Eunoia Dance Ex had its New York preview of TRIPD at Bushwick Open Studios this past Saturday (6/6/2015). Bushwick Open Studios is annual art festival in Brooklyn run by Arts in Brooklyn. During Bushwick Open Studios, artists residing in Bushwick (a neighborhood in Brooklyn) open their studio doors to the public. Bushwick Open Studios serves to provide a platform for creative minds in the community of Bushwick and to work towards an integrated and sustainable neighborhood through arts programming, creative accessibility, and community organizing.
Eunoia Dance Ex participated in R&D Studios’ day long event. R&D Studios is run/curated by Diana Mino a photographer, musician/composer, event planner, cook, mixologist and overall bad ass. It is an intimate performance space that blends arts appreciation with a raucous good time.
We ran our TRIPD workshop leading up to the performance and through this program had 7 guest artists perform with us. The energy in the room was electric and we got a tone of positive feedback from both audience and guests artists. A special thank you to Hailey Morgan who stepped into Alex Jenkins shoes and danced with us.
The bill included a whole bunch of talented artists and performers including the wild art of Jarid Blumenthal (a couple of prints were purchased by yours truly), the explosive music of big band BOMBRASSTICOand the poetry of Kiely Sweatt.
We are looking very forward to repeating this process in Montreal. So join us at Studio Bizz next week June 9-11th! Or catch any of our six shows starting on June 13th!
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 dances. Although 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.
Last week, I got a call back for the National Tour of Mamma Mia! I was ecstatic. I’ve never been a big fan of musicals, however my love of Abba runs deep and so Mamma Mia is up there on my list of dream jobs. There was just one catch, for this call back I was going to have to sing…
Now, I’ve taken singing lessons before, but we’re talking 5 years ago. Since that time, my singing experience has been limited to karaoke nights where my song choices tend towards ridiculousness rather than artistic merit. That being said, I was excited and prepared as best I could. I dusted off my old vocal CDs, and rehearsed diligently that night and the morning of the audition. The next day, as I turned the knob to enter the audition room, I was confident that I would do my best.
But then something happened, I walked into the room and my body began to tremble all over. As I handed my sheet music to the accompanist, I was shaking like a leaf. My throat got coarse and my chest got tight. I got through my 16 bars, but the audition did not go as planned. What struck me afterwards was the way my nerves managed to creep up on me when I had felt confident and prepared right up to the last second.
This experience prompted me to do some research into what are commonly called nerves. By nerves, I mean feelings of nervousness and discomfort when confronted with a particular task. Well, it turns out, nerves, as most people refer to them, aren’t really a thing. Instead, the collection of physiological responses we refer to as nerves are just part of the body’s response to adrenaline.
The production of adrenaline is a function of the autonomic nervous system. This system operates in two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is charged with the production of epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. The these chemicals charge the body for action in high stress situations. The parasympathetic nervous system works in opposition to the sympathetic nervous system, releasing chemicals that calm the body. Most of the time, these nervous systems work together to create a balance within our bodies. Nerves, as I described them above, occur when the sympathetic nervous system is working on over-drive.
The sympathetic nervous system kick’s into high-gear in situations where one feels threatened. We’ve all heard of the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. Well, the production of adrenaline caused by the sympathetic nervous system is what enables us to engage this mechanism in threatening situations. In our society, most of us don’t experience physical threats on a regular basis, however even giving a presentation in front of pears, or finding oneself in an awkward situation is enough to to set off our sympathetic nervous system.
The effects of adrenaline can vary. In general it causes increased blood flow and oxygen intake allowing the individual to process information and utilizing actions at a fast rate. Side effects of this process can include increased heart rate and breathing, butterflies, dizziness, dry mouth, sweating, tremors and shakes, and slurred speech. These side effects are a result of the increased blood flow and oxygen intake caused by adrenaline. For example, the sensation of butterflies in one’s stomach is the result of blood being diverted away from the digestive system depriving it of oxygen. Shakes and tremors are caused by diversion of blood from finer motor muscles to major muscles and organs. Sweating is caused by increased blood flow which produces heat.
As I looked over my research, I was fascinated that the nervous reaction I had experienced during my audition was caused by adrenaline, a bodily function commonly attributed to acts of heroism or high-performance. It was strange at first, to consider that two opposing reactions, decreased performance due to nerves , and the improved performance we usually attribute to adrenaline, could actually be side effects of the same function. When I considered these reactions in light of the fight or flight mechanism, things began to make more sense.
