The drawback of performance based creative arts

Did you ever write an angsty poem? One you’d never show to anyone else because it wallowed in the overblown emotions? I suspect anyone who considers themselves a writer (and quite a few of us who don’t) have done this. We’ve used trite phrasing, we’ve waded through topics done to death, but hopefully we’ve learned from those creative bursts. Sometimes we need them. We have to spit out the crap to get to the interesting work. We throw away page after page of trite nonsense to get to one perfect sentence. I’ve spoken to musicians that do the same thing. I’ve roomed with an artist who swore the only good work came from the very bottom of any tube of paint – the rest was for painting the disasters.

I feel like choreographers don’t have that luxury. At least not ones on the kind of shoestring budget most of us have. We can’t read our words the next morning and trim away the junk, paint over the canvas, hear our composition and refine it. We have to have living bodies. Sure I can script movement all day, but 9 times out of 10 I go into  the studio with an image that becomes something entirely new once the limitations of human form are applied. You’d be shocked how many times I mutter the phrase “this would work if only you didn’t have arms”. Bodies are messy. None of them move the same way. No two dancers move identically and I assure you none of them can fly no matter how often they do in my visions.

Sure, I can throw phrase after phrase of movement on them and toss it aside. But I’m wasting their time when I do that. I have to get it right in studio because the clock is always ticking. But its more than just trying to get the right movement every rehearsal. I have a lot of bad ideas. I want to set a piece for my mother. Its maudlin and personal and nothing worthy of an audience. But its something I need to work through. I need to set it so I can move through it – so I can find the essence of grief. When I can distill the emotion of grief from the personal experience of it – then I can set something powerful. But I don’t have the luxury of setting the overblown nonsense that has to come first. I want to play with modern music. That takes a unique skill. To capture the heart of a lyric’d piece without choreographing TO the lyrics, which comes across as trite and dull to most audiences. But again, that is a journey. Like any artform, you have to do the bad work to get to the good stuff.

But when the work you create has to see a stage to pay your instruments and muses? How do you evolve then? I have to wonder if this is why so many choreographers play it safe. Setting what has worked for them before again and again and again. Unfortunately until I become independently wealthy I have no choice personally but to keep pushing through. To put out what seems powerful at the time, only to cringe at it later when I see trivialities, the conventions, the points when I played it safe. Hopefully I’ll avoid getting panned so badly I lose the chance to learn from my mistakes and grow as an artist.

One of these days I’ll learn to draw images that can move across the page and don’t mind when I crumple them up and toss them aside.

Dirty little secret

I will always struggle with my impression of my weight. There was a rather heated, rather drunken conversation about this a few nights ago and I got to thinking that this is something other performers seem to get, but everyone else is baffled by.

See I’m very comfortable in my appearance on a day to day basis. With my husband, in “normal people” clothes, at the gym even. I like my body. I’ve worked hard to stay in shape and am in better shape now then I was in my 20s. I’m proud of that. I feel sexy and confident and generally pretty darn content with how I look.

Being on stage or in a studio is something entirely different. And to be honest, the two things do not interact. In studio my attitude can riccochet all over the place. You spend multiple hours staring at yourself in a mirror. Its the most narcissistic pursuit on the planet. You analyze everything from the way your hand flexes too much at this angle to where your clothing causes there to be an extra bulge somewhere there shouldn’t be one. You know how when you look at a word too long it starts to look misspelled? Well, when you stare at your own body sometimes it can start to look wrong. There are days when the opposite is true. When your technique is on and you are staring at the mirror thinking “wow, I look GOOD today, I look strong/thin/muscular/whatever.” But no matter what, you are looking and analyzing and comparing what you see in the mirror to how you picture your upcoming role.  Dancers, and from what I’ve seen actors, are masters of reshaping their bodies. We train differently if we want the long lean ballerina lines or if we want the more powerful build of a modern dancer. We eat differently if we want strength vs looking willowy.

All of this often has nothing to do with perceived sexuality. Its a state that can exist entirely within the realm of performing and not impact your self-view outside of that. I’ve had days where I ripped myself up in studio, threw on jeans to go out afterwards and felt awesome. But walking around the world is not the same as standing on a stage. Feeling sexy is about feeling attractive to those you find attractive. Curves are sexy. Individuality is sexy. Confidence is sexy.

On a stage every tiny detail is lit up and highlighted, and an audience expects a certain presentation. Things that others would find attractive about you walking down the street are suddenly seen as glaring flaws. We know this. We see it when we watch others perform and sadly enough, we hear it from others as well. Maybe not about ourselves (I hope no one has friends that cruel). But we do hear it about other performers and I promise you, we’ve stood next to that performer in a studio one day and thought how much longer/thinner/ stronger they are than us. Its how we work. We read articles that shred ballerinas for being overweight and look at those same women as being at the thinnest end of our world.

