Monday, December 31, 2012

eMegill: Discovering Home

eMegill: Discovering Home: Home is the sensation of relief. I have had a truly incredible summer of travel and escapades.  Starting with a road trip with the Razor B...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Rentless Chronicals - short review


I love artists who make it happen. Whatever that means in their environment or circumstances.  I love artists who make the work because the work needs to be made. Because they are compelled to share their creative, philosophical and aesthetic voice with the world. Because the world needs them to share their voice and they create in response to that draw.   

Wendi Baity's work with her first two short dance films in an ongoing series called the Relentless Chronicles (Relentless Dance Theater) is soaked in this sense of mission and personal drive.  The films are short glimpses into Baity's view of the world, the human being and the dancer. 

The first film, Home is a State of Mind, features an exquisite trio of dancers who are powerful, expressive and personal in their performance.  I am by no means a film critic (so please accept my layman's vocabulary and understanding of film editing) but I am a student of composition, and I found this first film rugged and imperfect in a way that suited the material.  The editing was simple and clean, the imagery was strong, and the dance phrases were emotionally compelling.  The still images by Lisa Flory were stunning with rich portraits of these individuals. I was particularly impressed with the site specific dance phrases (both in unison and in solos), specifically the moments when the dancers were on the dusty ground and kicking up dirt with their boots. It felt dry and desolate. And, a deep sense of desperation welled up inside of me. 

The second film already possessed a more refined sense of imagery and screen composition utilizing more extensive camera movement and editing to create visual interest in the performance space which is a dance room.   This piece entitled Not a Number, deals more directly with the very sensitive dance topic of individuality in a very competitive dance world.  I have never attended a commercial dance audition-- in part because I was so invested in the academic world through my younger dancing years and in part because I was just too scared.  But luckily many dancers have the guts to put themselves out there, time and time and time again. The commercial dance world is an exciting and intoxicating place, but in those huge cattle call auditions (where hundreds upon hundreds of dancers come for their chance at a gig) you become girl number #147 with the red leotard and blonde hair.  Nameless and dismissable.  So, what does a dancer do?  The film suggest at the end, a dancer has to decide to either play the game or not. And, as the film finished I did get a sense that the dancers were choosing their own paths which left me nodding my head in approval.

Not A Number started out really strong for me.  However, I found was not as drawn into the film. The film as a whole seemed more sleek. The dancers were strong, each with stunning featured moments.  But, as a whole I didn't feel as strong of a connection with the performers.  I am not sure why. . . I think I wanted to know more of their stories.  Baity's chose to use predominantly strong and fast movement (punching and slashing action efforts) for this film, but because they all danced similarly I think made them seem more similar than different.  I saw the dancers as a unified group rather than independent individuals striving to be something different. 

Overall, Baity's efforts in these short films should be applauded. Not only are they engaging stories, but they prove that dance itself can have a message for social change that is meaningful.  Baity has already filmed 7 of these Chronicles which are now in editing and post production.  I honestly look forward to seeing these other films.  I want the world to see dance that is gritty and raw, passionate and personal. 

I hope you will take a moment to check out these films and see how they speak to you as a dancer as a human being.  If you have insights to film studies, maybe you can share your observations and insights into the pieces. 

Cheers to art being made because it HAS to be made!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Denying the LIfe That Is - 287 Days Left

Of course, I remember the past 2 weeks. I actually did a lot! It involved Thanksgiving turkey, rehearsals, getting a cold, rainy days, and grading papers among other things.

But, this is my year to live! And, yesterday I had to come to terms with that fact that while I was living I had forgotten to rip off two weeks worth of days from my Year to Live Calendar!  2 weeks! Fourteen days! Gone. 

I could have ripped them off all together and been done with it. I mean, I had been busy. I thought to myself:  It was the holidays, I got sick, I was distracted, my back was injured.  . .

True, but that is not the point.  I didn't rip them off all at once in a stack.

I ripped them off one by one. Counting out 14 days of missed life. 

But, I was living! Wasn't I??

Well, yes and no. I realized that while I was busy "living" and enduring colds, tough dental work appointments and an injury to my low back, I had forgotten to take note of each passing day, and I had let 2 weeks go by in a blink! I had been so good about ripping the pages off daily.  I needed to figure out what had changed.  Was I just because I was busier and more challenged? 

No.  

I realized that these past two weeks, starting with a re-aggravated lower back, I was denying the life that is.  My life.

I was closing myself off (and losing days of my life) because I didn't like that I was "living" a life of pain.  Better to ignore the whole thing, right?

No.

There will always be issues, there will always be pain. I was in denial of my current state of living and in so doing I was denying my life as a whole.  Yet, as much as I know pain is a part of human life, going through days in pain is not easy.  Intellectual understanding of pain doesn't make the pain go away.  And, no amount of wishing it would heal faster will make it heal faster. 

But seeing the white pages of the calendar dropping in the trash one by one was a wake up call that time will still pass whether I acknowledge it or not.  So, if I am going to enjoy this "Year to Live" I need to wake up and not let an injury or a cold wipe away my days.  

I see now that, somewhere in my brain I thought that not taking off the calendar sheets on these pain filled days would somehow magically make the world stop spinning and the days stop passing.  But, that is not how time works.  Back pain or no, today is the only thing that matters.  I have to make the most of it (whatever that means to me today). So tonight when I rip off the date and watch number 287 float into the trash bin, I can feel good about my efforts to experience it all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Year to Live - Stones for Change

Of course changing habits is hard! There are a million books written on the subject.  I've probably read at least 20 of them over the past 10 years.  I like the books. They give me hope that things can change.  They make it seem possible.

But, merely reading the books doesn't help.

The only way to make change is to practice.

So, I devised a system to help me keep track of my progress. But this system is a little different, because it sits in front of me everyday on my coffee table as a reminder.  A physical 3-dimensional reminder that I am on a path to change.  It looks like this. . . 



Yes, bowls filled with stones!

Here is the premise:  I started with 44 stones in my Growth Bowl.  This visually represents the practice I need to accomplish to make the changes I want to make.  When I practice good behaviors I transfer a stone from the Growth Bowl to the Success Bowl*. 

In my case, I have chosen 3 ways to earn a stone. 

     1.  I can eat at home the whole day to save money and make healthier choices.
     2.  I can go to the gym for cardio.
     3. I can take a walk around the High Road (the 1 1/2 mile loop around the Brandeis Bardin Campus where I live).

But!  The stones can go both ways! If I exhibit less healthy behaviors, I have to return a stone to the Growth Bowl (reminding me I have more practice to do).  However, the key is not to punish myself if I make a poor choice, but to recognize that my choices, both healthy and unhealthy, have a cumulative effect, and that I am looking for the overall success. 

I "lose" a stone a few ways:

     1.  I eat out more than 1x a day.  (3 meals out = 2 stones!)
     2.  I eat a gluttonous amount. (usually because I eat while I'm tired or stressed out)
     3.  I eat more than one sweet a day. 

For me this practice is all about moderation and the visual representation that I am making more healthy choices than unhealthy ones.  The result of course gives me confidence that I can make changes and the changes make me feel good. 

The best lesson is the act of taking a moment to pause and think before I make a decision.  Do I really want to spend money eating out? Do I really want that second brownie? Will taking a walk before bed reduce my stress level? Of course, I know the answer, but this holds me accountable to my value set.

Earning stones is my way of practicing awareness in my life and learning to be mindful of how I want to exist in the world.  My stones have to do with living a healthy lifestyle in the areas where I think I need growth, but this practices could be done with any behavior.  My husband has his own set of stones (in white bowls) and doing it together is fun.  Some days I earn more stones than he does and other days he earns more than I do. But, it encourages us both to stay awake and alert of our actions as we go through our days. 

We also will gift each other a stone for exceptional behavior that is not on the list.  For instance, if he helps a friend with yard work or I have a particularly productive dance rehearsal.  This allows us to be flexible in our growth and see all aspects of our lives through the mindful lens. 

Today I have earned 3 stones.   
     1. 20 min Yoga in the morning
     2.  Afternoon walk around the High Road
     3.  Eating only fresh foods at home!

*Note: I think it is key that the terminology of the bowls be positive on both sides.  Growth gives me hope that I can grow to change. If I labeled it "Bad" I would likely abandon ship-- Just writing about it gives me a heavy heart.  Think positive for lasting change! 

Side note:  Why 44 stones?  Because we only had 88 on hand so we divided them equally.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Year to Live - 323 Days Left

Don't worry! I am not ill, and I hopefully have many, many more years to live.

But, what if I didn't?  What if this was my last November, my last Channukah, Christmas, New Years, Birthday. . . ?  I have started a practice with my spirituality group called "A Year To Live" inspired by Stephen Levine's book with the same name.  Of course we are doing it our Buddhist inspired way, but the essential questions remain the same. 

How can I live my life to the fullest? . . . What does that even mean? 

I started my year to live on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and I am now down to 323 days left.  It's been a while since I have posted to this blog because this first month has been a doosey as I have reorganized my thinking, my approach to life and in some ways the contents of my life. 

I started by calculating the total hours it would take for me to do everything I want to do in a week.  I turns out I would need some 121 hours a week (and that was without allotting time for meals or family).  Alas, I am only awake approximately 105 hours a week. So, therein was the first problem I identified in my quality of life. I wanted to do too many things and in result everything suffered and most of all I suffered.  I was losing integrity.  And, fast. 

So I made the difficult cuts to things I enjoyed in my life but just didn't have time for.  Sadly, my yoga membership and my participation in the Razor Babes was among them.  But, I simply couldn't live the rest of my "year to live" feeling overwhelmed and generally disappointed in myself for not being able to accomplish everything I wanted to in a week. I was doomed to failure, by the mere math of there not being enough waking hours! 

But, simplifying was just the first step.  The "year to live" perspective has permeated most of my daily decisions.  Now I find myself asking how I want to live my life starting with the here and now.

How do I want this moment to be? To feel?

How do I want this evening to be?

This day? This week?

The good news is that I believe I am on track with most of my life decisions. I love teaching, I love creating dances and I love learning.  I have loving relationships with my husband and family.  In general, I am living the way I want to live in the big scheme of things.  But, the little stuff is what gets me from time to time. Getting caught up in the illusions that cause anxiety. The demands of the moment that feel like life and death, but really are trivial, silly or simply not worth my time. 

This practice is, however, not as simple as it seems.  It is often hard to see the truth of the situation, to dig past the eye catching details of the moment and see the essentials of life as it is.  I still have bad days. I still have moments of insecurity and uncertainty. But, this practice has already changed my attitude toward myself, others and the world. 

I won't last forever; no one will.  This too shall pass. I shall pass. The joys, the suffering, the clarity, the confusion, the life, the death.  It is all transient.

So, what do we make of the here and now?  

The present.  The gift of being present. 


Monday, October 22, 2012

Live @ LALA (Oct 20, 2012)

I know! I know! It has been too long since I have posted and the reasons are far too complex to get into right now.  Expect a future post to get to the bottom of that (or at least the middle).

Right now I want to celebrate another great gathering of dancers and dance artists at the Live @ LALA series' first showing, featuring works of local dance makers in this talent filled area.  The venue is a super fun and chill dance studio called Live Arts Los Angeles (hence LALA) and the show was a great event, with refreshments for the audience members and wine at the bar. 

Here is my personal run down of the show!

Carol Guidry choreographed and danced in a tango with Omar Olivas entitled "Tango de Los Muertos."  It was the perfect opener for this loosely Halloween themed night of dance.  The dancers rose from the grave (or was it a bed? or both?) to rekindle their romance through a seductive tango that was exquisitely executed and well designed for stage.  Their face paint in the style of the skeletons of Dia de Los Muertos was playful and effective.

Lindsey Lollie and Chelsea Yarnell choreographed and performied their duet, "Transcending Fluctuation," set to an original score by Peter Gonzales.  These dancers like so many Cal Arts graduates moved with a fluidity and articulate grace that I have come to expect from that dance program.  Their ability to move energy between them became the thematic center for the piece and was captivating to watch.  Their sensitivity to each other in movement and energy made this piece a success for me.

Shoji Yamasaki created his solo "Illumination" around the use of a standing lamp.  You know the ones with the three bulbs that we all had (or have) in our dorm rooms or offices!  He played with the directed light, manipulating it to shine around the entire performance space including the audience.  The piece opened with his reading. . . and then eating a newspaper!  It seems that the illumination was not just about light, but perhaps about information and knowledge as well. Thus in consuming the newspaper we was ingesting greater awareness.  Perhaps enlightenment?  I enjoyed how this piece was crafted around the lighting special, calling me back to time of pure experiment with the theatrical components of dance as well as the movement itself.

Laura Laser choreographed the duet "The Battle" performing with Sacha Senisch.  This piece based on a tribal figure and a birdlike character was particular evocative for me because just earlier that day I had gone for a walk and witnessed a red tailed hawk up close and personal.  The dancers performed with strong line and powerful athleticism.  The battle did not seem to be external, but rather an internal investigation of the bird spirit with each individual and our need to let it soar free.

Cherise Richards palpably moved the audience with her stunning solo, "Will and Waves," which involved strong capoiera influences as well as surfing and water imagery. It was a personal journey of self reflection that was made extra special by the use of her own shadows on the white back drop (a coincidental boon that worked perfectly). The shadows reinforced the imagery of self discovery and reflection.  Richards is a commanding and powerful performer who was able to use her strengths as a mover to tell a deeply sensitive story.

"Interface" was a trio choreographed by Taryn Wayne.  Performed by Laura Smyth, Sarah Bennett and Wayne herself.  This performance took the show toward a more contemporary jazz feel, utilizing expressive gesture, powerful leaps, kicks and turns as the dancers wove in and out of the space in waves.  The club-like dance feel of the accompaniment was a clear hit for the audience that couldn't help but groove a little in their seats.

Stephanie Zatel performed "Fixed Movement," a spooky solo set to the live music composed and performed by Louis Lopez.  Dancing on a small table, this piece made me a little nervous as she balanced right at the edge in an extended relevé.  The nature of the piece was less clear for me, but Zatel's use of stillness set this piece apart and added to the unnerving nature of the piece.  Only after she began using the small table as her own barricade of protection did I really start to match the spookiness of the music, movement and stark use of her emotional landscape.

My piece (Megill & Company) performed "Pulled" next.  In contrast to the other pieces, I see just how different my theatrical bias is for some current trends.  This piece is sort of psycho-thriller set in dance. I created it to contrast all the humor and levity in the MeCo repertory, but out of context, it was eerie to see.  Despite a little lighting malfunction, it went well. At least I think it did-- I was in it so of course I couldn't get the full effect. . .

Next, Ingrid Graham performed her solo "Artemis,"  leaving the audience in pure awe of her physique and technical background.  There weren't bios in the program, but I can only imagine that before coming here from NY she received training in Horton and the Ailey style.  She was a goddess on stage.  Powerful. Regal.  Impeccable.

Jordan Saenz performed her solo "through the blood, bone and muscle" to another original music by Peter Gonzales.  This piece stood out for its detailed musicality that perfectly reflected Gonzalez' electronic score. Saenz' movement is mesmerizing ebbing and flowing through her body that seemed at times to be made of rubber due to the way it arced and slinked its way through the space.  Saenz is a highly articulate mover whose style blends both hip hop and contemporary modern into a very hip and very personal style that I can still recall in my memory (but could never hope to recreate on my own body because of its elusive nature).

The show closed with another male female duet, "Visitor" co-choreographed and performed by Laura Ann Smyth and Mark Tomasic and set to a spooky remake of Britney Spears' Toxic by Yael Naim.  Unlike the first duet, this duet was not a romantic escapade, but seemed more like a tortured memory of a couple faced with the demise of their relationship.  The movement was loosely based in Jazz dance, however, kept a fresh and unique voice that is often unseen in current jazz dance choreography.  The musicianship of both dancers was clear in their solo and unison movement and created a believable tension that ended with a thriller ending. 

As a whole, this event was what I want dance events in LA and Ventura to be.  Unlike other festivals, I noticed a clear artistic and personal maturity in all of the performances in this show and from the audience as well.  The relaxed environment made for an extremely friendly and supportive environment and the works themselves were very evocative for me as an artist and teacher.  Special thanks to the owners and producers Karen Quick and Jennifer Vaughn who have started something very special with this project.

I highly recommend you check out Live at LALA next time around!




Saturday, September 1, 2012

MixMatch Run Down (Friday Aug 31st, 2012)

Another great show in the 6th Annual MixMatch festival.  This time with a completely different feel and composition of styles and trends from the shoes last week. (Reviews for those shows here: Saturday 25thSunday 26th).

Here are a few of my thoughts on each piece to help foster discussion and support for dance artists in the LA community and beyond. Please feel free to comment and add share your ideas and observations!


Act I
The show opened with a piece by Sara Kempe entitled, "I Wish I Were a Punk Rocker." The cast of all women in floral dresses nicely executed this lyrical/contemporary jazz piece.  There was strong use of musicality and nuance in the choreography. The dancers' unison was quite strong and highlighted by their smiling focus that was committed and enjoyable.

Jenni Kiiholma choreographed and performed in the next duet, "What is most durable in the world."  Kiiholma is a beautiful mover and her agility and flow was a pleasure to watch through out the piece set to Tool and the Deftones.  There was a patience and stability in Kiiholma's performance that I found refreshing. Her partner shared this aesthetic of clear intent, ease and strength. The question that emerged for me was regarding the relationship between the two dancers.  The introduction of the male dancer happened quite a while into the piece, and I wondered about the reasoning behind this as well as the nature of their transition into dancing together.  Nevertheless, I was so pleased with the quality of the dancers' movement that this question did not detract from my enjoyment.