In a simplified model of the fight or flight mechanism, one could imagine the negative effects of adrenaline as part of the body’s flight reflex, and the positive effects of adrenaline as part of the bodies fight reflex. Nerves tend to occur in situations where our discomfort with a particular situation causes the body to desire to flee from its current situation. In contrast, the high-performance results of adrenaline tend occur in situations where the body finds itself in fight mode. Looking at things this way, we are then left with the question of how to help control our bodies response to adrenaline so as to maximize our fight or flight responses in appropriate situations.
Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut strategies for mastering our fight or flight mechanism. One can aim to control anxiety and stress (other products of adrenaline) by healthy living habits such as good sleeping patterns, healthy eating, and meditation. In particularly stressful situations, there are breathing exercises and mantras that can be used to help calm the body`s physiological response to adrenaline (specific examples of these exercises can be found in the following article on pyschcentral.com). However, there is no handy switch with which to calibrate our fight or flight mechanism.
In researching and writing this post, that the biological process that sometimes paralyzes me with shakes and fear is the same one that often pushes me to go above and beyond. Now, I know this is an oversimplification of the effects of adrenaline, and I’m sure there are situations in which it is preferable to find oneself shaky and hesitant rather than balls-to-the-wall. However in the context introduced at the beginning of this post, I imagine that had I understood the physiological cause for my nerves, I would have been comforted knowing that somewhere in that process lay the potential for useful adrenaline.
Living in New York City sometimes feels like an experiment in claustrophobia. Working as a dancer in New York City brings a whole new dimension to the spatial experience offered here.
Living in New York City sometimes feels like an experiment in claustrophobia. There are times when I get the impression that the city is testing the limits of my personal space; for example, as I jam myself onto the L train at rush hour, or find myself at my favorite restaurant seated not a foot from my neighboring diners. Working as a dancer in New York City brings a whole new dimension to the spatial experience offered here. Ever tried to squeeze yourself in onto the bar at a packed ballet class? Better angle in! Or, even worse, attended a Broadway cattle call? Dancers in New York not only navigate the crowds of the streets and subways, we also face the unique challenge of crowds in classes, on tiny stages, and in auditions.
Dancers are trained to understand and manipulate their bodies in ways that defy the mundane, day to day workings of human kinetics. Often times, dance requires stretch, length, and height, needs that are taxing at the best of times, and daunting when confronted with the close quarters of the many of the settings in a dancer’s life. It can be frustrating, attending a class only to find yourself trapped between colleagues. Learning combinations sometimes means being unable to do the movement fully until the class is broken up into groups at the very end. Auditioning often means warming up in a scrap of floor no bigger than an oven mitt. Dealing with other dancers can mean getting stuck next to that individual who refuses to conform to the constraints of the crowded studio and insists on kicking, smacking, and stepping on you in order to move full out. Yes it can definitely be frustrating, sometimes even pushing the most patient of us to huff and puff. But lately, I’ve been thinking of spatial constraints less in terms the space around me and more in terms of the people dancing next to me. Through this lens, the experience becomes less self-centered.
Dance can be a very intimate, internal experience. There is a good reason for this; dance is a learning process, the best dancers will tell you that a dancer is a student their entire life. This learning process occurs not only between the individual and the outside world, but, perhaps most importantly, between the individual and themselves. In order to improve, dancers must learn to manipulate their own body, a practice that requires self-knowledge above all else. Such demands can draw a dancer’s focus inward, sometimes at the expensive of external awareness.
In my experience, this kind of isolation is particularly prevalent in technique classes. In class, dancers can focus on many things, technique, artistry, getting the combination, but all of this often comes down to one thing, wanting to feel good about their dancing, wanting to feel as though they are improving. Whether a dancer wants to feel as though they applied that correction, got that leg an inch higher, or brought themselves to the movement, a drive towards accomplishment is often present in the studio. This focus on the self can often alienate the outside world, not to mention the other dancers in the room. The self-oriented goals described above are also encouraged by the deep sense of competition embedded in the dance world. Dancers are constantly reminded how there are more of them than there are jobs to be had, and that there is always someone better, stronger, or more flexible out there. Under these pressures, the quest for self-improvement can border on obsession, making awareness beyond the self even more difficult to obtain.
Self-centered dancing can become problematic. Firstly, it clouds the fact that dance is, first and foremost, a form of communication. Communication must occur between at least two people, when a dancer is decidedly focused on themselves, communication is limited to a discussion between you and say, your leg. Another challenge brought on by this kind of introversion is the challenge of navigating the densely populated dance world described earlier. When focus is so internal, it can be difficult to also gauge the distance between yourself and your fellow dancer, especially when that dancer is but 2 inches from you.
The subject of spatial awareness and awareness of those dancing beside me was brought to my attention during two workshops I took in the past 7 months or so. The first was conducted by Nicole Walcott of Larry Keigwan + Company at Peridance, the second was led by Alexandra Beller at Dance New Amsterdam. During both workshops, these artists highlighted the act of dancing with in different ways.
During Nicole Walcott’s class, we were taught a combination without timing then instructed to make our own musicality as we performed it. As we went through the combination the last few times, Ms. Walcott told us to take cues from our fellow dancers rather than trying to make all the decisions ourselves. I found this bizarre at first. I worried that as I followed other dancers, I would fumble in my execution of the movement. This however was not the case. As I danced with those surrounding me, I felt removed from the conscious execution of the movement. In a sense, my body was liberated from my mind because my mind was otherwise occupied. This exercise took the focus on execution outside me gave some of this responsibility to my fellow dancers. After class, Ms. Wolcott told me that that last performance had been my strongest and that by submitting myself to my fellow dancers I had freed myself from much of the anxiety that has been known to creep into my movement.
Alexandra Beller’s class was part of the company class series at Dance New Amsterdam. This series provides the opportunity for dancers to experience various companies’ rehearsal processes. Beller’s entire class was dedicated to an improv exercise that culminated in the creation of a piece. In this piece, spatial patterns were created by a pre-defined relationships between dancers; dancers took cues from one another and moved as a group trying to maintain different spatial relationships in different directional facings. As we set up the piece for its first performance, I looked hesitantly at the dancer standing not 12 inches from me, and prepared for all kinds of trouble. Instead, what I found was an ease of movement supported by everyone’s adherence to the ‘rules’ of the game. We became something bigger than ourselves. This kind of unity in movement tends to arrive after an arduous rehearsal process rather than a one hour and a half class. Experiencing this kind of unity among strangers was a real revelation.
As dancers, we often get so stuck in our own goals and desires that we forget to see the world around us. Often times, it is our colleagues that are the first people to disappear from our field vision as we push, push, push to dance, dance, dance. We want to be the best, to stand out, to get the job. Walcott and Beller’s classes reminded me of the value of joining the crowd; the beauty in submitting yourself to something greater. From these experiences, I learned two valuable lessons about spatial awareness and dance. Firstly, I learned that a lot can be gained by submitting your awareness to the world around you and your decision making to a collective environment. Secondly, I learned that navigating tight spaces becomes a lot more enjoyable when each individual has some focus on the group, instead of themselves exclusively. I do not pretend that I adhere to both these lessons every day, but I am happy to have them in my toolbox.
For dancers, an awareness of the space around you becomes most important in performance and rehearsal settings. Sometimes, it is easy to turn on that mode, sometimes, if we’ve been living in our head too long, it becomes harder to integrate spatial awareness into our dancing. With this blog post, I invite my readers to investigate the space around them and those who share it. Rather than become frustrated with the limitations of our environment, engage with it; don’t push against it, delve into and make it meaningful. Yes, cattle calls will still suck, yes that girl kicking you is going to upset you, but hopefully, as you twirl about the floor you’ll experience the magic of dancing with rather than against the strangers in the room. And there is something quite wonderful about that.
Struggle, Shannon Gillen, and “A Colored Image of the Sun”
“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 the event, I performed my solo America, the video of which is already posted on my blog but which can also be viewed here. To surmise the weekend in a word, I would say it was a success. A review of the show can be read at bloodyunderated.net. (It is written in French but the author commends my piece. He also complements Johanne Gour’s work and her knack for bringing eclectic groups of choreographers together.)
The performance was particularly exciting for me because it was my first time performing in Canada in about 4 years! I couldn’t help but note the irony that for my first performance at home I was dancing “America.” As a Canadian living in the States, I am often met with the opinion of “well, you’re pretty much American.” Although I am well aware of the vast cultural similarities between the U.S. and Canada, I believe that our political cultures is one of the key differences that set us apart. Dancing a piece with political undertones in my home country led me to some soul searching that made for a unique performance experience.
