Saturday, March 29, 2014

What just has to go?

Today was a big day. And, an unexpected day.

I love to garden. I like the sensation of having my hands in the dirt. I enjoy pruning and replanting.  Today my "gardening" consisted of an unexpectedly satisfying task - sycamore leaf removal.

I live under a huge sycamore tree.  Thriving in the wilderness of Brandeis, this tree is formidable, despite the continual pruning we do and the occasional branch break due to high winds and rain.  It is  glorious and makes excellent shade come summer time, but it drops massive amounts of leaves. Huge leaves. Everywhere. All year long. The endless summer of southern California means endless leaf fall.   And, being the less-than-diligent yard worker that I am (I said I loved gardening, not that I did it often), these leaves get wind swept into every crevice and corner of the garden around my house. 

The leaves don't just sit on the ground, they manage to embed themselves in the other plants in such a way that you can only remove them by hand.

So, while having my morning cup of tea. I for some reason decided today was the day. I swigged the last of my tea and got to work.  Sweeping up leaves, pulling them out of the crevices, unloosing them from the grip of the jasmine vines.  Leaves leaves leaves.

And, what I noticed was that my garden is quite nice.  There are some sweet plants that are very charming, even a few volunteers that were blossoming in the spring weather.  I discovered that I had a nice garden all along, I just needed to unmask it.  The leaves were suffocating the beauty that always existed underneath. 

The metaphor slapped by in the face.  The idea that we have all that we need right here in front of us, and yet we can't always see it because it is being muddled up with the excess surrounding it.  I am in a place where I don't need to plant more, I need to care for what I have, nurture what is already growing and give it the time, attention and space it needs to blossom.  

As I raked the ground and pulled out the lodged leaves, I found beauty all around me

There was such satisfaction in this process that my one hour stint turned into three glorious hours of unveiling the potential around me.  And, with each sycamore leaf the reality of this process became more and more profound as a metaphor in all aspects of my life.

This was confirmed later in a discussion I was having with two students about their choreography.  I asked them what have you put in your piece that is diluting the power and beauty in your choreographic vision?  What movements are just sycamore leaves clogging up the garden and disrupting the beauty that is already there? 

I knew it before, but now I feel the gravity of this idea in my core. I now want to go back and ask the same question of each and every one of my previous dance pieces.  But, the most profound effect might be in my everyday life.

       How am I cluttering up my vision?
       What is diluting my essence?
       What is added on in such a way that it is covering up the beauty/core/root of what I want?
       How are things suffocating me and keeping me from being my clearest self?
       What just has to go?

Simple and clear.  Keeping what is vital and growing.  Discarding the excess, the weight of last season's commitments.  I am at a place right now where I am redefining what is enough and how I know I have enough/am enough.  In the case of my garden, I had life at my finger tips, but I just couldn't appreciate it with it being visually swallowed up by dry, dead leaves.  I am ready to take the time I need to give to the things that are already growing in my life. The things that are beautiful but can be easily forgotten when piled high with the excess surrounding me.

It may not be an easy process. It might be as tedious as picking the leaves up by hand. But, I can see now that this is the next step for me.  Clearing out.

Revealing lush beauty all around me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pacing Your Day: Pacing Your Life

I have often been surprised by my need for rest.  Most people who know me know that I nap most everyday, and, only with exceptions (and often an extra bit of caffeine and adrenaline), do I get through my day without a rest period-- if not a whole 90 minute sleep cycle.

It seems not everyone "needs" this rest in the same way.  At least, many people I know express that a nap would be nice, but never actually take a nap.  This is interesting because I nap in response to an intense need to reset all of my systems.  When I am fatigued I feel absolutely crummy and my productivity is hopeless.  If I have to, I can generate enough stress induced adrenaline to get through a day of go go go, but that comes at a cost to my health and energy level the next day.

I have had a tough month with sickness. First a stomach bug then an upper respiratory infection.  Basically, I was sick for about 4 weeks straight.  And, I felt like I couldn't get better.  I would try to take an extra rest here and there. Extra hour of a nap. Getting to bed early. Sleeping in.  But, I was still ill and my productivity was shot.  I felt useless.  

Enough was enough, so I spent two days in bed.  Not because I had a fever of 102, but because I couldn't kick the fatigue bit my bit.  I needed a huge rest or, rather, a huge reset. 

So, despite my intellectual desire to get work done, I could do none of it.

During this time, I felt like I would never feel better again. I felt like I had never been productive or never had enough energy to get through teaching a dance class.  I was consumed by the present experience of being ill and completely spent.  

