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: