Quiet Circus Last Spring Performance

Saturday at Washington Avenue Pier from 11a.m. to 1p.m.


The Quiet Circus at Washington Avenue Pier

Dear Friends,

Please join us this Saturday at the Washington Avenue Pier in South Philadelphia from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. We are more than midway through The Quiet Circus, a year and half long residency at the Washington Avenue Pier, a complex and riveting site in South Philadelphia along the Delaware River. Among the many histories of occupations and abandonment whose layers become visible under close observation, the pier was the point of entry for immigration into Philadelphia at the turn of the 19th Century. The Quiet Circus performances accumulate through an open participation, public practice at the Washington Avenue Pier. This Saturday will be our last Spring performance until we begin again in September.


There are three interlocking scores that make up The Quiet Circus. Here are glimpses of two of them from last week when we resolutely and ecstatically danced in the chilly rain for an audience of one human and a half dozen pairs of birds who would pause for a moment or two in their water-logged mating activities to see what was going on. This is from “making refuge” in the Island score.

ISLAND SCORE – “making refuge”

And here are some glimpses from The Luminous World :


wrapped rock smalleredit

The third score is The Landscape Game and you are invited to play at either of the two installations that we’ve embedded in the landscape of the pier. You may have seen QC designer Maiko Matsushima play The Landscape Game recently at a River Charrette event we curate with Philly Contemporary that was held at RAIR a residency center further up the Delaware River that is nested inside a commercial recycling center that processes over 400 tons of construction waste every day. When you come to play this contemplative game on Saturday you can observe yourself observing. Or you can observe Maiko playing with Billy Dufala in a 5-ton excavator here first:

The Landscape Game at RAIR

If you would like to do more than see the performance on Saturday, I invite YOU to join our rehearsal on Friday from 4pm to 7pm at The Washington Avenue Pier. We will teach you simple ways to begin to participate in the scores for a deeper level of engagement on Saturday. Don’t be shy! Just give us a heads up that you would like to come: jillian@thequietcircus.com.

See you at pier this weekend!


Click here for directions to the Washington Avenue Pier

Major support for The Quiet Circus has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from The William Penn Foundation, and The Wyncote Foundation; and through generous development residencies at The Yard and Dance Place.

Headlong and Philly Contemporary bring The Quiet Circus River Charrette with Eiko Otake and Alan Greenberger

Dear Friends,
Please join us at Bartram’s Garden this Saturday, September 24th at 2:30 pm forThe Quiet Circus: River Charrettes, a collaborative project by Headlong and Philadelphia Contemporary to engage and explore the city’s maritime, industrial, and creative heritage.
Eiko Otake, an artist whose work and ideas are a profound touchstone for me, will perform as part of her ongoing work, A Body in Places. Afterwards she will be joined by former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger, whose leadership was integral to the City’s current growth and who led the effort to significantly transform the Schuylkill River waterfront. A conversation will be moderated by Harry Philbrick of Philadelphia Contemporary who is co-producing this event with Headlong.
The River Charrettes accompany Headlong’s 15 month long performance series The Quiet Circus which invites audiences and participants alike to engage in a single, ongoing arc of public performance at the Washington Avenue Pier along the Delaware River. For more information go to www.thequietcircus.com for information about how to watch and participate. I am so excited about this work and you can keep your eyes peeled for much more about it as it develops!
Eiko performing A Body in Places at The Yard this summer where Headlong was also in residency.
Photo Credit: David Brick
Bartram’s Garden is a very special place. From there a kind of Philadelphia Redux is revealed– a landscape portrait of our city’s bucolic, utopian then industrialized, polluted, decayed past. As the oldest, surviving botanic garden in North America its 46 acres are surprisingly intact from its Colonial era founding (circa 1728) even as it offers a portrait of the present and near future that illustrates how the nearly 300 year old history of Philadelphia is a story of bloom and decay that can be found in clashing, high stakes urban forces of the present.
Present day Philadelphia as witnessed from Bartram’s Garden suggests a renewed, greener dream of an interconnected city that radiates out from a building boom seen in the silhouettes of sky cranes in the city skyline, and criss-crossed by a massive ramp-up of oil refining infrastructure with a continuous snaking stream of oil tanker cars seen and heard rumbling by on rails that bring the unprocessed oil, mostly from North Dakota, to South Philadelphia refineries that were established in earlier waves of industrialization. In testament to the illuminating, diagrammatic views of Philadelphia that Bartram’s Garden offers to the visitor, one sees poverty and prosperity sitting side by side as a single phenomenon.
Schulykill River looking south from Bartam’s Garden.
Photo credit: David Brick
Looking North from the banks of Bartram’s Garden in West Philadelphia you see a river and rail bridge, old pier posts poking up like ghosts of otters from a river gone by, refineries, and the booming skyline of Center City and West Philly in the distance.
Looking South from Bartram’s one sees bridge and bulldozer, an organic urban farm, refinery tanks and smokestacks, placid water, reeds and fish jumping in the increasingly clean and clear water.
Schulykill River looking north from Bartram’s Garden.
Photo credit: David Brick
The paradoxes of development: future and past, disaster and progress are deep in the spirit of Eiko Otake’s work. You can read what I have written about her principle“time is not even”.  I believe her Bodies in Places work is perfectly situated in the marvelous, complex place of Bartram’s Garden which will be followed by a conversation with another thinker and doer whose work is of great significance to the shape of Philadelphia to come: Alan Greenberger, who was recently the Executive Director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, as well as Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and Director of Commerce for the City.
I hope you will join us!
P.S. for travel information please click here.
Major support for The Quiet Circus has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from the William Penn Foundation.

