Friday, July 29, 2011

The Dislocation Express, V-Blog #11: David Ryther and Mantra Plonsey

After the performance of The Dislocation Express on Wednesday night, David Ryther and I were in front of the Ed Roberts Campus, waiting to go inside and pack up. We were standing where the whole performance journey starts, and now there was no sign we had ever been there at all.

I shared with him that this project feels especially poignant in terms of its impermanence. It takes a huge effort to get going each night, with a complex web of time syncs for when each aspect of the journey has to be set up, performed with, and then cleaned up. And after we've come from wherever our lives had led us earlier that day, to the Ed Roberts Campus to start the performance, then to the BART platform, onto a BART train, transferring at MacArthur station and onto another train, and then another BART station for another set up, performance and clean-up, then back to the station, onto a train, transferring to another train, back to Ashby station and back up to the Ed Roberts Campus--after all that there's a potent sense of the fleeting nature of what we do.

Where does all that energy, expression, connection, passion, effort go? What do we have to show for it? Years of planning, 150 hours of rehearsal, endless dialogues about how to best chip away at the unnecessary aspects of the piece, meetings, multiple publicity campaigns, photo shoots, break-downs, headaches, countless hours in the car hauling props and costumes, and the facing of all sorts of fears and inner demons that stand in the way of sharing our vulnerable truths, all lead to the end of the performances, when hardly any remnants are left, and we all go back to our ordinary lives. It leaves me feeling quite existential and empty.

And when I shared this David said, "Well that's basically what all of life why not spend it doing this thing that we love?"


It's a great feeling to be able to say "Yes!" to this whole process. To plunge into a completely ephemeral project, commit to it completely, and watch it washed away as soon as it manifests.

The Buddhist Diamond Sutra has a line I love: "Like a flash of lightning in the dark of night."

To me this describes both the impermanence of every single phenomena (including enlightenment,) and the raw power of moments of insight. And it is a great metaphor for performance. Together, with all the combined energy of everyone that has touched any performance project, including the audiences, we bring this flash of lightning into the night sky and witness it together for that brief moment. Both the lightning and the darkness are important. They define each other, lead to each other, make room for each other to exist.

It's a strange path that we artists are on, but a beautiful one, and I'm so fortunate to travel it with such "mensches."

Here's the last of our introductory v-blogs for The Dislocation Express. During the flurry of activity in our last few rehearsals we didn't have time to interview David or Mantra, so this is a look at the two of these firestorms in action. I continue to learn so much from both David and Mantra. They commit to everything they do completely, and while they are both virtuosos, they maintain this sense of newness in performance--always hungry for learning and growth and always seeking higher and deeper levels of mystery.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Dislocation Express, V-Blog #10: Sebastian Grubb

I love risk in performance. Whether it's physical risk, emotional risk, conceptual risk or some other category entirely, I find that when the stakes are high onstage I feel indisputably alive.

The Dislocation Express contains a great deal of risk. We're performing with a highly diverse ensemble in multiple, unpredictable locations. And we're pushing up against the boundaries of what we thought each of us could do. This manifests as performers trying on new artistic mediums (dancing, singing, speaking,) as well as choreography that includes a great deal of danger: barely controllable pathways, high velocities, flying guitars, crashes, falls, and collisions. We're pushed to the limits of our endurance and comfort and we have to keep going, traveling on BART in outlandish costumes that draw a lot of attention and public response.

It's invigorating!

This level of risk is only manageable for me when there is also a strong measure of reliability and structure. In addition to large doses of chaos, I need artists around me that are firmly grounded in their own bodies and performance techniques.

It's a great pleasure to work with Sebastian Grubb for the first time on this project. His dancing harnesses great momentum, power and surprise--and does so with great precision. He has become one of the "rocks" of The Dislocation Express--but a rock that instantly can transform into fire, water or air, and then just as quickly back to total stability.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Coming Full Circle - The Dislocation Express: V-blog #9, Nils Jorgensen

I first met Nils Jorgensen in 2008, when Dandelion Dancetheater and AXIS Dance Company were sharing a program in the San Francisco International Arts Festival.

I just happened to sit next to him in the audience to watch the AXIS piece and somehow we got to talking. There was something there right away. I guess we could call it chemistry. And I fell in love with the sound of his voice. I told him that we should put him in a piece sometime, as his deep, rich voice could be perfect for the stage. He was mildly interested. I think lots of people had told him great things about his voice, so my idea might not have registered strongly on his radar.

A little while after that I decided to track him down. When I have a strong gut feeling about someone being right for Dandelion work, I tend to follow it. In these instances I rarely know how the person will fit into any particular project, but my intuition tells me that she/he is somehow in alignment with the values that guide my work. This almost always ends up taking me somewhere new and expanding the work.

Through friends in AXIS I found Nils' contact info and started pursuing him to join the cast of a piece I was starting, Tongues. I guess I became his "stalker." As usual I could only get this prospective performer to commit to coming to one rehearsal to check it out and see what he thought. Also as usual, once he was there he jumped right into the mix.

Nils became a crucial member of the cast, both as a performer and as a contributor of ideas, props, questions, and contexts. He performed with us in the Bay Area, in Southern California and in Washington D.C. when the piece went to the Kennedy Center.

Since then I have asked Nils to come in as an artistic consultant on a number of projects. Nils is a wheelchair rugby player, and now teaches and coaches rugby and fitness at the Embarcadero YMCA in SF. He has a mind that easily moves "outside the box" and he has taught me a lot about merging performance with design and aspects of athletics.

We brought him aboard The Dislocation Express in our final stages of creation, and as I had hoped, he's propelled the piece forward with new ideas, acting, gadgets, props, and that fabulous voice.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Dislocation Express, V-Blog #8: Sonsheree Giles

There is a lot to be said for accessing our creativity in more than one artistic field. I have based most of my research over the last decade on interdisciplinary performance creation and have found it consistently challenging, growth-inducing and rewarding.

And lately I have focused on how to make the Dandelion ensemble as self-sufficient as possible--handling not only the performance of dance, music and theater, but also the video editing and projections, lighting design, set and prop construction, costume design and collective approaches to production management. I feel energized by diving into new artistic situations in which I am way out of my league, but have to somehow create something.

And while it's empowering to be able to do all of these things "in house," it's also exhausting. I find for myself, and for my collaborators and students that taking on many of the aspects of performance directly allows us to move forward with limited resources, but it also very easily over-extends us. We end up going to rehearsal and working hard, then heading home to construct or design things, edit, brainstorm, and more for hours on end. Without a lot of awareness and self-care this could be a recipe for early burn-out.

But even in the midst of mega-multi-tasking, I prefer to stay outside of traditional artistic boundaries--bringing what I learned from decades of serious dance training into my encounters with music, theater, visual art, writing, video and anything that a production seems to call for. And I love working with artists who do the same.

Sonsheree Giles is one of those artists. Not only is she one of the fiercest dancers around, but she designs and constructs costumes for many of AXIS' pieces,  has taken on the role of Associate Director for the company and comes to rehearsal each day in outfits that are works of art in themselves. She brings a great integrity to everything I see her do, and is able to remain attentive and open even in the most trying of times.

Link to v-blog:

On the Other Side of Exhaustion

I sent out the following to all the performers and collaborators of The Dislocation Express today and then realized it could be worthy of a blog post. This collaborative piece by Dandelion Dancetheater and AXIS Dance Company opens tomorrow. Info at:

"As we move closer to our world premiere (tomorrow,) I'm starting to shift from thinking logistically about the piece into more philosophical aspects of what we're doing. So bear with me as I share some of the things I'm pondering. It helps me to understand more deeply what we're doing if I voice some of the insights I'm having.

Since yesterday I've been reflecting on the amount of hard work, commitment, trust and sheer determination it's taken to bring this work to life. We started planning it in 2008 and I feel we've been rising up to this moment in many ways since then. Any devised dance/theater production takes an exhausting amount of effort, but this one is in a class of its own.

In addition to rehearsing things over and over, learning orders and then having to throw them out and learn new orders, dealing with costumes and technical problems, navigating our personal lives--we also have to maneuver through three highly uncertain sites AND sustain performance energy over a complicated location-hopping journey.

