Belinda McGuire + MADboots Dance, In Studio Performance

Belinda McGuire + MADboots Dance, In Studio Performance

I spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between performers and their audience (or vice versa). How do we define that? For people who attend the theater what relationship do they feel to those on stage? What do they ask of the performers? On the other hand, in the case of performers, what do we expect and hope for from our audiences? Patrons of the arts, what expectations to they harbor?

This afternoon I attended an in studio performance by Belinda McGuire and MADboots dance. The performance was a mixture of new, old, and in-the-works repertory by both presenters. It was a tremendous experience. I was blown away by the choreography and performance of both companies.

Belinda McGuire of Belinda McGuire Dance Projects presents primarily solo work and engages in collaboration and production projects all over the world. Her work is mesmerizing. In her choreography, she integrates a sense of musicality that is harmonious without being obvious. One of the most striking aspects of her performance is her movement quality, which is both expansive and intricate. She has an incredibly pure clarity of movement and a presence that commands attention. During one of her pieces, she came forward and stood between the rows in the audience. She stood there for perhaps 30 seconds. It was profound, the stillness, her focus, the minimalism of that moment.

MADboots dance is run by co-directors Jonathan Campbell and Austin Diaz. The company has a distinct style that blends athletic, fast-passed dancing with a complex aesthetic that is equal parts mesmerizing and disturbing. Their performance included mouth pieces, sequin hoods, and a diverse and expansive score which was engaging in its own right. Their work in-progress, Beau, was both technically and emotionally demanding. The choreography was intricate and exciting, while the use of props was unconventional and at times unsettling. The piece did a wonderful job drawing the audience in while keeping us at arms length. I’m definitely excited to see how this work develops.

Although the performances in themselves were wonderful, one of the aspects of the afternoon that stuck with me as the setting. The performance was a studio showing; informal, with minimal production. I’ve found that among a lot of theatre goers, the notion of a studio performance can be off-putting. There is a sense of, why? Why would we want to see something that is not yet finished, why not wait for the end product? The in-studio performance changes the relationship between the audience and performer.  It brings you closer to the art; you see the sweat, hear the heavy breathing, and listen to the artists own voices as they introduce their work. You feel a closeness to the artists that the stage and lights of a theatre diminish. In a studio showing, there is a a greater sense that we are all just people, some of dancing, some of us watching; and that realization is incredibly humbling.

 

For more information about Belinda McGuire check out her website.

For more on MADboots follow this link.

DanceNOW at Joe’s Pub, Dorothy, Annie, and Maria

DanceNOW at Joe’s Pub, Dorothy, Annie, and Maria

Last night I had the pleasure of attending DanceNOW’s presentation Dorothy, Annie, and Maria at Joe’s Pub. The show consisted of three works commissioned by DanceNOW over the past 10 years. The performance began with Nicholas Leichter Dances’ The Wiz, continued with The Bang Group’s Showdown, and ended with Doug Elkins Fräulein Maria. Each of these works are a contemporary take on a classic musical.

I love Joe’s Pub for its intimacy. The stage is tiny, the tables are cramped, and the drinks are, well, available. Although it can be challenging to find a good view in the house, Joe’s Pub always wins me over with its charm. I mean, what could be better than an evening of dance, drinks, and dimly lit table tops?  For dance performances, the layout of Joe’s Pub offers a unique challenge. Because the stage is small and irregularly shaped, staging works under these conditions force companies to contend with a variety of spatial constraints. Witnessing how choreographers cope with Joe’s Pub’s unique setting is half the fun of attending dance performances there.

Nicholas Leichter Dances’ The Wiz takes songs from the beloved musical by the same name and implants them in contemporary underground New York. The movement is interesting, however at times the staging came off as a bit two-dimensional. Leichter’s work is influenced by a variety of social dancesAlthough his dancers were talented, there were moments when I felt the social aspect of the choreography took over and I lost the sense of performance.

Of the works presented last night, The Bang Group’s Showdown stood out to me. The piece, set to music from Annie Get Your Gun was a delightful mix of seamless partnering, and brilliantly timed comedic moments. The company succeeded in making Joe’s Pub’s stage look big! An impressive feat especially when you consider that the piece had a cast of 8 dancers, most of whom were tall and long. The dancers movements were consistently full and the staging was flawless. The Bang Group’s choreography succeeded in being witty without appearing contrived.

