6.

Seeing my vision come to life is emotionally invigorating.

Elation, seeing the opening moments, the questions posed.

Curiosity, as a movement looks different on their bodies then it did in my mind.

Intensity to a 7.

Admiration, at their intention and talents. At the few who are finding their talents over the course of the process. It’s the feeling of giving someone a gift they’ve been wanting for a long time.

Intensity to an 8.

Overwhelming sadness, like a giant weight in the center of my chest, as I see the trajectory falling into place, and my vision come to life. All that is missing is the feeling. The feeling that makes it real. That makes it me. Mine.

 Intensity to a 9.

Do I give that to them, or leave it as the missing piece? Putting yourself into your work is scary, sometimes. Do I let it be open ended, and let my audience decide if the piece meant “this”, or “that”?

Intensity to a 10.

Does giving them a piece of myself serve them, or burden them. Who I choose to burden with my thoughts is a delicate operation. Those I choose to share with are strong. They hear me. They listen. I listen back. They offer themselves right back to me. And I don’t feel empty. I am grateful for those people. The relief they provide. Or empathy. 

Intensity decreases to a 9.

Many of us are similar.

Traveling along similar paths.

Living parallel lives.

Coming together for brief moments of recognition and acknowledgement of the similarity in our paths.

But ultimately, it’s a journey and a path we must take alone.

8……7……..6……..5……4…….3……2……..1.
Stop.
Be still.
Breathe.
Just breathe.
Feel the energy flowing through your body.
Out from your distal ends,
The crown of your head,
The base of your spine.
But also inside you.
In your core.
Radiating out to your end points.
Circling.
Let it anchor you,
But also move you.
Even though you are still,
You are still in motion.
Let the energy move you.
Let it move you.
Circling.

Filed under personal dance dancer choreography modern dance life

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Goodbye For Now

I’m currently in the midst of dance recital festivities, and then I am off to work at the greatest camp ever… teaching, choreographing, and hanging out with some of my favorite people/artists!

So posts will be less frequent for the next couple months! Sorry!

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Jacob’s Pillow

Ever since I was a young teenager, learning new dance steps via youtube videos, I found a video of a gorgeous dancer on an amazing outdoor stage, with a mountainous, tree filled landscape in the background. I  was spellbound. “I have to go there,” I thought.

Years later, I was sitting in dance history class, and we started learning about Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis, pioneers in the world of modern dance. They joined forces and became Denishawn. In 1930, Shawn bought the farm as a retreat. The Denishawn Company had popularized a revolutionary dance form rooted in theatrical and ethnic traditions rather than those of European ballet. Their trailblazing work and cross-country tours paved the way for the next generation of legendary modern dance pioneers such as  Martha Graham, Charles Weidman, and Doris Humphrey, who were all Denishawn members.

Shawn had long harbored a dream of legitimizing dance in America as an honorable career for men. In their “off-time”, Shawn and his male company built many of the structures still used today at Jacob’s Pillow.
Summer workshops paved the way for the famous festival that would be celebrated for years to come.
On July 9, 1942, the Ted Shawn Theatre, the first theatre in the United States designed specifically for dance, opened its doors. Architect Joseph Franz, who also built The Music Shed at Tanglewood, had agreed with Shawn that the theatre exterior must harmonize with the existing farmhouse and barns.
(Source: http://www.jacobspillow.org/exhibits-archives/history/ )

 ”I have to go there," I thought, again. 

Fast forward. I bought the documentary, “Never Stand Still”, about the history of the Pillow. My need only increased as I was completely inspired.

Then, just last year, working hard on a blisteringly hot summer day at camp, a sign up sheet for Jacob’s Pillow was put up. I couldn’t go. I had a rehearsal and a designer run through that day. I was devastated.

This year, I’m working in the dance shop at that camp. And we’re going to Jacob’s Pillow. I’m overcome with emotion, excitement, and desire to soak in all of it’s history.

FINALLY. THIS IS THE YEAR. Fingers crossed there are no snafus.

Filed under dance dance history ruth st. denis ted shawn denishawn jacob's pillow inspiration modern modern dance

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Stagedoor Manor Fired Me Because I'm Gay. Basically.

emilyfayeoakley:

I’ve spend a lot of time in the last 9 months thinking about how to write about my experience at Stagedoor Manor, yes that Stagedoor Manor. The Stagedoor Manor with a book, and a documentary and a movie and all those starry alumni. My quick and dirty answer to what…

WOW, wow wow wow wow. This needs to be read. This is absolutely eye-opening and brave, but also disturbing and sad.

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Thank you, Maya.

The New House

By Maya Angelou


What words
have smashed against
these walls,
crashed up and down these
halls,
lain mute and then drained
their meanings out and into
these floors?

What feelings, long since
dead,
steamed vague yearnings
below this ceiling
light?
In some dimension,
which I cannot know,
the shadows of
another still exist. I bring my
memories, held too long in check,
to let them here shoulder
space and place to be.

And when I leave to
find another house,
I wonder, what among
these shades will be
left of me.

Heard this beautiful poem last night, preceding a stunning dance theater work in a small but quaint theater in upper Manhattan.

Filed under maya angelou the new house moving on moving forward moving moved

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You know that feeling…

…where you’ve gone in a complete circle and are back where you started?

No, not the one where things have come full circle.

The other kind of complete circle,

the unintentional one,

that leaves you feeling lost and confused,

stupid and stuck,

yet strangely relieved,

because now you know,

you’ve circled around,

and the only way out must be forward.

Unless you end up going back the way you came.

I certainly hope not.

Euuurrrghh. Sorry for the vagueness.

Filed under vague life circles stupid metaphors decisions awkward enough hashtags now

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In A World...

shapeswemake:

Looking for a good movie to settle into on a rainy night? We loved Lake Bell’s “In A World…” The feminist flick explores gender bias in the voice over industry through the experiences of aspiring vocal coach Carol and her intersecting network of friends and family. “In A World…” is at parts…

Well this looks amazing! Adding it to my must see list.

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SYTYCD is literally making me gag. Why do I do this to myself and watch this show every single summer?

So far, one person threw up on stage, one person contorted (with hyper extension and hyper mobility) in ways the human body should NOT, and original sob stories of girls who started dancing at age 3 and don’t know what they want to do with their marketing degrees.

That said, there is some remarkable dancing they’re showing. FEW AND FAR BETWEEN.

UHG.

I hate this show.

But I love to hate on it even more… for it’s heteronormativity, exploitation  of extreme technique over artistry, and a single minded view of what dancers bodies should look like.

Sure, many things about this show can and should be praised. But there are a great number of things this show does that are detrimental to the meaning of dance as an art form.

And with that, I will end my rant and step off the soap box. Like many other dancers, I have too many thoughts and opinions on SYTYCD. 

Guess I’ll watch this pretty french girl who calls herself Marie “Poppin’” pop and lock to some weird bossa nova music?

Filed under sytycd so you think you can dance dance