I am exhausted after each rehearsal AND I feel exhilarated. There's something deeply satisfying for me about pushing past my limits and having to then push even further. Both body and mind are stretched to their max. I'm hungry, sore, probably dehydrated, unable to keep track of all the details, distracted by the public, concerned for everyone's safety and well being, attempting to both stay present in performance mode and make mental notes to give later, and tripping over my costume and cords. It's too much. I can't keep it all together.

And so I have to eventually surrender to the insanity of it all. I enter a somewhat psychedelic state. I meet myself anew and perform from a place of power and truth that I can't find until I've exhausted all other strategies for control.

This process is what has kept me in this field with so much commitment for so long. It has become a central part of my spiritual practice. I am continually in search of methods for performance-creation that border on vision quest, shamanic ritual, meditation retreat. The Dislocation Express certainly fits into this category. It's kicking my butt and I'm thankful for that. "

Saturday, July 16, 2011

In the Thick of it: TDE v-blogs #5, 6, & 7

I'm in the thick of the final phases of giving birth to The Dislocation Express. 

A teacher of contemplative theater who I have been reading lately, Lee Worley talks about the director's role in a piece as being like a midwife at a birth, helping it to come forth in it's own way--getting hands dirty when necessary, and letting nature do its work whenever possible. I love that vision. However, I feel more like the mother than the midwife most of the time--every movement forward on the journey is painful and takes immense effort. And I feel deeply connected to this entity that I'm sharing with the world, like it's a part of me. I'm not so much witnessing it be born, I'm being born with it.

We're a week away from the premiere of this piece and I'm drowning in details. The piece takes place at three different BART stations, with plans for how we travel between them as well. We're making a movable theater in a sense, and have to cart along props, instruments, costumes, supplies, volunteers, audience, permits and more.

I love site-specfic work. I love the surprise of it, the seeing of places in a completely new way, the evocations of wonder and the feeling of participating directly in the art by watching it unfold somewhere unusual.

But I'm remembering why most dance/theater performance happens in spaces already set up for such things. It feels like we're starting from scratch on this, at each location, on each day. And since the way I work involves shaping and crafting the piece right up until curtain time, trying to balance the obsessive quality of figuring out the truth of a piece with all the logistical, mundane details is quite a task.

Luckily, I have a top-notch team of performing artists working with me. I'm going to have to rely on their skill, presence and creativity for so many aspects of this piece that I think will be impossible to figure out beforehand. Not only are we working with a lot of physically risky, technically complicated and emotionally tender material, but we have a whole host of uncertainties in working outside in public spaces. The form of this piece echoes the content--looking at dislocation, displacement, travelling, home being nowhere and everywhere at the same time, having to create our own sense of rooted-ness with whatever is available in the moment. And the ensemble echoes the content in that we are a widely-varied group of people, with very different life paths, sharing an epic journey in the same "train car" for this brief flicker of time.

Our v-blogs have backed up a little bit while I've been immersed in finding the artistic through-lines of the work. So this post contains three v-blogs to keep us caught up.

Julia Hollas is one of those rare people who can simultaneously manage a complex list of administrative tasks and mental processes while throwing herself wholeheartedly and with great abandon into art-making. She excels at both with potent strength and integrity. It's wonderful getting to work with her so closely in the rehearsal studio, after many years of working together on the daily grind of keeping a company together.

I find Rodney Bell to be an artistic "soul-brother." He rarely follows "the rules" and ends up discovering images and relationships in the heat of creation that move the whole piece along in ways I could never have come up with. And he brings his spirituality into the studio in a manner I would like to emulate--creating a seamless flow between art and spirit and everyday interactions.

Dana DeGuzman is one of those performers who can make anything work onstage. Trained as a musician originally, he took to dance like a fish to water. Everything that I ask him to do he dives headfirst into, and through that commitment he brings it to life. He reminds me why I follow this crazy path.

All videos by Nicole Da Roza

Julia Hollas v-blog:
Rodney Bell v-blog:
Dana DeGuzman v-blog:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Dislocation Express, V-Blog #4: Janet Das

I love the serendipities that sprout up all over art processes. I learned tonight in watching our latest Dislocation Express V-blog that this is both Janet Das' last new project with AXIS, and that her first new project with the company was one I directed as well, back in 2008. What an honor to be a pivotal part of a cycle like that and to get to work so closely with such a talented and generous artist as Janet.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Dislocation Express, V-Blog #3: Kimiko Guthrie

The further I sink into my particular ways of making art, the more I appreciate having collaborators aboard who bring complementary and sometimes contrasting perspectives.

Kimiko Guthrie and I have been working together since 1991 and our artistic partnership has changed dramatically many times. I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to collaborate in all kinds of ways, and to be continuing on with our joint artistic research in The Dislocation Express.

Kimiko is writing an evolving, interactive script for the work, as well as contributing movement and sound material, and serving as an outside eye that is sometimes on the inside.

There are many ways that our styles of working support each other. In this project I'm excited about the interplay between my love of chaos, rawness, abstraction and dreamlike energy play colliding with Kimiko's facility with clarity, narrative and focus.


Friday, July 8, 2011

The Dislocation Express - V-Blog #2: Cristina Carrasquillo

Cristina Carrasquillo, a member of the Dandelion Dancetheater ensemble is the central figure in Act I of The Dislocation Express. 

 In rehearsal we call this Act "Circles" and it was originally inspired by CORE's piece Ice/Car/Cage. CORE was a collaborative performance group made up of artists that have had a huge influence on my work. Ice/Car/Cage was created by Jules Beckman, Jess Curtis and Keith Hennessy and involved a car driving in circles in a parking lot for a half hour--with performers dancing, playing, and going through all sorts of physical risk-taking around it.

I saw this piece in a San Francisco parking lot in 2000 and it blew me away. I've been haunted by it ever since and wanted to make a response to it.  I had an image of Cristina going in circles for a long time, and we started there, and then a complete piece grew from this impulse--very different from Ice/Car/Cage,  but linked in my mind.

I'm moved by Cristina's focus, stamina and risk-taking in this piece. Cristina came to Dandelion through her connection with AXIS Dance Company, and so her presence in this joint work points to a sharing of resources between our companies and the kind of communality that I think is needed to survive as an artist or ensemble these days.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

All Aboard The Dislocation Express!

I'm in the final weeks of the creation process for The Dislocation Express, an interdisciplinary work that's been in the making since 2008 (in terms of visioning and planning) and since February of this year (in terms of actual time in the rehearsal studio.)

A collaboration between AXIS Dance Company and Dandelion Dancetheater,  The Dislocation Express will take place around Bay Area BART stations July 24th - 30th.

We've been looking at the nature of place, displacement, home, wandering, location and dislocation within the context of our imaginings of hobo life and the uprooted qualities of contemporary internet/mobile culture.

As usual, I'm finding myself challenged and pushed in interesting ways through this process.

How do we bring two companies intensively together that share many values and also are used to working in very different ways?

How can we create a work in the safety of the studio that then comes alive in highly unpredictable, site-specific locations?

How can we connect to a culture (American Hobo) with a specific time and place without getting lost in our fantasies and projections about it? How can we use whatever material arises, both factual and fictional to learn more about ourselves and our relationships in the present?

How can we find artistic coherence in an ensemble of people coming from diverse performance backgrounds (dance, music, theater) and with a wide range of abilities/disabilities?

How do we make a piece that is both accessible to people with very little exposure to contemporary performance and that remains mysterious, provocative and unsettling?

As we navigate the final stage of wrestling with these and other issues, I'll be posting video blogs created by Dandelion intern Nicole De Roza and myself, documenting our journey.

Enjoy the ride!

Video Blog 1 link:

Friday, June 24, 2011

WonderSlow Reflections 1

We recently completed our first cycle of the WonderSlow project: 15 hours of continuous performance by Dandelion and friends dedicated to explorations of slowness. There was so much learning for me in this grand experiment in regards to:
  • slowing down
  • immersive performance
  • inclusive community
  • safety and risk
  • letting go of control
  • moving through and past distraction, boredom, resistance
  • levels of trance-states
  • meditation
  • pushing past beliefs about limits of energy and abilities
  • setting up conditions for magical things to happen and then letting them arise in their own time and manner
  • and so much more
I'll be processing this for a long while, and plan to write about it more down the road.

For now, here's a video tour of the event:

(link to video if needed: )

And what I wrote as an introduction to the event:

The Origins of WonderSlow
by Instigator and Co-Director Eric Kupers

WonderSlow began with a big green sign. The sign has the word “Wonder” on it, and originally referred to a town in Oregon by that name. But through the years, the sign came to mean so much more to my family, and eventually sparked this community performance.

