Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Because We Never Want To Stop

As part of our composition class at Goucher College we have been encouraged to keep a choreographic journal and write a series of reflections about our choreographic processes. The most recent reflection is about endings and our reluctance, as dancers, to choreograph endings. I thought I would explore our reluctance a little further on here, since it's 12.33am and pouring with rain outside and I'm procrastinating from leaving the library:

After reading chapter eighteen from Doris Humphrey’s, the queen (in my eyes) of dance composition, The Art of Making Dances, I have become aware of some elements of my choreography that need development. Humphrey’s notion that a ‘good ending is forty percent of the dance’ particularly resonated with me.

If the ending is worth forty percent of a dance, and is the last and strongest impression that the audience leaves with, then I should have begun considering the ending of my piece weeks ago. A strong ending is considerably more important than I had anticipated during my creative process. However it is understandable why the last image, frame, shape or emotion is so important in dance, since our very medium is completely movement based. If I just threw an ending onto the piece a week before the performance, the clarity of my concept would be lost and the emotional qualities I had carefully inserted into the piece would be wasted.  

I don’t want the audience to leave feeling puzzled or confused about the meaning behind my piece or my choice of resolution of my conceptual exploration. The conclusion of the piece needs to fit with the tone of the work but shouldn’t be predictable; there should be an element of surprise. I know I want to explore the concept of suppressed anger: the way that suppressing our anger makes us feel and how suppressed anger might look. But I still don’t know how I am going to resolve this exploration.

Do we endlessly continue to suppress our anger deep inside of ourselves? Does anger that has grown deep roots in our identities ever disappear? Will there always be a small tight fisted ball of a feeling, of a memory, of the anger we once suppressed remaining in the pits of our stomachs? Or can we overcome our anger completely and just let it gently slip away, as if it were never there to begin with? If so, how do I effectively and successfully communicate any of those ideas to the audience in such a way that will both allow to them leave with both a positive image of the piece and make them actively think about their own experiences of suppressed anger?

I agree with Humphrey that we, as dancers, hesitate to even think about the construction of the endings of our works, because choreographing an ending means accepting that the dance has to end.  Symbolically, the ending of a dance reminds us that there will eventually be an end to our extraordinary intense dancing days, whether it is five years away or sixty years away. I have had some the best times of my life during the last three or four years since I started formal dance training. We love the rush and the sweat and the sheer physical exhaustion of classes, rehearsals, auditions and intense late night choreography sessions that tire our bodies and blister our skin. We are happiest when we are dancing and unhappiest when we have to stop. Perhaps this is why we are resistant to even consider choreographing the ending of our works: because we never want to stop.

Monday, 14 April 2014

"Seasons changed, and the years went by but Roxaboxen was always there" : 'Really Is, Always Was' - Julia Corrigan

This weekend Goucher College held its annual Dance Concert in the stunning Kraushaar Auditorium. My friend Julia presented her choreographic work Really Is, Always Was at the concert. There was something very moving about the way her dancers moved through her choreography. There was a real sense of intent that drew me in from the outset. As well as making me want to go straight to the studio and dance, it also made me want to write. So here is a little review/stream of thoughts about Julia's work.

Julia Corrigan's Really Is, Always Was is a profoundly moving and driving work that was adjudicated in ACDFA (American College Dance Festival's Mid Atlantic Conference) in March 2014. Corrigan's work explores the idea of embodied memory and childhood. What does memory look like when manifested in our bodies? The work is influenced by the children's book Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. Roxaboxen explores the imagination of a group of children who create their own imaginary town in the desert, using the sand, cacti and rocks around them. The incorporation of intense child-like happiness that can be found in freedom and play, is manifested as human curiosity and exploration in Corrigan's choreography.

The evocative and driving La Grande Cascade, Salento and Noel Aux Balkans composed by René Aubry sets the sincere, reminiscent tone of the work. Aubry's accompaniments drive the bodies through the journey of the choreography. The quick bursts of guitar and the driving piano melody match the dancers' bursts of energy and suspension as they spin, swinging and snaking their arms through the movement. The dancers crawl and cling and reach out with long graceful arms; longing for something lost, something distant, something out of reach.

The sense of melancholy created by the music is counteracted by the sweeping momentum of the choreography. Corrigan's beautiful use of her dancers serves her well in her choice of spatial formation that highlights the driving force behind the music. Dancers gather together in a tight clump on their knees, peeling away in canon and quickly travelling to the opposite side of the clump, before suddenly slipping back into the swinging, spinning momentum. There is a growing sense of overwhelming energy as the dancers seem to turn and fall and spin between the divide between memory and reality. Some seem to get lost in their memory, sinking deeper as their bodies lose control of what's real, while others seem to balance precariously on the knife edge between the two realms.

There is a sudden eruption of child-like delight as two dancers leap and jump across the empty stage. The space is theirs and suddenly the atmosphere becomes lively and full of human vitality. Two other dancers grip each others wrists and spin like children in a playground. It is at this point that the wondrous timelessness of McLerren's children's book becomes discernible. This careful amalgamation of child-like delight and poignant sincerity is incredibly powerful and thought provoking.

At last a single dancer walks calmly through the mass of bodies spinning and turning and falling through space. Among the chaos and storm of our memories there is still calmness and rationality. We all remember the sun-burnt blue skies of our childhood and familiarity of the grass between our toes. But how do we disentangle the divides between memory and reality? And what we can and can no longer have?

Monday, 7 April 2014

Rants And Moans About Change: "Pre Post-Graduation Anxiety" (disclaimer: this is not a real disorder, I googled it)

So I thought I would write another blog post, since I've been quiet for  a week or so. I've been thinking about change a lot recently. Change of seasons, change of familiarity, social change, familial change, change of character, change of interests, change of direction.

The seasons have begun to change in Maryland; Washington DC had its annual Cherry Blossom festival this weekend and the trees seem to be reluctantly budding green on campus at Goucher. I am welcoming the warm weather with open arms and short skirts and sandals and bare legs. I am so done with the frost, snow and ice storms.

I hate change, which is unfortunate for someone who has changed address eight times and is constantly changing their mind about almost everything... Fickle? Or just doubtful? But of course, having decided to study Dance, I might as well get used to change if I'm to graduate as a freelance dancer or writer.

So how should I prepare myself for life after university? How do I prepare myself for the change of lifestyle, change of financial situation, change of address (technically I should already know how to prepare for another change of address, but eight times hasn't been enough apparently). Or is it just a matter of wading through the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with growing up?

Is it normal to feel as anxious as a twelve year old boy entering puberty? Or like an (anxious) bull in a china shop? Or am I over-reacting a little? I feel like I'm over-reacting a little. Perhaps they (whoever they are) should come up with a name for this emotion: "pre post-graduation anxiety" would work for me.

A lot of my dancer friends at Goucher are planning to move to New York, Washington DC, Seattle and San Francisco in order to start their lives as freelance dancers, company members and arts administrators. But I don't feel remotely ready to be unleashed upon the world of working adults, especially not as a dancer. It all feels so uncertain.

What I'm trying to say is that everything is changing so much so quickly, and I'm struggling to keep up with the changes that are occuring in my life. How do I prepare myself for the changes coming ahead of me, while not losing focus on what's happening right now?

Is there anyone else out there?

Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival: Photo courtesy of:

Listening to: 
James Blake - Life Round Here 
James Blake - Retrograde
José Gonzalez - Heartbeats
Jamie Woon - Blue Truth