Amber Marie Deen + Philbrook

You know what I mean by a “complete” work of dance. One that’s fully thought through from fine details to large scale ideas, whose music and environment and performative approach marry seamlessly, where care has been taken to unify the individual and the whole. Amber Marie Deen’s recent solo work in collaboration with the Anila Quayyum Agha exhibit “Shadow of Time” at Philbrook Museum of Art, with original music by Justin Allen of Endless Forms, was such a complete work.

As many who have visited the installation have shared, it’s a space that calls out for movement. Philbrook took this all the way in inviting Deen to create an hour-long dance inside it, providing support for the project through its new Regional Artist Series initiative, led by Rachel Ann Dennis. Visitors of all ages sat or stood around the room’s perimeter, while Deen took many journeys that illuminated many layers of the installation’s depth.


Photo by Rachel Ann Dennis

Sometimes I watched her shadow: running, arching, spilling across the floor, merging with the shadows of onlookers, submerging fingers into a line of darkness on a wall. Sometimes I watched her body: crawling backwards, pressing into a reach and gathering back in again, two quick soft turns with a flexed foot, hands unspooling a silent thread, unfolding and folding like the sculptural origami of the shadow shapes themselves. 

Sometimes she ran. Sometimes she stood silent. Sometimes she curled up on the floor or laid her head against the wall, exhausted—then comforted—then struggling—then almost laughing—as we have all been in our endless conversations with what moves the wheel and the breath of our lives. In one moment she seemed to be placing something she’d cupped in her hands into the soft void of shadow itself. Deen’s intelligent choreography and un-self-conscious performance engaged the repetition, pattern, dimensionality, mystery, wonder, and simple complexity of Agha’s work, carried and pushed and quieted by the lambent waves of Allen’s score.

At one point from where I was sitting, Deen’s upper body was obscured by the sculptural frame itself, so that I could only see her legs below. It was like being in a crowded space and suddenly noticing someone engaging with something you can’t fully see. Wondering what or who she’s in conversation with. What’s holding her attention. What’s driving her to dance. And isn’t that the state we’re in anytime we’re in nature, or in a museum, or in a temple? Being with others in communion with presences we may not fully perceive? Each in his or her own private resonance that is also part of a larger—the largest—whole? 


Photo by Rachel Ann Dennis

When Deen knelt and touched her forehead to the floor, covered in the script of the shadows, she spoke to the heart of this work: reverence for our being together, endless forms between light and dark.

This kind of dance is rarely possible without this kind of support. On her own as an independent choreographer and filmmaker, Deen has made some stunning art in the past. But Philbrook’s respectful, collaborative engagement with her process was evident in the richness of the work she conceived and presented here. Deen told me this was the longest solo work she’s ever made—so the engagement not only enriched the space and gave new perspectives to the viewers, but gave this artist a chance to really grow. It’s worth everyone’s time when major art institutions engage and value regional artists in this way. More, please.

Visual / Visceral, and a Tulsa Dance Success Story

The OK Dance Film Festival opens tonight at First Friday at the Hardesty Arts Center (AHHA), with an installation of short films in the delightfully cozy viewing pod filmmaker Geoffrey Hicks designed and built, from which viewers can come and go as they please, as well as a third-floor screening of the gorgeous documentary “The Need to Dance,” about the Flemish/Moroccan contemporary choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.


Dance film is a genre of art-making that by its nature falls between cracks, and sprouts there. Is it visual art, or performance? Presentational, or internally focused? What can we see when we look at dance on camera that we can’t see when we look at dance in a theater? Are we supposed to look at the film, or the dance in the film, or the dance through the film?

In short: yes. (Some of those questions are addressed in my post “What’s a Dance Film, and Why?” from 2011.) The festival itself puts it this way: “Dance films create a bridge between visual and performance arts; they redefine the idea of ‘moving-pictures’ and construct a new stage for dance.”

The films in this year’s festival — which runs February through April at AHHA, with different films on different themes each month, and a Best of the Fest screening at the Circle Cinema at the festival’s close — are sensuous, vertiginous, haunting, funny, colorful, swooningly textural, perplexing, tender, and awe-inspiringly innovative. (Disclosure: I’m on the committee that helps to select them, from among an ever-growing number of submissions from around the world.)


“PAS,” selected for the 2016 OKDFF

Now in its 8th year, presented by The Bell House, the OKDFF is one of the success stories in Tulsa dance. Director / curator Jessica Vokoun, who teaches at the University of Tulsa, has experimented with many modes of bringing the art of the dance film to our community, partnering with local organizations to find just the right way to engage Tulsans with the films, and vice versa.

As with many things in the Tulsa arts landscape, success has come for the OKDFF through persistence, patience, and willingness to adapt and reboot again and again. It’s no coincidence that Vokoun and Bell House director Rachel Bruce Johnson are both accomplished dance-film-makers themselves. When you love something, you find a way to keep it alive, in spite of indifference and obstacles and exhaustion; gradually, quietly, its aliveness becomes important to us all, a part of our communal vocabulary for engaging with and thinking and speaking about life. Bravo to all the partners and collaborators who have been part of the OKDFF’s surviving and thriving.