My account of the story of the “Wonder Sign” has no doubt been shaped by my many tellings and retellings, as well as my own biases and desires. I offer this to you as one possible way to enter into the WonderSlow performance today.

In the 1960’s my parents were passionately involved in the American counterculture. They were particularly active in left-wing, progressive, political movements—and I think they believed that some kind of revolution was coming soon to this country, to change it for the better. Their passion led them to many demonstrations, organizations, meetings and artistic beacons of hope. They loved the poem “I am Waiting” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and particularly the lines speaking of Ferlinghetti waiting for “a rebirth of wonder.”

One wintery night they were driving back to Los Angeles after picking up my uncle at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Out of the snowy darkness, in the middle of nowhere there suddenly emerged a big green sign that said simply “Wonder.” I can only guess at what a potent moment that was. This must have seemed like a sign from the universe, a confirmation of faith, a symbol of deep connection and meaning, a revolutionary battle cry. My dad and uncle jumped out of the car and my mom was the “getaway driver.” They unscrewed and took down the signs that it turned out were on both sides of the road, jumped back in the car and drove home.

After that fateful night, my uncle took one of the signs and my parents kept the other. My mom says that they would use it as a kind of barometer for guests in their house. They hung the sign as “found art” in the living room, and based on people’s reaction to the sign when they entered the house, my parents would know whether or not they were of like minds.

Eventually my parents’ Wonder sign was passed on to me, and I hung it in my bedrooms in high school and college—the sign remaining a testament to creatively embracing the unknown. And then at some point the sign was put into storage.

A few years ago I discovered it again. It now sits in our backyard, just outside of the Dandelion rehearsal studio. I love the sign. It’s heavy and awkward and very simple. And it gets right to the point, “Wonder.” That’s it. No population numbers for the town of Wonder, Oregon - no instructions about how to practice the techniques of wondering - no indication that anything else matters outside of this basic commandment.

The aesthetic of the sign as it decayed seemed to call out for a performance piece to arise from this artifact of a fertile, forgotten time. It took a few years for dreams of the work’s shape and structure to percolate. And now it has turned into something that reaches far beyond this one story, this one poem, this one sign.

The spirit of my parents’ hopes and dreams, and the instruction to “wonder” has encouraged me to experiment with large-scale community performance in a way I never have before. It has pushed me to question my notions of time on the stage. It has evoked a curiosity for me in what possibilities lie in long periods of waiting.

I’m very interested through WonderSlow to investigate further how performance can be a ritual of healing, grounding, connection, new ways of seeing, waking-up and spiritual practice. I am inspired in the creation and implementation of WonderSlow by my parents, Buddhist meditation practice, the work of Anna Halprin, Contraband, Andy Goldsworthy, John Cage, Merce Cunningham and the courageously creative group of collaborators participating today.

WonderSlow was created with support from the City of Oakland Cultural Arts and Marketing Program, the Clorox Foundation, the CSU East Bay Department of Theatre and Dance and a Theatre Bay Area CA$H Grant. Special thanks to all the performers and volunteers, Jim Macilvaine, Luiza Silva, the Oakland Acupuncture Project, Essential Balance Bodywork, Theatre of Yugen, Navarrete x Kajiyama Dance Theater, A.V.I.D. and all of you joining us today.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Fermented Art

I'm a big fan of fermented foods and drinks: sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, rejuvelac, kim chee, wine, beer and more. It's fascinating to me how completely new nutrients and beneficial bacteria develop when we let things settle for awhile. And then how new food and drink is created, not necessarily better than what was originally there, but different and fulfilling other needs.

I'm realizing that I love fermented art too. When a project first appears to complete on closing night, I feel a great sadness at "losing" my connection to something that is immensely nourishing to me. And yes, I am saying goodbye--to a particular lens for experiencing the project, to the material that makes it up and to the magical time with the collaborators.

But as the project ferments--as it sits for awhile--new gifts sprout up from its remains. I'm able to view the piece (through video, memory, reflection) with a greater sense of calm. I'm able to discover new things in it. I'm able to integrate the insights, the shifts and the sheddings that the piece offers up to me.

Today I re-watched one of my excerpt videos from Friend. I was moved in a completely different way than I was moved when performing it, or even than when I first edited the video. But in a way that feels just as important.

I could follow the trajectories of the piece as if listening to a juicy story. I could watch without the same attachments. I could let myself be taken for its rides. My guess is that this will only deepen as the work ferments. When I look at some of my earlier works now, I notice and feel new things in a way that delights me.

Art that is created through intuitive processes always holds more than initially meets the eye. And in order to digest all of its gifts, we must revisit it at different stages of our own life experience. One can't "get" it all in one viewing, or even one month or one year. There are things hidden in each piece that the creators don't even know about while creating. There are mysteries waiting to be investigated, and will wait as long as is necessary.

In a recent post I wrote that I am shifting my view to think of the performances of a work as just the midpoint of the project--that the same time that was taken to create it is needed to integrate it.  However, in some ways, the performances are not the mid-point, but the "beginning" of a project. And then the project ripens, matures, ferments throughout the rest of our lives. It's like when a redwood tree first sprouts out of the ground--that is the performance portion. And then the many centuries of growth of the tree is what happens after the performance as the art expands in our hearts.

Often we take trees for granted, like we take art for granted. It's there, I saw it and I don't need to pay attention anymore. But we miss so much when we do that. There's so much to discover every time it crosses our path, and each discovery is fresh and completely new.

(video from this post is my second set of Friend excerpts:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

As the Light Fades

Transitioning back to ordinary life after a performance run is difficult for me. And this particular transition out of performances of Dandelion's Friend has been particularly difficult.

Ram Dass wrote and spoke about how as he began to get in touch with larger and more beautiful spiritual experiences--as he got "higher" each time--the accompanying falls afterwards became increasingly painful. These performances were especially "high" for me.

I made some big breakthroughs artistically: editing more fiercely, trusting my inner feedback over outer feedback, and delving deeply into musical, lighting and visual art elements. And I made some big breakthroughs spiritually: reclaiming performance as a vehicle for healing, trusting my inner feedback over outer feedback, stirring up and riding a storm of emotional energies and letting go of a lot of worry and doubt.

I had a strong sense over the four performances and the week of tech rehearsals that led up to them, of the sacredness of performance. My intellectual understandings of performance as a spiritual practice and even religious gathering place were transformed into direct experience of something quite palpable. I noted many times during the weekend a sense of finally beginning to "get" what going to church is all about. I felt invited in, embraced and empowered.

I can think of a lot of causes for this string of experiences:
  • I made a conscious choice after my friend Sharon died to direct my art-making more intentionally towards healing, connection, friendship and my own spiritual growth. 
  • I was working in Friend specifically with powerful emotions and energies surrounding grief, loss and deep love. 
  • The residency at CounterPULSE provided me with a great deal of logistical and ideological support, allowing me to focus more than I have in a long time on the art-making itself. 
  • The combination of artists collaborating with me in the Dandelion ensemble brought a maturity, a willingness and a unique collection of personalities and talents all adding up to great artistic chemistry. 
  • I've been working towards many of the realizations I've had during this project through many years of experimentation and hard work. 
  • And then there is the mysterious nature of grace that seems to grant us new levels of insight and integration when we are somehow ready--keeping all of this outside the realm of control and formulas for action.
Because of all this, the energy crash after the performances has felt like finding the "Garden of Eden" and then being cast out. The world that we wove together onstage (and throughout CounterPULSE) was rich, juicy, inspiring, sensitive and beautiful. I felt a great freedom and a great power. I moved up to my edges and beyond them musically, theatrically, visually. I discovered a ritual for "cooling down" after the performance--the playing of live music until I have settled enough to coherently engage with audience members.  I felt a sense of clarity and connection to purpose. And then we had to clean up and go home.

I've realized that I need at least a week of no plans after performances like this--to decompress, integrate and rejuvenate. As it was, I had a day. And then it was off to errands, meetings, deadlines and the return to teaching.