Washington Ave Green Site

The Quiet Circus
Photo Survey of the Washington Avenue Green and adjacent area along the Delaware River in South Philadelphia

DSC_0510 (1)

Eiko Otake and the Limit of Imagination

Eiko imagination

Dearest Friends,

I am writing again about Eiko Otake. If you were lucky enough to see her perform in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station last year, you know how special the ongoing work is, A Body in Places. You can read more about Eiko in earlier posts, Eiko Otake and the Politics of Hesitation and Time is Not Even.

Since her performances in Philadelphia, she has continued to bring her startling presence- fragile and strong, remorseful, angry and achingly tender to places all over the world. The work has grown and now Eiko is at the center of a platform that is happening for the next few weeks impeccably curated by Judy Hussie Taylor and Lydia Bell of Danspace Project in New York City. The expansive, elaborate platform is a wonder in its vision of the wildly different ways in which we can gather around the ideas of dance. There are performances for one person, convenings indoors and outdoors, a reading group, performance installations and a movie series. There is a catalogue and blog posts worth reading. There are many other artists performing with and alongside and in relation to Eiko. Including two evenings of Talking Duets. The first is this Saturday, February 20th at Danspace and includes Emmannuelle Huynh, Bebe Miller, John Kelly and me with Eiko. And the second is Saturday, March 19th and includes Ishmael Houston-Jones, Yvonne Meier, Elizabeth Streb and me with Eiko. Take a look at the whole platform and experience as much as you can, its a rare and special set of events.

I’d like to share with you something Eiko wrote that touches me deeply. To put it in context I will say that I see art as a vital technology of inquiry, just as the scientific method has proved to be a powerful engine of discovery. Artistic practices offer us ways of wrestling with the unknown. If we are able to struggle long enough in the dark then insight may gradually arise. Eiko’s work reminds me that this route takes tremendous courage; that being brave is not a matter of being powerful; and that a meaningful life is full of that struggle. This is Eiko writing about beginning to study with Kazuo Ohno when she was barely 20 years old:

“On my first visit to his studio, I followed the directions Ohno gave me over the phone and was surprised to find him waiting for me at the bottom of the hill. Since then I walked up that slope two evenings a week to his studio. At the time, he had only a handful of students. Ohno would say a few things, show us some pictures time to time, then tell us to improvise for about two hours. No more instruction before, during, or after. The task of continuously facing my own mind in the unheated studio and feeling the limit of my own imagination was so overwhelming that sometimes, upon arriving at the studio, I could not open its door. On such nights, after several minutes of hesitation, I turned around to walk down the hill in darkness.”

With that I invite you to come wrestle with the unknown, the limits of imagination, for beyond the last thought something indeed does arise.

I hope to see you there,

Project: Video Excavation from Headlong’s Scholar-in-Residence


Hi. Let me introduce myself. My name is Laura Vriend and I am Headlong’s new Scholar-in-Residence. I have a Ph.D. in Critical Dance Studies from the University of California at Riverside and my scholarship centers almost exclusively around the work of Philly dance artists, including Headlong, Nichole Canuso and Kate Watson-Wallace. I’ve known these Headlong folks for awhile now and this summer we created this title/position for me after I volunteered, yes, volunteered to tackle the ridiculously colossal job of archiving Headlong’s video materials. These materials were being kept in old bankers boxes in what we call “the dirty basement”. Their recovery was not unlike excavating an archaeological site. Thankfully, the collection, while still in the process of being fully inventoried, digitized and boxed, is now safely above ground. As a dance scholar, I have already dedicated innumerable hours to thinking about – and written tens of thousands of words on – select Headlong pieces. So, perhaps my initial desire to take on this project was simply to make my own research easier. However I came to this seemingly crazy decision to wade through boxes of old media, create standardized numerical inventory systems, deal with digitizing frustrations or tolerate the numerous impulses to defenestrate my laptop because Excel randomly decided it did not agree with my formatting decisions, I am still here doing this work. It’s exhausting and exciting, but now that we have some older dances digitized we’re hoping to share them (hello vintage Headlong screening parties).