Dance Events Extravaganza!


, , , ,

There’s a little flurry of activity here this weekend in Tulsa’s dance scene! See you out there, art lovers.

Tonight only, at the University of Tulsa:

TU Jazz Band and TU Theatre will present “A Holiday Medley of Song and Dance” featuring a special performance of Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite performed by TU Dance students. Beloved holiday characters, Scrooge and the Sugar Plum Fairy, return for a unique adventure through holiday traditions.

Conducted by Vernon Howard, with choreography by Gail Algeo and Jessica Vokoun, the concert will be presented Dec. 3rd at 7:30PM, in the Gussman Concert Hall of the Lorton Performance Center (550 S. Gary Place) on the TU campus. This performance will be a festive holiday experience for the whole family. Admission is free. For more information, please contact Jessica Vokoun at, 918-631-3016.

And tonight, continuing through Sunday, down south at ORU:

ORU Dance Department Presents:

December 3 @ 7:30pm
December 5 @ 7:30pm
December 6 @ 2:30pm

General Admission- $10
Student Admission- $5

-Arising Artists-
December 5 @ 2:30


-Origins is a concert of works developed by the ORU Dance faculty, the advanced choreography course and the senior dance performance majors. The concert will comprise of many different dance styles including, ballet, modern, tap, broadway jazz, contemporary and more. ORU dance ensembles will also be performing excerpts from A Chorus Line and Coppelia.

-Arising Artists is a student showcase featuring solo choreography projects. These pieces were created out of the fundamentals of choreography course.

On Saturday evening, the young men and women of the Tulsa Ballet Center for Dance Education:

Tulsa Ballet Center for Dance Education is proud to present our Pre-Professional Division Levels 5-8 in our annual Winter Demonstration, held in our very own Studio K!

Seating is general admission, with a ticket (free from TBCDE). We have a limited number of tickets left, and will have a waiting list for any open seats 5 minutes prior to the Demonstration.

Tulsa Ballet Studio K, December 5, 6:30 pm

On Saturday and Sunday, the “Children’s Nutcracker”:

South Tulsa Children’s Ballet “The Nutcracker” was created to give every child in the community the opportunity to experience a professional exposure of The Nutcracker and to expand area children’s performance opportunity. This experience should help expose, develop, educate, and excite all who participate whether they perform, volunteer or are an audience member. With the acceptance of all children who audition, the experience should be a wonderful and educational opportunity for all. South Tulsa Children’s Ballet is a 501(3) C non-profit organization.

Expo Square will be handling this year’s ticket sales. All seats will be RESERVED. There will be NO General Seating. Call 918- 744-1113 to purchase your tickets.

December 5th @ 2:00pm & 7:00pm December 6th @ 3:30pm

Ticket Prices are $18.00 and $20.00

And finally, on Sunday afternoon, Tulsa Modern Movement‘s works-in-progress showing and conversation, the Gathering:

Tulsa Modern Movement welcomes you once again into our creative process! Come share wine, cheese, laughter, and conversation with us at our fourth annual TuMM Gathering. It’s an opportunity for you to see how dance is made — how we do what we do, long before the houselights go down.

Enjoy a rare, informal behind-the-scenes look at the normally private work of creation, as we present excerpts of our new work “Liquid Geography” (working title), improvise and choreograph on the spot, and engage your questions and comments. We love this process and can’t wait to share it with you!

Sunday, Dec. 6 / 4-5:15 pm
FlyLoft / 117 N. Boston / Studio 3
Donations graciously accepted

“The Process is Wild”: Christina Woodrow’s “Ritual Woman”


Christina Woodrow is a graduate of the dance department at ORU, whose director, the late Amy McIntosh, was her mentor and friend. Christina made some brilliant work while at ORU, so I was glad to hear that she’d chosen to pursue her MFA in dance at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. As part of the process of obtaining that degree, she has created a piece called “Ritual Woman,” which will be presented November 20 at 7:30 pm and November 21 at 3:00 pm at the Union 9th Grade Center (7616 S Garnett) in Broken Arrow. Admission is $10, $5 for students and seniors (cash only).

During this busy pre-performance week, Christina shared some thoughts with me about her process for this piece and about her approach to making dance.

What metaphors or images do you like to use when thinking about how you make work? Do you think of yourself as an investigator — a watcher/recorder — an editor?