The week leading up to our performances was the first week of Spring Quarter at Cal State East Bay. This is always a crazy time, but compounded with the stress around this production it feels insane. And adding to this, I have had a leaky tire on my car because of a screw stuck in it for over a week now; The piles of emails, mail, papers, "to-do's" and miscellaneous stuff on my desk have become daunting; I'm choreographing an opera for the Cal State Spring Dance Production that opens in one month; I have over one hundred students this quarter; I'm directing a major collaborative project with Dandelion and AXIS Dance Company that starts up rehearsals again tomorrow. I can barely find room to walk in my office because of all the props, sets and lighting equipment from Friend that I now have to find spaces for; I need to find time to practice my mandolin to get ready for some upcoming musical gigs; I haven't had my car washed in a long time; I can't find my "To Do list;" and to top it off, I need new socks. It's a lot to pick back up again when I'm feeling this raw, depleted and emotionally spent.

Everything seemed so much clearer last weekend. My job was simply to show up as fully as possible and give myself to the art. I'm grieving the loss of that energetic space, and wishing I had a lot of time to sit with this grief rather than run around trying to get caught up. My colleague Nina Haft remarked at one of our work-in-progress showings that she experiences loss like the tearing off of a scab so that all the past grief-wounds come pouring up once again to mix with the present one. This is the clearest description I've found of the grieving process over my friend Sharon's death, and it is proving true of my grieving over the loss of the Friend project.

I've seemed to be fine this week when I'm at home, feeling safe and having time to rest, snuggled up against my partner and/or our dogs. As soon as I have to go out into the world to take care of business, I feel a weight descend on my whole insides. I get tearful over the smallest things and feel a mounting sense of anxiety the farther I get from the house. Everything seems overwhelming. Somewhere inside I know I can handle all the details, especially when I think of them one at a time, but the contrast between this post-show struggle and the immersion in grace during the show is poignant.

I realize that a big part of my suffering this week is rooted in my wishing things were different--wishing I was back in performance mode with my ensemble or at least that I didn't have to do much of anything as I transition. I seem to be wishing my time away, instead of settling into how things actually are right now, amidst the exhaustion and overwhelm and grief.

There are a few things that seem to help and so I've been turning to these as much as possible:
1. Organizing and putting away props, costumes, instruments, lights and other paraphenalia from the performances keeps me connected to the experiences I had while also physically moving me forward into my life.
2. Editing video of the performances reminds me of the experiences, gives me new perspectives on what we created and re-engages my creativity.
3. Cleaning and organizing the non-show items in my life grounds me and seems to refresh my environment. I'm reminded of Jack Kornfield's teachings from "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry."
4. Writing and talking about what I'm going through with friends, my partner, and this blog cuts down on the alienation and the stagnation of my thinking.

And most importantly, a specific shift in my perspective on all this has been getting me through and reconnecting me to the power of the processes I've been engaged in. I've heard Buddhist teachers say that it takes about as long to integrate a meditation retreat as it takes to do the retreat. So a two-month retreat will take at least two months to transition back into ordinary life from. A three-year retreat will take at least three-years to transition back from. I have found this to be a very helpful way of looking at performance projects I direct. Friend took four months of pretty intensive rehearsals to create. So I think it will take at least four months of active reflection to integrate its insights, gifts and emotional reverberations into the rest of my life. This means that the closing night of performances is not the end of the project, but the mid-point.

Each time I view my present experiences from this perspective I relax and feel great relief. I'm still doing the necessary work of the project as best I can. I plan to continue sharing post-show reflections as they come to me as part of this next stage of Friend.

Here is my first draft of video edits from Friend, taken from footage shot by friends throughout the weekend. I love watching this for new perspectives on the work, especially since up til now I've only seen it from inside:

 ( Video can be seen directly at: )

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Impermanence Made Visible

My current favorite definition of the word "dance" is:

"Impermanence made visible."

That seems to cover the immensity and the minutia of this slippery form.

I'm particularly in touch with impermanence as Dandelion moves into our premiere of Friend tonight. It strikes me as odd how performance is what I pour my most extreme efforts and longings and strivings into--and then it's gone so quickly after it arises. This is particularly true in the experimental dance world wherein we often work for many months, seasons and/or years on a particular project and then perform it for one weekend (or if we're lucky, two.)

Where does the work go? Where do our efforts live after we've made them? How does something that feels so important to me pass away before my eyes? I can feel it leaving even before we begin our opening night.

I do believe that the impermanence of live performance is the key ingredient that gives it power. We have to show up completely to make it work, and we ask the audiences to show up completely to share it.

All performances--but especially Friend which feels intensely personal--get me really excited as we move closer to the moment when "it's time" to head to our starting places; and also stir up great sadness  the closer we move to the final moments of closing night. Performance for me is like a blender that shakes, swirls, crushes, blends, releases and renews our insides. And depending on the level of vulnerability required to birth each piece, it's a blender set on high, medium or low power.

Today as I start to get ready to head to the theater I feel great anticipation, joy, gratitude, sadness, fear, queasiness, and a sense of adventure. I'm reflecting on the many profound moments of impermanence I've experienced with the Dandelion ensemble over the last number of years and am looking forward to adding this one to our swirling artistic field of visions.

Bringing a new work onstage is always scary to me. It helps somehow to remember that I've done it before so many times, and to "huddle" with my team by rewatching some of those instances.

(If you don't see the embedded video, here's what I'm watching today: )

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Entering The Temple of Tech Week

I've come to love tech week--the week leading up to a performance run in which we have tech (technical) rehearsals, dress rehearsals and last minute scramblings to finish.

I notice that during this time I am highly energized with a mix of anxiety, anticipation and joy. And I notice that the main thing that keeps me grounded is spending as much time as possible at the theater.

I like to get to the place we're performing hours before each event, taking time to set up, putter about and sometimes work on a project like the lobby installation that is continuing to evolve for our shows this week at CounterPULSE.  I start to feel a very strong connection with the theater and experience this connection as the closest thing to church that I've known.

The theater becomes sacred space--the hours and hours of labor that goes into getting it ready for performance generates a palpable sense of presence.  I  feel "extra-alive." Every nook and cranny is illuminated with the wonder of creativity. And in the midst of all the work to be done, many windows of just "hanging out" arise as we're waiting for a tool or finishing up a task or taking a break.

While I'm always also exhausted and stressed during these times, I'm also rejuvenated and in touch with profound gratitude for the artistic path I've found myself on, the ensemble that travels this path with me and the ever expanding community we are a part of.

Here's a few moments from our load-in at CounterPULSE on Monday night:

(Video can also be found here:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Showings, Feedback and Protecting Clarity

The showings that Dandelion has been doing as part of our residency at CounterPULSE have taught me a lot. Here's an incomplete list of insights, reminders, clarifying moments that I've gathered so far from the three monthly public showings of our Friend project:

1. Public showings are crucial to the development of the kind of experimental performance we create. They force us to get things together on a deadline, to try them out and then to retreat and re-tool. There are so many great ideas in experimental creation processes, but it takes showings to clarify which are the ones worth developing.

2. It helps my anxiety level to have other things being shown next to my work. I've loved sharing the showings with Kegan Marling as he develops his new work. It's easy to feel very alone in the midst of the extreme vulnerability that arises when showing a piece in progress. Having someone else going through something similar at the same time makes it much more bearable. And it takes the attention off of me and my work long enough for me to re-ground myself.

3. My relationship to feedback is shifting. I've found at these showings that it's been more difficult than usual to listen to a bunch of feedback about my work. I'm a big believer in getting outside feedback on what I create, and I've found it to be crucial for much of my art-making. However something is changing. Perhaps it's the personally vulnerable material I'm investigating with Friend, or maybe it's a new phase in my artistic development. I'm finding that a little bit of feedback is helpful, but that during the big public feedback sessions I easily lose touch with my creative center and get wrapped up in other people's ideas, desires, aesthetics, etc.

I've been reflecting on the different needs we have as artists at different stages of our path. I find myself more and more drawn towards doing whatever I can to discover my deeper inner feedback--and doing whatever I can to not get hooked by other people's views on my work. I feel that I'm on the verge of discovering some important new piece of my inner artistic truth and more than ever I don't want to be swayed by things closer to the surface.

4. I was able to feel more clarity when I didn't take notes at the last feedback session. Sometimes taking notes is helpful. But sometimes trying to write everything down keeps me in an analytical state. At the most recent showing I decided to try just letting feedback flow over me without trying to hold onto or remember any of it. I trusted that what was important would stick and the rest I could let go of. And then about an hour after the showing, I had many powerful insights about the piece and wrote them down then.

