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!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Frankenphrase and whisper down the dancer

I’ve been slowly accumulating a phrase. Well accumulating may be the wrong word because it hasn’t been growing in sequence. Certain movements and moments have been traveling with me since august, determined to remain. Some disappear and resurface. Some things tag along for a while and then drop off for good. Some slowly morph into a new shape

The phrase as a whole is a concise response of sorts, born of my time alone in the studio. At times it is a comfort for me to return to. At other times its a bear I wrestle with. Why are you here? What do you mean? Why don’t you feel the way you did before?

As I spiral off into improvisational exercises, writing assignments and movement tasks, I occasionally check in with my phrase. I bring it new material, gifts for it to reject or absorb.

What am I saying with this phrase? I dare not attempt a summary as its purpose is continually shifting.

Here is a video of the phrase in its current state.

Untitled from Nichole Blog on Vimeo.

(the battery runs out at the end and it cuts off...but the phrase was almost over so its okay...)

I recently used this Franken-phrase as the starting point for a group experiment: I performed it only once for dancer #1 while the others left the room. Her task was to recreate that phrase from memory: to build a repeatable phrase of the same length coming as close to that original phrase as she could come. But instead of simplifying what she could not recall her task was to lie and fabricate the missing details. and to precisely set this new phrase.
Dancer #1 then shows Dancer #2 this new phrase. Only once.
Repeat process for Dancers 3, 4, 5, 6 in a whisper-down-the-lane type process.

In then end we have a 7 fully developed phrases. I am fascinated by: what changes, what persists, what gets dropped immediately and what replaces it. The six phrases sit together like a family portrait of sorts.

Here is a video of the six dancers performing these phrases all together: (they begin in the order in which they saw/created their phrases)

Untitled from Nichole Blog on Vimeo.

Mother and the Architecture of Memory

Notes from workshop #2 with dancers Eun Jung Choi, Jaamil Kosoko, John Luna, Scott McPheeters, Annie Wilsom, Christina Zani

I decided to name this workshop as : Mother and The Architecture of Memory.

I’m trying to find a way to work with and highlight the relationship to memory instead of the memories themselves; To embrace the dialogue between mother and child for instance, not the specific story of each mother and child. Yet the details of each person’s past needs to emerge to support this mission. I’m learning how to include the history of each dancer without weighing too strongly on any one person or event.

I am asking the dancers to trust me with their personal histories. We started with simple details and slowly started digging deeper. I am touched and impressed by their willingness and playfulness.

Embodying Mother
When investigating Mother with the group, I was struck by the visible physical struggle between child and mother as the two attempted to share the same body. As each child attempted to share their body and their mental space with an imagined version of her mother, I was able to identify a vibrant conversation within the body of each performer as they struggled to embody their mother, this person they know so intimately. I realized that I don’t necessarily need to uncover the details of these mothers per se. I am interested in the way their lives interface with the lives of their children. How those children wear that conversation on a daily basis and the ways it lives in their skin.
How “clear” does this experiment need to be? What reads to an unknowing audience? Does a title like Mother give just enough context to frame the performances? These are a few of the questions that arose as I worked with this personal material.

We initially spent some time embracing the archetype of Mother, sliding from image to image, which was a fascinating and chaotic improvisation. At a certain point I asked them to embody their own mother in whatever form that took. Those beings then interacted in a range of ways. Conversations with the dancers and my observations of their improvisations helped me to re-shape the directives and guide the explorations into both potent and playful territory.

Formal exercises. The content of the structure:
We also explored structures that examined the systems at the root of this relationship to the past. These were formal exercises that explored the notion of passing down material, handing down information, and evolution, absorption and the ways we carry something with us. Putting these notions in purely physical terms was really helpful and allowed us to generate material that could augment or sit beside the more emotional, character-driven explorations. The previous blog entry (Blur) outlines one of these experiments.

I am interested in the individual stories of each dancer. But more than that I am interested in their relationship to those stories; how and why they have carried certain details forward with them; and the conversation that occurs between their present and their past when they try to map out (or embody) those details. In organizing these studies into a performance framework I’m faced with choosing the types of memories we display and verbalize as well as the structure we use to convey them.

Through this process I learned that I am primarily interested in examining the tamber of these dancers relationships to their past. I’m curious about the structure of the re-telling; the architecture of the memory.

Here is a video of talking dance structure we are working on. It deals with the "Maps" of space and memory that we carry and accumulate. Again this is something that I was exploring as a solo at first but I enjoy the way it expands with several bodies.

>Video Here< I recently started reading "The Poetics of Space" and its blowing my mind. It relates so pointedly to the various projects that I am working on right now.  

Solo Work – the Mother of the process:
My solo practice births and feeds the group explorations. This February workshop came after several months of my solo practice. The group explorations were directly fed by curiosities and concerns that cropped up in my solo research. Figuring out how to bring these ideas to a group of bodies was a fantastic process.

When I embody my own memories and my own mother in the form of a solo it runs the risk of becoming an indulgent work about me and my life.* I don’t necessarily want to make a dance to simply tell you who I am. Instead I am interested in the ways we relate to our past. (And I am my most handy subject on that matter.) I’m curious about the way every moment is getting absorbed and reassimilated; the way our identity is shaped by those moments and our own decisions about what to keep, what to highlight and what to bury. When I bring these concerns to the group I can more easily step back and sculpt both the content and the form.

 *Here I am addressing a fear. And a challenge. I am simultaneously pursuing a solo with these themes and ideas. To combat my fear of making of a confessional narrative, my challenge is to balance structure with content, to allow the structure to become the content, to reach past my own circle of experience through acknowledgement of the personal as well as the universal, to embrace the mundane and the epic. Wendy Houstoun is coming to Philadelphia in two weeks to work with me. This will be our first time in the studio together since our intensive in London last June. I look forward to talking further with her about her experience as a solo artist now that I have spent a little time digging around in my own solo practice. I greatly admire her approach to making and performing. Her ability to stay rooted in her own personal narrative while commenting on the culture at large is what drew me to her from the start.

I'll leave you with a video of the dancers performing a short section that sits somewhere between formal exploration and emotional narrative.  A short peek into the beautiful dancers moving and sensing.