"The Eyes of the World" choreographed by Alexandra de Ochoa of Blackbird Dance Company, introduced a more tribal (Africanist) aesthetic to the show which by chance would resurface again and again in other works.  This particular piece was very clearly animal influenced as the dancers crouched and circled each other between phrases of fluid spines and rhythmic stepping.  The "cat" was a particularly engaged performer, believable in her conviction and presence.  I enjoyed the rhythmic walking pattern with a scoop of the arm that added to the Africanist groove of the piece.

Jessica Kondrath presented a beautiful excerpted solo danced by Devon Reurekamp, entitled "The Art of Breathing." This piece was elegantly designed with awareness to both time and space that captivated the audience.  Kondrath has a special ability to draw the audience's focus where she wants us to look so that we really notice the beauty in Kondrath's choreographic detail.  The performer did justice to these moments with a patience and clarity that was mesmerizing. 

"The Story of Mulan" choreographed by Mary Ann Van De Car and Members of Troupe Zachareet was quite a show, complete with ornate costumes, fans and swords as props, belly dancing coin skirts and break dancers!  This performance group clearly loves to dance and there was a strong sense of community among this mixed racial and multi-generational cast.  The b-boys were particularly enjoyable for me.

The act closed with Amanda Hart's "Flex/Pull," the duet I saw last week, which you can read about here.

Act II

Ami Mattison choreographed "These Letters" which opened the second half of the show.  This quartet was a perfect example of where contemporary jazz practices have evolved.   The quartet was powerful, sexy, and expressive. The dancers were generous in their performance of the challenging material and their attention to dynamic nuance.  The theatrical component of the piece included letters that the dancers crumpled up and threw around in a variety of choreographic situations. This use of paper transformed the piece into a theatrical work that was truly enjoyable for me.    (Note:  I imagine that Mattison might call her work contemporary rather than contemporary jazz, but I wanted to note that this style is different than contemporary in the modern dance genre thus the inclusion of jazz in my categorization of her work).

CHIHIRO KODAMA knocked the socks off of the crowd with his piece, "Re-Construction."  This production (for in fact it was the most theatrically complex piece of the evening) was well crafted and nothing short of a total blast.  The crew of dancers each had incredible skill that was played perfectly in the loose narrative of a man in his electronic world.  The unison moments were excellently timed and the soloing was jaw dropping.  The incorporation of video, magic, acting, flashlights, red light balls, hats and canes made this piece a true stand out.

"Beguiled in the Bajou" choreographed by Maura Townsend of Project21Dance returned the audience to a groove in the Africanist aesthetic that was reminiscent of Katherine Dunham and Alvin Ailey.  This expressive modern dance included a cast of 7 dancers who filled the stage with their "cool" Luisiana energy as they performed with a sense of release, abandon and musicality that makes this style of dance a joy to watch.  The featured female in all white seemed to be conjuring the spirt of the other dancers, whipping them into a frenzy of fluid spines, powerful legs and expressive torsos. 

Irene Watson, brought laughs to the stage in her playful and outright funny duet entitled "Ooohdalollie."  Watson, measuring up at what I imagine can be no more than 5 feet, and her tall partner, who seemed to tower over her, were funny from the start. The over sized lollipop that changed hands countless times as they fought over it, seemed to me to be the real heart of the piece. In some ways the lollipop seemed to have a mind of its own and its presence was the sole reason for the incredible and funny movement that came out of the dancers.  The way her partner, Jarred Laos, flung her about in there pink petticoat was a hoot. 

Noelle Andressen presented her third piece in the festival "Emergence."  This group piece utilized sheer sacks in which the dancers started with illumination from a flameless tea light.  The sacks were then taken off and wrapped around the dancers into sarong style dresses or skirts, thus literally conveying the title concept of emergence.  I wonder however if the theme of emergence could be taken further; this group of dancers that included a variety of technical levels and body shapes were also emerging from the stereotypes of what types of bodes and what levels of experience are needed to create dance works.  One of the most stunning moments for me was a very simple slow walk that was performed in the background of the piece by two of the dancers. The dancers' focus in this very simple choreographic moment was beautiful for me and proved again that dancers of all levels and body types deserve an opportunity to express themselves through movement.

My piece "Pull & Draft" (Megill & Company) was second to last in the concert.  My trio of dancers performed very well considering it is a "big" dance that didn't quite fit on the very small Miles Memorial stage.  But, it is a good lesson for me to learn as a choreographer.  I need to choose works that fit in the performance space otherwise they cannot be done justice.  With that said I am particularly proud of the dancers Leah Craig, Nathan Burdine and Brooklynn Reeves for managing to dance so fully and so musically within the confines of that performance space.  For me that is a mark of true professionalism.

The show closed with a jaw dropping solo by Thomas Tsai entitles "MEAN".  Thomas entered form the house, walking down to the stage before jumping up and beginning his monologue of words and movement.  His b-boy background knitted seamlessly with a the modern dance sensibility of performing to spoken word.  I just don't know how he kept his breath while flipping, swirling, rolling and stalling his way through the piece.  His incredible feats of strength and balance challenged me to keep equal focus on the words. I was so captivated with his movement that I had to force myself to keep listening to what he was saying.  And, when I did, I noticed how his words also swirled, and rolled and stalled just like his body.  It was a stunning work.  And, the audience showed its appreciation with thunderous applause. 

Two more shows left in this festival.  Come out and show your support for dance in our community. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

MixMatch Run Down (Aug 26th, 2012)

As stated in my last blog, I am currently trying my hand as a dance writer in hopes of encouraging more discussion about dance and also growing the awareness of what is currently available for dance lovers in the Southern California region.  Today was the 3rd performance of the 6th Annual MixMatch Dance Festival at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. While I was not able to see the entire show because I was also performing, I managed to see most of it and wanted to share my impressions of the fantastic matinee performance.

Act I
The matinee opened with "No, Seriously" choreographed and performed by Molly Mattei. Beautifully performed, this dance was a versatile mix of dynamic energies that swept me away.  I found her performance to be intoxicating with its use of subtle timing, musical phrasing and articulate movements.  This piece is a wonderful representation of contemporary American dance which blends styles seamlessly, balancing traditional technique with more urban vocabulary and personal expression.

Amanda Hart, the Artistic Director of the MixMatch festival and HartPulse Dance, presented a beautifully performed quartet, "Spoons."  I imagine the title represented the metaphor of two souls finding each other and fitting together like spoons.  In this piece, the two duets worked in and out of each other, continually moving the focus of the audience member before finally returning to the original pairs, holding and hands as seemed inevitable.

Noelle Andressen, Artistic Director of Rubans Rouge, performed her first solo work "Decision."  I know it was her first work because she told me!  Noelle is a former student of mine from Moorpark College, and I couldn't be more impressed with her growth.  She has proven to me that perseverance above all is the most important. This solo was dynamic and emotive with its strength residing in grounded leg stances and articulate gestures of the arms and torso.  She danced around and finally into a pile of rose petals, signaling to me a deflowering of the character that matched the title beautifully. 

"In this Shirt" choreographed by Meghan Tobin and Felicia Guzman of LA Unbound was an ensemble piece that included women in yellow dresses and a featured male figure.  I enjoyed the challenge of the technique and expressive demand of the piece. It opened with a stunning duet in a very classical ballet style with beautiful line and balance.  I was left with a few questions, particularly about the title of the piece and the relationship of the featured male dancer with the rest of the ensemble (which included just one other male).  But despite my questions, it was clear to me that these dancers dance hard for their passion. 

Kim T. Davis of ktdavisdance stole the stage again in today's performance of "Without...", a trio of one woman and two men.  Unlike her piece yesterday, this trio was more aggressive, with the three dancers taking turns, supporting, holding, pushing and propelling each other through space.  The performance was exquisite. These dancers performed their impressive partnering with an ease that seemed to suspend the laws of gravity while completely evoking them.  The choice in cast was significant for me. All three had light hair and skin complexions, but differed greatly in height. This created a sense of them being siblings that I could not shake.  As the "middle" brother fought for independence, it seemed only natural that the others had no choice but to let him be and to go on without

Sadly I was unable to see the last piece of Act I, "Lifeline" by Leverage Dance and choreographed by Tawny Chapman. I did see part of it in tech but I don't feel comfortable giving feedback because I was unable to see it in it entirety and with complete focus. So, if anyone has a link to this piece online please do post it in the comments so other readers can appreciate the work!