(scroll down to section III if you want to skip my more academic-y musings on archiving and discourses of ephemerality or section IV for vintage video goodness )


In dance studies, a significant amount of discourse has been dedicated to thinking through questions of the ontological status of performance. Words like “ephemeral”, “disappearing” and “vanishing” are common. For instance, Marcia Siegel begins her 1972 book At the Vanishing Point: A Critic Looks at Dance with the following:

Dancing exists at a perpetual vanishing point. At the moment of its creation it isgone. All of a dancer’s years of training in the studio, all the choreographer’s planning, the rehearsals, the coordination of designers, composers, and technicians, the raising of money and the gathering together of an audience, all these are only a preparation for an event that disappears in the very act of materializing. No other art is so hard to catch, so impossible to hold.[1]

In many ways, dance writing in rooted in this very concern: if dances are always vanishing – falling away from us into some kind of “lost dances” vortex – using language to create an evocative experience at least helps to manage some the anxiety of dance’s “plunging into pastness”.[2] Another influential way of thinking about dance’s “ephemerality” comes from performance theorist Peggy Phelan who sees the supposed disappearance of performance as a profound resistance to capitalism. The idea goes like this: if performance disappears, only representations of performance continue on and since a representation of a performance is not a performance itself, a performance cannot be reproduced and circulate ad nauseam in a capitalist marketplace like, say, a postcard of a famous painting.[3] But, let’s not worry about that for now.

Working on this archive has had me thinking quite a bit about these discourses: are these tapes and now this archival project an attempt to “save” these dances from disappearance? Am I driven by an anxious desire to “catch” them? What is an archive’s relationship to these questions surrounding the ontology of performance? The process of doing this work has clarified my thinking around these questions. In addition to the archives usefulness to my own research and as yet still only imaginary book project about Headlong, so far this process does seem to have helped Amy and David and Gen access previous work for creative, pedagogical or marketing purposes. As for this problematic word “ephemeral”, watching these pieces again reminds me how active and alive my affective experiences of Headlong’s work still are. These works did not disappear nor have they ceased acting upon me. The archiving process has reinforced my own conclusions around these discourses of “ephemerality”, that began to take shape particularly while reading Jacqueline Shea Murphy’s The People Have Never Stopped Dancing: Native American Modern Dance Histories and André Lepecki’s Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement in graduate school.[4] With the entanglement of my own experiences of performance and my engagement with these scholarly works I have arrived at the very strong belief that the work of a performance extends beyond what we usually think of as the “end” of said performance. Dances move us, they speak to other dances and performances, they influence communities of creators, they are active in time and space and they continue to do all these things – to be live and alive in our conscious bodies – long after they are “over”. The word “ephemeral” when applied to dance now makes my ass twitch.[5] I can no longer think of dance in such a way. It acts too strongly upon us, it does too much in the world and as long as it generates these effects, I cannot think of it as disappearing. I too can use Siegel’s metaphor of the vanishing point, but I see a different interpretation. The vanishing point as the 2-dimensional representation of the geometry of perspective is not actually an end-point. It is only a representational mode wherein the point itself is suggestive of the infinite continuation of the lived. The lasting effects of performance too can be felt and followed past this point. I could provide further exposition on this statement using theories of performativity and affect, but I’ll leave that for a later date. So yeah…that’s what I’ve been thinking about during the archiving process from a “scholarly” perspective. If you did read this section, feel free to ignore/forget/disregard it as per your preference.


For now, I’ll share some particularly memorable finds from the degrading boxes of VHS tapes (that are now labeled, inventoried and stored in archival quality VHS boxes). I dug out my old VHS tape player and was determined to watch unlabeled or poorly labeled tapes so I actually knew what was on them. Here are a few things I found:

A Dance Dear to David

I found a single unlabeled tape. I saw: David, Amy and Andrew in blue and black tights and t-shirts, a Cunningham-esque dance (super nerdy), audience members sitting at tables with the option of listening to several offered soundtracks on audio cassette players and an audible soundtrack of voices commenting upon the dance as they were seeing it. I recognized one of the voices to belong to Lorin Lyle (Lorin has performed with Headlong many times). In the office the next day, I brought my observations to Amy who informed me that the piece, performed at the PMA, was called Blue Bodies on Wood. I instinctually put it in the priority digitization pile since I’m a huge nerd (see above for evidence) and it’s such a beautifully nerdy dance. When David returned to the office from his artist mentorship trip at the Yard in Martha’s Vineyard, he told me he had been thinking about that very piece and was even interested in creating a new version. I was so glad I intuited that it needed priority digitization.

Mission: Impossible

Yes, there was a VHS tape of Mission: Impossible. Yes, the very first Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible with the Larry Mullen Jr./Adam Clayton version of the theme song (so good). There was a post-it on it, but the writing was illegible (David?). Needless to say, I was pretty sure there had to be something on the tape Headlong-related. My answer: a First Friday performance at the old Spirit Wind Performance Space circa late 2004/early 2005: some improvisational structures, excerpts from Hippie Elegy and a Custom Made for Dito van Reigersberg (Founding Artistic Director of Pig Iron Theatre Company). Wait, I thought. A Custom Made for Dito? I remember that. I was at that First Friday. I watch again. I can see the back of my head.


