This is the story of two days in the life of one dancer, four great teams, and four works in progress….

April 23

9-11 a.m.: A Sunday deadline looms for my second rehearsal with Rachel Johnson (in Tulsa) and L. Brooke Schlecte and Sarah Newton (in Texas) of Out on a Limb Dance for our collaborative dance game titled “If Then, What.” We each have our tasks — seven of them, each with several descriptive words attached — which we’re to work out on our own before meeting via FaceTime to proceed to the next level of the game. (The next level involves rules about speed and repetition and spacing, which each of us must memorize because at any given point in the dance one of us will be the “leader,” having been tagged by the previous leader, and will be the one to give the rules for that iteration.) I gathered the movement notes I’ve made so far and did some gentle exploration (in my kitchen) of the tasks I’ve been unsure about. It’s like writing a difficult letter to someone: putting something, anything, on the paper takes some of the intimidation out of doing the big work. Making two movements for one task, say, instead of trying to complete the whole task at once.

12-1:30 p.m.: Met with Rachel and Jessica Vokoun at the University of Tulsa to start planning a site-specific piece for the Oklahoma Dance Film Festival screening at Crystal Bridges in mid-June. Ari Christopher of TuMM will also join us for this project. We’ll be working in Walker Landing, which looks like this —

Walker Landing at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Walker Landing at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

— and sports a jaunty Keith Haring sculpture, some interesting little alcoves, and a gorgeous view of the water. We started talking about action painting (because of the museum’s strong Abstract Expressionism collection), thinking about the dripping and scraping and splattering done by artists like Jackson Pollock. Jessica discovered some concrete steps at the tennis courts on campus and suggested they can approximate the steps at Walker Landing as we begin to make some movement for that space. Site-specific inspiration, long-distance location. A challenge!

6 p.m.: Class with Rachel (a rare opportunity!). Sweaty. Momentum. Dynamics. Weight. High-speed direction-shifting. Oof. Awesome.

7:45 p.m.: Tulsa Modern Movement rehearsal. Spent an hour cleaning a chunk of Ari’s “Self-Storage,” a deadly syncopated complicated chunk! We’re discussing a possible change to this section that would have me taking Ari’s part and her taking mine … editing, editing, with a conversation about how our shifting places might change the dynamics of the section in ways that interest Ari, due to the different qualities of our movement.

9 p.m. brought a moment I’ve been waiting for for some time — visitors! — but not just any visitors — sound engineer, musician, and composer Scott Bell and writer Amy Page, who are tandem-collaborating with me on “Envelope,” the solo I’ve been making for/with TuMM dancer Aleks Weaver. I say “tandem” because we’re each working more or less independently, with me giving them little doses (mostly through conversation) of what I’m doing and inviting them to take those drops and create their own alchemy with them. So the poem Amy’s writing is “inspired by” my choreography only loosely, just as Scott’s sound score will be. They bring their own inspiration, their own history of craft, to the project, and I want that to be very present in the final product. This was the first time either of them had seen the piece (Amy had seen video of part of it). Our creative “agreement” is more one of sensibility than of specifics. I’m lucky to have as friends such intuitive, trustworthy, adventurous artists.

Amy and I have been talking for a while about how to incorporate the physical and literary “tellings” together in the staging of the piece. Her poem has its own life, as does the choreography, but it’s important to us that it not be simply laid on top of the dance. It’s also not a narration, or a set of directives to the dancer. As our time together ended, an idea emerged about having the reader onstage alongside the dancer, almost as a shadow, or perhaps a guide, possibly even interacting with elements of her costume. We have a lot of imagining to do! And since I choreographed this piece to no music, I’m going to let Scott surprise us with the score the week of the show. Just for fun. (Sorry, Aleks!)

April 24

9:30-11:30 a.m.: Back to “If Then, What.” For this work I have very little input from the other dancers about what they’re doing (though I have seen a little of Brooke’s work-in-progress). Which means I’m not measuring what I’m coming up with against what they’re coming up with, not comparing, not trying to do something distinctive or something that will blend in. Just whatever I like, whatever comes up for me when I start physically researching the words “connected,” “half-moon,” “escalating,” and so on. It’s a pretty radical freedom — lots of space — but also defined and bounded by the rules. A refreshing process: ice water for the creative brain. In this session I culled from the improvisations I’ve done, making some final choices for the phrases I’ll share with the rest of the team on Sunday. Here’s some video of one of those improvs, toward a one-minute phrase based around these elements: hair, trochanter, elbow, simultaneous.

 

Here’s what Brooke has to say about this part of the process: “I like how the set phrases feel like tasks I can check off my to do list, like baking a cake. The idea that we are all doing this separately and could potentially do it at the same time and space on stage is the most exciting part. It feels like a forum where we each give our opinions on a certain subject, through movement. This process is hard because it takes self-discipline to get the work done on time. I feel like I’m in school again.”

I’ll check in again soon with more progress! As always, your contribution is very welcome. Let me know how you’re working on what you’re working on!

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