And yet, after those two days of pure rest (relief from a standing expectation to produce), I started to feel better. First 70%, then 85% and now I feel at about 95% which is such a relief!   The little nagging cough is nothing compared to the overall incapacity I had experienced.  And, these past two days I have been hugely productive.  Catching up on a pile of paperwork that had been looming on my to do list for over a month!  It felt to so good to sent off that email, follow up on that phone call, clean up that mess, file those papers.  Oh, the joys of feeling the power of productivity!

But, in reflecting on this past week, having felt so ill just 7 days earlier and only having felt marginally better 3 days ago, I am taking this moment to notice and observe that there is an ebb and flow to the way I do things. And, that is ok.  Not everyday will feel as productive as the past two have, so I must remember during those dreary sick days that I will recover, that I will heal and return to the high point -- and that high point will eventually turn downward again. 

I will always be changing, and I want to remember the nature of the natural rising and falling at each stage in the ebb and flow.  It is impossible to be hyper productive 24/7 for 365 days a year.  I know this intellectually, yet I was still holding myself to a ridiculous standard of high output each and everyday. 

Perhaps as I become more honest and self accepting of my rhythms (as different as they seem from the people around me) the amount of energy I will increase. But, in the meantime, I am learning that I get to rest.  That I get to change my pace as life comes at me.  

Have you rested lately?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

For those who must know: An insider’s look into Dance Adventures in Dots and Stripes

For those audience members interested in the “back story” to Megill & Company’s latest show, Dance Adventures in Stripes and Dots, this one is for you.

When I started creating this work, I knew I didn’t want a narrative, but I knew I wanted a theme. I wanted to create a world that was fanciful, colorful, exiting and quirky.  I don’t remember exactly when I hit on the idea of stripes and dots, but it was long before I created the first dance phrases for Dance Adventures.  I have no other great explanation for the dots and stripes except that I like them. I like wearing them, I like seeing them, I like mixing them in my outfits. 

So, this world of dots and stripes developed out of that love.  I then picked songs that I made me want to dance- to groove, to play. I picked songs I felt encapsulated the timelessness and playfulness that I associate with dots and stripes.  From there I started making the dances, phrase by phrase week by week.  Usually I create 1-2 minutes of choreography each week.  Each week I picked a song from my list and experimented with movement.  The music evokes a quality that I associate with an emotion or a character, and I do my best to bring that to life. 

For instance, the Amy Winehouse trio called Every Town’s Got a Hot Mess was directly inspired by the musical qualities of that song. While I don’t choreograph to lyrics, the sentiment of the song comes through because of the quality of the jazz rhythms, instrumentation and vocals.  In this case, the piece is about three jaded cougars who live in DotsTown and are tired of the “scene.”  I drew out the components of apathy and boredom in Winehouse’s vocals, and paired it with contemporary dance vocabulary and sultry jazz qualities. 

On the other hand, I also created some of the work from concept.  Inside the Vault is a structured, improvisational solo that I perform to a combination of Tom Wait’s “When You’re Young at Heart” and Text from the book My Stroke of Insight as well as stream of consciousness text of my own.  The concept of this piece came to me in a flash. The idea of being young and growing old, of cognitive processing, and making memories, of forgetting events, words, ideas, and names, and yet always feeling the emotions of life.  This piece is about dementia and the reality of our nervous systems being both tremendous and fragile. 

First Step Again is a solo performed by Karissa Smith, and is a great example of a piece that started with concept and grew into its own over time.  Set to another Tom Waits song “Walk Away,” this solo was always about the challenge of breaking habits.  I choreographed 85% of the dance before I realized that the 2:30 minute song wasn’t what the solo needed. The story of breaking habits is not a short one, but a tedious and often painful one.  In the music Waits sing of walking away to “start all over again.”  And, that inspired me to make a play on words, that breaking habits often forces us to start all over again, even if we don’t want to.  Thus, I broke up the choreography into chunks, having Smith repeatedly perform the material with varied intensities and emotional content and the two minutes and thirty seconds piece became a six minutes and thirty seconds piece in the course of an hour rehearsal.  

The group piece Tequila and Chocolate, set to Regina Carter’s Jazz violin performance in "Mojito," is a more abstract dance work, based purely on the joy of moving.  This piece is not about story as much as it is about the craft and design of the composition. The Latin rhythms provided a fertile ground for me to play with syncopation and accents and each phrase became a nugget of complex rhythm that demanded hours of rehearsal and cleaning.  The joy of this piece lies in the company members’ joy in dancing together. We love to make visual rhythms with our dance and there is nothing better than coming together on stage with a group of your best friends to dance together. 

The goal of Megill & Company is two-fold. First, we dance because we believe the joy of dance can be found in the pursuit of high quality dance composition rooted in rhythm and character. Second, we dance because we love it, and we love sharing our joy with others.

To all our MeCo fans, old and new, thank you for your support!