On the shelf in the office was a VHS copy of ST*R WA*RS (yes, the piece that won Headlong a Bessie). A copy of the program was taped around the box with a handwritten warning: Master! Do Not Touch or Play! I was slightly concerned that this may actually be the only copy. BUT, as I continued dusting off boxes in the dirty basement, I pulled one from the bottom back corner of a shelf, opened it and found…the 8mm motherload. While most were labeled “rehearsal footage” or simply by date, deep in the pile I found the original 8mm tape of ST*R W*RS and Other Stories recorded by DTW (New York Live Arts). It has since been digitized and we now have plenty of touchable and playable DVDs as well as a digital file of the show.


For anyone interested, but especially HPI students past, present and future: I chose this piece from 1995 to give you a taste of what David, Amy and Andrew were making early in their careers. There’s a whole lot more that I want you to see, but this is pretty special. Some of you may have even heard about it. It’s called Routine. You may want to plug in some speakers or headphones, as the volume in the file itself is quite low. Note: we’ve come full circle hairstyle-wise as Amy is once again blonde and David is rockin’ the headband.

Keep an eye out for more videos and images from the archive.

Peace Out,



[1] Siegel, Marcia. At the Vanishing Point: A Critic Looks at Dance. New York: Saturday Review Press, 1972

[2] Here, I’m borrowing André Lepecki’s phrase “plunging into pastness” from his book Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement. NewYork: Routledge, 2006

[3] Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London and New York: Routledge, 1993

[4] See the following works for additional scholarly thinking that rejects the notion of performance as ephemeral using theories of performativity, affect studies and the philosophy of Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze: Lepecki, André. Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement. New York: Routledge, 2006 and Murphy, Jacqueline Shea. The People Have Never Stopped Dancing: Native American Modern Dance Histories. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007

[5] Here, I’m borrowing a variation of the line “my ass is twitching” from French Kiss. dir Lawrence Kasdan, 20th Century Fox, 1995, film


2014-15 Island Rehearsal Photos

Island Structure
Headlong Studios
May, 2015

christina zani, island, headlong, first friday

Island Structure
The Yard, Chilmark, Massachusetts
May-June, 2015


Site and Subliminal Explorations
Philadelphia, PA
Winter-Spring, 2014/2015

Island Structure
Headlong Studios
November, 2014


The rule breaks of W*LM*RT Nature Trail

headlong dance theater, walmart nature trail, justin jain, christina zani, site specific, dance, philadelphiaIn June, we performed a rebellious new piece for one audience member at a time called W*LM*RT Nature Trail. It started on a bench outside the South Philly Walmart, took the audience member on a journey through the Walmart box store, along an adjacent nature trail on the Delaware River, and out onto an overgrown pier. Throughout this process we were interested in how the piece could break the “rules” (both explicit and implicit) that usually guide an artistic process and product.

Only 70 slots were available to attend the show, which sold out in 24 hours, but we hope this email will help us share the thinking behind the piece. Each audience member had their own singular experience within a 60 minute journey that was a metaphor for a life journey. The piece encouraged mindfulness through paying attention to the natural world and all sentient beings. “Notice what you will. This is a place we were meant to be lost.”

Below are some of the ways W*LM*RT Nature Trail defied the rules.


RULE: rent a venue or be presented
BREAK: found/free venue

RULE: perform in a place that people know
BREAK: perform in a place that is unknown/scary

RULE: raise $ for creation
BREAK: make cheaply

RULE: ticket sales important piece of budget
BREAK: pay what you will

RULE: perform for a group
BREAK: perform for one audience member

RULE: press invited
BREAK: no press release

RULE: public invited
BREAK: no marketing

RULE: lower barrier/get people to come
BREAK: make it logistically hard to attend

RULE: control over piece/space
BREAK: lots of accidental/random aspects

RULE: contribute to society
BREAK: question/attack societal norms

RULE: lobby
BREAK: no lobby

RULE: continued life/touring
BREAK: impossible to tour

RULE: cast predominately white
BREAK: cast 50% people of color

RULE: hate Walmart
BREAK: love Walmart

Watch a trailer of the W*LM*RT Nature Trail journey HERE.

  • from "More" - Christina Zani performing with a ruptured Achilles' tendon

    from "More" - Christina Zani performing with a ruptured Achilles' tendon

A choreography of presence

Dearest Friends,

I am giving a lecture on Presence next week as part of Move Dance Think Fest’s “The Significance of Everything” this weekend: Saturday, May 2 from 5pm to 7pm in the evening at Headlong Studios. (www.movedancethink.org)

I will talk about working to create a choreography of presence that doesn’t fill up action but rather dictates action and embraces human diversity in the deepest sense. I argue that a focus on presence resists an approach to performance that asks bodies to be categorically representational, or to look like one another in exchange for formal pleasures that come at the expense of human complexity and possibility. And I offer a vision of a dance form that is inseparable from the aging body rather than a form whose skill requires it to be at odds with wisdom and experience. I think we can see our bodies as unique and ephemeral rather than interchangeable and disposable.

