These entries chronicle a choreographic research process that began in 2011 and eventually led the creation and performance of Midway Avenue in 2014. The process includes visits to London to interact with colleagues Wendy Houston, Matteo Fargion and Rahel VonMoos as well as rehearsal in Philadelphia with a cast of dancers. The early research project and eventual production were funded by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. Enjoy!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Finding my voice: Quite literally.

Several recent experiences are feeding and pointing to the birth of a new voice, or at least new uses for an old voice. For most of my career I’ve been primarily working as a dancer and a silent actor. It’s true I speak in the work of others – namely Headlong Dance Theater – and yes I’ve studied acting a little - but rarely do I speak in my own work and I guarantee I’ve never sung you a song from the stage. And I certainly don’t talk in public about my life experiences. But perhaps that's changing?

The primal gutterance of water
Theater and Neuroscience project with Dan Rothenberg – November 2011

The voice of my Mother
Women in Comedy project with 1812 productions – August 2011

The events and movements of my past as mixed with Xavier LeRoy’s past
Workshop with choreographer Xavier LeRoy – September 2011

“Diary dates” as prompted by Wendy Houstoun
and the many many wendy exercises - June 2011

Singing through barriers - vocal work with Michael Kiley

Vocal class with my collaborator and husband

P.S. Ideally I will give each of the workshops described above their own post at some point soon

Monday, November 21, 2011

Drawn to the Window

I’ve been rehearsing at Mascher Space co-op in Kensington and I’ve developed a warm connection to the space, a familiarity that affects the rhythm of my time there. Today I walked in and the space was different because it was set up for a performance. Black curtains blocked the mirrors and a white scrim blocked the windows. It was a sunny November day and the shadows against the white scrim created little scenes of shimmering activity. I found them utterly irresistible and spent my session dancing in relationship to this newly designed space.

I spent a long time with this window:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Midway Avenue and the Haunted House of Nostalgia

this title was stirring in my brain in the wee hours of the night. and it was halloween night i should note.

i grew up on midway avenue. and when i visit this space in my mind it is crammed full of memories. Most of them are mine but many are intruders: imagined scenes from books, movies and news stories have been staged there by my subconscious... they needed a space to unfold so i placed them in the rooms of midway avenue.

as i tour the space my own memories co-mingle with characters from novels, the gory remains from a script, or accumulated information about a friend's past. it can become difficult to parce out what is mine and what is borrowed.

midway avenue is the memory map i'm using for a structural exercise i'm exploring in my solo practice. And each time I visit I find something new.

And the title I really like is this:
Midway Avenue and the Haunted House of Indecision.

Monday, October 3, 2011

I just finished leading a weeklong intensive with a group of dancers here in Philadelphia. It was my intention to blog throughout the process but it turns out that when you are in your home-town it’s a little more difficult to carve the time for blogging!

Here is a synopsis:
I wanted to bring the solo explorations I’d been doing, and the discoveries and questions I’d uncovered in UK, to a group of dancers. I wanted to combine past obsessions with current concerns to see what arose. I wanted to disrupt my typical process of acting as performer/choreographer in order to remain on the outside without the intention of joining the ensemble. I wanted to take recent experiments with language and words and inject them into my ongoing work with non-verbal storytelling, partnering exercises, and ensemble work.

The dancers were: Eun Jung Choi, Jaamil Kosoko, John Luna, Scott McPheeters, Annie Wilson, Christina Zani. A playful and inspiring bunch mover/thinkers!

We did some dancing

We did some writing

We built some improvisational structures

We started with movement structures that I’ve been building over the years and then infused them with current concerns and questions about language, structure and delivery.

We looked at structures that brought the movement language to the forefront and asked the verbal language to keep up with that. We worked on building separate structures for the words and the movement, laying them on top of one another. Asking them to maintain autonomy yet respond and influence one another selectively, creating short dances that pushed these separate tracks toward one another, bleeding, blurring and intertwining in various ways until a third thing emerged. The goal was to avoid one track wiping out the other.

One structure in particular started to become its own little dance.
One dancer describes her memory of a room while two dancers build an accumulating movement dance, the structure builds from there.
I am endlessly fascinated by this structure; the ways in which the unfolding of the memory parallels, overlaps and blurs with the building of the movement duet. Eventually the two tracks become one…but neither track is consumed by the other… they crossfade to reveal a third thing…a track that was there all along.

As we worked for an hour or so on refining the details of the structure and the skills to inhabit we also build our ability to read the intricacies of the dance. That tricky aspect of a process in which you don’t know how much delight you are gaining due to your own intimate understanding of the structure. I am hungry to share these little studies with an audience of fresh eyes to garner its impact.