Act II
"Cicatrix," choreographed by Heather Dale Wentworth and performed by her Carlsbad based company, OPUS MIXTUS dance, was one that I saw in tech rehearsal and then again from the side lines as I waited backstage.  A powerful group of dancers with strong lines and facile bodies made this dance a pleasure to watch. Wentworth incorporated the use of black elastic bands around the dancer's waists, thighs, wrists and ankles. At first, it seemed simply a pleasant design elements, but then the elastic bands were manipulated and shared by the dancers as they wove in and out of each others space before finally coming together, bound to each other in the last moment of the piece.  Not knowing what a cicatrix is, I did what any good blogger would do and googled it!  It turns out a cicatrix is a scar and this new information leaves me wondering: were the dancers the cells coming together to heal a wound?  It makes sense to me in retrospect, but I would want to see the dance again to determine if that connection is grounded in the rest of the piece.

Next came something COMPLETELY different, a piece I performed in with poet performer Joelle Hannah called "A Dance for the Guy in the Blue Button Down Shirt." Because it is not fair to critique your own piece, I will leave that up to you and invite you to check out a performance of the piece from the Razor Babes poetry tour last May.  You can determine for yourself whether it was brilliance, madness or a bit of both.

"Variations on a Theme of Trees" was another piece that I was only able to see in tech rehearsal.  But I did watch it in its entirety and what I can say about it is this: this piece was well designed from a theatrical perspective, incorporating interesting props including painted images of a tipping building, large tree branches attached to back harnesses, fabric covered fans, chairs and a metal tower.  It created an environment that went beyond the dance.  As for the modern dance movement vocabulary, it reminded me of work I have seen in festivals in Mexico, and it seems that the choreographer Beatriz E. Vasquez is Latina, so it makes me wonder whether there is a genre of Latin American Modern dance, that needs recognition in the current cannon of dance practices.  The style was sculptural and thematic, utilizing strong ballet partnering that was never purely classical, but rather revealed the dancers strong technique as they portrayed an abstracted narrative through line and shape.

"Polymorphic" choreographed by Erica Villalpando of Nanette Brodie Dance Theater lent a yogic feel to the stage as the female cast elegantly performed partial sun salutations, yogic stretches and impressive feats of strength and flexibility.  The dancers wore geometrically designed aqua and red costumes, that matched the geometry of the red boxes they used as props.  The use of the red boxes added an element of height to the stage space when it was used as a pedestal for the female figures.  The dance began slowly, but by the end it found an engaging pace as the dancers moved on and off the red boxes in swirling patterns of leaps and assisted lifts.  Overall this was a visually dynamic piece.

Sophie Olsen brought a bit of theater (as well as excellent dancing) to the stage with "Rollerskater" performed by Carole Biers.  This fun and quirky solo was short and sweet.  Bier's focus was essential to the success of the piece as she was able to draw in the audience to her playful games.  She interacted with the space by addressing a mysterious something in the air, playfully picking it out of space and dropping it into her pants for safe keeping.  Could it have been a key that was referred to in the song?  I imagine yes.

Arpana Dance Company brought the house down with its joyous classical Indian dance piece "Aikya" choreographed by Ramya Harishankar.  The brilliance of the piece was that the classical Indian dance vocabulary drove the piece, but was set to a variety of music styles including Anoushka Shankar and Coldplay!  These lovely young women were a joy to watch.  There is something about the classical Indian dance training that is very potent in capturing the interest and attention of the audience.  I think it derives in part from the use of rhythm and specific rhythmic stepping in the choreography. The women stamped and slapped the floor with their feet in beautifully syncopated (and perfectly accurate) rhythms.  But in addition to the driving rhythms of the footwork, the dancers authentic joy and clear focus was another factor in engaging the audience.  The dancers' joy at the end was intoxicating enticing the audience to a roudy round of applause at the end of the show.

Next week there are three more shows for you to enjoy (MeCo will perform Pull & Draft Friday Aug 31st and Won't Let Go Sept 2nd).  Don't miss out of this performance that offers something for everyone and celebrates the love and diversity within the world of dance!



MixMatch Run Down (Sat Aug 25th, 2012)

This weekend and next Amanda Hart's Hart Pulse Dance is hosting the 6th Annual MixMatch Dance Festival at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica.

I am participating in the festival with my group Megill & Company, but tonight I took the time to attend the show as an audience member and enjoy the gifts of the dance scene here in LA (and beyond).  I am writing this review in order to help get the word out about dance in the So Cal community.  It is so hard for small, independent dance groups to get reviewed. So. . .  I thought I would go rogue and start doing it myself.  The following are my impressions, observations, and questions that emerged while watching this fun filled night of dance.  Please feel free to add comments if you saw the show as well or if I have made an egregious mistake that should be fixed!

I hope that this will serve the community as a springboard for talking about the amazing dance practices that are happening all around us.

ACT I

The show opened with Michelle Shear's "Two Forty Five," featuring a quartet of  dancers (3 female, one male) sitting around a table wearing structured suit jackets in various subdued colors.  The piece built from gestures of the head, arms and hands while seated at the table, to bigger "break off" phrases with full bodied movement grounded strongly in a ballet-modern technical vocabulary.  This was a well crafted piece, that contained strong elements of theatrical design, symmetry and asymmetry in space, theme and variation.  It reminded me of Kurt Jooss'  "The Green Table" in its use of the table and specific hand and arm gestures.

"Windows Within," choreographed by Joei Waldron of Axxiom Dance Collective, was a powerful male duet that featured impressive turns, leaps and extensions on behalf of the dancers.  While the interaction between the men was emotion-filled, I wondered whether it was a piece about two individuals or rather a single individual who may be struggling within (as suggested by the title).  Regardless of the specific narrative, the theme of yearning and struggle was evident and well performed by these athletic dancers who were powerful and passionate.

Sophie Olsen's "Peep Show" provided an unexpected commentary on women's power and sexuality.  The three female dancers opened the scene wearing bathrobes and performing perfunctory tasks of reading, chowing on chips and flossing.  Then, upon hearing the sound of quarters dropping in the machine they strip off their fuzzy exteriors revealing quintessential lingerie in red, black and white.  After performing a shocking routine of sex powered head rolls, body grinds and hip undulations, they returned to their boring world of waiting. This pattern repeated until these girls had had enough. rebelling against the structure and ending with broken movements that embodied the destruction of their compliance. 

"Then and Now" was choreographed by Heather Dale Wentworth or OPUS MIXTUS dance.  This sweet female duet was in stark contrast to the piece before it.  The performers, dressed in black and white, shared a yin yang quality that blended them together in moments of sensitivity and care.  The piece oscillated between moments of support and care, the most powerful of which for me was the image of the one girl holding the head of the other while kneeling in child's pose. 

Erica Lyn Pena performed a stunning solo entitled "inTAKE".  Wearing simple knit pants and a tank top, there was nothing particularly theatrical about this piece. Instead it was a study in motion and flow.  Pena leapt and rolled through the space in an opening that was kinetic and whirling in its repetition.  Each movement motif was developed in front of the audience in such a way that we as observers could track the movements visually and eventually feel the movements and their kinetic value. 

The first half closed with a film "La Femme" featuring the work of Sophie Olsen (who also choreographed "Peep Show" and the festival director Amanda Hart.  This is a steamy piece set to the music of Yael Meyer featuring a cast of stunning dancers who embody the flickering heat of fire perfectly.


ACT II

The second half of the show began with an earthy duet by Kim T Davis of Ktdavisdance.  The female duet began simply and grew over the duration of the piece in an organic way that surprised me by the end.  The exquisite modern dancers were patient and serene in their rock solid performance.  The aspect of the piece that stood out most to me was the use of the hands. This piece highlighted the power of touch, exploring it in countless ways and in so doing conveying the depth of intimacy between these two women.  Grasping, sliding, catching. I was gradually carried away into its chilling ending.

Phil Turay took the show into a hip hop flavored direction in his "Cleopatra." Turay is an articulate dancer whose use of isolation and urban movement vocabulary (as well as more popular music style) made this a groovy, good-time, energetic dance.  I was particularly surprised by the combination of his movement vocabulary, which was clearly influenced by street dance and club dance and his choice of not wearing shoes.  This contrast against expectation was refreshing and effective in blending a more urban vocabulary with concert dance.

Ericalynn Priolo of Priolo Dance Company assembled an excellent group of female dancers for her piece entitled "Process."  This piece featured a groups of women dressed in all black who moved powerfully and gracefully through the performance space.  There was a clear edginess to the piece that used strong lines as well as interwoven moments of release technique.  The dancers served the aesthetic and athletic vision of the choreographer moving with a seamlessness that made the performance a joy to watch.  I was left with only one question.  The dancers began the piece wearing dresses over pants, then they exited and removed the pants before finishing the performance in the dresses.  I admit, I found myself taken out of the dance for a moment as I tried to make sense of this.  (I would love to hear other people's ideas on this).  But, overall this piece was beautifully crafted and performed.