I will also share how my perspective has been shaped by my belief in the untapped power of our senses to deliver vital, unnoticed information about each other and the world around us. In particular I share my experience with deafness-growing up as a hearing member of a deaf family and how living in a sign language environment opened the doors of perception to another non-verbal world in which bodies were always whispering even when they weren’t signing. And how those senses sharpened as I began to lose my hearing as an adult.

The Move Dance Think Fest’s “The Significance of Everything” is full of lovely events and performances all day on Saturday and Sunday, go to the website to see everything! And consider coming to the thoughtful weekend produced by Zornitsa Stoyanova, Kristen Shahverdian and Jacelyn Biondo!

Yours most truly,


Time is not even

eiko otake, 30th street station, body in station, pafa, philadelphia, performance

photo credit: William Johnston

Dearest Friends,

Time is not even.  Welcome to the second letter in a series I am writing about my recent conversations with Eiko Otake whose last of four performances is tomorrow night, Friday, October 24 from 9pm to midnight at Amtrak’s 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.  It will be a haunting time to observe a rare and indelible performance.  My time with Eiko these past few months have been an extended, ecstatic meditation on what I call the “choreography of presence”- an alternative strand in post-modern dance to the “movement for movement sake’s” path blazed by Merce Cunningham’s work.  Late one night a couple of weeks ago I found myself dizzy with joy as I sat in an empty studio that seemed to float above a glowing Broad Street.  I was with Eiko who is teaching at University of the Arts whose studio we were in, and Ishmael Houston Jones who was in town for the week teaching at the Headlong Performance Institute.  The conversation was about presence and gaze and Eiko’s next Friday performance at 30th street station.  I’m still digesting what happened that night and I will write more about it next time.  For now I will tell you that there was a moment while Eiko was talking about the act of seeing in performance when her foot started moving as if totally separate from the rest of her: a small rodent circling round and round in a hole, a pool of quicksand, a hand reaching out of the earth.  Like I said, I’m still digesting! Earlier I wrote about Eiko Otake and the politics of hesitation.

For now, time is not even.  In Eiko’s work the feeling of the unevenness of time is intimately connected to a historical sense of failure.  Her out-of-place body haunting the sites in which she dances implicitly says that failure is happening, has already happened, or will happen.  She means to contradict a pervasive, progressive assumption about how history operates.  Her companion piece to A Body in a Station is A Body in Fukushima in which she dances in the evacuated, radioactive railway stations and landscapes of Fukushima.  Her body in that context points out the human, preventable failures that are the result of hubris, power, and greed- qualities in human society that have not progressed, with devastating repercussions in the shadow of the atomic age.  “Anger is, and remorse is, a drive” she says.  Her performances in the grandeur of Amtrak’s 30th Street Station are just as much about failure as when her body is dancing among the ruins in Japan.

I had a remarkable insight into this when I was visiting Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton, NJ last weekend.  I was looking at the generally cheerful, life-like statues of Seward Johnson.  In particular, I was looking at the statue that he is famous for–  a bronze statue of a business man sitting on a bench outside the Merrill Lynch offices in the Financial District of New York City.  The statue called “Double Check” depicts a man sitting with his briefcase open on his lap while he “double checks” his notes before an important meeting.  Here is what it looked like when it was installed in 1982:

steward johnson

And below is what the sculpture looked like the day after the twin towers came down in 2001:

steward johnson

He’s powdered in white ash, debris and dead trees all around, the bronze is dented and gashed.  Johnson decided to make a replica of this wrecked phantom in memoriam of the tragedy and those that lost their lives.  It looks like this:

 steward johnson, statue


When I saw this remake I immediately thought of Eiko’s body in the grandness of 30th Street Station, also covered in what looks like white ash.  What if Seward Johnson had proposed this final version in 2000 before the towers came down? Not as a premonition of an actual event but as a signal of inevitable failure.  And that is what I believe Eiko’s dance in 30th Street is– a dance of remorse and lament in advance of the fact.  Time is not even, progress is a dangerous illusion.

eiko otake, pafa, 30th street station, philadelphia academy of fine arts

Photo credit: (left) William Johnston and (right) David Brick

There is a tender and gentler side to Eiko’s view that time is not even.  I think it is apparent to anyone who has come to Eiko’s performances over the past three weeks.  Something odd begins to happen with time that is akin to the way moving underwater can make you think about gravity.  My own experience usually involves an initial restlessness as my attention contends with the dense world of the train station– tides of people rolling in and out, loudspeaker announcements and an endless buzz of wheels rolling and clicking, voices and echoes of echoes in the cavernous space.  And also: her still and striking presence in contrast to that ordinary, chaotic world. Then time begins to shift as I enter a different time signature.  Her work with presence triggers a response in the watcher I call empathetic seeing.  In watching her, one dreams of being slow too.  Your breath slows and your nervous system first imagines and then becomes that which is observed.  The empathetic seeing is reciprocal: you see her seeing you.  The passage of time becomes visible, tangible in the fundamental way it organizes everything into cause and effect.  And then something stranger begins to happen as time scrambles, stretches, and impossibly speeds up.