I see myself as an investigator. Often I begin with movement, and I begin to excavate a metaphor from the experience of the movement. It very much feels like a ritual to me. Not in that there is ever a specific order or way of doing, but more so in the way that creating work is so often a body, mind, spirit exploration of my faith. Choreographing is the way I process life and faith. Often a work is me fleshing out something I don’t understand about life, the world, or my faith. It is always very spiritual for me. There is something so unique about processing something I don’t understand through the body, mind, and spirit. I can be quite the product of modernist thinking, but when I choreograph, I jump into the senses and my spirit. In this way, I feel I can operate as a whole person. The process may not give me answers, but it might give me new perspective, insight, or empathy. To some degree I am also very much a watcher/recorder. I often work with scores that leave room for improvisation. I dance with such intelligent and thoughtful people. To only create from my experience would feel very one-dimensional. Watching the people I move with negotiate material and learning from them opens up a diversity of perspectives and experiences in the space. It’s awesome! It’s a very wild activity this business of choreographing. I can break down aspects of the creative process, and there can be a semblance of order to that process, but the process is wild. I can try to domesticate it, but there is a certain wildness to it, because it comes from human beings. And, human beings are incredibly complicated. It’s addictive, and I love it!

Some basics: how long is the piece, how many dancers, what kind of music?

“Ritual Woman” is about 23 minutes long. It is a duet between Lexie Jo Sweeney and I. Sierra Fletcher has been by our side as well, acting as a bit of a rehearsal assistant/dramaturge/emotional support. I tend to create in waves of musical fascination. I was on a strings kick for quite a while and have shifted to some electronic stuff. I have been doing a lot of research on the period of liminality and have tried to utilize music and costumes that allows for a certain amount of ambiguity as to where and who these dancers might be. Of course it is hard to create complete ambiguity, electronic music does give a sense of time, but it does blur the context.

What were you curious about when you started this piece? Has what you’re curious about changed over the course of the project?

When I began this piece, I was curious about the ways we perform identity and how our actions create impressions of identity. These impressions are then used to create cultural categories that may or may not be utilized in creating a sense of hierarchy. Feminist philosopher Judith Butler’s discussion of gender performativity stoked my thinking in the way we perceive the sexes. I became intrigued with the notion of gender rituals and how they leave impressions of gender. Within the classification of woman, there are various impressions and definitions that sometimes conflict with one another. So then to “be a woman” is no one set thing. Exploring the “how” of this was important to me as a woman. Systems of oppression operate in various gradations in our world, and I think there is something to deconstructing cultural terms of gender, race, and other classifications. I wanted to examine this through the lens of ritual and the period of liminality. The actual product has become far more grounded in the study of ritual than I first thought it would. Anthropologist Victor Turner’s writings on the period of liminality in ritual influenced the way I handled duration, transitions, arcs, and space. I had no idea how heavily this would undergird my work.

I also began this work with a fascination with dirt as a metaphor for the body. Years ago, I started studying references to dirt in the Bible. The juxtaposition of the sacredness of the dirt and the psychological repercussions of the word perplexed me. In my faith tradition, the body was formed from the dirt. Also, there is a struggle with the body and shame, dirtiness. I felt there had to be some inter-epistemic space the dirt held with sacredness and shame. So I started using dirt in another work “Are and Shall Return” and using it as a metaphor for the body. That piece was the catalyst for “Ritual Woman.” The dirt still serves as a metaphor for the dirt, but sacredness and shame are no longer the forefront of the metaphor.

Where do you think “meaning” comes from in a dance? How do you as a choreographer make space for a viewer to tap into what you’re exploring — or is it even necessary to consciously make that space?

Meaning is such a tricky word. It can feel so nebulous, and then we know it when we know it. For me I find so much meaning comes through process. It is as much about what happens in rehearsal time with the community of dancers, as it is what gets put on the stage. When I am challenged as a person in my work, and I invite those who are in the process with me to be challenged as people, I believe meaning comes to existence in my work. With this piece specifically, I had to negotiate the idea of meaning for those engaged in ritual and those observing ritual. There can often be a disconnect of experience between the participant and the observer. This work draws so much on the senses. To invite the audience into that, we made the space very intimate. In the more gross sense of my work, I try to draw upon movement the audience knows. Not movement that they know or can identify in terms of dance, but movement that they have experienced. I try to shade my work with a study of human movement that is translatable: postures, gestures, stances, etc. It may not always be obvious or recognizable, but I believe it opens up a sense of shared experience. I am always trying to discover how dance can connect people.

Celebrating Contemporary Hispanic Performance: “TaxDermia” at Living Arts


On November 6 and 7, Living Arts of Tulsa hosts the U.S. premiere of “TaxDermia,” a dance theater piece by the arts collective Sur Oeste Arte Escénico AC from Mexico City. This is a not-for-children work that delves into issues of global violence and tragedy, inviting viewers to taste up close the realities of what we do and have done to each other.

I wasn’t able to preview this performance in my performing arts column in the Tulsa Voice, so I thought I’d share about it here. It’s rare in Tulsa that we have the chance to see something so raw from an international performance group, and I commend Living Arts for once again pushing us all a little past our edge. What follows is a lightly edited version of my interview with “TaxDermia” choreographer and project director Stephanie Garcia.

AC: Could you say a little about the structure of the piece — how it is organized narratively and also spatially? How will the audience be participating in the work?