5. I have trouble setting boundaries when receiving feedback. I tend to think that it's very important to hear whatever people have to say. I see so many works that I believe could have been made much stronger if the director/choreographer had listened to more honest feedback from colleagues. I fear that my work will suffer if I don't let everyone tell me every single thing they want to in response to my piece.

In the feedback structure that CounterPULSE uses at these showings, there is a time when responders can say that they have an opinion about something, and ask me whether I want to hear it. And then I can say yes or no. But it turned out that most people would just say they had an opinion and then they'd roll right through saying it. I didn't feel I had a choice.

But I do have a choice, and could have said I wasn't interested in opinions. That would have been more honest. I knew that I could ask for the opinions of my close collaborators and trusted advisers later, but instead let the opinions of a large group of people keep coming until I was completely overwhelmed. And once I'm overwhelmed, there's not much that gets through.

I want to work on noticing sooner when I've had enough feedback and letting people know that. Along with that I want to work on trusting the process enough to know that the piece will reveal itself to me even if I don't hear what everyone has to say about it.

6. Showings seem to always fuel an explosion in my work, even when they're uncomfortable. Sometimes these explosions turn everything upside down. And sometimes they gently peel away an unnecessary layer so that more of the work's truth can come out.

Here's some images from the rehearsal we had the day after our most recent showing. Ideas were flying and the ensemble was riding them beautifully. We created a new section that night in which I gave a series of action words and everyone made a phrase from those. We are playing here with unison movement that doesn't necessarily look the same, but that has synchronicity in the energy patterns:

(Video can also be viewed here: )

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Art vs. Fundamentalism

For Dance Anywhere Day this year we performed a minimalist movement structure in Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland. Ensemble Member David Ryther led us in an improvised piece based on a street performer he had witnessed many times in Santa Cruz.

We traveled slowly around the plaza, waving and looking back and forth with a highly exaggerated and slow motion smile.

There happened to be someone shouting what sounded like Fundamentalist Christian doctrines on the plaza for a good half hour before we started. We decided to pass by him with our movement. I thought it would be an interesting balance of energies for a performance piece. I was looking forward to moving in slow motion behind him as he continued ferociously and with great shouting speed.

As he noticed us approaching, he closed up shop and left. We couldn't even get near him. We must have scared him somehow. While I was disappointed that we didn't get to "collaborate" for that moment, I also felt elated. It was a victory for Art over Fundamentalism. And we won because of our inclusivity. His material worked great for our piece. It added dynamic tension. We embraced what he was doing. But he didn't have room for our expression in his, and so he go pushed out of the space.

A reminder of the power of inclusion and openness.

 (Video excerpt at: )

Friday, March 25, 2011

Falling Apart / Piecing Myself Together

It's been longer than I would have liked since my last post. I'm in the final stages of "birthing" our Friend project, and these past few weeks have felt like the major hump to get over. As I catch up with myself and the work, I'll be posting some eclectic reflections from the adrenaline-fueled final phase of this particular creation process.

Here is a post I started two weeks ago, when I felt right in the middle of the fire, and it seems quite relevant today as I am officially one week away from opening night:

I feel overwhelmed and stressed out. It's the last week of classes for Winter Quarter at Cal State East Bay. I have two performances I'm supervising and getting off the ground at school, plus a final work in progress showing of Dandelion's FRIEND project. Even though these are just informal classroom culminations, and even though this weekend's showing is just a showing, they still require the immense energy output that any performance requires. There's so much to do and no way to slow down the encroaching deadlines of "lights up!" I don't know how I'm gonna get everything done and I'm stressed about it.

What I've been noticing about my stress is that it's like a fast-spreading fire. And the fuel for that fire seems to be my own neuroses. Yes, there's an impossible amount of things to take care of. And yes, my mind is racing from event to event, task to task and concern to concern. And yes, I'm working really hard and staying up too late in an attempt to get caught up.

But all of this doesn't have to be stressful. At least 50% of my exhaustion and tension seems to stem from my worry, self-doubt, self-criticism and tightening up.

When I suddenly remember a whole category of things I need to take care of "yesterday," I then go into a litany of inner complaints: What's wrong with me? Why did I let this get out of hand? What if I let everyone down? Why does my work seem mediocre? What if what I do is meaningless? Why aren't I happy if I'm doing the things I love to do? Why can't I work harder and get more accomplished? Why do I work so hard and try to accomplish so much? And all of it can be summed up in a general feeling of shame for what I've done (or not done) up til now.

Instead of just noting a remembered list of tasks as something I forgot but will have to address now or at a later time, I berate myself for getting into the situation I'm in. For being right here. For being myself. I feel like there's something wrong with me. And this slows me down, increases my anxiety, makes it harder for me to do whatever it is I'm doing in the moment--fueling the fire of overwhelm and stress.

There's a Buddhist teaching about getting shot with an arrow, and then in an attempt to get the arrow out, shooting oneself with a second arrow. The first arrow (pain and discomfort) is a given, but we don't have to add the second arrow of self-inflicted blame and worry.

I'm doing my best to practice not shooting myself with the second arrow. Or when I do, at least not shooting myself with a third arrow to get rid of the second. And I've noticed some progress--mostly in moments that in the past would have been completely stressful for me and instead I'm now able to joke with my ensemble a little bit more.

Each little bit seems to be important. Each little bit shifts the momentum that much more towards relaxing with this wild, uncertain ride that is  art-making.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Surprise Gifts

There always seems to be surprise gifts that come from creating a performance work--things that enhance my life and/or art making that I didn't expect to receive from the project.

With the Friend project, a major gift has been a reminder about the joy of making stuff. By stuff I mean visual art (sculpture, collage, installation, etc.)

This gift has come at me from two sources. My friend Sharon was a visual artist at heart, always making sculptures of various kinds and also picking up odd objects to set out as pieces in their own right or to use to make something else. To honor her and get in touch with her artistic spirit, I've been making a series of sculptures to use in the performance piece and also to populate an installation in the CounterPULSE lobby.

These started with what I am calling "brain boxes"--old suitcases that I have turned into dioramas of a sort. I see these as intuitive sketches of the human brain. They have complex patterns of materials, varying amounts of layers and then small treasures hidden within.

At first I was building them around small sculptures of Sharon's, but they have expanded to include many different materials: woven wicker balls, scraps of computer innards, small sculptures I have made, and lots of lights.

I have also become somewhat obsessed with the wire sculptures that Sharon made in her last few years. I think these came out of her strong draw to welding, and when she wasn't capable of getting to The Crucible to weld anymore, she switched from more solid metal to wire she could weave at home. Most of her wire sculptures, and some of her welded pieces contained small wire balls within them. Sometimes the balls were singular and sometimes they were built inside of each other like layers of russian dolls. These inner balls resemble tumors to me, but also pure inner cores, untouched by illness.

I've made about 8 wire balls now, and will probably make some more. Some will hang in the space during the performance, and some will stay dedicated to the lobby installation I've put together, which can be viewed here:

(Or see it on YouTube:

In my choreography, writing, music and now visual art I find it very helpful to have a "jumping off point" to start at. It's like a step-stool to get me to a level where the creation takes over and creates itself. In this piece that jumping off point has been Sharon's art. It's opened a door back into a part of me that has been very important, but has gotten ignored along the way.

As a child, the first thing I knew I wanted to be "when I grow up" was an artist. And this was before discovering dance and performance, when I was very shy and preferred to stay as far away from the spotlight as possible. I wanted to draw, paint, sculpt. Then as a teenager I found dance and fell in love, but I kept returning at different parts of my life to focusing on visual art. That's happened less and less in the last decade, so this nudge back into this field of creation by Sharon has been a blessing.

I've also been given this gift by ensemble member Mickey Kay. Mickey majored in Art at UC Berkeley, and has been pushing me into the realms of building and designing since we met. With this project Mickey initiated the creation of a giant wheelchair sculpture, that would have a kind of roll cage to send the wheelchair user upside down and all over the place. It's turned out that this moving sculpture won't be part of Friend, but rather some other upcoming piece. However, Mickey has led me into making stuff as much as I can. Some of the things that I've come up with in our art sessions together have been useful experiments but won't be included in performance works for now, and some have become integral parts of my current creative life.

I've used a part of one of Mickey's sculptures in the lobby installation: a wooden box with a motor and rotating gears, and Mickey has created shoes with lights shining out of the bottom, his own "brain box" and more things that I'm sure are on their way. What I like about Mickey's art making energy is how much he loves the process of experimental creation. It's not so important that every idea comes to fruition, but rather that I immerse myself in curiosity. I don't have much training in sculpture or design--but that doesn't so much matter for this approach. What matters is that I have a hunger for making stuff.