Come see what I mean tomorrow night, Friday, from 9pm to Midnight.  It will make for a perfectly tender and haunting night.  I will be so happy if you could join me.



Eiko Otake and The Politics of Hesitation

Dearest Friends,

I want to share with you the work and ideas of performance artist Eiko Otake of Eiko and Koma.  For me, they have long been a beacon of alternative ideas about the body in dance. Their performances which often take place in striking visual settings, both found and designed, rejoice in a choreography thick with blossoming constellations of meaning rather than reductive narratives of athletic virtuosity.  You can imagine how close to my heart I have held their example!  In the past few months I have had the profound pleasure of engaging with Eiko around her ideas and have sat in on her rehearsals as part of my ongoing research for Island, a long-term work in progress that I began working on in 2012 in preparation for my Japan-US Friendship Commission fellowship to Japan.

eiko otake, pafa, philadelphia, a body in Fukushima

Eiko Otake, A Body in Fukushima. photos by William Johnston

In May I had my first chance to sit down with Eiko for beers and a long conversation after attending one of her classes at the New School in New York where I joined in with the undergraduates in moving slowly on the floor with raspberries delicately wedged into armpits and finger joints.  This work was sensual, gorgeously awkward and called forth rich material from our bodies in terms of actions, shapes and especially in terms of that complex quality in a performer I call presence. Afterwards we talked about politics and dance. Eiko told me that she had just been part of a sit-in in front of the Japanese Parliament to protest changes in the interpretation of the constitution.  And she told me about a translation she wrote of the book From Trinity to Trinity an autobiographical account by Japanese author and atom bomb survivor Kyoko Hayashi.  The book describes Hayashi’s pilgrammage across the United States to the Trinity testing site in Northern New Mexico where the first atomic bomb was tested.

“In dance though, I don’t believe in the grand gesture” she told me as she slowly began to sweep her arm from in front of her to over her head.  Suddenly and softly her arm stopped half-way, “in every movement there must be hesitation.”  When she said that something came into focus for me about why I have always admired her work, instinctively feeling that the work was subversive, resistant, difficult in the best possible way.  The Politics of Hesitation suggests to me a pause in time, consideration, self-questioning, opening wider to the moment at hand.  I love everything about it and now I see most performance that I love as sharing in the politics of hesitation.

For the next four Fridays Eiko will be performing A Body in a Station, a series of four three-hour durational performances created by Eiko to be performed alone in the waiting rooms of Amtrak 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.  At the same time a photographic exhibition of A Body in Fukushima will be showing at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art.  These are photographs by William Johnston of Eiko alone in the evacuated railway stations of Fukushima after the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster of 2011.

Please join me this Friday, October 3rd from noon to 3pm for the first of Eiko Otake’s performances at Amtrak’s 30th Street Station.  And then come for the next three Fridays for consecutive three-hour performances that will finally end at midnight on October 24th.

eiko otake, philadelphia, a body in a station, pafa, Fukushima

Eiko Otake, A Body in Fukushima. photos by William Johnston

I want to tell you more about my time with Eiko.  How she feels that natural disasters and human made ones that kill on a vast scale are tragic in that they rob people of their individual deaths.  And how this is connected to her main theme: “Time is not even and space is not empty”.  How she wants her choreography and body to create situations that reveal failure in the notion of progress.  I want to share with you my own thoughts about how skillful presence in a performer is both subject and vehicle and how I see Eiko and Koma as standard bearers for the choreography of presence.  Over this month I will write about these things and more as Eiko Otake’s performance unfolds here in Philadelphia. I would be delighted if you would join me in this journey.

Love, David

eiko otake, eiko and koma, pafa, 30th street station, philadelphia

Eiko Otake, A Body in Fukushima. photos by William Johnston

  • shosha, nichole canuso, niki cousineau, amy smith, colgate
  • david brick, shosha, adriano shaplin, headlong studios
  • shosha. david brick, nichole canuso, headlong studios, colgate university, adriano shaplin, philadelphia dance

Utopian Hedonists

We are hippies for real. When Andrew and David and I started Headlong in 1993 we dreamed of a world where people could make art and live together and share resources and do the work on a “from each according to their abilities” ethos and cook big pots of vegetarian stew. We made it happen and are still living that dream, in slightly modified form, to this day, despite many changes like Andrew leaving Headlong and living in our own homes now. We still make big pots of vegetarian stew.