Jessica Wang presented her take on blending dance movement and martial arts in "Kung Fu Fusion" a piece that focused on the design potential of the body in slow moving shapes that were then contrasted with bursts of energy in quick kicks and jumps.  Wang's performance offered both serenity and power, conveyed in her unwavering focus.

"Flex/Pull," choreographed by Amanda Hart, closed the evening of dance.  The only male/female duet of the show, this piece offered a new energy to the audience.  The dancers were well matched in height and physique, very fit and powerful in their movement profile.  The nature of the relationship was primarily expressed through sculptural partnering that demonstrated the skill and strength of the dancers.  While there was a romantic component to the performance, the duet seemed to present a metaphor for two energies that pushed and pulled against each other in a fight for balance before coming together in a final image of interwoven ease. 

Overall, the show proves once again that there is great dance happening in the area, and I am so pleased to be a part of it.  I will continue to do my best to offer feedback for the festival participants, and hope that it will spark new discussion and appreciation of the dance that is happening here and now in our own backyard. 


FYI:  My company (Megill & Company) will be performing, Sunday Aug 26th, Friday August 31st and Sunday August 2nd.  Come check out this great dance event!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Artistry in the Jazz Dancer

I had the lovely opportunity to meet and work with a phenomenal group of Jazz dance teachers and dance theorists this past weekend.  We were sorting out and preparing a presentation on Jazz dance technique and composition for NDEO this October.  Super exciting!

Since then, I have had a continued discussion with Paige Porter from Loyola Marymount University on the specific issue of artistry in Jazz dance. Very interesting and timely stuff for me,  and my mind is still whirling so I thought it was about time to put some of my thinking into writing to be shared with my dance interested readers.  So, thanks to Paige who asked this question and got me thinking!

On the first day of my level 2/3 Jazz dance class this semester, I asked my students:
 

What makes a good dancer? 

Their responses included naming things like dedication, technique, and expression.  Only 2 out of about 8 groups identified creativity as an essential component of a dancer.  Only 1 group identified musicality and no one specifically named artistry

Interesting.

… and good for me to know as a teacher.

Anyone who has taken a dance class knows how important it can seem to "get it right." 

"Step on count 2!  Leg at 45 degrees! Higher! Release your head!"

And, even in my classes, I stress the need for precision and accuracy in performance.  However, I don't want to do this at the cost of stripping the dancer of his or her sense of being an artist.

Like actors and singers, dancers are a living medium for art.  Dancers are not lifeless clay on a wheel, paint on a canvas, or musical instruments that can be manipulated without feelings or sensitivity.  The magic of being a dancer is that the dancer is both the medium and an artist.  The non dancing choreographer is just a visionary, an artist without a canvas or paint set.  Sometimes, it can seem that all the creativity is coming from the choreographer, but that is hardly true!  The choreographer relies on the dancer's artistry to bring to life his or her artistic vision. 

As an artist, the jazz dancer is a conduit, a craftsman, a technician, a medium, and a human. Sometimes dancers forget how important the human component is to being a true artist.  Dancers must challenge themselves to be authentic in their performance, to make the movements and expression true and real. They are honoring the choreographic vision, by bringing themselves to the table and putting more of themselves into the dance. (Side note: I very much dislike the song "Are we human? Or, are we dancers?" I want to shout at the radio: Dancers ARE human! That is what makes us special!)

It is still the jazz dancer's job to be precise. And, here is the dilemma for many jazz dancers I know. It can seem contradictory for a teacher or choreographer to ask a student to be specific in her performance and yet include herself in the dance. 

How can there be room for both precision and self expression?  

The artist hones the craft of dance, studying the movement in a clinical way at times to discover the palette of expression that lives inside her body.  In other words dancers must hone their craft so that they can work beyond the technique. 

We, dancers, can't let a lack of technique get in the way of our expression as artists.  Art exists in an artist's ability to choose.  A jazz dancer must make expressive choices in performance, thus embedding his artistry in the performance as well. We must enliven the dance with ourselves.  Our artistic voice is the animating spirit of performance. 

Now, where does musicality fit into all of this? Coming from a family of musicians, musicality lives in my bones.  I sense and feel music very intimately, and music is a strong influence in my performance quality.  However, I need to clarify what I mean by musicality.  In the music world, musicality refers to the artistic process of making music (producing sound that is expressive and artistic).  Musicality in dance refers to the dancer's ability to relate to the music in performance in an expressive or artistic way. 

These are not the same. 

Dancers need a word that represents their ability to infuse a dance with their artistry while they are dancing (just like musicians).  I suggest dancecality.  We need a word that reminds the dancer that he  or she is creating art in the specific and expressive performance of the choreography. Dancecality like musicality should refer to the performer's ability to bring nuance and expression to the performance, because that is the artistic experience of being a dancer. 

It is the artistic responsibility of jazz dancers to tell the human story through their movement.  The dancer is responsible for connecting with the audience and transporting them into the human condition.  There is magic in this process and no amount of "technique" can replicate it.  It must come from the artistic spirit of the dancer. 

Lastly, I need to address the Jazz dancer as a choreographer.  Jazz dance has not given itself a universal, useful framework for teaching young jazz dancers how to create jazz dance that is fresh, personal and unique while still remaining under the jazz dance umbrella.  Laura Smythe's (Laura was another participant in our jazz dance think tank weekend) Master thesis addresses just this, and I am so excited for her research!  Jazz dance is such a rich practice in American dance and dancers deserve to feel creative within their own art form.  My hope is to draw inspiration from Laura's work and implement a choreographic component into my classroom that feeds the dancer's artistic spirit from a compositional perspective. 

I want 100% of jazz dancers to feel creative and artistic in the performance of jazz dance.

I want 100% artist 100% of the time.   






Dance on.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

My Weaker Left Side

Having trained as a dancer since the wee age of 3, I have a deeply rooted sense of my body.  I can "feel" my body in space most clearly at all times.  In dance we call this one's kinesthetic awareness.  Well, whatever it is called, I got it. Bad.  No really, it is something I enjoy. My body memory is so strong that I can "feel" myself in motion when I am lying in bed, sitting down, riding a train.  I can envision dance and my brain and body produce sensations that mimic the actual movement.  It's a trip.

But, I realized some time back that I am almost always right side dominant both in these mental "kinesthetic" visions and in my active life.  If I am envisioning movement, my right side is the leader of the action, the initiator, the side of me that I most clearly sense and feel.  This of course is also true when I choreograph.  I am right sided.

If you are wondering, I am also right handed. I brush my teeth with my right hand and I balance best on my right foot.  No surprise there. 

But, I am concerned for my left side. In yoga, the left side of the body is the yin side of the body, energized by a softer, feminine, cool, dark energy.  The right side in contrast is the yang side powered by a strong, masculine, hot, bright energy.  Everyone needs both energies in their life.  It reflects our need for exertion and recuperation in all aspects of life.

What disconcerts me is that my left side feels asleep, numb, as if it were somehow paralyzed.  Of course in reality it isn't any of those things. I have full function on my entire left body. But, energetically speaking, I am deeply aware of the imbalance between my right and left sides. 

My left side feels awkward, disconnected, uncoordinated, and I wonder what effect this is having on my daily life.  Is that perhaps why I need so much sleep to feel rested?  That I need long periods of recuperation?  Is my left side limping along to such a degree that my right has taken the reigns in all aspects of my life?  Maybe it has nothing to do with it, maybe it has everything to do with it.

But, regardless, I feel a need to foster my left side.  And, I can tell all ready that it is going to be work.  My right side is so eager to help out!  But, my awareness of this fact is too strong for me to ignore it. 

So, the adventure begins:

Dear weaker left side, it is time to wake up!

Beth


Here are a couple interesting resources on Brain-Body connection
The Brain Dance
http://creativedance.org/about/braindance/



Article on Integration of the Body
http://danceadvantage.net/2010/02/22/body-integration/




Video of Body Half and Cross Lateral Movement patterns (Bartenieff fundamentals)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEiVgTcinP4

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Discovering Home

Home is the sensation of relief.

I have had a truly incredible summer of travel and escapades.  Starting with a road trip with the Razor Babes to San Francisco, then a solo return trip to the bay area for a visit and a wedding, then off to Chicago for the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project week long work shop, followed shortly by a fantastic honeymoon in the Northern Pacific (Oregon and Washington specifically) and finally a flight across "the pond" to Germany and Switzerland for more touring and yet another wedding.

It was great.
...
I am spent!

But, this is a good thing, a great thing, because now I want to be NOWHERE else be right here in the Kubocha Cottage (our affectionate name of our little house-- details later).