SG: “TaxDermia” comes from the word “taxidermy.” I tried to establish an analogy and a metaphor between what taxidermy is and the act of conserving intact the memory of the horrors that human beings are able to do. Sometimes, for me, it is really difficult to understand the terrible things that we do.

The performance is inspired by “Fear and Miseries of the Third Reich” by Bertold Brecht. We did research about the structure of this text and I took the theater structure (Brecht’s Epic Theater) to organize the performance. There are 10 different scenes that happen in 10 different sets. The performance is a “route” — people will walk around Living Arts to watch every scene on its own “stage.” So, is a recommendation to wear comfortable shoes ’cause they will be walking or standing up for 50 minutes.

“TaxDermia” was created ’cause I had a terrible emotional crisis two years ago about this human issues and this performance helped me to get out of that depression period.

AC: Who are your creative inspirations? Is your primary training in contemporary dance, or another kind of theater? Is Sur Oeste primarily a dance company?

SG: My most important inspiration is life. Every human exists now and I love to watch people on the street, to observe their behaviors, to be witness of the magical moments that happens every day at every moment. After that, arts and culture are my passions. As Picasso used to say, “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” So, art by itself is my fundamental inspiration that moves me so deeply and gives me something intelligible that feeds my soul.

About Sur Oeste, I would like to emphasize that we work as a collectively more than a company. I’m not the Artistic Director, maybe I am a kind of general arts manager strategist about the way that the group must “walk.” When one of us decide to create a new performance or a play, that person becomes in the director of the project. In that way, every artist of the group is able to propose a project and become “the head” of the artistic project.

Sur Oeste was founded in 2010 and began its first works in dance. We are conceived as a multidisciplinary group but our strength is definitively in dance. I train the people who works with me. When we need other artistic resources, other “tools,” we try to find the perfect training for that target.

AC: I understand that lighting is an important part of the show. Can you say something about that — how you use it, and what it suggests in different situations?

SG: In “TaxDermia,” the light “reveals” the different things that happen in each scene. We use industrial lamps — small ones — to have some independence with the special theatre illumination, and our technician designed 8 wireless LED lamps specially for the performance. These lamps are so important for the concept of the performance. I think that light has to support the idea of each scene, even when we use it in the same way in some scenes. The detail is that, when you illuminate one scene or set, you will find something different in each case.

AC: The piece deals with some of the most terrible things human beings can do to each other. But dance is an art form that so often focuses on beauty and elegance. How do you think dance (as opposed to other kinds of theater, or photography, or film, etc.) is uniquely able to communicate about these darker matters?

SG: I think that the atmosphere, the music, costumes and other elements of the scene help us to get to the target that we are looking for. I mean, in a general way, art could be a synonym for beauty, and I think that “TaxDermia” is a beautiful work, but it communicates a special message. Maybe the message is intelligible but it generates a special mood, or the reflection that I talked about in the first question. I think that dance is an abstract language that is able to communicate abstract things: a feeling, an atmosphere, emotions. To talk about more specific things, it is necessary to use elements of other disciplines, to try to make your message more legible. So, in this way, if the things that I need to express are only superficial or aesthetic, maybe it is enough with the body, the music, and choreography that is built for that objective. But if I need to express something more complex, I will need other resources. In “TaxDermia” I use the playlet of “The Jewish Wife.” The performer is talking while she’s dancing. Even when art could be — in one of its multiple senses — a synonym for beauty, it must still be tied — at least, for me — to a human expression.

Who: Sur Oeste Arte Escénico AC

What: Contemporary Dance Perfrormance From Mexico City

When: Nov. 6 @ 9pm, Nov. 7 @ 8pm

Where: Living ArtSpace (307 East MB Brady Steet)

Why: To Celebrate Contemporary Hispanic Performance

Tickets: $7 (Free to Living Arts Members) For tickets:

Inspired by fear and misery of the Third Reich of Bertolt Brecht, taxDermia is a reflection on the horrors of human nature: violence, racism, repression, war, abuse, dehumanization. The audience will experience diverse definitive facts about the history of humanity in each scene. TaxDermia is a multidisciplinary performance created as an offering, a tribute to humanity… in hope that one day will be different.

Watch this Promo Video:

Company: Sur Oeste Arte Escénico AC (

Created by: Stephanie García

Assistant Director: Juan Manuel Cano

Choreography and Training: Stephanie García

Length: 60 minutes. No intermission.

Additional Info: Aimed to adolescent and adult audience. Inform the audience to wear comfortable shoes.

Amy’s Song

The Tulsa dance community has lost one of its own. Amy McIntosh — Professor of Dance at ORU, director of the innovative Living Water Dance Community, mother and mentor and artist and friend — was diagnosed with cancer last fall and passed away April 3, 2015, at age 37, leaving two young sons, a beloved husband, and countless people who loved her. We are all in shock, feeling at once the weight of her presence and the impossibility of her absence.