Dancing “America” on a Canadian stage felt different. During this performance, rather than channeling Ginsberg who wrote his poem not only an observer, but as a participant of American culture, I was forced to confront my own relationship to America. A particularly poignant moment of the performance occurred when Ginsberg states, “It occurs to me I am America, I am talking to myself again.” The idea of belonging to a nation, reminded me of the particular context I found myself in. Living in America, a citizen of Canada, performing for Canadians about America from the perspective of a Canadian living in America… I felt a longing for Ginsberg’s sense of country, and it brought a new perspective to the search for understanding and inclusiveness that Ginsberg’s poem describes. Rather than dancing “America” as a social commentary, on Dec 1st I danced as an individual between two homes trying to define her own sense of belonging.
Stay tuned, I hope to post a video of the performance in the coming weeks.
A second review of the performance recently came out and can be read here.
Life is suffering. There is a cause for suffering. The cause of suffering is attachment. This is one of the universal truths of Buddhism. I know this, not because I am a practitioner of Buddhism, but because I had the pleasure of attending a talk about thangka paintings at the Rubin Museum last night. The event was hosted by the CUNY Baccalaureate program, my Alma mater, and the talk was conducted by Michal Prettyman, a recent graduate and accomplished painter.
Thangka painting is a Buddhist practice. The depth and majesty of this art form is evident in a single glance at one of these beautiful works. These paintings are immense, rich, detailed, and precise. To the untrained eye, one might describe these works as masterful depictions of Buddhist teachings; the truth is far more complex.
According to Tibetan Buddhism, thangka paintings are not merely depictions of Buddhist principles, they are actual manifestations of deities. Although the Rubin museum has a beautiful collection of these paintings, viewing them in gallery setting is out of context. Thangka paintings are meant to be functional, they are created for practitioners of Buddhism who enshrine them in their homes and integrate them into their practice.
The detail and precision in these paintings is truly astounding, the lines are fine and uniform throughout, the color is rich and devoid of brush strokes. The creation of a thangka painting is a process steeped in tradition. Monks do not create these complex and beautiful scenes out of sheer inspiration; they must follow a rigorous outline. A thangka painting is created according to a plan, in which is each stage is meticulously designed. The final stage in the creation of a Thangka painting is a process called ‘the opening of the eyes,’ during which the deities eyes are drawn in. This process is accompanied by a ceremony.
The rigorous rules surrounding Thangka painting are crucial to the intended function of these works. A thangka painting is a manifestation of a deity, as opposed to a mere depiction of that deity. The specificity of the process is essential in order to ensure that the deity will manifest itself in the finished product. The tiniest error makes the painting useless and forces the artist to throw it out and begin again.
The act of thangka painting is a form of meditation. Michal Prettyman had recently returned from a study abroad in Tibet where he had had the opportunity to study thangka painting. He spoke of having to sit for days, drawing the same flower over and over. In Thangka painting, as in all Buddhist practices, the practitioner works to detach him or herself from the product of her work. To draw a line in a thangka painting is to detach yourself from the outcome of that line and merely let the line come. It is a practice of movement without attachment to results.
There is no signature at the bottom of the Tonga painting, the artist is expected to erase all of his footprints. There is no room for ego in the practice of thangka, the finished products are dictated by tradition not the artist’s own inspiration.
My fascination with thangka paintings came from a stark contrast between this artistic tradition and my own experiences as an artist. I am a dancer, trained in ballet and modern dance in a Western conservatory setting. Both the finished product and the process of Tonga seemed very different from conceptions of art I am accustomed to. The idea that the work of art could manifest its object, especially something so powerful as a deity, is completely foreign to me. The detachment of the artist from the work is an equally bizarre concept to someone raised in the Western artistic tradition.
In my experience, art in the West is almost self-consciously separate from life. It is a form of entertainment at times mimicking or commenting on life, but never transcending the realm of art, imitation. The power of the thangka paintings, that they were revered as deities in themselves, was a truly astounding concept to me. Besides the metaphysical power of the thangka paintings, I was struck by the detachment of the artists from the paintings. The removal of ego from the painting process and the anonymity of these artists seems bizarre from a Western perspective. In many Western art forms the emphasis is on work, perseverance, and study, all of which is very goal oriented. The idea that in order to create a thangka painting the artist must detach themselves from the outcome of the line is beautiful, but also terrifying to an artist infused with a sense of agency.
Despite these stark differences between Western and Buddhist art, there is some common ground in the notion of transcendence. In the West, people often talk about an unnamed quality that defines great performers, that takes technique and turns it into something that goes beyond the technical. We don’t name it; we often give it up to talent, but we believe in it.
