Thursday, October 6, 2016

Adventures in Choreography

(All photos by Camille Wheeler)

To be perfectly honest the making of this dance was a first for me. It was so full of energy and rich with possibility that the hairs on my arm stand up when I think about it. You’d think with that kind of inspiration this blog post would be a piece of cake. However, I have spent the last couple of weeks playing ping pong with my thoughts trying to make sense of it all. Then it hit me! In 1997, Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote a column entitled “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.” The piece became so well known that Australian film director Baz Luhrmann used the essay to create his hit song “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).” Besides being a clever piece of writing and a personal manifesto I try to live by, the words: “Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own. Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your own living room. Read the directions even if you don't follow them.” perfectly describe how I feel about what Silva and I casually call Together and Apart.
“Encountering Balance.” Silva and I find a moment of balance as we sit side by side on the bus stop bench while holding hands. My crutch dangles from my arm as we pull away from each other. We are together and apart.
From studio to pavement and everywhere in between Together and Apart reminded me that dance is fun and that the panic I feel when I try to make work is all in my mind. What else did you notice, you ask? Well, I’ve done a lot of work outdoors but this is the first time I have gone from place to place. As improvisers, we are taught to connect with ourselves first and then relate to our environment. With this work, I had to dare myself to move differently. There was so much to take in! I had to process it all before I could see where I fit. I discovered I could use all my senses. While I found it challenging to push beyond just using my eyes and skin for inspiration, it was so freeing. In fact, right before we called it quits, Silva and I were dancing on a sand-kissed concrete courtyard. I will never forget how that sand vibrated throughout my body or how the sound felt as it cascaded over my eardrums. It was like the sidewalk was saying, “May I have this dance.” Now I understand what dance teachers mean when they say things like, “The floor is your dance partner too.” It was beautiful.
“Hello sand! Shall we dance?” Our dance becomes a trio as Silva and I find ourselves doling with the sand that has blown across a concrete court yard. We stand facing each other, about 2 feet apart. Silva strikes a modified warrior pose as she lounges forward. Her chest is low to the ground as one leg bends in front of her and the other extends behind. She stretches her arms out wide to either side. She is looking down as if she is going to kiss the sidewalk. I respond by bending both knees and crouching as low as I can while extending a crutch out in front me. I am looking down like a bull ready to take on her matador.
Tell me more, you say? Your wish is my command. Unlike other on-site pieces I’ve been in, we never rehearsed in the space for this piece. It was a true adventure. Eat your heart out Dora the Explorer! Before you trade in your ballet tickets for safari tickets, let me tell you what I think made our adventure possible. First, the score or movement “rules” for this piece were short, simple and sweet. If our movement was any more complex, I’m pretty sure our adventure would have turned into a disaster. Second, we had no official audience. As with any performance, whether in a studio; on a stage; or somewhere in the community an audience is a given. Basic expectations have been set before you take your seat. The performers are “on” way before the curtain rises. But, like a polka dot on a striped shirt, Together and Apart dared to be different. I never felt like I was performing! You’d think our matching outfits would have been a dead giveaway. Yet, I was stunned when barely a head turned as shoppers passed at Wheatsville Co-op. Plus; I’m always hyperaware of cameras during a performance. However, with Camille and Rey it was different. They were adventurers too. This experience would not have been the same without them. For those of you who have ever taken an Elements class or attended a DanceAbility training it was “One Mover, One Watcher” at its finest ☺  Silva and I had the freedom to focus on our relationship. I’m so glad we had each other’s backs because for the first time ever the risk taker in me didn’t mind taking a back seat. I was happy when Silva started climbing tables and lying on the ground because it helped me conserve my strength for the journey ahead. And, believe me I needed all the energy I could get. I have never been more present and more authentic in my life. I felt awesome! By the way, we did build a little bit of an audience. By the end of the day, people were definitely wondering if they should cross our path.
“Peek-a-boo. I see you.” Silva and I see each other in a whole new way as we sit side by side on a bus. Our torsos twist toward each other and our eyes meet. We take a moment to acknowledge one another through the finger telescopes we made with our hands.
But, wait there’s more. The bus, there’s no way I’m ever going to forget dancing on a bus! Seriously friends, this is tombstone material. It was thrilling to feel the motion of the bus as it moved forward. I loved how the up and down movement of its shocks and struts affected the quality of my movement. The space was so concentrated you could feel a pin drop through the sound of steel and motor oil. Truly a fantastic lesson in how gravity moves through the body, pure fun. Again, I felt like the bus was dancing with me. I felt like a sponge again. I had to take in before I could make a move. I felt completely taken care of. The best part was hearing the bus driver tell us how much he enjoyed our dance and that he hoped his driving was okay. He played a dual role of audience member and performer. I have always wanted to make a piece that explored this concept. I finally got my chance. Capital Metro you haven’t seen the last of me.
“Movement meets inertia.” As we sit side by side on the bus, our arms swing out in front of us as they complete a spiral that came from above. The palms of our hands grow wider as they face the floor. Our fingers grow longer as they pull away from each other. We are waving goodbye to the old and welcoming the new. It’s time for a new dimension of on-site choreography.
Well friends, I’m just about out of words. But, before I sign off let me leave you with this: GET OUT THERE AND EXPLORE THE WORLD AROUND YOU. Be a sponge and soak in the inspiration. Then, move the furniture in your living room, introduce yourself to the nearest sidewalk, or star in your own personal dance party during your next commute (remember safety first, of course ☺) Just get out there and move! Your environment is waiting and it wants to dance.

With love and gratitude,

Click here to see Rey Barrera's video of the Together and Apart performance!

1 comment:

  1. Quite humorous! I loved what Mary Schmick has to say. Bus dancing is something I gotta try, but I will use a pole for balance. You and Silva and the ground make for good dance partners. Thanks for sharing. Vic Martinez