I'm liking that my performance work has led me back into the world of visual art. I used to experience both of these art forms as things to bounce back and forth between. But now they seem to be merging into one inquiry, much larger than the sum of its parts.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Being a person is hard work. And then being a person who is living as an artist adds a whole new layer of difficulties.

A lot of the time I pride myself on being able to keep on keepin' on, no matter how hard the traveling becomes. And I am committed in my creative work to not settle for easy answers, but instead to approach challenges directly, even inviting them to come forward. Developing capacity for great emotional and physical stamina seems crucial for surviving as an artist in this world.

And in addition to all this, I find it so important to find regular ways to refuel. Sometimes this means that I take time off from my creative work. And just as often this means finding ways for my work to refuel me while I'm in the middle of it.

A couple of weeks ago I had one of these "within the work" refuelings at the CSUEB Queer Dance Festival. And it's still giving me energy and heart-power as I struggle through finishing my Friend project.

I love performance that is dark and deep and intense. And I also love this kind of thing, lightening my load for awhile:

(the link can be viewed here as well:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reflections on Queer Dance

The following is my introductory note in the program for tonight's 2nd Annual Queer Dance Festival at CSU East Bay, followed by some related videos. This felt like an appropriate exploration to share here:

Reflections on the Nature of “Queer Dance”
By Queer Dance Festival Director Eric Kupers
February 17th, 2011
University Theatre, CSU East Bay

I want to attempt a definition of “Queer Dance,” (even though I believe that these two words are ultimately impossible to pin down.)

 “Queer” is my favorite way to identify myself. The word has a lot of complex connotations, as it has been used historically (and still today sometimes) as a way to put-down, insult, repress and attack people who seem different. Many people are triggered when they hear this word—remembering feelings of hurt and anger. However, I love that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and affiliated communities have reclaimed the word as a symbol of our empowerment.

At this point in my life I have spent equal amounts of time in intimate relationships with men and women. In this sense I identify as Bisexual. At the same time, I am married to a man that I have been with for over ten years (and plan to be with for the rest of my life.) In this sense I identify as Gay. And still at the same time I am a non-conformist artist at heart, and so feel that any label, identity or definition of myself is limiting and inaccurate. The closest I can come to whole-heartedly identifying myself is to just say, “I am.”

For me the word “Queer” includes all of this—even the non-conforming parts. “Queer” points to the aspects of us that are beyond labeling, while at the same time acknowledges the oppression and empowerment of us who live outside of mainstream heterosexual and dualistically gendered roles. 

“Dance” is a word that describes movement when viewed from a particular perspective. It includes choreography, performance, creative movement, what we do at parties and clubs, as well as the interactions of the cells, fluids and organs in our bodies, the relationship of the planets and solar systems, the combined movement of all the people in an urban area at any one moment, the flight of birds and bugs, and so much more. 

I think of Dance as a point of view rather than a phenomenon itself. It is rather a way of experiencing any phenomena from a slightly larger frame of reference—acknowledging its flow, exchange, and interdependence.

What you see tonight onstage is “dance” just as much as what you are doing right now with your body as you read this is “dance.” From this understanding, there’s absolutely no way anyone could truthfully say, “I am not a dancer.” Dance is impermanence made visible.

“Queer Dance” is therefore immensely open, inclusive, fluid, ambiguous, and omnipresent.  It takes great courage to live in this universe that is at its core uncertain, ever-changing, mysterious and impossible to pin down with any definition or concept. When I am able to embrace this sense of cosmic insecurity, and perhaps even celebrate it, I am practicing the basics of Queer Dance.

Tonight we have gathered together a concentrated burst of Queer Dance for you. I encourage you to not take any of it too literally and instead to listen with your whole being like you might listen to poetry, or like you might remember images and feelings from a dream.


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Monday, February 14, 2011

Investigating Mysteries

I love mysteries. I love mystery novels and movies, and mysterious stories and myths. I love when spiritual teachers refer to the divine as the "Great Mystery."

More and more these days I'm seeing my performance work as a series of mysteries I'm immersed in. Each new performance project at times seems like something I've conjured up with my collaborators, and at other times like something much bigger and mysterious that we are entering into. I much prefer the latter perspective. And when I engage from this perspective of entering a mystery, I think the work that comes out of it is much stronger.

In mystery novels and movies we join the central characters as they uncover clue after clue that leads them onward to some great revelation. This revelation might be the identity of a criminal, or the origins of a powerful force, or the exposure of some ancient lineage that is shaping our world today. Usually these mysteries (when they are skillfully executed) end in a kind of unresolved resolution--the immediate problem is solved but there is much that remains to be discovered. Along the way we empathize with the formal or inforrmal detective(s) through feelings of fear, anticipation, triumph, betrayal, anger, understanding and so much more.

I think these mysteries are potent for us emotionally because of the tension they generate and the ways that this tension brings us into the present moment. If we could just find out "who did it" right at the beginning, we probably wouldn't care so much. Whatever we already know isn't the heart of mystery. The heart is what draws us onward.

I remember one of my mentor/teachers Joe Goode saying once in a workshop that if he can already envision the piece he is about to make, then it doesn't need to be made. I take this principle very seriously. I see all of my performance projects as mysteries that unfold from a particular jumping off point--a theme, story, image, feeling, intent--but then take me and everyone involved on a journey we could never have planned. I believe that the piece itself is always more interesting and complex than what I might have imagined.

Often this means that the product-oriented approach that much of the arts funding and presenting is based on doesn't translate for what I do. The performances are always just one small chapter in the mystery of each performance project.

Many Buddhist teachers speak about the value of "don't know mind"--that state of mind in which we hold questions lovingly and are able to relax with the uncertainty of all life. Creating performance works helps me practice my "don't know mind."

I am struck in the "mystery" I'm "investigating" right now, Dandelion's Friend project, with how I'm more patient than ever to let the piece reveal itself to me. I'm finding lots of clues, and then following the leads that these clues offer, to further clues. And at each step I feel I understand what the piece calls for a little bit better.

Perhaps I'm finding it easier than in the past to be patient with not-knowing  because this piece is connected to my friend who has passed on. I notice myself waiting for small hints she might give me from the other side, so am more focused on listening with my full being than on trying to figure it out myself.

And perhaps I'm feeling the fruits of my practice of being patient with the questions. This is something that has never come easy for me and so I have practiced it vigorously all of my adult life.

Some of the clues I've discovered so far for Friend are:
  • My friend Sharon's metal and wire sculptures--I've been using these to develop my own sculptures and also to design the use of space and light.
  • A fascination with the brain--Sharon died from a brain tumor and we often talked about the mysteries of the brain. I'm thinking of this piece sometimes as a surrealistic journey into a brain. We're using MRI x-rays, stories about brains and tumors, inner body imagery and more.
  • Music driven creation--Sharon was a wonderful artist, and this came through most clearly to me through her singing. This piece seems to be most strongly driven by sound, which is a new way for me to work.
  • Reflections on Friendship--It just so happened that some dear long-term friends have come back into my work for this project, precisely at the moment I'm wanting to explore the nature of friendship. This synchronicity seems like a strong clue.
I believe that I will follow these and other clues with my fellow travelers (a remarkable interdisciplinary ensemble) and that they will lead us to greater insight and beauty and healing of some kind. And I believe that the end of the project will feel unresolved. All my projects do.

And so each project becomes a clue in a way, towards unraveling the mystery of who I am, of what meaning and fulfillment there is to be found in this life, of who my collaborators are, of what our artistic longings are leading us towards.

And then my full body of work (and that of each artist) becomes a clue in some larger mystery about the nature of existence and the human journey towards wholeness.

I'm sure this keeps expanding outwards infinitely in spiraling circles, (and probably inwards too) with each mystery and all it's clues being one small clue in a greater mystery.

I write all this at the risk of sounding grandiose. My intention is not to assign great importance to my own work, but rather to place everything that I do as an artist (and that all artists do) in a context that feels inspiring and connecting. Thinking about art-making in this way encourages me to both journey forward with great gusto and to let go of trying to figure anything out or get anything done. It makes me want to engage fully and at the same time view my real work as just getting out of my own way so that the art can make itself.