Traveling is an excellent opportunity to discover the preciousness of your daily, average life. Travel is exciting and of course I appreciate all of the different views I have seen this summer: over cities, oceans, the alps!  But, travel for me often feels like I have been frozen in time.  It serves for me as an incubation period during which I am suspended from completing my everyday tasks and thus making "progress".  Travel forces me to step back and just observe.  And, as many of you know, observing the self is often uncomfortable.  It is energetically taxing and at times frustrating, irritating, and depressing to take the time to shed light on the dark and forgotten corners of the soul, sweep them out and suffer the dust cloud that follows. But, there is no better place to do exactly that than on an 11 hour flight home from Frankfurt.  

All of the waiting time, in lines, for take off, for check in, for check out, at train stations, in a car...  All of that time is incubating time.  It feels like I truly hibernated this summer, not because I closed myself in doors, but because I divorced myself from my sense of identity in the things I do at home, namely, teaching dance, choreographing, going to yoga, going to the gym, eating at certain restaurants, taking walks...  the details are not what's important. The challenge is that we become what we do, and we start to deeply identify ourselves by our habits and our practices.  Of course in the Buddhist sense we are none of this.  We are indefinite and these aspects of life are just details.

But, through our life we can gain insight and peace if we choose. Travel is just thing thing to shake up the routine, to help you question who you are and discover you are not your daily run around schedule.  I have been reminded that I choose the routines in my life and they can be deeply satisfying and rewarding.  But, being home is not about being on autopilot.  Being home is the place where the real work needs to happen.

I am glad to be home. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Too much time... Too much to say.

The challenge of NOT blogging is that then I am stuck with so many different topics and ideas to write about that I can't seem to write about anything. So, the following is a mismash of ideas. No promises and no guarantees.  Plus, I am typing on a German keyboard so the z and the y are switched and ä is where the ' should be.  Soooo. Fogive the madness that might ensue with my typing. 

Notes on the Now

Travel:  traveling is a trip. And, I mean that in the head trip sort of fashion.  There is all at once so much to do and in some ways so little. Routine and daily patterns go out the door leaving me feel tired, but then when I look at my day I have done relatively little to show for my fatigue.  Strange. 

Traveling in a place with a different language:  As if learning a new location isn't enough of a challenge then you have the language challenge.  This of course adds the extra burden on myenergy, but in my opinion it is one of the primary reasons one should travel.  When I spend a day in Germany (where I am now) just reading in German, watching TV in German, and having little logistical conversations in German I understand the daily life of Germany and my learning and reflections on the whole process is enough for me.  Yes, seeing the local castle today was wonderful, but that for me is extra. The language is one of the windows into the culture that provides insight that just being a tourist cannot.  So, I am trying to enjoy the practice even though it is exhausting.

Being a dancer at a Wedding:  I came to Germany this time around to attend my dear friend Katrin's Wedding.  We were exchange students in high school. I stayed with her in Germany first and then she stayed with me the second half of the year.  Her wedding was a blast, set in a picturesque little town (by German standards a village) where they vint wine!  Being a dancer at a wedding can be terrible. Sometimes people expect you to want to dance, or maybe they just want to watch you dance. This can be a bummer and can make me want to dance less. But sometimes, when the mood is right is dancing just the thing! At the wedding I was able to dance with eveyone and help everone enjoy themselves.  It wasn't trying to be a leader or a teacher or anyone special, but I was free to dance and I felt that my energy was contagious.  I also knew how to lead my friend in a partner dance, swinging her around the dance floor like a princess.  Great fun. 

Writing while traveling:  I am not sure why but I have been struggling to write during this trip.  I brought my peotry notebook with the hope of recording everything wonderful and inspirational that I see.  And I have written daily, but I am finding it challenging to write in English and speak in German. So, I keep mixing them up.  Also, I am learning that writing can bring me into a situation more fully (quiet moments on the balcony or before I sleep at night) but can also distract me from the moment as I am in the thick of an exerience.  I have been here 4 days, so I still have 6 left to practice this balance.  Perhaps it is just new and different.  Maybe I will see the value of what I write later when I return home. 

Plan:  Tomorrow Basel, Wednesday Lausanne and Friday Luzern.  Being in Lörrach on the Swiss border allows me to explore another country, an expensive one, but an exciting one as well!

Bis Später!


Friday, June 29, 2012

Ego vs Artist

(I wrote the first draft of this blog 2 weeks ago while I was up in the Bay Area... I never actually posted it, so I am sharing it now with some current additions. Enjoy!)

I attended the San Francisco Zen Center yesterday evening.  I had a wonderful time sitting in the location where Shunryu Suzuki first established the Soto Zen practice in the United States.  I had read his biography over a year ago, The Crooked Cucumber.  It, in combination, of Natalie Goldberg's books (on Zen and Writing) were the two influences that prompted me to delve into Zen Buddhism. 

Now, I try to go to the Northridge Beginner's Mind Zen Center when I have time and sit occasionally at home or in other meditation groups some of which are not necessary Buddhist but fill my need for sangha (like minded community). 

My current question is centered around my experience as an artist and how to navigate the dance making process while not succumbing to the whims of the ego (a big No No in the Buddhist world).  This line of questioning actually started about a year ago, when I first created this blog.  The challenge of being a performing artist is inherent in the art itself. Dance is a live art form dependent on others.  If I were just a poet, I could feasibly write and write and write without ever having to show anyone and then allow my work to be found in a trunk after I am gone, not caring whether they publish a series of books from the vast amount of writing or simply stick it in the recycle bin.

Being a poet seems like it would be so much simpler in that way.  I wouldn't have to be around when others read it, I wouldn't have to worry about renting a studio or theater or gathering dancers to volunteer their time and talents for my vision.  A poet can work alone, at any time, day or night without hindrance. 

But, I am a performer and a creator of performance.  And, here is the crux of my suffering, I want people to want to see my work and (gasp) like the work. 

But, why???

I haven't quite sorted that out yet.  In the worst case it is because I am egotistical.  The best case is that I have a mission to bring joy and mindfulness to the world through dance.  The trouble comes when I can't tell which is the driving force. 

Trouble. 

Am I merely a self centered egoist? Or am I the ultimate altruistic artist? 

Why am I driven to do what I do? 

I need to spend a lot more time figuring this out and ASAP.  Because, in the meantime I am suffering. I suffer each time I feel a pang of envy, or a shake of insecurity.  I feel it when I bristle upon hearing of others success and in all the hours I plague myself with self doubt and dislike for the work I create.  I am suffering, and it is ugly.  I don't like admitting it.  I am embarrassed.  But, this is the truth, and I gather that this is the truth for many or even most artists. 

We may not know why we are driven to do what we do and I believe losing the context of why we create plays a large part in our suffering as artists.  I am fortunate that I make my living teaching therefore I don't have to make money with my art.  But, it still feels overwhelmingly important to me. And, I want to make sure it is important for the RIGHT reason.  Not to feed my ego but to feed my spirit and the spirit of the dancer and audience members (more on that coming soon).

Here is a list I have come up with to help me determine whether I am working from a healthy or detrimental place. Perhaps you will enjoy the list as well.

Beth


Signs that I am an egotistical artist:
-- Focus on the other:  sometimes I catch myself thinking too much about what other people are doing with their dances.  This should be irrelevant. It is one thing to observe and enjoy; it is another to use these opportunities for either self validation or flagellation. 
--Frustration with the product:  The product is irrelevant, art making is about the process. The dance should be nothing more than the residue of the creative experience. 
--Identification with the dance:  I am not the dance.  My success is not tied to the success of the dance.  There is no success to be attained. 
--Desire for validation/accolades:  This is a big one for me.  I want people to tell me it was good!  I want people to like it.  But, I need to rethink why I want a positive response. It is because I hope to create art that touches the hearts of the audience or because I want praise. 


Signs I am an altruistic artist:

--Enjoyment/witness of the other:  In watching a dance artist I am inspired to continue my path with the new insight from those around me.
--Joy of Process:  I know I am in the right place when going to the studio or rehearsal is fun! And, even problem solving is fun.
--Focus on the Message:  I create dances with a message (sometimes for me sometimes for the world).  When I am creating from this place, it takes ME out of the equation and puts the goal of the art at the forefront.
--Self care/ Self love:  I know I am working from a healthy place when I can offer myself deep compassion through the struggles that are inherent in a creative process.  When I forget to forgive myself/love myself/have patience with myself then I am in a fighting place.  I am fighting with my ego that has expectations that are unhelpful to the process. 


In short when I am creating from this place....
                                                       ... I know I am creating from the right place.

Monday, June 11, 2012

5 Things I Know to be True

I must give credit to my friend and fellow poet (also a Razor Babe)  Maggie Westland for this writing prompt, but I can't for the life of me remember where SHE got it. . .

I am traveling again and one bit of homework I have for myself it to write everyday. And, to kick it off I am posting my first entry here for your enjoyment!