Amy’s influence on dance in Tulsa is deep and wide. Her students are now teachers and performers themselves. Her collaborators continue to meditate on questions that arose when they worked with her. (With Amy, a woman of profound faith who had no fear of doubt or complexity, there was a lot of room for questions.) Audiences remember her ferocity onstage, and also her lightness — a grounded strength that could also sail and sigh.


In 2013 I had the privilege of being invited to be part of a quartet that choreographer Melody Ruffin-Ward was creating in Tulsa. For a whole weekend, I got to work in the company of Rachel Bruce Johnson, Jessica Vokoun, and Amy. I had never worked with Amy so closely before, though I’d often watched her perform and rehearse with other dancers. I was in awe of the thoroughness and seriousness of her process — and at the same time delighted by her playful abandon. The piece was about a marriage, a subject she devoted careful thought and attention to, and our discussions about it will stay with me forever. She was deeply interested in integrating the various areas of life so that one song was sung in all of them. She did that so well.

I always knew, with Amy, that whatever response she gave to a question or a suggestion or a criticism it would be thoughtful and subtle and generous and wise. In 2012 I wrote a cover story on dance in Tulsa for Urban Tulsa Weekly. I emailed her some questions and excerpted her responses for the article. Here is our interview in full. This is Amy McIntosh, and she will live in this community forever.


Services for Amy will be held tomorrow at 1pm at the Howard Auditorium at ORU.

What do you wish Tulsa had more of, arts-wise or culture-wise?

I feel pretty grateful for the Tulsa and surrounding communities in terms of our growth in the arts. Having grown up here we didn’t have much opportunity to see contemporary/modern dance companies perform, but even back then there were folks paving the way. When I was a young dancer, Becky Eagleton through LocalMotion Dance Foundation was the first person to introduce me to modern dance through annual workshops and performances with some amazing guest artists. She took me in and encouraged me and through her passion for dance and people, she opened up new doors of possibility for me.

I am so thankful for those who have left a legacy and this is what I see continuing today. Ken Tracy of Choregus Productions carries on this legacy today by bringing in modern dance companies like Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (to come this spring) and also by providing master classes for dancers in the community. My friend and Company member, Rachel Johnson has a vision to create opportunity for dance artists to come together for dialogue through her organization, Bell House Arts. The Exchange Festival will be August 10-12 this year at Tulsa Ballet’s Studio K and we will have opportunity to share dance, take class, have conversations about process, which is difficult to make happen on your own as an artist. The beauty behind her vision is to create space and opportunity for dancers local and out of state to intersect. Rachel has a passion and a gift for getting people together and generating opportunity for something new to be imagined.

When Marcello Angelini of Tulsa Ballet incorporated several local modern dance companies into the performances of Creations in Studio K this past spring, it was such an encouragement to us as local dancers and director of companies that Marcello would be willing to take the risk to put modern dance on the same stage with the ballet company. He even took the time after we had finished performing our work, Let Justice Roll Down (Living Water Dance Company) to talk about how it moved him and some of the imagery he found in the work. It is so priceless to engage as a choreographer/dancer/director with audience and hear their response; this is what it is all about for me, living and engaging together in community through our art and human relationships. I would say that I long for more of these interactions, crossing over boundaries, breaking the rules, and exploring life together-I believe this is how culture is created and transformed.

What have you found here that enriches you as an artist?

The people. I’m not so much interested in just making dance or having a company with my name in big headings, I’m interested in community and the kind of transformational living that occurs when you invest in the practice of life together. For me that practice of sharing life together largely centers on exploring faith communally, and the ways in which the outpourings of our souls find their home in a dance.

Company member, Robbee Stafford recently shared an insight she had about my work, she said that she felt like each dance I created was a sort of marker, a remembrance of something God was doing and revealing in my life. She has become a true companion to me as she dares to taste of that which is unknown, immersing into the depths of faith. I would say that many a Sunday morning, sitting in the pew of our West United Methodist Church, in the beauty of the liturgy intermixed with the present moment, listening to our pastor, Bill Welch, Jr. so gently, yet so boldly remind us again of the grace and peace that is here now, I feel an urge to grab a tiny pew pencil and jot down on my bulletin random scraps of a dance to come. This is the beginning of most of my dance making, maybe those dances are three years away, but looking back they begin with those scratches on a Sunday morning. People enrich me, people who are committed to believing that heaven and earth can collide, that art and life when integrated have the potential to expose, reveal, lay open, inspire, invigorate, and ultimately cause us to reflect on the life we are living today.

As a dancer and a dancemaker, are you finding ways to integrate your art with your life?