When I look at my current project as a mystery I'm investigating, I'm more open to feedback and the opinions of others. Each thing that each person communicates to me about their experience with the work becomes just another clue. Sometimes it's an insight or interpretation that helps me understand more fully something we created intuitively. Sometimes it's a suggestion that doesn't resonate with me and so validates the direction I'm already moving in. Sometimes it's an image or idea that I couldn't have come up with, but that shows me another angle of what I'm working with.

And each obstacle, set-back and seeming failure becomes itself another clue. Investigating a mystery is no piece of cake. It calls forth everything we have and tests us constantly.  And I think we get back in proportion to how much we put in. Sometimes what we discover won't really make sense to us, but could make sense when seen by others from other perspectives.

In this way I like to think of each work as "not-mine." Perhaps I'm directing it and committing to it's manifestation in the world. But I'm more of a shepherd for it, rather than owner. I'm interacting with the work more regularly than anyone else, but that doesn't mean that my ideas on what it's "about" is right, or that I know more than others about the piece. Sometimes I feel like I know the least about it of anyone, and that I'm just a caretaker, keeping it alive so that others can come and immerse themselves in it.

It's so exciting to me to witness a work come into being. I still often mistake the performance as the essence of a project, but I'm learning more and more to value the step by step uncovering of each clue.

And when I feel confused, I like to remember that confusion is only painful because I think I'm supposed to know something. From the perspective of "don't know mind" every confusion can be reframed as an enticing mystery.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

This One's For Friendship

One of the things that is shifting in me in response to the recent death of my friend Sharon Mussen is a re-prioritizing of friendship.

I had a professor in grad school tell me once that I should never direct my friends in my projects--that the roles become too confusing. Even though I respect this professor very much, that advice somehow confirmed for me how much I operate from exactly the opposite view. I love creating experimental performance precisely because I get to do so with my friends.

Most of my closest friendships have developed through working together in Dandelion Dancetheater. Even if some of those people aren't able to work with our ensemble on a regular basis anymore, the ways that we bonded while creating and performing together run very deep. 

I don't socialize much outside of rehearsals and performances. When I have time off, I usually want to spend it at home with my partner or alone. There's so much to process from all of the artistic adventures I engage in. I find I need lots of down time just to catch up with myself. Therefore regular rehearsals are my social lifeblood.

Yes, the roles in a performance company are complicated--especially the power dynamics and issues around money, schedules and decision-making. I sometimes get confused about being the "boss" of my peers who are the same age and sometimes older than me. But all friendships have issues. These just happen to be some of the interesting ones we have to wade through.

Many of my collaborators in Dandelion have been important people in my life for 10 - 20 years now. And I'm loving the friendships that are developing with the newer ensemble members.

However, I sometimes lose touch with the friendship part of my art-making and get caught up in the less fulfilling parts.

Yes my career, and everything that goes along with it is important to me. Professional recognition, financial support and growing opportunities for Dandelion to create and perform work are all things that I want to see develop. But these are not the heart of my artistic life. Rather they are supports for what I see as the "real" work at hand, namely a journey towards wholeness.

I'm finding that our Friend project is serving as a reminder to return to the deeper currents of my art-making. I started this piece as a kind of tribute to Sharon, and an exploration of friendship. I've realized that in my relentless striving for success I missed out on a lot of opportunities to be with Sharon.

She was my one close friend who was a regular in my life but with whom I didn't collaborate on artistic ventures. Sometimes that meant we didn't see each other for months. I had a hard time slowing down enough from all of my work to connect with her, especially when her brain tumor forced her to speak and act extremely slowly.

I don't know if I'd call what I'm experiencing "regret," (as I prefer to think of all the choices that I've made as the best I could with the information I had at the time) but rather as a wake-up call.

I don't want to get so immersed in grant proposals, social events, meetings or things that I think might advance my career, that I forget about my precious time with my friends. I don't want to turn my art-making into a bunch of goals and achievements. I don't want to get as stressed out as I've been in recent years over what people will think of the work that I do. I don't want to get too serious about my work.

Yes, my career is as an artist, but I don't have to adopt the attitude that my career has to be something separate from my love and connection to spirit, or from my friendships. I'd rather that the majority of my time in rehearsal and performance with this amazing collection of friends is spent with a sense of joy and gratitude.

In this Friend project I'm looking for as many opportunities as possible for prioritizing friendship over any kind of external marker of success or validation. In this spirit I asked my CounterPULSE residency partner, Kegan Marling to dance a duet with me in the work-in-progress showing of Friend yesterday.

I didn't know how this fit in aesthetically with what we are doing, or whether it was the most interesting and innovative direction to go in. But I knew that I feel great love for my friend Kegan (who I've known and interacted artistically with for many years) and that I wanted a chance to "hang out" with him within the magical realm of the stage. I wanted to celebrate our friendship in one of the most powerful ways I know how to celebrate anything--through performance. It became a ritual marking our friendship, and through that invoking the power of friendship universally within the piece.

I'm so glad that we took this risk. It gives me faith in the transformation and re-prioritization I seem to be in the middle of--and excites me for what discoveries are around the next bend. Ironically it felt like a perfect compliment to the piece's aesthetic.

Here's a look at our first draft of this duet from our showing today:

(You can also view it at this link: )

Saturday, February 12, 2011


I'm humbled to see how deep so much of my conditioning runs.

I've been learning about and experimenting with inclusive dance techniques for almost a decade now. I'm continually looking for ways to make the ways I perform, think about, create and teach dance/theater inclusive of people with diverse mobilities.

And still my conditioning asserts itself over and over. I fall back on how I learned to dance. Sometimes this is wonderful and provides a storehouse of movement approaches and remembered choreographies. But sometimes this keeps me blind to who is actually with me in the room and what is actually presenting itself to be investigated.

A few rehearsals ago four of us created what I am calling the "Head-Wall Phrase." We took turns teaching the group movements, stacked on top of each other in an accumulating sequence. It was unplanned creation and I loved the energy that it brought along with it.

The next rehearsal had me wanting to teach this material to a larger section of our ensemble. I gave the instructions and we began. And right away Mickey remarked on how it can be so frustrating to learn movement material created by people without physical disabilities and then to have to take on the responsibility of adapting it to his body every time. Cristina agreed and I saw once again how much I was letting old habits dictate my rehearsal process.

While I do find that creating movement on my body with its particular mobility needs is a way for me to circumvent too much thinking and access my intuition, I would like to remember that I don't have to teach that movement to others just by showing it and having them imitate me.

There are so many ways to share movement in more inclusive ways. I've discovered some, and plan to keep discovering more as long as I am involved in this kind of work. What I find over and over again is that exploring ways to relay material in as inclusive a way as possible is not only important so that more people can be included, but it is also always more interesting aesthetically to me in what it produces.

Once we figured out that we should teach the "Head-Wall Phrase" through words that each person could interpret through the filter of her/his kinetic intuition, we created dance that sung beautifully, rather than just accomplished a successful sequence.

Here is our before and after versions:

(The video can also be found here if the embedding doesn't work for some reason: )

I look forward to watching this phrase evolve further as we include it within our larger structure, and as more ensemble members create their individual versions.

Birthing Pains

I see the creation of each art work as a kind of birth. There's both great connection and great pain in this process, and I often forget that the magnitude of how connecting a piece is directly relates to how painful its birth can be.

Last week we tried out a structure for performing a lot of the most salient material we've been developing in our Friend project. It's a difficult feat to imagine how to collage together all the disparate strains that develop in an experimental creation process, but I always do my best. The order of events that I came up with seemed very powerful when I envisioned it, and I was excited to get into rehearsal to try it out.

After talking through the two-page sequence of sections we gave it a try on Sunday night. There were some moments that resonated with me a great deal, and many unexpected images that moved me. But there were also long passages that felt awkward and confused. Those were excruciating.

Even though I know this is an important part of the creation process, I forget that in the moment when we're doing a first run of things. I feel ambushed by material that seems unformed or over-formed. I panic, try to push things into a more interesting state of relationship, try to speed everyone up, insert all sorts of new ideas or lighting angles and generally try to resist what is actually unfolding. I get mad at myself, the performers, circumstances. I feel disappointed and doubt my abilities as an artist.

Now that I've been directing ensemble-based performance steadily for over a decade, I can recognize a little sooner than before that I'm in a "first draft" experience and that it is usually painful. I'm able to relax with the process more. But it still hurts. Somehow the gap between my visions and expectations, and what actually comes out in an early run-through is always shocking.