5 Thing I know to be True (Prompt courtesy of Maggie Westland)

1.  The Interstate 5 is a dreadfully long and straight road that will put any lone driver into a trance that can not be fended off with any amount of caffeine, thus forcing the driver to take a car-nap in Kettleman City while strategically parked beside a small tree in the Jack in the Box parking lot.

2. Yesterday Megill & Company had its second annual Tournament Day (the games of which include Gaucho, Corners, Kings Cup and our newly created Colors of Summer) to celebrate summer, and I have decided that it really deserves its own Anthem.  And, flag. 

3.  Jonathon Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a great audiobook, but is still no match for I-5's ability zombify the lone driver.

4.  My fold-able, silver, Car Windshield Sunshade that I bought at the dollar store (for a dollar) is perhaps the best investment I have made in a while as it conveniently doubles up as a left arm protector when I fold it in half and pin it between my left knee and the car door in just the right position so that the afternoon sun is blocked from giving me a nasty sunburn.  Brilliant. (Bonus: As the sun continued to set, I was able to tuck a corner of the silver screen under my bra strap for total left side sun protection)

5.  The windmill field on I-580 (known as the 580 to we southern Californians) is the best part of driving to the bay area. It almost makes the monotony of I-5 worth it. Almost. 



Saturday, June 9, 2012

We can't all win the lottery… Or can we?

I realized yesterday, as I was slugging through my long unattended email, that I hate checking my email.  Rather, I always knew that I hated checking my email, but last night I think I have finally sorted out why.

There is just too much information and too many "calls to action".  I can't handle it, and it makes me feel terrible. I have a similar response to going on Facebook.  It seems to me that most people on Facebook truly enjoying sharing part of their lives and have fun commenting and "liking" this or that picture, video, event or link.  I, on the other hand, log onto Facebook with a sigh, a heavy feeling of obligation that just doesn't seem right. 

I have a pretty full life, I am active and productive in my career and in my hobbies.  People think of me as a busy person who is high achieving.  So, I guess it's probably true, but I don't feel high achieving. I feel like I am barely getting through, and often I get very disappointed that I haven't done more.  Or, done what I do better.  So, I am constantly working, and as a result I don't have time to even read through all my email let alone the Facebook postings on my home page. 

Plus, when I do get around to addressing my hundreds of emails and Facebook event invites, I have no choice but to decline or bypass most of them because I am too busy with my own projects and events. 

But, here lies the root of the problem as I see it.

Each person has his or her own agenda, own project, own web series, own kickstarter, own performance, own blog, own Etsy, own e-paper.  We have become a world of self starters (empowered to make our own project a success!) myself included. After all, I have my own dance company and I have my own blog (obviously as you are reading it).  And, yes, I hope that people will support my endeavors by attending my shows and reading my blog.  But, why? Or rather, why should people chose my project or show over another?

Yes, we can all write blogs and produce performances, but if we are all busy on the creating end, then we are too busy to be on the receiving/supporting end.  Sure, we can all start our own projects and kickstarter funds, but are there enough supporters and funds to go around? Is there enough room for everyone to be successful?  Can every lottery ticket be a winner?

I want to support the projects that come through my email and Facebook. 

Here are a list of projects I supported (in some way with my time and energy) yesterday:
    1.  My friend Lauren Reeder's Web Series "Living with Models"
    2.  A survey on Motif Notation and Emotions (Dance Notation Research)
    3.  MixMatch Festival
    4.  Nancy Evans Dance Theater
    5. My friend Gina's Recovery Blog (about eating disorders)

Out of the myriad requests that were sent to me, those are the only five I had time to address.  But, I can't do that everyday!  I am playing catch up!  This is how I spend my vacation. 

We are living in a time when we are all individuals working toward individual or perhaps small group goals.  Many of us have moved away from dedicating our lives to a large group organization, church or a club (Rotary or Kiwanis).  We are working toward self defined goals that can be very exciting, but I think it is coming at a cost, because it is scattering our energies and perhaps even sabotaging the larger success of a few ideas. 

But, whose idea is worthy?  Whose project deserves the greater success?  Who holds the winning lottery ticket? 

Megill & Company (my dance company) has an opportunity to go to Istanbul next summer. At least, the trip is in the works.  Of course the challenge will be financing the trip.  Do I create a kickstarter?  Do I try my hand in the lottery of projects, beseeching my friends and family to support my creative endeavors over someone else's project? 

I am torn. 

Do you support something?  Many things? 

How would it feel to just support other people for a while?  To let go of my own projects and pour my energy into something bigger?  Could I affect more change?  It is very confusing for me as an artist.

One thing is clear, I create because I have to create, and I know I won't ever be able to let that go. I believe my choreography is a form of social service.  It is my gift to the world.  So, whether i like it or not, I guess my lottery ticket is in the pool. 

In the meantime, I will be more mindful of others projects and see if there isn't a way I can better support them and their endeavors just as I hope they will support mine. 




Sunday, May 6, 2012

How to Heal

Megill & Company has its big Annual concert (2nd annual actually) on June 2nd. So I have been thinking a lot about it as a director. . .  but also as a dancer. 

As I have written previously, I have unfortunately suffered from (off-again on-again) chronic lower back pain... in the SI joint for those who know it (or have suffered a similar fate). 

I have begun swimming again in preparation, because I need this to heal and I need to be conservative with my body while still keeping in shape.  It is hard because my gut wants to walk, jog, take a yoga class, take a dance class, stretch, aerobics, anything. But, I have to do less. I have to limit my range of motion. Lessen the demand on my ligaments at the SI joint. 

Ligaments are tough because they are like silly putty once they stretche they don't go back like rubber bands.  A ligament may slowly, over time, recoil a little and become stable again, but the original tightness will not be had.  Injury to a muscle is relatively easy to heal in that the muscle has fantastic blood flow and will heal nicely if tended with massage and easy activity and work.  It can heal.  Tendon and ligaments don't work that way.  They are formed of connective tissue that is tightly formed to allow for strength and stability.  When a ligament gets injured, it does not have the regenerative powers of muscle. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of time. And even then, it may never be the same.  Potentially lax and unstable for years to come.

The Si joint is not supposed to move that much (if at all). It is connected by ligaments that most bodies will never notice in sensation.  For many the pelvis feels like one unit-- solid.  Not me.  My pelvis has distinct parts, and I can feel the shifts that occur between the bones of the pelvis and the sacrum (base of the spine).  I wish I couldn't, but I do. 

But, this "woe is me" blog, is not meant to garner pity.  Rather, it is my own reality check.  After my second day of swimming, I see more clearly what I need to do and what I can NOT do.

First:
I can NOT stretch my hips.  Hips pull on the back and that is no good for my overstretched ligaments.
I can NOT do high impact exercise.  Not yet at least
I can NOT feel sorry for myself. And if I do, then I should ice because at least I can do that.

Second:
I can and NEED to keep swimming (its boring, and I feel like I am not really doing a whole lot because it is so low impact, but it does build my core and poses little to no risk of over stretching my SI)
I can and NEED to stop wishing my body were something else (someone else's)
I can and NEED to re-implement the boring stability exercises I know and hate to do.  
I NEED to keep my eye on the prize.  A wonderful performance June 2nd which doesn't render me incapacitated.  

The problem with being injured is that you can't help but want to fix it. IMMEDIATELY.  But, that is the lesson of injuries.  How committed are you to healing?  To the boring and the mundane in order to heal? 

I have to commit.  Wish me luck.



Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Shameless Rant on Students "Getting it." . .

Two weeks from the end of the semester and I wonder if my students "get it."   I am not talking about SLO's (Student Learning Outcomes) or assessment techniques.  I am talking about the learning process, the spark that fuels learning that goes beyond the curriculum. 

Teaching dance might be an exception. But I have determined that students today are terrible at taking notes.  I give short lectures on anatomy, dance theory and dance history in my classes and they look at me with fascination, nodding in agreement, frowning in concern or questioning.  But, not a note written.

Don't they want to remember? 

I admit I was a pretty damn good student in my day.  I was that (annoying) person in class who always took great notes, studied and completed homework on the same day it was assigned and generally got straight A's.  (Ok, I got one B+ in my life. Black Studies. And, I really tried hard, but to no avail.) So, bottom line, I didn't understand my fellow (slacker) students then, and I don't understand them now. 

Do they really expect to remember everything that is said in a lecture? Even a short 20 minute lecture?  Don't they want to get it? Or am I just that much of an overachiever?

If I could teach them one thing, I wish I could teach them that success is fun!  Achievement is rewarding!  It is worth the effort and the time.  There is greatness to be had, but you have to work for it.  Taking notes isn't just about having something to refer to, it is about staying active while listening, connecting your learning to a physical act of processing.  Taking notes help you record and remember.  Duh!