When we were originally rehearsing Shosha back in 2005, we knew we needed another layer to the piece, and it was our brilliant dramaturg Mark Lord who suggested that we play a utopian 1970’s theater group putting on a play of Shosha. We were continuing in the tradition of theater and dance groups like the Living Theatre and Grand Union and others. We read the diaries of Judith Malina and watched videos of the Living Theatre and Peter Brook’s group. I.B. Singer had written Shosha, which is partially about utopian hedonists living under the shadow of war in Warsaw in the 1930s, when he was living in New York City in the 1970s, so it made sense that way too.

So when we are “warming up” on stage at the beginning of Shosha, we are channeling these people as well as actually warming up to being in the space together.

In this show replacing Andrew was hard; he played the charismatic theater group leader, and Ari’s friend an erstwhile guru Morris in the Shosha story. But I had faith that Adriano Shaplin, who has been in so many different theater rooms in so many different capacities, and is a wonderfully idiosyncratic mover and verbal genius, would be amazing. And he is amazing.

We had an incredible week of rehearsing in the Headlong Studios, getting the piece back and making changes and updates to it. Nichole Canuso is radiant as Shosha and her duets with David are some of the most beautiful things I have seen. Niki Cousineau is always a delight to work with and somehow helps stitch this Headlong crazy quilt together.

We had an informal showing before we left Philly so we could do it in front of some people. And now we are in snowy upstate New York (come find us if you are in the neighborhood) at Colgate University. Colgate has a gorgeous concrete theater, and Christian DuComb (Headlong’s first Managing Director) teaches here now. Everyone is living together in a big house this week, staying up late and running around in the snow after a long day of tech.

I love my life. I get to spend time with awesome people making art and sharing it with people. The snow is falling in soft, gentle flakes for real outside and on stage as Ari drags Shosha in her trunk.



  • temple contemporary, silence, suit-pod, david brick, headlong
  • temple contemporary, suit-pod, silence, headlong, visual art, philadelphia, david brick, dance performance, contemplation
  • suit-pod, silence, temple contemporary
  • DSC_0279
  • DSC_0280

Welcome to the Suit-pod.

David’s new “silence” at Temple Contemporary
Hello, welcome. Please come in, slip your body into the suit-pod. Take your shoes off and enter. Getting in is the hard part, once inside it is more spacious than it appears!  In fact, the suit-pod is all about the experience of space.  And concentrating on your senses to pay attention to the world as it is.  
Slip into the Suit-pod:

Through November 23rd, Wednesday – Saturday, 11 – 6pm
Temple Contemporary Gallery
2001 North 13th Street (entrance on Norris btw 12th and 13th)
Philadelphia, PA 19122

I call the Suit-pod, a silence in three senses. It’s an installation at Temple Contemporary the gallery of the Tyler School for Art. This year they commissioned me to make “a silence” for an ongoing series.

This project belongs to a series of examinations into performance as interactive experience, emptiness, and the act of contemplation within time-based structures. Making “a silence” naturally brings to mind John Cage’s perfect performance gesture of silence in his 1952 composition 4’33”. As described by scholar Jacquelynn Baas, “Four minutes and thirty-three seconds was the length of time pianist David Tudor did not play the piano. The piece ‘sounds like’ the world: the ambient sounds of wherever it is performed become the music for that length of time.”

The Suit-pod is a silence in three senses in the way that 4’33” is a silence that frames attention to the world as it is happening. This suit-pod is the first of five planned pods that take the pod-sitter on an experiential journey heightening senses and attention to the world as it is. In the complete pod set, the experiencer is invited to spend 4 minutes and 33 seconds in each of a series of five, increasingly minimal pods, the last “pod” being nothing more than a cushion on the floor.

This, the first pod in the series, completely encapsulates the sitter and focuses on hearing, sight and kinesthesia for a simultaneous experience of 3 distinct, nested spaces: the tight, enclosed space of the suit-pod, the visual experience of the gallery space viewed anonymously through one-way glass, and a live sound feed into the suit-pod of the ambient sounds from the outdoor space surrounding the gallery.

Come visit the Suit-pod sometime in the next two weeks during the gallery hours and let me know what you think. And please join me at the gallery on November 23 between 4pm and 6pm for the final hours of the Suit-pod at Temple Contemporary. You can experience the pod, the other works in the gallery and chat. I would love to see you.

A Luminous Sensation of Space.
No particular background is necessary for this workshop on attention, perception, a heightened experience of space as material and observation of the ordinary.
At Temple Contemporary on Saturday, November 23, 2 – 4pm. Free. 

Yours, David

  • new headlong, diane mataraza, wayne hazzard, david white, david brick, amy smith

    The strategic planning team.

  • ingenuity festival, cleveland, headlong, red rovers

    One of the Rovers at Ingenuity Festival.

  • headlong performance institute, galaxie, dance performance structure, mike mayo, monica wiles, john cherney, headlong dance theater, annamarie bustion, andrea fanta, amancay tribe, experimental performance, dance training program, philadelphia

    HPI Class of 2013 performing "Galaxie."

