Tuesday, November 4, 2014

How do we know we grow?

It was easy when all we had to do was stand with our backs against the kitchen wall where our mother or father would mark our height and date.  But, what happens after you max out?  In my case, at a hearty 5’11”!

Years blend into each other, and we often find ourselves time and time again in what seems like the same place or the same situation over and over again. How can we know we have changed? Grown? Learned?

Each year I attend the National Dance Educators Organization conference.  I have presented each year for the past 6 or so years—or more. I can’t really remember! But, what I do know is that each year I process through the conference ritual and each year I can see how I have changed and if I have changed over the past 12 months. 

The conference becomes a marker for me, an opportunity to notice what is different in me and in my approach to what I do and to those around me.  This year I find myself with a deep centeredness that I don’t recall in past years.  Often the conference is such a whirlwind. The preparation leaves us wind blown like leaves as we are swept into the official fours days of meetings, sessions, classes and panels.  Each day is packed full of events and there are always more people in attendance than one person could ever try to talk to.  This year over 700!

So, with such a large group in attendance and with countless opportunities for learning and conversing, it is tough to stay connected to oneself and avoid the hustle and bustle all around you.  So many wonderful dance education minds come together to share their stories during these grand conferences, yet we must trust that we will get what we need from this massive event. It will come to us just as we need it. In the package we need and at the time and place in which we are ready to receive it. My goal is to let the conference come to me as it may.  I want to soak in the experience without feeling flustered or overwhelmed as I have in the past. Most importantly I want to be fully present in the experiences and in the conversations. 

Personal growth means we get to revisit something familiar and do it “better.”  We get to be more mindful of our words and our actions, more compassionate for others and more patient with ourselves.  As we experience this we can feel ourselves growing, getting a little taller in spirit.

What annual rituals do you practice and how do you approach them each year?  Do you ever feel stuck in a rut or perhaps tired of running after new experiences?  How do you measure your growth? The holidays of course are right around the corner and they are always a chance for practicing balance. What are your plans for growth and change? How tall do you hope to grow this year?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Squint, and Remake the World

My colleague and friend Jessica Kondrath and I are pooling our efforts for a show to happen this weekend at ARC in Pasadena.  It all started when I commissioned Jessica to set a piece on my students at Moorpark College.  The piece, called Squint, and Remake the World was a great challenge for the young dancers who valiantly rose to the occasion and learned a lot in the process. 

But, there was something about the piece that made me want to dance it. And, not many pieces will do that for me.  So, I asked Jessica to reset it on my company. . . and, well, collaborating on the one piece turned into the production of an entire evening of concert dance. 

Once this idea was planted in my mind I started to work on a choreographic response to Squint.  I titled it Underneath Scattered Eyelashes.  A version of the dance was performed on Megill & Company's Gala performance late May.  I have never created a choreographic response to another dance, so this was a fun and interesting choreographic challenge.  I enjoyed drawing from some of the motifs of Jessica's work and using them as a spring board into a new direction.  Here is a little more about the nature of the piece and my thought process behind it. 

Underneath Scattered Eyelashes
 The title of the work comes from a little game I played when I was younger.  When an eyelash fell on someone's cheek we would get hold of it have the person make a wish while blowing the eyelash (and the wish) into the air.  Where are all those eyelashes? And, perhaps more importantly where are all of the wishes they represented?  Additional imagery for the piece is drawn from the beauty and timelessness of celestial movement as the home of our dreams. The use of arm circles in the piece represents the rotation of the planets.  The large sweeping circular pathways reflect the orbits of the planets around a star.  These grand images of the galaxy are contrasted with a gritty reality that is our life on earth shown in the position of one hand on the head and the other on the hip.  The piece ultimately asks an existential question about who we are in this world and in this lifetime.  Some of the movements are based in CFR lessons (Cortico-Field Reeducation) that I have learned as part of a Feldenkrais-based physical therapy that reintegrates the nervous system for greater ease and efficiency.  The paradoxical nature of the piece can be seen on a micro and a macro level in the design of the body in relationship to gravity and itself and the designs of the bodies in space in relationship to each other.  The heaviness of the piece comes from the existential crisis we all face as some point in our lives.  But, this is effectively balanced in the awe and beauty seen all around us.  The meditative quality of the piece invites the audience to come inward, to settle their energy into this moment and to bask in the complex paradox that is this lifetime. 

In addition to Eyelashes, I will be performing a structured improvisation I created last year called Inside the Vault.  This solo involves five audience volunteers who help me demonstrate the way our brains are able to make connections as we learn.  The piece came to me in a flash. I heard the Tom Waits song; I thought of the text, and I saw the volunteers and use of the yarn all in one moment of artistic connection.

Inside the Vault
This piece is about memory and memory loss.  Our brains have millions of nerves that connect and reconnect as we learn things and forget things.  As we age this process of connection can become difficult for many reasons.  The song Young at Heart performed by tom Waits includes the lyrics "Fairy tales will come true, it can happen to you, when your young at heart."  This reminds us to notice how old or young we feel.  What dreams have we forgotten and what dream to we still hold onto.  How do we interact with the world as emotional beings with our life experience affecting each decision at every turn? These type of questions are addressed in the spoken text from a book My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor in which she describes how our brain is structured and how the neurons connect to each other to create emotions that are the same at 10 as they are at 30 or even 77.  We are both old and young at each stage in our lives.  Our nervous system has no age, and yet we think of ourselves as aging, forgetting, and losing all that we are with the accumulation of years. 

If you come to the show, I would love to hear your thoughts on the work.  I decided to write this blog in response to a friend's request to know more about the pieces in the performance.  She finds the background knowledge provides a key to unlocking and appreciating the pieces on a deeper level.  This got me to thinking about the dance world and audiences and the common misperception of "not getting modern dance." I offer this blog to those who are interested in knowing more, as a sort of alternative to a DVD commentary you might have on a favorite film.  When we invest our attention into something, we are able to enjoy it on many levels from many perspectives.  I hope this blog gives the audience members for this weekend's show a foothold into deeper appreciation. 


See the show? Share your thoughts as a comment below! Feedback is a precious gift!