But, alas.  They look at me with their sweet smiles and momentary interest, and I fear that I have failed them, because they still will only do what I tell them to do because I tell them to do it.  They haven't learned that they drive their learning, They drive their lives. 

My dad has a great shirt:  "If I am talking, you should be taking notes." 

Collect ideas, reflect, process and grow. 

This stuff is important people!  Get out your pen and paper. . .



Friday, April 20, 2012

Dance Review: Choreographer's Showcase at the Pasadena Dance Festival

Last night Megill & Company performed as part of the 5th annual Pasadena Dance Festival in the Choreographer's Showcase held at Lineage Performing Arts Center.  The following are a few of my reflections on the wonderful performances given.

The evening of dance opened with a stunning work by Clairobscur Dance Company under the direction of Laurie Sefton entitled Obviam Somes. The five dancers were stunning dressed in blue and sea foam gorgette gowns that elegantly evoked the hospital and surgery themes of the dance.   The excerpts presented were varied and dynamic, at times soothing and serene as well as powerful, dramatic and athletic.  The dancers' technique was exquisite. Sefton's highly defined movements and fluid use of space was punctuated by moments of repetitive rolls and springs that were executed with finesse and power.  Overall I appreciated the narrative of the piece as well as the dynamic vocabulary and excellent use of the dancer's facility.

Nancy Even's Dance Theater presented SHIFT: Shifting Sands - Age vs. Time set to an original score by Blake Colie.  This female duet had a playful balance between modern dance technique and a more theatrical tone.  The female dancers were convincing in their at-odds-characters who battled over the grip of time and age represented with cloaks which they manipulated through the space with ease.  The swirling visual impressions of the cloaks is what will stick with me the most from this piece, although there were powerful moments of partnering between the two dancers as one dominated and controlled the other with a knowing attitude.  The piece ended with a theatrical moment in which one dancer grabbed her discarded cloak before exiting. Was it in resignation? Frustration? Defiance?  Whatever the impulse it was clear that she had been won, and she was not happy. 

87 Dance Productions stood out from the rest of the evening with its use of oral histories (spoken interviews) that underscored thoughtful and well crafted choreography that ranged from beautifully touching to playfully articulate.  Choreographed by Cara Hagan of North Carolina, the duet entitled Words Apart was performed by two sisters. Twins!  But, they were visually and energetically very distinct and offered a depth to the piece that brought additional elements of nostalgia and family dynamics to the work.  The partnering was precise and the storytelling never cliché or overwrought.  The dance and words flowed together seamlessly making for a dance that was perfectly balanced and always engaging. 


Megill & Company (MeCo) was next and of course it wouldn't be fair to go on and on about my own choreography. Plus, I do enough of that in other blog entries. But it was shared with me by Lineage Dance Artistic Director Hillary Thomas that she enjoyed the "punch" of the choreography in the evening's performance.  I agree that the piece was unlike others in tone, quality and design. By contrast it was much more linear and contemporary (jazz) in feel.  So, I was pleased that it didn't get lost in the shuffle.  Although, it has brought me to reconsider my strengths and fears as a choreographer. More to come on that later. . .

Andrew Pearson presented a cool and hip female duet called Have I Made Myself Clear? that incorporated a folding table and two chairs.  The opening of the piece is what I appreciated most about it.  One girl taps her fingers on the plastic table top creating a live pulse for the other dancer to present the thematic material for the dance.  I enjoyed the simplicity of the moment and the gestural qualities of the movement vocabulary.  Playful sequences in which the two dancers interacted with their gestures was engaging and fun.  I enjoyed watching the themes and motifs be reused and varied through out the work.  The one question I had was about the role and purpose of the table and chair that got lost for me in the rest of the choreography after the opening sequence.  Perhaps because the components were spread out on the stage and thus lost their impact as a unit.

Return from HJ Junction by David Popalisky was a refreshing piece in the concert because it truly managed to transport me to another time and place.  In many ways I felt like it was a period drama done in dance.  The trio of dancers were passionate and engaging for me. In this dance more than any other of the evening, I felt like the dancers were truly dancing from the heart, letting technique serve them but not drive them.  In fact, this was the one piece in which I felt "technique" was unimportant and instead I was watching the story and the characters unfold.  This may be haven been due to the more classical modern dance vocabulary and story telling that reminded me of the works of Humphrey and Weidman.  Overall, I enjoyed the musicality, classical modern dance vocabulary and story telling aspects of this work. 

Soloist Lindsey Lollie performed a captivating piece set to spoken word by Paul Matthis.  The Next Step is To Go Back was an experiment in the physics of the body that was engaging and at times confounding to watch. Lollie performed her work with remarkable ease and control. Utilizing the most contemporary release techniques with a fluency I really admire.  Her opening inversion and subtle head movements set up her physical strength and agility that did not wane throughout the piece. 

Brian Moe's newly formed group, Inked Dance, performed a duet entitled Kinetic Residue. True to its name the dancers were in fact "inked" which made me wonder if someone wanted to dance with them who wasn't tattooed, if they would be shunned or forced to ink up! (haha!) But, tattoos aside the male female duet was an excellent study in partnering that was most enjoyable in its daring moments (like the counterbalanced penché with no arms!). The title idea of kinetic residue was less present for me than the more gymnastic partnering was, leaving me to wondering how the two fit together for the choreographer. 

I am so pleased, Megill & Company was able to perform with such outstanding artists.  It is always such a joy to see other people's work which inspires and drives me to explore more deeply my own choreographic endeavors.  Thank you and congratulations to all who choreographed and performed. 

(Please Note: I write this in the spirit of supporting dance and dance artists in the greater LA community. Any questions or concerns I express are merely observational and do not diminish the creative accomplishments of the works presented, but are simple reflections on what I saw and noticed.)

Please friend Megill & Company on Facebook to stay up to date on our latest performances!

Friday, April 13, 2012

When you get a bum knee. . .

I had a bit of a scare this past week.  Monday night I started feeling a very disconcerting, sharp pain just under my left knee cap. It was shocking and, while not throbbing, frightening to experience because it was unlike any other knee pain I have had (and I spent years with knee braces, wraps, tape and therapy as a teenager).  What was particularly scary was knowing the structures that exist under the knee and knowing how pain in any of them is NOT a good thing.

The next morning I went to my Buddhist study group, and we reviewed the hindrances (those things that hold us back in our spiritual evolution), and I discovered that I was deeply invested in each in regard to my recent injury.  Here is the break down:

Desire:  I wanted to be free of pain. Immediately! I wanted desperately to NOT have an injury. I wanted to be healthy because I felt: "If only I were healthy, I would be able to to what I want to do, be who I want to be, accomplish what I want/need to accomplish."

Aversion:  I was afraid that this pain would be permanent and that I would suffer forever. I was angry at myself for not being able to stay injury free. I was afraid of what others thought and that I was going to have to let everyone around me down because I couldn't dance.

Sloth and Torpor:  This is actually the one hindrance to which I generally don't fall prey.  Whew!  But, the truth is I didn't ice the injury until day two. Yes, I put on arnica, wrapped it with an ace bandage and wore sensible shoes, but I didn't ice it when that is the first thing I tell any student with a joint injury.  So, there was certainly reluctance and sloth present.

Restlessness:  I was nervous (terribly worried) that this injury was going to have lasting repercussions.  I was anxious and irritable.  I couldn't stop talking about it to my husband. I was obsessed.

Doubt:  I seriously doubted that I had any control of my healing. I didn't believe that my body can heal itself. I doubted that I would get over/passed this. I doubted that I would be able to move forward, continue, do great things.

I was in the thick of it.  And, I suffered.  But, I am glad that I identified what I was experiencing while I was experiencing it. That, after all, is the first step to mindfulness (and ultimately moving beyond it).  I went through the list of hindrances as I did above and noted (with attempted non-judgement) to see the situation for what it was.  I was not suffering physical pain as much as I was suffering the emotional pain of mere potential repercussions.  I was torturing myself as I am so good at doing.  (Really, I could totally offer a course on how to make yourself suffer.  I'm a pro. I can guarantee great results.)

Four days of rest and a chiropractic visit later, my knee is significantly better.  But, I still don't push it.  I have given myself the entire weekend to rest. My mantra: avoid plié (a deep knee bend).  So, I might try a short walk tomorrow. But, no dance. No yoga. 

What I do know, is that you don't mess with joint injuries (knees especially).  The first set is free but the second costs a bundle (with a very slow recovery rate).  I am now feeling hopeful.  And, in someways, proud that I did the conservative thing and took a full day of rest immediately to allow any inflammation to go down before I put it at further risk (even treatment).  It was a tough week.  Hard to stomach, but I got through it and look forward to restrengthening my knee and being more mindful of its preciousness in the future. 



Love the knees.  Love them. 

Is there something you can work through with the help of addressing the hindrances?  If so post them here as a comment. I would love to hear about them.