The last piece of the evening, Doug Elkins Fräulein Maria, was another high point of the night. The piece was brought to life through Elkin’s intricate choreography and the artistry of his dancers. The acting chops of the dancers really stood out as they brought their characters to life telling stories in even the slightest of facial expressions. The movement throughout Fräulein Maria is engaging. I am always impressed by how Elkins manages to make strange moments appear graceful and coherent in his work.

The performance is playing for one more night, Feb 16th at 7pm. Tickets are still available and can be purchased here.

Struggle, Shannon Gillen, and “A Colored Image of the Sun”

Struggle, Shannon Gillen, and “A Colored Image of the Sun”

"I for one, have struggled against struggle my entire life..."

“I for one have struggled against struggle my entire life…”

Friday night, I went to Triskelion’s Aldous theatre to see Shannon Gillen’s “A Colored Image of the Sun.” Seeing the performance prompted me to post a piece I began writing after taking her class a couple of months ago…

In November, I took a class with Shannon Gillen at DNA. During the class she mentioned an article about the different ways Eastern vs. Western cultures approach struggle in education. She spoke about how in many eastern cultures, struggle is prized and rewarded as a process of growth, whereas in the West it is generally discouraged and seen as a sign of weakness (The full article can be read here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/11/12/164793058/struggle-for-smarts-how-eastern-and-western-cultures-tackle-learning). Ms. Gillen leads a demanding class on both a physical and intellectual level, her combinations tend to demand strength and cardio while incorporating complex, specific movements that don’t always follow “traditional” logic. As the combination took shape, she encouraged us to lean into the discomfort of struggle. On this particular afternoon, I struggled. As is my tendency, rather than leaning into the experience, I got annoyed with myself and pushed against it.

Experience seems to be a big part of Gillen’s work. Perhaps this is a strange and redundant thing to say if we consider that all art develops out of experience, however, in Gillen’s work, there is a greater awareness given to experience. In addition to the BFA Gillen has from Julliard, Gillen studied Meisner Acting at the Maggie Flanigan studio. Meisner technique aims to create performances grounded in emotional reactions rather than rehearsed “scenes.” From such a vantage point, the art of performance is experience, always new, always raw.

Gillen’s emphasis on experience was evident in the subject matter tackled in “A Colored Image of the Sun.” In her program notes she describes the piece as a conversation regarding a woman’s experience during her coming into child bearing years. After the recent election, with many politicians high-profile comments about women’s bodies and reproductive rights, it was refreshing to watch a more personal and introspective examination of reproduction. Gillen’s choreography was dynamic and bold, her dancers committed, but for me one of the greatest pleasures of this production was the intimacy. The subject matter, location, and composition all converged to create a performance in which I felt I was peering into something intensely personal, something that one might expect to find in the pages of a diary rather than on stage. That isn’t to say that the dancing wasn’t spectacular, it was, rather the presentation seemed as much about the dancers experiences as the audiences. I didn’t feel I was being shown something, instead I was treated to the thrill of voyeurism, that I was watching something happen.

The performing arts are often given the role of portraying stories. This ‘job’ is often ridden with show, pomp, and pizazz. Even in stories that touch on intimate themes, there is often a sense of presentation, of, “This is what I’m trying to tell you.” I felt none of that in Gillen’s work, and its absence excited me.

Watching Gillen’s performance last night brought me back to that idea of the experience of struggle that she spoke of in class months earlier. In “A Colored Image of the Sun”, struggle was among the experiences I saw her dancers undergo onstage. In fact, the moments of struggle were some of the most powerful moments in the piece. Struggle is not generally encouraged in our society. In the West, Struggle is often disregarded as a sign of weakness… A sign that we aren’t good enough. I for one have struggled against struggle my entire life, always looking enviously towards those to whom things seemed to come naturally. Watching struggle unfold before me, I was struck by the unique beauty of this experience.

Last summer, during a workshop Shannon Gillen gave at MIP she talked about experience as a gift, that which colors our life and makes it bearable. She said that even in the worst experiences, one should be thankful for having the chance to touch the depths of human emotion. At the time, this idea seemed at once beautiful and insane. It is easy to accept that life is made interesting by it’s highs and lows, quite another to embrace your experience after f**king up a combination every which way possible and leaving a class feeling like a total hack… So, to bring this post full circle now,  on that day, back in November, I didn’t lean into the experience, I resented it, and myself for experiencing it. Watching “A Colored Image of the Sun,” I was reminded that despite whatever reactions we have to our experiences, despite whatever cultural trappings make us label them, they are beautiful in that they are essential and part of what makes us human.

For more information about Shannon Gillen, check our her website: http://www.shannongillen.com/