I feel like my work at ORU as the Director of the dance program creates a space for doing just that, integrating art and life alongside the University’s vision to educate the whole person in body, mind, and spirit integration. I’ve been entrusted with the task of mentoring and educating students in dance, but not only dance, in life and in the discovery of faith. The amazing thing that I have found in my time at ORU and previously at Belhaven University of Jackson, MS is that it’s not so much about leading and being the expert in the classroom or the studio or even on the stage, it is about engaging together, teacher and student, dancer and audience, in a conversation that doesn’t always seek to find what is right and wrong, or what is black and white. Instead it is a journey together, an often vulnerable place of speaking up of what you may not fully understand yet, what emotions you may not be able to place yet, and what could become yet in this present time and the future…art and life together, transforming, breathing fresh vitality, and generating community.

What obstacles do you see here for creating and presenting dance?

Obstacles are always present, especially in funding and the desire to pay dancers for their priceless contributions, but I find that sometimes money comes and we are dancing on a full proscenium stage and I pay the dancers, and other times we are dancing in a worship space with no funds exchanged and it isn’t about money at all. I try to look at how we can share dance through Living Water and ORU creatively, in terms of whether it is a fully produced concert or a free gathering out in a field somewhere, and how we can interact with the broadest audience of people, as well as partner up with folks carrying out a vision that we can come alongside and serve in.

How do you see ORU’s dance department contributing to and/or benefiting from the Tulsa community?

The ORU Dance program is a place where people interface with their passion for dance and their passion for faith, what comes out of this is the next generation of voices. My hope is that these voices are ones of honesty and authenticity, telling of the stories of their lives. My hope is that these voices are ones who feel safe to be able to be raw and vulnerable to share of the depths of life without fear of fitting into the world’s standards and categories, but superseding any obstacles for the sake of living openly. My hope is that these voices seek to serve their community through their art/life integration. My hope is that these voices continue to find others to connect in with, learn from, and continue to grow so that they can be lifelong learners and never settle to have arrived.

More generally, what can dance/dancers bring to the community? 

Dance is a lived, full body expression of art. When we dance as people or even when we watch others dance, it is powerful…powerful to heal in all the ways we daily are in need of, over and over again. I know this because this is what happens when I walk into the dance room, the church, the stage, bringing all of my baggage from the day, the week with me…when the music comes on and we begin those first gestures of Eucharistia, when we bow down and slide our hands out across the table of communion, everything begins to fade as I am present in that moment, I feel as though heaven and earth collide, and I feel at home.

In the Chamber

The body is the original resonating chamber. There’s no instrument, no recording studio, no cathedral that listens and responds more intelligently than this one does.

In her landmark book Sensing, Feeling, Action, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen suggests that the most powerful therapeutic processes involve both movement and sound. Repatterning one affects the other, which then has a chance to be repatterned in turn. In the womb, we hear before we see. Before either of those we are contracting and expanding our minuscule forms, receiving and giving the pulse of breath and life.

I like working with sound in my own teaching and creative work. There are some tensions, some questions, some tender places or hot places, that can be accessed more directly in the body through passively receiving a vibration than through consciously articulating an action. Sometimes, if I’m having trouble finding what comes next in a particular movement passage or phrase, I will make the sound of the movement that came just before — a high hum, maybe, or a low rumble, or a quaver, or a laugh. Learning to trust the sounds my body produces leads me to trust the expressive shapes and gestures and trajectories my body develops.

Brief Kingdom, the evening-length dance I’m making this season with Tulsa Modern Movement (April 24-26 at Studio K), includes bodies and voices — the bodies of the dancers (which will appear both two- and three-dimensionally), the voices in the choral music which makes up much of the score, and the voice of the narrator, who tells the story in poetry. But the dancers also have a voice, as the narrator has a body. I am interested in allowing all the parts of everyone to exist together with a give-and-take of weight onstage. Sometimes you will see the narrator being involved as a body among bodies, sometimes more heavily as a voice. Sometimes the dancers will be “telling” more vigorously than others. Sometimes one speaker will hand off the story to another. And there will be other sorts of sound uniting it all, created by the brilliant Scott Bell, who has a uniquely intuitive and skillful understanding of volumes and vibration. There are different kinds of speaking. Speech of all kinds allows a resonance, a reverberation — of meanings and of literal physical vibrations — to travel out of the chamber from which it originates.

There’s another “chamber” here: the story itself, an ancient resonating box into which generations of individual imaginations have come looking for wisdom, reassurance, adventure, or help. The story we’re working with is “The Frog Prince,” and then there’s another story that grew out of that story: the poem by Amy Page that serves as the text we are engaging directly in this production. Amy is a translator as well as a poet, with a vast knowledge of Greek gods and German maidens and all of the symbols and animals and blessings and curses in between. Her poem somehow makes the original chamber — the tale of the princess and the frog — bigger, brighter, so you can see and hear more of what’s inside, so that what your fingerprint lands on shines more vividly back at you.

(Think about the resonating chamber of a frog’s throat, or what might be echoing inside the princess’s golden ball. Think about the empty space of a broken heart that’s ready, or waiting to be ready, to be filled with the sound of someone’s voice again. And there are many other kinds of chambers this image suggests to me as I let it travel through.)

