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!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Beth's Summer Reading Break Down

This summer I had a great time reading books-- and I thought it would be interesting to share. I hope you find the list useful! 

Some are fluff, some are transformative. All were rewarding in some way.  Taking the time to read the book was step one, but also going back to look over my notes/ my highlighted sections proved to be a meaningful step in processing some of the more informative selections. I generally read on a kindle because I want to keep the books for reference but don't have an inch of spare space in my little cottage to expand a hard copy library.  It works well for me. 

In a Dry Season (Inspector Banks Novel) by Peter Robinson
A good old fashioned murder mystery that takes place in England in a town where American soldiers had been stationed during World War II. I liked the depictions of that era in history and how they tied it into a murder mystery that was discovered decades later.  This was the perfect antidote to the heavy thinking I was doing in Labanotation Teaching Certification course.

Etched in Sand by Regina Calcaterra: This book broke my heart.  It is the true story of a family of neglected children as they vied to stay alive and out of the foster system.  Their mom would abandon them for weeks at a time and they had to learn to lie, steal and care for themselves.  I of course have heard stories of neglect and abuse, but this book put it all into perspective, teaching me about the broken government social system, the scars that are left behind these tragic situations and the resilience of the human spirit.

Abducted (a Lizzy Gardner series) by T.R. Ragan: Ok, I thought I was purchasing another book.  So, I got it wrong. Anyway, I did read it. Total fluff.  Not that well written, but, I still took the time to finish it, so it must have been giving me something (crude entertainment).  If you need mindless and still mildly interesting, it could be a possibility. 

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitsgerald
I hadn't ever read it before! And, I wanted to read it before I saw the recent film.  Really a strange novella about pretty dysfunctional people.  I liked it.

Easily Amused by Karen McQuestion: Really quite terrible in my opinion. Super fluff. 

The Aesthetic Brain: How We evolved to Desire Beauty and Art by Anjan Charterjee
This was a rich and extremely informative book that is nevertheless easy to read and fun.  It traces how our brains respond to beautiful things and artful things.  My favorite lesson was in regards to our differentiated systems for liking something and wanting something (pleasure vs. desire).  In the art world we can really mix up these responses, and it can get muddy as to why we like what we do.  Do we like this jazz dance because we like the artful craft of the design or because we desire the young dancer? The book covers much more than this, and I am brimming with ideas about implications for dance as art and commodity. 

Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima: this was a re-read. My college roommate had it and recommended it to me way back in the day. I did read it, but re-reading it proved to be like reading it for the first time.  It is beautiful. Simple. Elegant.  Romantic.  There is a purity to the descriptions as it depicts a fascinating island culture in Japan in the 1950's and the love between two young islanders. 

Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing by Andrew Smart
I chose this book in part because of my sabbatical. How was I going to "do" or rather "not do" my year away from instruction? Autopilot builds a convincing argument for our need for downtime, relaxation, day dreaming and general unfocused time.  The science behind our need for rest is fascinating and the implications for our quality of life is fascinating. If you have ever felt guilty for taking naps, staring off into space or sitting in your garden for extended period of time, you need to read this book.

Currently reading: 
Seeds of Virtue, Seeds of Change edited by Eido Carney: (Anthology of lessons by 27 women in Zen Buddhism). Each chapter is a gift. So wonderful! And, my own Zen teacher Jane Schneider is one of the contributors!
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman: about the difference between our intuitive and automatic decision making process and our deliberate logical (effortful) decision making.  I'm just at the beginning of this one, but it is certainly promising. 
If you read a fantastic book this summer, please let me know in a comment below.  Reading is one of my top priorities while on sabbatical this year.

Note: I don't have cable or satellite. And, my internet connection is pretty slow living on the edge of town so Netflicks downloads are out of the question. My forms of entertainment are a bit limited in number.  But, I wouldn't have it any other way! My husband Dan and I decided to get rid of cable over 3 years ago so we would have more time to read, take walks and be generally more active. I highly recommend it for anyone who feels they don't have the time to read.