  • ingenuity festival, cleveland, red rovers, headlong, dance tour, experimental performance, amy smith

    View of Cleveland at Ingenuity Festival.

The New Headlong

A new day is dawning for me and David.  Since January, we have been doing a lot of soul-searching and planning to figure out who we are and who we will be without Andrew.  In June and July we had some amazing retreats with trusted advisors to help us figure out what we wanted for the future, and how to get there.

Big thanks to The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and Wyncote Foundation for funding this process, and to Diane Mataraza, Wayne Hazzard, David White, and board member Andrew Zitcer for their brilliant and thoughtful advice.  So what did we decide?  (Drumroll, please)

  • David and I will continue to entwine our artistic lives, and we are excited to keep collaborating on this magical beast called Headlong.
  • We are streamlining and freeing how we get things done by taking more individual leadership over projects and programs.
  • We’re focusing the idea of what we do: Headlong is a platform for artistic research and performance, as well as a wide range of other kinds of support.
  • We are changing our name from “Headlong Dance Theater” to just “Headlong”.
  • We will be inviting a small, carefully curated group of artists and groups into the inner circle of Headlong, as Incubated Artists.  We want to help them reach their potential as artists, and our not-so-secret agenda is that we want to help them find traction nationally, (if that’s what they want).  National grants, conferences, touring, etc.
  • We will start to formalize the services we are already providing to fellow artists in the community, from financial advice to communications strategy, so that other artists can use what we have learned over the past 20 years to build their own sustainable lives as artists.
  • Headlong Performance Institute will continue to be a dynamic program that brings artists to Philadelphia and trains them to be the artistic leaders and thinkers for tomorrow.
  • Everything David and I do (teaching, making work, collaborating with other artists, commissions, advice-giving, etc.) will be consolidated within Headlong’s evolving programs and projects.

We are super excited about the future, in spite of the spate of bad news about the local funding environment over the past year or so.  We are returning to a mentality we had in the 90s before we ever received significant funding:  work with other artists in the community to DO IT OURSELVES.  If we share resources and support each other, we can all succeed.

Yes, I am a hippie.

PLUS we recently went on tour to TWO DIFFERENT LOCATIONS in the SAME WEEKEND!  David went to Connecticut College with Avalanche and I went to the Ingenuity Festival in Cleveland with Red Rovers.

It’s funny, because even though we were in a bit of a Limbo State after Andrew’s departure, trying to decide what was next, we have had a ton of artistic activity going on.  I received support from the MAP Fund to create a new piece on the Tugboat Jupiter (stay tuned!) I was asked to speak about Headlong’s work at the TCG Audience Revolution convening, and at SMU in Dallas, TX, on a panel about art-making that includes community-mindedness.  David was commissioned by Temple Contemporary to create an installation for their gallery (more from him really soon).  As a Creative Capital Artist Advisor, I got to hang out with a bunch of amazing artists this summer at their retreat at Williams College:  Deborah Hay, Faye Driscoll, DD Dorvillier, Shawn Sides, Jae Rhim Lee, Nick Slie, Millicent Johnnie, Neal Medlyn, Tahir Hemphill, Complex Movements, the Fallen Fruit guys, the Ghana Think Tank folks.  The list goes on and on.  It was a whirlwind of awesomeness.

So we are seriously maximizing capacity, people.  And our new class of HPI students is amazing as well.  Here they are “nermalling” in their version of Headlong’s piece, Galaxie, which was Rick Henderson’s favorite Headlong piece.

If you remember seeing Galaxie at the Drake Theater in the mid-90s, email me your address and I will send you a special prize.

with love,


  • IMG_3990
  • DSC_0998
  • DSC_0070

Luminous Presence and the Sensation of Space

I often trip on an invisible barrier between action and perception. Why? Deborah Hay has said “consciousness is visible”.  Yes.  I think of space as the ground of all awareness.  Space binds us as performers to each other and the audience. In this class we explore the nature of space as fluid and tangible.  And as a sense unto itself.  We treat presence as material.  We will spend a great deal of time doing simple tasks, like placing objects.  We will experience ourselves as architecture as well as bodies.  Restraint, nuance and subtlety will be our friends.  At times we will move intensely and observe the effect of action on perception and contemplation.

Four Thursdays: April 25, May 2, May 9, May 16 at the Parlor. 2 to 4pm. 1170 South Broad Street.

Pay what you like. Drop-in okay.

Questions? Contact: David Brick david@headlong.com.

Avalanche performs in Portland and NYC


Time is an avalanche. And we are buried in it.

David is traveling a bunch as the Colby and Bates faculty return to the studio to re-imagine our show Avalanche.

“When you’re young, performing is often competitive.
Dance team.
Beauty contests.
Acting auditions.
If you keep performing, you find something new. Something bigger and wilder and more ordinary. You find your actual body.”

Originally at the Performance Garage in 2012, we are happy to report that the show will be performing twice this spring.

Avalanche will be at:

Space 583
Portland, ME
May 28-29


New York City
June 6-8.

See you there.