This time I got a glimpse of insight into the process. I was able to watch myself as I went through the pain of pushing that first draft out into the universe, and then saw how I took that experience and transformed it into a second draft. Sometimes the second draft is as challenging as the first. But there are also times when it feels especially magical--forged out of the fire of disappointment into nuggets of performance electricity. This was one of those times.

Our next rehearsal was inspired. All the performers dug into the material at a whole new level. I was able to get the action moving and then watch as it seemed to create itself. The powerful material developed not in spite of, but directly in relationship to how painful our run-through had been.

Here's a look at that next step as it unfolded for us this past week:

(If you're unable to watch the embedded video, you can just go to this link: )

We have a public showing tomorrow of our project as it stands at this point. I know that there is no way I can tell how all our material is working until we try it with an audience. This next step could be any combination of painful and joyous, and both are probably equally helpful (even though my preference from where I sit now is definitely for an experience more on the joyous side of the spectrum.)

It feels good to be able to remind myself before going into this public showing that my intention is for the work, myself and the ensemble to grow from this experience--and to invite the pain or awkwardness as part of that growth if that is what the cards hold for us this time.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Injury as Teacher

I'm often able to tell other people when they are injured how much every injury can be a teacher. When it's not me having to hold back from moving with physical abandon, I see the benefit of learning about our limitations and our vulnerability through our injuries. When I have an injury, my vision is a lot murkier and I have to wade through a lot of resistance before I come to some kind of acceptance of what happened and a curiosity about what I could learn in the new situation. So it helps me to have concrete instances to remember when I'm having a hard time getting the "message" in an injury or obstacle.

Yesterday we had our first showing as part of my CounterPULSE residency. Even though it's supposed to be a low pressure event, I nonetheless found myself wanting to impress whoever was there in the hopes of receiving a lot of validation about where I am in my process. (Art-making can be such an uncertain path sometimes, and one fraught with insecurity. It's interesting for me to notice how much I seek affirmation from outside--and how soon after I get such affirmation I'm already "jonesing" for more.)

We had a few things to show, some farther along than others. One that I was especially excited about is a duet I created collaboratively with performers Mickey Kay and Anne-Lise Reusswig. We had made it on the very first day of the residency. It is an exciting duet, with lots of falls, catches, turns, sweeps through space and risky partnering moments. Mickey let me know before the showing that his shoulder was still really bothering him so he shouldn't move much. I was disappointed by that, but figured if I gave them the assignment to re-craft the duet so that it felt okay with Mickey's shoulder, but retained as much of the original energy as possible, that probably they'd end up being able to do most of it.

I underestimated Mickey's injury. Moving athletically was completely off the table for him, and he was thinking that he shouldn't really dance at all.  So I told Mickey and Anne to just do what was easy for them, and to think of it as a duet in which not much could happen. I thought we'd return to the more full-bodied version of the duet as soon as Mickey was ready.

Then it hit me that a big goal of mine for this next phase is to edit my choreography way down--to create things with lots of space, stillness and silence in them. Perhaps this was an arena to experiment with that. And I love what they came up with. Yes, I love the high-powered partnering and momentum of the first version as well, but it was something that is more familiar to me. In having to minimalize their movement, Mickey and Anne found a partnering relationship that drew me in. Rather than blowing me away, it whispered softly and invited me to lean close and witness something much more vulnerable.

Mickey's injury guided me to a place as a director that I could not have found on my own. There was lots of stillness and understated movements. The physical form of the duet became quite minimal, and that seemed to encourage these dynamic performers to reach out with their energy.

I love the new form this duet has taken, and feel that it's given me a foothold for the entire work. I can trust spaciousness in choreography, not just theoretically, but from a place of lived experience. I've just seen it at work and been touched by it. I was reminded by this duet how presence is really what I'm interested in from performers, and that sometimes we can access presence more powerfully by "doing" less.

Without this injury we probably would have done the duet yesterday as we had first choreographed it. And I'm sure it would have been wonderful, but not nearly as much as it ended up being by holding back. I don't want Mickey to have his injury, or anyone for that matter. But I am grateful for this lesson, and the many more that I'm sure lie ahead.

Here is a video of some brief excerpts from our showing, followed by the duet I wrote about in this post.
(Note: If the video seems narrower than it's supposed to be, it might be cut off by the blog's formatting. You can just click on the video and it will take you to the YouTube site's version, which should be full size.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Public Showings

We have our first work-in-progress showing for my CounterPULSE residency this coming Saturday, Jan. 15th. Even though we're still at the beginnings of our creation process, I'm very glad we have this showing to work towards.

There are many reasons that I find public showings of performance works in progress useful. These include:

--forcing us as artists to make some decisions about what we want to show

--giving a deadline to a particular segment of our creation process

--encouraging everyone in the cast to show up at a certain time (Many performers might miss rehearsals due to scheduling conflicts or illness, but few will miss a "performance" of any kind.)

--clarifying what is working or not working in the piece by trying it all full out --receiving feedback from audience members' experiences while witnessing the work and then getting to integrate that feedback into our process

--deepening connection between ensemble members by going through something scary together

--getting to know the space we're working in through a different perspective

--opportunities for bringing friends and loved ones along for our artistic journey

--a chance for all of us to get a better sense of the material we may or may not have already witnessed in rehearsal (Different people come to different rehearsals, so this is one of the few times we're all together.)

--and many more...

There is a particular benefit of showings that I want to explore this time. This is a more personal, intimate benefit. Our showing this Saturday is giving me the opportunity to practice staying mindful while in the middle of the stress and chaos of performances.

One of my personal goals is to merge my spiritual practices with my art making. Some of this is inherent in art making, and some needs to be consciously brought in. In particular I'd like to feel more calm, groundedness, confidence and equanimity on performance days.

I'm good at "making it work." I can handle a large amount of chaos, distress and unexpected obstacles with some amount of grace. My adrenaline rushes and I enter a hyper-focused and highly energetic state. That's all fine and good, but it leaves me feeling very drained afterwards. Also, I find that I become reactive and sometimes even defensive in this super-charged state. While I do get a lot done, sometimes it's a productivity that is disconnected from the deeper parts of my heart.

--I'd like to draw in some of the principles I practice in Tai Chi and mindfulness meditation.

--I'd like to trust the natural unfolding of each performance day.

--I'd like to see everything that arises as momentary expressions of the process, rather than treasures or obstacles that I need to cling to or push through.

--I'd like to stay more in touch with the flow of energy leading up to and during performances.

--I'd like to experiment with trusting a larger sense of identity, and see if things happen when I relax that might even be more interesting than what I could come up with in my striving.

These are not easy tasks for me. A gift of mine is great determination and a strong will. When I want to make something happen, I usually can. However, this limits my experience to include only the things I can think of myself, or that I know I want. That remains a somewhat bland and overly familiar category of experience.

Relaxing into the process further requires a deeper faith in uncertainty. It requires a recognition that I can't control everything. Again, not my natural inclination. Many people report that they think of me as a particularly calm, open and relaxed person. I think that I do have some skills in this area, but most of those come from continual practice. I'm always working towards being calm, open and relaxed--but rarely feeling so. A lot of the time I am able to embody the forms this would take, but my mind rages against the walls inside of that form. I think that performance days are excellent arenas to try to sync up my intentions and my experience.

And an actual "performance" comes with so much baggage that I am usually swept along helplessly with the anxiety and ecstasy. A showing on the other hand is something I can experiment with more freely. The stakes aren't as high and so there is room to make more mistakes.

--What would it be like to stay in touch with my breathing and bodily sensations throughout the whole day, even when a myriad of details are flashing before my eyes?

--What would it be like to trust the process of the preparation, showing and feedback sessions so much so that I don't have to improve them at all?

--What would it be like to allow myself and my ensemble to truly experience whatever arises, familiar and unfamiliar?

--What would it be like to think of the work that we show as not mine, or ours even, but as a creation of the universe manifesting specifically in this moment?

--What would it be like to not take feedback (positive or negative) personally?

I'm not sure, but I'm interested to find out.

...And here is our third interview webisode with Cristina Carrasquillo, right after her first rehearsal with the group and 5 days away from our first showing...
(If the video gets cut off on the sides while watching it on the blog site, you can click on the video and it will take you to the YouTube version of it, which should be complete.)