But most of it comes from us. Dance is about perfection. We train to be perfect. If we are lucky we come to embrace our imperfections and turn our weaknesses into our strengths (I can’t turn, but boy can I jump). Yet we still strive for that perfection of form. We know that for a line to look the way it was meant to look, our bodies have to be built a certain way. Even when we are telling stories on a stage, our bodies are creating the landscape. And every time we are in a studio, we are thinking ahead to the next time we are on a stage.

Please understand that this does not mean we walk around thinking “oh god I’m fat” 24/7. It doesn’t mean we hate ourselves or feel unattractive even as we are being hypercritical. It means we have a split perception of ourselves. We are perfectly capable of simultaneously thinking we need to tone up or carve out a muscle line while feeling sexy, strong, and confident.

Long time no speak

I’ve not done well living up to this whole posting more often thing. Yet I have stuck by the write more often resolution. Perhaps to the distress of my poor dancers, who I flood with emails. I spent today writing up my views on each of their characters, looking for points of development within the story. It was wonderfully helpful to me, and hopefully to them as well on some level.  I’m pleased that I can play the music for each tale and hear the development, see the movement. It tells me we are on the right track.

I spent today working on our fundraising site, which is nearly ready to go live. I don’t think I’ve felt this prepared for something ever before.  I’ve thought this thing nearly to death.  My only fear is that I’ve overthought it, but I’m hopeful I’ve thought it through just enough and confident that the performers will always find ways to surprise me.

A week ago I couldn’t picture being back in rehearsals. I couldn’t figure out how to work everything else around it, and boy is there a lot to work in right now. But as soon as we stepped foot into the studio, even in an intentionally non-productive week like this one, it became all consuming. I am truly awed by how intense everyone is. They have fun and they joke around, but they slide into the skins of their characters as easily as sliding into warm water. Their movement changes, their faces change, even their breath changes. I wonder if they realize it. If they see it in one another as clearly as I can see it in them.

I am continually awed by the powerful creativity of the people with whom I work. Not just the dancers either. I get to collaborate with artist Christan Vick on sets. She’s built a wonderful Pinterest board for us of images to inspire the sets. Her vision is beautiful and I’m so excited to see what she creates. I’m truly blessed to work with the talented Joseph Futral for lights (anyone who saw Chiaroscuro can attest to his talents). I adore the fact that he approaches the lighting so passionately. He makes it another character in the story, alternately hiding and revealing, directing the audience’s attention, and ultimately making the story richer than it would be on its own. Laurie Zolkosky’s pared down and poignant phrasing is powerful fodder for Angela Pearl. We got to take some of that phrasing into the recording studio a few weeks ago and the whole piece evolved from that one day. From hearing the words spoken as myriad characters. We took everything to a deeper level from that exploration. That I get to work with people willing to do that exploration, willing to let the entire show evolve even once its on the stage, is humbling and inspiring.

I love my job.

Cleansing

Every once in a while we need a clean start. I’ve got a lot of new beginnings hovering on the horizon. I feel like I need to take some time to mentally and physically prepare for them. I’m taking the month of July to do so.

This isn’t entirely unprompted. My husband has been wanting to do a physical restart for a while. He witnessed the result of the gentle 3 week cleanse some of his Tai Chi classmates did and was inspired. I offered to go through the process with him after a lot of research. See I’m incredibly skeptical of cleanses. The idea of living off of juice or water for several days doesn’t sound wise or pleasant to me. This isn’t like that. It struck me as something doable and worthwhile.

In preparing for this I’m realizing I need to clear out a lot more than junk food. Bad habits, clutter, too much time wasted on unimportant things. I need to make room for things to change. It makes sense to me to do these things together. Not to elimate some of these pursuits forever, but to step back from them for a time and find some perspective. Just as I won’t be giving up certain foods forever, just for the duration of these few weeks.

Since I’ve invited and/or challenged a few friends to examine their own states of health during this time I figured maybe I should lay out what exactly I’m committing to, with the caveat that I don’t expect anyone else to do what I’m doing. Even Mike and I are doing different things. This isn’t about conforming to anyone else’s plan. Its about finding ways to improve one’s self in whatever way one needs.

Exercise:
I’ve always been and always will be active. I have a few goals I want to meet, however. I want to get my pull-ups back and I want to be capable of running a 5K. So mostly I’ll be sticking to what I’ve been doing most of the summer.

  • M/W/F – targeted weight training, focusing on supersets
  • Tu/Th/Sa – 5K run training with pullup work
  • Sunday – yoga

Nutrition:
Again, I tend to eat pretty darn healthy for the most part, but I’ll be doing the Clean program with Mike. That means no alcohol and no caffeine along with eliminating what few pre-packaged things I eat. Honestly the food end of this won’t be tough for me. Its fruits and vegetables and fish. No soy, but I’ve been eliminating that anyway. Its a more structured approach for those few weeks, but I look forward to re-examing what I’m eating and making sure I’m keeping the best things in the house for all of us.