- The story is a linear river that can meander amid the forest of movement.
- It is not a spring rain of poetic words / It is not an ocean that buries the terrain
- The sensitivity of the movement duet is the beating heart of the present tense and the story is the past we carry around with us and our struggle to organize and deliver.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Being in the Studio Alone

At first I thought: it sure is quiet in here. And then I realized: Wow its noisy and its crowded. There are eyes in the walls. I’m being watched.
My own energy was bouncing around the room with no one else to interact with it and send it back to me. No audience. No collaborators. No designers. Just me. I could feel and hear my thoughts in a new way when I was the only person in the room to focus on.

During the first few sessions I also realized that the critic sneaks in more easily when I’m alone. She sits in the corner with arms folded, paces in the distance, whispers in my ear. This can be distracting and oppressive but it can also fuel a passionate drive to press onward and to move beyond the nagging doubt. Some days she doesn’t show up at all and there is a breezy ease to letting ideas tumble, letting thoughts and movements ripple out.

The most striking thing about working alone is that there is no verbal conversation at the end of an experiment or an improvisation. Instead I sit down with my pen or lay on my back to process and to remember what just happened.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I’m heading back to Philadelphia this morning. Its been such a gift to experiment here in London with Wendy, Matteo, Greig and Rahel. The wealth of experiments and the conversations that sprung up in response to each experiment are invaluable.

At several points in the process Wendy and I tested the idea of putting a few items together or developing one or two things further but that seemed inappropriate somehow. Its so rare to have the opportunity to truly explore for the sake of discussion; for the sake of mining the form and testing the ways it functions; deciphering the things that excite and the reasons you gravitate towards one thing or another without the pressure to package it up. It seemed important to stay in that mode. It quickly became clear that this was an exciting opportunity for all of us involved. The chance to keep things open, to bounce from one exploration to the next, to pull things apart and to look at their messy insides, was illuminating.

I look forward to fleshing out some of the ideas that sprung up over the last two weeks. I look forward to bringing some of these starting points to a room of dancers. But most of all I look forward to re-entering my process with a renewed perspective. My thinking about dance making has shifted and widened and I’m excited about the ways that will influence my work.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sokari Douglas

I met Sokari at a party in Philadelphia just before I left for London. She is a sculptor based in London, with a studio not far from where I’ve been rehearsing. I stopped by her studio / home yesterday and stayed into the evening chatting with this amazing woman. She works with metal. Most of her sculptures are larger than she is. And many of them live in her home now. Its incredible to wander around the house being eyed by the powerful energy of these works she has created. She describes sculpting a work as a conversation. I can feel that. These metal people have been spoken to, they are empowered, and they speak. Its noisy in the silence of that studio!

Perception is not reversible

We perceive and we cannot go backwards from there. Only forward. Whether or not we consciously remember what we’ve perceived it has happened. Though the moments we perceive are forever passing us by, our perception is feeding our momentum forward. We use knowledge of the past to plunge forward into the unknowable future. Rahel Vonmoos is a Body Mind Centering Practitioner. She led a warmup the other day that focused on the kidneys as a place of power and support: a place from which to motivate movement. I had the image of a motor, a soft circular belt at the base of my ribcage pushing me gently forward; the world flying past and curling around to press from behind. The day of explorations fostered a decisiveness and listening in the three of us. Starting. Restarting. Starting in the middle. Performing as if we knew what was going to happen. The rhythm of listening and deciding.

As I near the edge of my time here in London, this phase of my creative research, I think about the ways my perception has widened. I think about these new perspectives living inside my body, traveling with me forever in some way or another. It has been two weeks of listening, absorbing, deciding, waiting, repatterning. In the dance studio, on the streets of London, in the tube, the museums, the pubs, in my quiet apartment, and in the long lovely moments alone…

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cassie and Frank

I had a visit with Cassie Friend and her 8 month old son Frank. It was so fantastic to see an old friend amidst a trip full of newness. (Cassie, originally from the UK, lived in Philadelphia from about 1998 - 2002 as a member of Pig Iron Theater company. She’s a spunky performer and a wonderful woman and is now settled back in UK, in Reading, and has a successful theater company – Red Cape.) It was great to talk about the thrills and panic involved in running a company, performing in that company and being a Mom. For both of us running a company was never the starting goal. But in order to carry out the productions you dream up you need a structure to support it. And then you have to continue to support that structure. Balancing time between administrative and artistic work becomes a delicate tightrope act and with a baby in your arms… well… things get even more exciting. Its helpful to talk with a like minded artist and friend about the fears frustrations and joys of the scenario. And it was so good to hold that adorable Frank!! At this point in the trip I miss my son Simon quite a bit so Frank was a welcome bit of therapy.

Nothing Personal

“Nothing Personal” – the dance Wendy and I continually joke about me making. The dance where I tell you everything that the dance is not about, listing all the things I am not going to tell you, showing you all the things I am not going to do. A place to put the things I secretly want to place in a dance but feel uneasy about including. If I arrange them as “Nothing Personal” – perhaps the structural frame allows me to slide back and forth between personal and universal / playful and dark. Who knows maybe you will see this dance at some point. No promises. And if I don’t make it… well… its nothing personal.

Monday, July 4, 2011

This is me doing an imaginary social dance divided up to fit into a count structure that was originally devised by John Cage. (Matteo and Wendy joined forces for this assignment...)

And this is me reading the cheat sheet for the structure

TATE and Gardenia

At the TATE modern I found myself drawn to the two photography exhibits:

Burke + Norfolk: photographs from the war in Afghanistan

Diane Arbus

And the night before I saw Gardenia by les ballets C de la B, at Saddler's Wells which is still bouncing around in my mind.

These three artists frame the details of someone else’s story, yet their own story unfolds around the edges of the telling. They are not placing themselves at the center of the work yet they show quite a bit of themselves through the structuring of the art. I’m left seeing a beautiful collaboration between artist and subject – a blurring of intention and longing and exposure.

Now, in some ways it is quite unfair to lump these three artists together as their work is quite different from one another. But since I took them in in succession they initiated certain train of thought. In each of these scenarios I could feel the hand of the creator. My interest extends past the images and the performance. I want to know more about the people on stage, more about the people in photographs, and I want to know more about the relationship between these people and the artists telling their story. In Norfolk’s case that is the underlying intention of the work. By seducing you with the beauty of the photographs you will hear his opinions about a war-torn country and imperialism.

All of them hope to alter your perception of the world around you, through the intimate human stories they frame.

millenium bridge, outside of the TATE

Short descriptions of the works mentioned above:
Simon Norfolk is collaborating with a man he’s never met. He chose to shadow and respond to the photographs of Afganistan taken by John Burke during the second anglo-afgan war (1878-1880). But he’s also collaborating with the subject of his photographs: The people, the landscape, the moment in history.

Alain Platel and Frank Van Laecke directing a cast of nine: 7 of whom are transvestites and transsexuals in with a long history as cabaret performers. Most have retired as performers at this point and you can feel their thrill in re-entering their drag personas in this theatrical, highly choreographed environment. We watch them transform from older men shuffling about in suits to extravagant ladies shining for the crowd. The cast also includes a young male dancer and a biological woman. Stories and images emerge and wash away, build up and then tumble along within the composition of the dance. In the marketing materials and interviews the directors stress the desire to make a play about getting older with dignity in a world where aging is not allowed.

Diane Arbus is a longtime favorite of mine. It was amazing to see so many of the photographs that I’ve gazed upon in books again and again.* Her goal was “to photograph everyone” and she ended up gravitating toward those on the fringes of society. She became very close with her subjects gaining their trust and producing quite intimate images.

*Director David Gammons introduced me to Diane Arbus in 1998 when he asked me to dance in a project based on her photographs. Rehearsing for the project was one of the strangest most disturbing, lovely, transcendent experiences. And, oddly enough, I met my husband Mike while performing this show. He was working at the fringe venue for the production so he was there for every one of the shows.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Happy Birthday America - I rode the London Eye for you.

I saw some amazing work at the TATE (which i'll post about soon) and then met up with a friend to ride the london eye... it was actually quite amazing to ride above London for a moment. To get distance on the streets I've been navigating and observing so closely. Just as London is giving me new perspective on my process, a giant ferris wheel gave me new perspective on the city.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Matteo Fargion (composer and choreographer) led some experiments in the studio today. Joining in these experiments were Rahel Vonmoos and Greig Cooke. Beautiful dancers and playful thinkers.

The rate of change

Matteo’s minimalist experiments were a pleasure. Reminding me of the joy of making and performing T43 (A dance I made years ago that riffs on a select few movements and sounds). I'm reminded of the ways extreme limitation can bring the structure to the foreground, and the structure itself delivers a great deal of content. I try to remember this when working on larger scale projects with more complex elements. What is the structure that all of these elements are hanging on? The relationship between the material, how things transition and layer: that is the content, that is the true material even more so than the words or the actions or the images. Or, I should say, work that acknowledges this engages me the most.

Most people follow their instincts when making work - i know I do; instincts which are built from all aspects of one's experiences - both in and out of the studio. And this is part of the beauty and mystery of making; the world filtered through someone's mind and back out again. Even if these instincts appear to serve you well there comes a moment to look at them a little closer… and with some distance. Working in this way, with artists that don’t have much knowledge of my work and my habits is allowing me to see my dances and their structure with a renewed perspective. Is allowing me to circle back around to the essential elements that have been there all along. Sometimes buried a bit or overshadowed by other concerns. It is also bringing up questions. Lots of questions for me to sit with.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 1

Monday: I met Wendy in the garden in front of the Siobhan Davies Studios and chatted there a bit as she had a cigarette. I liked her instantly. She is down to earth and quite funny.

The first thing we did in the studio was a solo talking/dancing structure. It was familiar to me in many of its elements yet it launched me into a completely new mode of performing. Then Wendy performed the exercise as well. For two reasons: 1) she wants to ensure that I don’t feel like the scrutinized dancer as she sits and analyzes in the corner. 2) the nature of the exercise had the performer talk about various parts of their life and history. She thought we could get to know one another a little this way; on a few levels at once. Brilliant.

Several structures and conversations followed. All in all a good first day leaving me mentally and physically exhausted.

Later that evening I discovered that the subway that takes me home was not running. Delayed indefinitely said all the signs. There were throngs of sweaty angry people waiting around in clumps and I was one of them. Remember that post that says the subway system is fantastic? Well… not always.... I finally arrived home 3 hours later. After sharing a cab with another stranded Ladywell dweller.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tracey Enim

I had the day to explore the city. I was planning to visit the TATE modern but as I passed by Southbank Centre I noticed they were celebrating with a “Festival of Britain”. So I changed my plans and headed into the crowd. London has an amazing number of spaces for people to congregate around art!

This may seem like a sprinkler but its listed as an exhibit by Jeppe Hein titled “Appearing Rooms”. Jets of water appear and disappear creating a rotating set of “rooms”. Pretty great piece of interactive art on a hot day! From now on I'm going to consider the spray park at 2nd and Reed an interactive exhibit.

I wandered into the Hayward Gallery to see Tracey Emin: Love is What You Want. Consisting of handwritten letters, self portraits, films, piles of memorabilia from her life, the exhibit is brilliantly curated and constructed, walking us through her work, her life. She states that its her goal not to bring anything new into the world with her art; to instead assemble the things that already exist in her past and in her life. The subject matter is often raw and blunt with rape and abortion as recurring themes. Simple things given context take on grand significance. She’s a natural storyteller, and though the works are constructed of personal details about her life, they transcend her to take on larger cultural relevance. I was deeply affected by the exhibit and it will stay with me for a long time.

When I first saw Wendy’s work I was drawn to her ability to dive into complex private topics without settling into confessional storytelling. I’m interested in the notion of art about the artist, as there are so many ways to go about it. All art reflects the artist of course but not all artists put themselves directly into the center of the work. It doesn’t always work in my opinion so when I saw Wendy doing such a brilliant job of it, I was intrigued. She manages to communicate clearly and humorously, using her own stories as the starting point. Tracey Enim is a very different, very extreme example of an artist placing herself at the heart of the work. As I consider making a solo I think: what parts of me will I let through? and why?

All for now. I start with Wendy tomorrow…

The temporary Apartment

Yesterday was 35 hours long, but I stayed awake long enough to dodge the jet lag.
My apartment is great. Natural light spills into every room. Here are a few little views.

I’m staying in Ladywell – one of the final stops on the overground rail. It’s a bit far off from the center of London but the public transportation is so stellar that it really doesn’t matter.

Alarm Clock
These are the things I forgot to bring to London.

I make lists.

The weight you carry
The noise inside your head
Your change
Your interest
These come in pounds...Okay that list is goofy but I’m in London
paying with pounds so there you have it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Packing for London

I’m headed to London in a few days to start working with Wendy Houstoun. I’ll be there for 2 weeks working with Wendy and some of her colleagues in the UK.

How did we get here?
My relationship with Wendy began with a phone call. Well actually it began when I saw her work a few years ago (at the Dance Umbrella festival in London) and I loved it! I proposed a mentorship via email which led to several phone conversations, discussion about her work, my work, what I might learn from her and how we might work together… and then a grant application and some planning…

All that is to say we have not yet met in person. But we are about to embark on a very personal journey. A focused creative process designed to guide me deeper into the places I’m already headed as well as give me the tools to brave new territory. She will be a sounding board and a guide as I explore and build new work.

So, here I am, packing my bags to fly to London. I’ll be staying in a little apartment on my own while I’m there. I’m looking forward to the time outside of my familiar rhythm, a step away from the hectic nature of my daily life in Philadelphia (which happily includes my 6 year old son, my husband and my dance company). For all the working parents out there, you know how full a day can be. So I am grateful for the gift of this focused trip.

Next post comes from across the pond!