Bill Wade’s “Non-Traditional Partnering” Class at EXCHANGE

Apparently, I was too busy learning and playing this past weekend to post. (That’s a good thing, right? Writing … dancing … writing … dancing … sometimes one just has to end for a minute so the other can have a minute.)

Learning and playing was what the dozens of 2011 EXCHANGE festival attendees did in a series of fascinating classes, two juried concerts featuring the work of some extraordinary pre-professional and professional choreographers, and a gala performance that I had the privilege of dancing in with Rachel Bruce Johnson, who managed to dance pretty brilliantly in three pieces and run the festival at the same time.

There was also a 3-hour feedback session on the juried pieces, led by the visiting choreographers, all about the little details of what makes a dance work, or almost work, or work too hard, or … you get the idea. Making a dance is a delicate craft: part poetry, part theater, part physics and anatomy, part lots of things that — put together just so — can take us on an utterly new journey into the heart of the human thing. It’s very intense creative work for smart and not-easily-daunted people. It’s healing, and it’s crazy-making. It’s magic, and it’s sweaty. Something that took months to create can be over in five minutes. Every step is the result of a conscious choice — or, in performance, of an in-the-moment reaction to a problem. One of the visiting choreographers, Bill Wade, who was a visual artist before he was a dancemaker, said that in dance, space is the canvas and the body is the paint. I found that a rich and useful image.

Much of what I learned at the festival I’m going to have to take into the studio and play with on my own and with the other local dancers and choreographers who attended. But there were a few “a-ha moments” that came through words; here are a few of them.

— Amy Querin (Fresno Dance Collective) in her class “Ballet Combinations in the Modern World”: “What sense of imagination can you bring to that tendu? It means ‘stretch,’ after all. What happens if you really stretch it out, let it climb through your whole body?”

— Bill Wade (Inlet Dance Theatre) in his Pilobolus-influenced “Non-Traditional Partnering” class, warning us to beware of what he called “think-stopping” (very simply, stopping to think what to do next during improvisation) and “image-jumping” (checking to see if what you’re doing looks pretty, whether in improv or in performance). “Allow whatever’s happening to be rich enough.” Also, on partnering: “It’s weight-sharing. Not weight-dictating.” Ha.

— Melody Ruffin Ward (Turning House Project) on the relationship between dancer and choreographer: “The dancer is the translating agent. I can read your choreography thanks to her.”

— L. Brooke Schlecte (Out on a Limb Dance Company): “I want to see movement energy leading to movement [i.e., to the steps a choreographer creates]. Not movement trying to create movement energy.”

I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend a weekend absorbing and experimenting with these and many, many other dance ideas. Grateful is an understatement; I’m a little blissed out.

Coming up on Tulsa Dances: an interview with Christie Nelson-Sala, a Texas-based choreographer whose dark, juicy, fascinating solo work “Narcissus’ Pomegranate” won the Thrive Award for “best of the fest” at EXCHANGE. Also, a look into the extreme nitty-gritty of William Forsythe’s neoclassical style with Jodie Gates, who is in town this month staging the iconic 1987 Forsythe work “in the middle, somewhat elevated” at Tulsa Ballet.

The 2011-2012 dance season here is shaping up to be amazing, and as it goes on I hope to share with you plenty of inside-the-movement insights from the local, national, and international artists who’ll be bringing all sorts of contemporary dance to our fair city. Thanks for reading.