Other:
I’m going to step back from the onslaught of social media for July as well. I find that when I do back away from it I feel incredibly cut off because most of my friends are so active in those mediums. But at the same time, I think I need that space. I want to spend more physical time with my friends. Actually see their faces!

I want to focus on the kids – on taking them to do and see things around the city as well as just indulging in play time around the pool.

Lastly, I want to focus on the many projects I have – reaching a decision about homeschooling this year or next, preparing business plans for 2 things, BCD materials, etc, etc.

________

I’m strangely very excited about July. Just two more weeks!

Behind the scenes

I’ve been going through video footage all weekend for a variety of projects. At some point I decided to play. All of this is rehearsal footage. You can see some of the silliness, some of how we work through lifts, and some beautiful movement before its been refined.

Enjoy!

Back in the studio

We went back in studio this week for Into the Dark Wood as well as slowly getting some old rep back in shape. We’re working throughout June, then taking the rest of the summer off before going back to work at the end of August. June is for shaping things up, finding the characters and refining the styles. It involves trashing a lot of what was done before in favor of new things after a year of choreographic growth on my part.

The Ice Queen is more sensual than she was before. More subtle in her menace. Jena has already brought so many layers to her, made her an intriguing, terrifying, and even for flashes sympathetic, villain. I’d forgotten how fun it is to work with her and Stephen. We sketched out a big chunk of their interactions and the movement is beautiful on them. Having dancers who are willing to step in and be bodies for parts they aren’t even in is incredibly helpful as well. It lets me move forward even if I don’t have the dancer I need on a particular day. I feel like after only two rehearsals we’ve gotten the essence of that section nailed down, partly because the Heroine’s part in that section is one of the few bits of choreography I’m keeping from before. Her role was already so well defined that it can stand as it is, with only minor enhancements. Soon I get to work with the hero and heroine’s pas de deux and I’m looking forward to that, to setting something light and airy and innocent to contrast the darker, more adult interaction of hero and Queen.

Jena Kovash as the Ice Queen, photo credit Caitlin Holden

Jena Kovash as the Ice Queen, photo credit Caitlin Holden

Friday we fleshed out Fox’s solo, getting that piece on track as well. With the same dancer playing the hero in the Ice Queen at the top of the show and Mr. Fox at the end of the show, we have to really define the characters. Mr. Fox is grounded, earthy, and menacing. What we have so far is looking fantastic. I finally found the music to end that story in a way I like. A piece that blends nervous energy, menace, and an undertone of seduction. So the music for all three sections is set at long last. I’m hoping to put up snippets of video in the next week or so, just some hints to show where we are going!

Stephen Loch as Mr. Fox, photo credit Katherine Manfre

Stephen Loch as Mr. Fox, photo credit Katherine Manfre

Meanwhile all of the dancers have dvd’s at home of repertory pieces along with cast lists so they can do their homework and get familiar with old roles or roles I’d like them to learn. My goal is to have them run these at the start of each rehearsal and keep them fresh. They are all small cast pieces that we can send out for any opportunity – festivals and little gigs. I’m hoping to get us out and about more often, to be seen more than simply at our two main shows. It means I have to do more homework myself so I can make the best use of studio time. I don’t have the luxury of developing things entirely in the studio. I have to walk in with the images fairly well defined, but I prefer that anyway. They’ll change and evolve as I work with the dancers so it isn’t as if I’m setting things that won’t work with them. I have the blessing of working with dancers who aren’t afraid to communicate with me, to tell me if something doesn’t flow or if they see/feel something that I’m missing. They work with me, they read up on their roles, they study videos pre and post rehearsal, and they are incredibly talented. I’m excited to see some of these old works that I or Jo have set done with new casts, to see how they change with different bodies and different minds behind them. I hope I can get those pieces out in front of audiences and get these talented men and women more work!

Questions galore

I’m going to post these questions in multiple forums over the next few weeks. What makes you willing to pay to see a dance show? Or what keeps you from going? If you haven’t ever attended one, what kind of thing might entice you? Alternately, what kinds of fundraisers would you participate in? We’ve run wine tastings with notoriously low turnouts. Would you rather just give money or are there activities that could coax you to a fundraiser (poker, bbq, mini-show, other)? Is there information you want to receive in order to donate such as knowing exactly where the money is going (ie, this fundraiser goes to costumes, dancer pay, theater rental, etc)? I’d love honest feedback. Thinking over ways to restructure things in the coming year including using tools like Kickstarter. I know I have friends who loyally turn out and others that don’t (which is totally fine), I’m just looking for some insight into what might entice folks!