Andrea Deszo, "The Frog King"

Andrea Deszo, “The Frog King”

Sometimes, we make resonance together. Sometimes we are the chamber — we who sit together in the dark inside a theater, with our own stories pinging around inside our skulls and sinews. Some of us speak more easily than others, whether in words or in movement. We are all looking for more ease, more efficiency, more wisdom, and more joy. When we sit and listen together — when we listen with our body-chambers inside the chamber of a story and ultimately inside this whole vast world of chambers — the resonance can reach more parts of us, more deeply, with a more gentle touch in places of resistance or weakness. It can reach us on our own time, with less threat, because the chamber of us can bear it for us for however long we need it to.

Making Work.

I say it constantly. So do a lot of other dancemakers. “I’m headed to the studio to make some work.” “Looks like they’re making a lot of work lately.” “She’s making new work for so-and-so.” “We’re so busy making work that we don’t have time to….”

(Write a blog, for instance. Uh, yes … about that! Thanks for hanging in with me, everyone.)

I don’t know why it’s such a common phrase among choreographers, but I sort of like “make work.” “Make art” would be ridiculously pretentious. “Make dance” sounds awkward, like two verbs in a row. “Make a dance” is what Mark Morris says, but most of us aren’t as boldly confident in the humbleness of what we do as he is.

“Make work” has some unpackable corners and unfoldable curves inside it.

I hear…

Make it work. Make you work. Make work for myself, and for the dancers, and later for the seamstress and the printer and the stagehand.

It’s something that takes work to use, maybe, like a new set of skills or openness to new language and sensation.

Work. Not an object, but an unfolding event, a noun that moves and sweats. Hard to know when it’s finished, because it continues even after it’s done. The echo of effort that’s present in your rest.

“Makework” is busywork, of course, designed to ward off idleness, clamp down on daydreaming. But idling and the daydream are what make this work wake up; it’s got a quiet cell inside it, humming, wondering, whistling. This work knows how to wait.

Making work is making space for something to come alive. It takes muscles, and guts, and brains. It’s crafting the Rube Goldberg machine, the Versailles garden, the kayak run — the bed that the dream can flow through.

There’s work, and then there’s play. But the play is also the work. The effortful effortlessness.

Work means bodies, and bodies mean community. (Many hands make light work.) Work is to share.

The joy we feel when the work works. Wow, and whew, we say.

We made it.

(I’ll have lots to share about the work that’s being made in Tulsa this season in an upcoming post. For now … back to … you know….)

"Making work" for Tulsa Modern Movement.

“Making work” for Tulsa Modern Movement. (Photo by Nathan Harmon)

Exciting! Upcoming! Get Moving.

Herewith a totally utilitarian list of September’s coming events, because there are a LOT. Go Tulsa go!

  • Starting September 8, the Living Arts ColLABorate workshop is back! Second Monday of each month, 6:30-8:30. “ColLABorate is a regularly meeting collective of artists from all disciplines who have a desire to learn from each other and create together. Each two-hour evening session, Led By Jessica Davenport and Marianne Evans-Lombe, begins with a workshop led by one of the collective artists who will teach techniques and methods derived from their discipline that can aid in rehearsing and generating performance work. The sessions will also include time for artists to collaborate on new ideas and share ongoing works-in-progress.” This is good, good juju — more information at the link above.
  • September 5-7, Tulsa Ballet II presents “On Your Radar,” part of an expanded second company season this year under the direction of former TB principal dancer Alfonso Martin. Work by Bournonville, Ma Cong, and Norbert de la Cruz (with music by Crystal Castles in that last one, hello 2014!).
  • Choregus Productions launches an absolutely killer season with an exhibit of rare photos of Martha Graham at the Hardesty Arts Center, in preparation for that company’s first-ever visit to Tulsa in two weeks. Keep a close eye on Choregus this year for the absolute best in contemporary dance from across the country — the stuff you really really want to know about.
  • Classes! Portico Dans Theatre offers a wide range of classes, from aerial to hip-hop. Their website has all the information plus locations and age levels. Tulsa Modern Movement invites intermediate/advanced dancers to their weekly free open company class on Wednesday evenings. (Anyone else offering an open modern or ballet or contemporary or African or hybrid class? Shoot me a message and I’ll add you to the list!) 
  • Tribal Tantra / Shedding Skins / movement meditation YES. September 19-21, more info here.

See you out there, movers!

Authoring, Authority, Autobiography



Creating is always re-creating. Here’s how it’s looking over here.

This time last year, I was entering into the final rehearsals for “Unbound,” a collaboration between music coordinator and violinist Karen Harmon, videographer Nathan Harmon, and my company Tulsa Modern Movement. “Unbound,” which premiered at Living Arts of Tulsa, was to that point the biggest project I had ever choreographed on my own, and having such enthusiastic collaborators was critical to its completion (and of course to its inception).

