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: