Monday, August 30, 2010

Dandelion at BAC - A moment with Julia

Julia and Mickey talk about a dilemna I'm wrestling with: whether or not to be an official contestant AND direct the whole project. I like the idea of me being pushed to face my issues around competition through going through similar things as the rest of the performers. At the same time, I feel that the stakes are really high for me every time I direct a piece, and that I might not be able to guide it as clearly if I'm in the throes of fears about losing and fears about winning...

Dandelion at BAC - Day Six Judge Summary (Mantra)

A summary of day 6 of "Don't Suck!" at the BAC in NYC, by the judge of the day, Mantra.

Dandelion at BAC - Day Five Judge Summary (Keith)

A summary of day 5 of the Dandelion residency at Baryshnikov Arts Center, by the judge of the day, Keith.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dandelion at BAC - Day Four Judge Summary (Julia)

A summary of Day 4 in the "Don't Suck!" competition by judge of the day, Julia:

Competitive ZING POW BOING

We first learned the game ZING POW BOING from Leese Walker of Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble. In the game we pass energy (and build energy) around the circle through a network of nonsensical voice/body gestures.

It's a great way to strengthen an ensemble and generate rehearsal or performance energy.

We decided to subvert the structure as another way to play with competition. Instead of focusing on our connection as a group, we're pitting ourselves against each other. It's interesting that this has then proved to be one of the most ensemble-harmonizing exercises we've experience in the residency.

 The game is evolving. Here's our latest version:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Creating a Container for Shadow-Play

I learned very directly the power of play from one of my most important mentors, choreographer Della Davidson. In her rehearsal processes we would do long improvisations, that often started out feeling artificial and forced, but then eventually, if we could just hang in there, would lead us to deep, dark places in our psyche--and allow for some kind of transformation of what we found there.

I felt in those improvisations that I was able to access parts of myself that rarely come out even a little bit in my public persona. Violence, perversity, extreme silliness, manipulation, terror, domination, effusive sexuality, absurdity, and ecstatic pleasure. The space that Della created with her simple structures and  her somehow magical quality of witnessing were very healing for me.

I found myself doing a lot of "shadow-work" in these worlds that she would open for us. I was able to own so many parts of myself that never see the light of day otherwise.

I feel so fortunate to have experienced this with Della, and then to have been able to carry my own version of this type of exploration into my work with Dandelion.

Lately we've been doing 20 - 50 minute improvisations every Dandelion rehearsal. Things can get very bacchanalian sometimes, diffused and unfocused at others, and then there are those moments where it seems like something cracks open and undeniable truths leak out. The whole energy of the room shifts at these moments. Time seems to slow down, or disappear altogether, and my whole being comes alive, quivering in response to whatever is being revealed.

These are often then the moments that I want to bring forward into a performance piece. Sometimes they are born fully formed, and sometimes they are just the seeds of ideas. But I sense power in them and feel that my next step is to allow that material to teach me how to shape it. I have to listen with all my creative facilities to hear what is important in this image or movement or collision of elements, and how can I facilitate its development into a communicative performance moment onstage.

Here are a few moments that felt particularly alive to me so far in our residency. In some of these it is a particular image with a particular person that grabbed me, and in some it was the whole collage...

Improv Images #1

Improv Images #2

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dandelion at BAC - Day Three Judge Summary (Heather)

Dandelion at BAC - A Tour of the Costume Department

BAC Residency - Day One Judge

We have to figure out how to score each of the participants in our competition. And we have to figure out how to do this in a way that pushes us to face our feelings about winning and losing, but also supports us to not feel overly self-critical.

I'm tremendously inspired by the Harry Potter books. I just finished my 8th or 9th re-read of all the books this summer. I mention this because the scoring system used in the competition between houses at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a very loose template that we're following in our scoring system development.

Just like at Hogwarts, how each house can get points for all sorts of things (Quidditch wins, service to the school, intelligent class responses and more,) our contestants will get scored for all sorts of things by all sorts of people.

We're definitely figuring it out as we go, but one system we've put into action is that we will have a "judge" for each working day of the residency, who will score all other ensemble members for their work that day on a scale of 1 - 10. These scores will put each ensemble member ahead or behind going into the performance on Sept. 7th.

The "judge" will also give a summation of the events of the day, from her/his perspective.

Day One's judge was Dana DeGuzman. And here is his evaluation:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dandelion at BAC - Day Two Judge Summary (David)

A summary of day two of our residency at BAC, by Tuesday's judge, David...and guest.

BAC Residency Day Two

During our residency at Baryshnikov Arts Center Dandelion Dancetheater will be creating the first draft of a piece titled "Don't Suck!" as part of our larger look at the inner workings of competition.

We had a fertile day of creation and play today. There was lots of physical aggression in our improvisations, we pushed the risk factor for many of our group in our Contact Improvisation training session, each of the ensemble members (contestants) began work on their composition/choreography assignments to be included (and evaluated by a panel of judges) during our performance, and we had a good deal of fun--as evidenced by the following video, which was shot just after we all got first access to a vibrant pool of costume materials. It's amazing what happens when performers get into a costume.

This is our first attempt at introducing each of the competing ensemble members. We will likely try different ways of doing this again throughout the week.

First, the introducing of the assignment:

And then the introduction to our introductions:

We intend to use the reality TV format as a "Trojan Horse" of access onto the radar for folks who aren't usually interested in experimental dance. Where mainstream reality TV tends to use high-drama interpersonal tension as their "hook" to attract viewers, I am more interested in other methods to widen the scope of dance audiences. Humor, vulnerability, absurdity, underbelly explorations, new understandings of virtuosity and the power of community collaboration are what draw me in. Perhaps these elements could be what we use to compete with mainstream TV.

We can't out-glitz Bravo or Lifetime or NBC, but we can find ways to use the TV medium for truth-telling, shit-stirring and perspective-expanding. It's gonna be a long road for us to travel to sort out where our anarchic, inclusive approach to performance intersects with the TV phenomena, but it feels like a worthy journey to undertake.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Day One of BAC Residency

Well, as these things tend to go for me, I planned to do way more than I'm able to actualize. I had wanted to edit short videos every day to go with these blogs during our Baryshnikov Arts Center residency. But with everything else going on while we're here, I'll be lucky to just get out two or three videos in our whole 2.5 weeks at the center.

But I still intend to write at least a little each day.

We had an inspiring first day of orientation to the space, regrouping as an ensemble and beginning to experiment.  I was jet-lagged, overwhelmed and in a mind-haze for the first couple of hours. And as usual when I'm feeling blue, I can't imagine a time when it could ever end. So I was trying to come to terms with the fact that I would be slightly depressed for our whole residency, when we got into dancing and extended group improvisations.

Immediately as I made contact with my moving body, and felt myself arrive physically and psychically through colliding with this wild group of artists, I felt better. And not only better, but slightly ecstatic.

I'm reminded for the millionth time it seems, what a good friend dance is. In little ways and in huge life-changing ways, dance has been what gets me through stuck places, dark corners and times of despair. I always seem to forget that it has this power, but somehow-call it grace or fate or just plain luck-I find myself dancing again, and this dancing saves me.

It doesn't make anything go away. Rather it embraces whatever is present in my experience, and transforms it into fertilizer for something large and powerful to blossom.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Introduction to the Competition

Our upcoming exploration of competition at the Baryshnikov Arts Center will take up where this previous experiment left off. We staged a one day artistic competition in December of 2009 that was intended as a whimsical mockumentary, but turned into an emotional explosion of issues relating to winning and losing.

Austin Forbord and his RAPT productions made this short preview video for the larger project, drawing from our first disorienting venture...


There was a winner and loser, high-tension drama, and lots of hurt feelings. Juicy stuff, but dangerous--so we approach our next attempts with courage, caution and a trust of the artistic process.

It's Not Whether You Win or Lose...Maybe

Greetings All,

If all goes according to plan (or at least somewhere close to plan) then I will be posting much more frequently over the next few weeks.

I'm about to embark with the Dandelion Dancetheater interdisciplinary ensemble that I direct on a 2.5 week residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City. I'm very excited and a little fearful.

We're going to be exploring the nature of competition, winning/losing and success/failure. And while I would like to say that I live by the old quip "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game," in reality I am a slave to the drama of winning and losing.