"Unbound," photo by Maggie Young

“Unbound,” photo by Maggie Young

This past June, I had the chance to re-envision “Unbound” for a very different space: the gorgeous proscenium stage at Tulsa Ballet‘s Studio K. In this much larger space, Nathan’s role expanded as he and his fabulous cantilevered camera had more room to explore, and that new presence — plus his new projections in black and white, taking up one full half of the stage — raised new questions for us and for the audience about our intentions and our message in the piece. It was very gratifying to revisit a dance whose creation meant so much to me; even more gratifying to hear applause as the curtain opened on it on opening night, applause from people who’d seen it at Living Arts or who’d missed it and were getting another chance; and more gratifying still to hear that “Unbound” was selected to be performed at the National Performance Network annual conference, held in Tulsa this year, in November. This little project, hatched in the elementary school pick-up line and over the Harmons’ kitchen table, has become a big, important piece of Tulsa Modern Movement’s rep. It’s always had its own life, and I’m eager to see how it grows next.

This time this year, I’m in the middle of several new projects for the 2014-2015 season. TuMM is starting off with a bang, touring to the {254} Dance Festival in Waco, Texas, in September and performing at Tulsa Ballet’s “Creations in Studio K” pre-shows on October 4 and 5. Over the summer we had the honor of learning two works by Rachel Bruce Johnson, a quartet called “Game of Risk,” which I’m in, and a solo called “Red” (to be performed by Katelyn Yeary), both of which we’ll show in Waco and at Studio K. I’ve written here before about the process of making work with Rachel, and having her set work on us has proven to be just as rich (because, well, the work is!). “Game of Risk” (originally created this past spring for Perpetual Motion in Oklahoma City) is an honest, unflinching look at partnership — not what it can be or what it shouldn’t be, but what it often is: a bit of a mess of good intentions gone awry, a clash of wills, an ever-shifting dance among courage, trust, and fear. Rachel’s work is thrilling to learn because it combines a lot of specificity and a lot of space, threading together small looks and gestures with big tough anchoring phrases. As a choreographer and coach she has what I think of as a very sensitive volume-control knob, so that a movement of the eyes can actually be “louder” than the pounding, dynamic floor work that comes shortly after it. Being in her work, watching her create and re-create in the moment, is always an awesome gift.

Tulsa Modern Movement's Ari Christopher and Mona Hatter, rehearsing with Rachel Bruce Johnson in her "Game of Risk"

Tulsa Modern Movement’s Ari Christopher and Mona Hatter, rehearsing with Rachel Bruce Johnson in her “Game of Risk”

Fall is the “making” time of year for us at TuMM, and this fall I have the honor of creating the central work for our season-end show. It’s a creation that’s a re-creation of a re-creation … in other words, a diving down through several layers into something that’s existed for a long time, namely the story of the Frog Prince, or rather the ancient human problems and solutions which that story captures and teases out. Writer Amy Page and I have been cooking up this project for a year, and now it’s starting to come to life. The solo I made last season, “Envelope,” was in a way a prequel to this piece, which will be called “Brief Kingdom.” fac55f741f39ccb898d312c6137e9654I envisioned “Envelope” (though it’s very open to other readings) as the story of what happened to the Prince before he was enchanted and changed into a frog. What was he like? What on earth happened to him? It can happen to anyone, I think, anyone who’s brave enough to open up to and experience the next phase in his or her own transformation. Sometimes we have to be “ugly” before we can be ourselves (and therefore beautiful). “Brief Kingdom,” in turn, is the Princess’s story, the Frog having done a large part of his own work already. Long ago Amy wrote a beautiful, rich poetic telling of this woman’s journey; now it gets to live in a new way, expanded into movement and theater. I’m very excited to share this work with you, in the making and once it’s made.

Finally, one more full-circle moment. Recently I started teaching at the ballet school where I grew up, the Jasinski Academy, formerly called the Tulsa School of Ballet. I teach the advanced classes and a variations class that’s especially close to my heart. When I was a student there, the late Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo dancers Moscelyne Larkin and Roman Jasinski, founders of Tulsa Ballet, coached us in classic variations from their repertoire — “Gaite Parisienne,” “Le Beau Danube,” “Les Sylphides.” I was taken from the start by the unique mix of glamour, passion, and spunky joie de vive in that era of ballet, an obsession that only grew stronger when Miss Larkin and Mr. J’s friends Frederic Franklin and Alexandra Danilova would visit the studio to work with the company, in which I was a teenaged apprentice. They all taught a certain brand of fearlessness, a go-for-it spirit that has never stopped inspiring me, as much as in daily life as in the studio and onstage. Now I get to share what they shared with me, in the very same rooms. We’re learning a variation from “Les Sylphides” right now, and I’m brought to tears watching these young ladies as they begin to feel — as a hundred years’ worth of dancers have felt — the resonance of Fokine’s choreography and Chopin’s music in their own 21st-century bodies, absolutely fresh and utterly eternal.

There’s nothing new. And what a gift that is. We get to discover it for ourselves; what’s new is how it comes through each of us.