I am not a Buddhist. I am very much attached. In fact, the main thread of my experiences has been attachment; profound love and caring for what I do. Throughout much of my career the struggle has been finding the ease in my art, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a teacher tell me “Just dance!” or “Feel the movement!” Often I’ve met these corrections with frustration, I’ve been trained to meet my art with work and dedication, but you can’t force a correction like “Just dance!”
Dance training in the West is rigorous and physical. We are not taught to lead with our egos, however the visual essence of the art coupled with the competitive nature of the industry tends to bring one’s ego to the fore. In this kind of atmosphere it is easy to forget that the technique is just a vessel, that the true art transcends the movement and exists in the expression. The insight I got into thangka paintings last night reminded me of this perspective.
For more information check out the following ressources:
Last night, election night, I had the pleasure of participating in the pilot of the GHOST Series, a new presenting series organized by Pascal Rekoert, Associate Artistic Director of Jennifer Muller/The Works and Director of Flexicurve. The series took place at the Gershwin Hotel in Chelsea.
Given that the series coincided with election night, participants were given the option to present works of a political nature. I seized the opportunity to dip into my repertory and perform “Left in the Dust of the Campaign Trail,” a piece choreographed during the 2008 election.
“Left in the Dust of the Campaign Trail,” has two sections. The first is set to an interview with Sarah Palin during which the former Vice Presidential candidate twists and turns in a labyrinth of positions in an attempt to appease both the far-right and moderates with a cut-and-paste position on global warming. The second section is set to “Minor Swing” by Django Reinhardt. Throughout the piece, the dancer is pulled here and there by uncooperative limbs. As the piece progresses, the dancer loses herself as jives, jerks, and jumps pull her about the stage.
The piece was choreographed in response to what I perceived as ‘the absurdity’ of Palin’s candidacy. Despite the dated subject matter, the underlying themes of the piece remained relevant in this election. To me, Palin’s political acrobatics in this interview are representative of a political culture based in pandering. In the United States, the two party system has polarized the country’s parties leaving candidates to make a mad-dash for independents and moderates leading up to elections. “Left in the Dust of the Campaign Trail,” seeks to portray this facet of elections; throughout the piece, the dancer rushes to please and entertain the audience while battling inertia from various body parts that steer her off course.
Given that it was election night, tensions were running high. I had avoided the internet all day, and had even left my New York Times at the door. My hope, was to avoid the election until it was over, I just wanted to know the outcome, the stakes seemed too high, and I couldn’t handle nail biting anymore. The piece I was performing that night was intended to be farcical. During its creation, Obama-fever was at it’s height. The 2008 election was fueled by hope and optimism, and Obama’s campaign seemed to usher in a new era of American politics, one promising, dare I say it, change. Yesterday as I performed, the future course of a country was being determined in a race that was too close for comfort. The optimism of 2008 had been doused in cynicism. The “change” of the last election had been met by staunch opposition from an uncooperative congress, and much of Obama’s presidency was characterized by frustrating gridlock. The closeness of this election brought the divisiveness of contemporary American politics into the open.
In times like these, it becomes harder to laugh. Rehearsing “Left in the Dust of the Campaign Trail” this time round, I often felt a sense of anxiety, like when your telling an inappropriate joke to the wrong audience… Palin, as much as I had disliked her, had never really seemed like much of a threat, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were another story. It seemed like real issues were on the line this time round, health care, women’s rights, gay marriage… Was this really the time to make fun of a kookie-phantom from elections past?
I’m not sure I have an answer to that question… In the end the piece was performed and Obama won. I got through my own anxiety that night by connecting to the piece on another level. This election, this political system, demonstrates the need for candidates to impress, connect with, and engage the electorate. On a very basic level, one could describe the the election as demonstrating the very human need to be loved. And maybe that’s the real punchline, that during an election fraught with tough issues, much of the campaigning came down to kissing babies, making promises, and looking presidential.
The following link takes you to a video of a solo I choreographed to Allen Ginsberg’s iconic poem “America.”
The poem was written in the 1950s in response to articles published in time magazine that described homosexuality as a form of psychosis. Ginsberg poem describes the author’s experience as an individual living in, yet excluded from, American society. Ginsberg universalizes this experience by making reference to other excluded groups. Although there is anger behind Ginsberg’s words, the poet also seems to be trying to comprehend the situation he describes.
Ginsberg poem is relevant to our society today. Unfortunately, we live in a country in which basic rights, such as marriage, are denied to some people based on their sexual orientation. My piece mirrors Ginsberg’s bewilderment with his society by enacting a body at odds with itself, constantly trying to catch up with itself.