In my experience, competition can be a very healthy and inspiring fuel for powerful action. However, I find myself wrestling with deeply ingrained habits of unhealthy competition--of judging and comparison and feeling somehow unworthy. Usually competition is painful for me.

When I'm clear and grounded, I see artistic practice as something that is far beyond the binaries of comparison. Art is open and free and ultimately a non-dualistic vehicle for truth-seeking.

But I compete in my mind over grant awards, festival invites, popularity, attention, integrity, ability to not seem competitive and more--with all the artists that ironically also make-up my closest and most important community of support.

Why do I look outside myself for validation? Why does one person's success so often seem like my failure? Why am I so hungry for positive feedback, awards, recognition, praise? Why do I get so focused on "winning?" And why, when I do seem to "win," does it end up feeling empty so quickly?

Somehow my beliefs and deep-held values are in direct conflict with many of the unconscious workings of my mind and my sense of self. And I don't seem to be alone on this. In Buddhist practice there are four Brahma Viharas, which are seen as highly skillful qualities to develop. One of these is Mudita,  or "Sympathetic Joy." This joy in the happiness of others almost always eludes me. I'd like to feel it. I believe in it. But I'm usually so focused on my own gain and protection, that I have very little space inside for true happiness for the good fortune of others.

H.H. The Dalai Lama says (and I paraphrase here,) "If I am happy for the happiness of others, that means there is a six billion to one chance that I'll be happy. I like those odds." And he calls this kind of view something like "Skillful Selfishness." One of my teachers, Sharon Salzberg told me that the main way to work towards Sympathetic Joy is to fully experience my own joy. Of course, these things are easier said than done.

The closest I've been able to come to "Skillful Selfishness" is to include people around me in a group I identify with, rather than another opposing group--and so making their gains my own. For instance, when a San Francisco artist that I secretly compete with receives a big honor, I think of myself as a San Francisco Artist, and so a member of the group receiving the honor, rather than a New York Artist or a London Artist. And then if a U.S. Artist becomes famous for an innovative discovery, I think of myself as a U.S. artist, and so a member of the group that made the discovery--rather than a European Artist or an Asian Artist. This feels like a step in the right direction, but still very dualistic and competitive.

I've struggled with these issues throughout my life. I'd like to transform my relationship to them. And so I turn to my most trusted of transformation devices, artistic exploration. I can already see that this is going to be a long and grueling journey, with many pitfalls along the way. But it is a journey I feel ready to undertake. And I'm so grateful to have such a fabulous group of Dandelion artists to accompany me.

These explorations are part of a Dandelion project that is currently titled "America's Next Dance Maverick." In collaboration with filmmaker Austin Forbord, we hope to create a reality TV show that emerges out of the world of experimental dance. In December of 2009 we did our first experiment with such competition structures, and it was terrifying to see how quickly we each switched from a sense of making fun of competition, to being completely caught up in it.

This residency at the BAC is our next step. Through the creation of the first draft of a performance piece (titled "Don't Suck!") we will be pushing ourselves to face all of our hidden and not so hidden relationships with competition.

I see this step as a descent into our shadows, both individually and collectively. We'll be doing lots of improvisation, discussions, inquiries and group-processing. But we'll also be involved in a competition. Based on a complex point system (modeled after the point system at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry) we'll be competing against each other throughout the residency, to eventually name a winner and loser. And then this will be part of a larger competition held throughout Dandelion's activities for the whole year, that will culminate in a grand prize winner (and a complete loser) at our CounterPULSE Residency performances at the beginning of April 2011.

All of our egos are threatened, and our defense systems are popping up all over. And we're using this as an opportunity to dismantle these systems, so that eventually competition isn't as painful for us.

Please join us as we delve into this sticky swamp of emotional baggage, uncovering long-held insecurities and surprising treasures of the psyche.

We'll be attempting to post a written and video entry on each day of the residency. We intend for this to be interactive, so please stay tuned, and write responses, and even vote on who you think should be winning and losing our various competitions. We want all parts of this process to be both profoundly investigative on the part of our ensemble members, and transparently accessible to friends and colleagues. While we're not yet crafting the final version of the reality TV program, we are beginning to make research-based simulations of high-pressure competitions that will lead us towards some larger and more widely shared performance/video project. We welcome your feedback and ideas.

On our marks, get set, GO!