Quiet Circus Last Spring Performance

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

DSC_0149

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.

smallerFilesize

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 :

Frame-17-05-2017-11-07-01

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!

David

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!
David
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,
David

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

I.

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 )

II.

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.

III.

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.

MASTER! DO NOT TOUCH OR PLAY

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.

IV.

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,
Laura

 


 

[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

DSC_0203

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

Island Structure
Headlong Studios
November, 2014

IMG_5694

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.

Love,
Amy

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,

David

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.

love,

David

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.

Warmly,

Amy

  • 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.

Workshop!
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,

Amy

  • 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

7379793374_c93a7680a7_b

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

and

Danspace
New York City
June 6-8.

See you there.

Andrew’s Big News

 

At the end of December, I will leave Headlong Dance Theater. It’s time for me to pursue work other than making dances.

Big news. For me and for the company.

Headlong has been my family for two decades. My work, my home, and my dearest friends. It has been a joy to partner with Amy and David in our never-ending quest to reimagine what’s possible for bodies, for performance, for Philadelphia, and for all of us messy, complicated humans. This work has made me who I am.

The urges for work I have now don’t fit easily in the world of performance. And the toil of keeping a dance company afloat has come to weigh heavily on my body and my spirit. So I will move on. I don’t know exactly what I will be doing, but I think of it as doing my same mission in a different field. Same purpose, different tactics. (Some things I’m interested in: writing, economic development, community development, anti-poverty work, and generally what happens when messy, complicated humans meet systems.)

David and Amy are moving forward, imagining Headlong with two Co-Directors, not three. They will continue collaborating, making new work, teaching, and doing community work. I’m sure they will treasure your thoughts and support (sent directly or telepathically) as they invent the future.

We have always tried to merge the biggest, most outrageous, most utopian thinking with a clear-eyed view of the practical world of timelines and people and budgets. I treasure this Utopian Pragmatism. I will embody it as I walk new pathways.

with love and gratitude,

andrew

  • Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

    Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

  • Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

    Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

  • Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

    Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

  • Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

    Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

  • Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

    Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

  • Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

    Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

  • Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

    Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

  • Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

    Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

  • Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

    Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

  • Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

    Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

  • Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

    Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

  • Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

    Photos by Chris Doyle, with performers Christina Zani and Justin Jain, and Dramaturg Mark Lord.

Tugboat Jupiter

Ever since I spent a day playing on the (docked) tugboat Jupiter with my friend Chris Doyle several years ago, I have been dreaming about making a piece using that boat.  She is a beauty, a 110-year-old tug, sturdy and graceful at the same time.  I imagine audience members exploring the tiny spaces of the tug, uncovering images and stories, “Sleep No More”-style, while Jupiter chugs along the Delaware River.

Most of all, I want to give Philadelphians a bodily experience of the Delaware River. Much has been written about our disconnection from it. Greenworks, from the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, reports:

“The Delaware River is Philadelphia’s historic trade route and the center of its original settlements and commercial centers. Over the years the waterfront became disconnected from the main fabric of the city, particularly since the construction of Interstate 95, which effectively cut the river off from the rest of Philadelphia. For decades, efforts to rejoin the city to the waterfront have failed. “

Most of the City’s recent efforts to reconnect Philadelphia to its waterfront are bricks and mortar efforts, including the most recent master plan. I want to create something experiential, giving audiences a direct and physical experience of the river.  The same feeling I have when I visit my mother in Maine, where on a foggy morning you might just hop into a row boat and take a little jaunt around Greenlaw Cove, while lobstermen haul up traps nearby and a schooner makes her way across the Eggemoggin Reach.

IMAGE: Standing on the tugboat’s deck, you peer into a porthole at three sailors moving in slow motion. Below deck, an accordion plays. Engines roar.

I want to make a piece that will bring audiences to the tugboat and to the river for a performance, weaving stories, music, movement, and video into an immersive journey on a river most of us see but never touch.  Stay tuned!

love,
Amy
 

Proud Papa

 

I cannot tell you how to watch this dance.

Company

 …audacious, sassy dancers…

I’m reading a book called Ideas that Stick.  It says that for you to remember something I tell you, I need to follow 6 principles whose acronym spells SUCCES.  I’m not kidding.  Then the idea will live inside of you like that story about waking up from a bender in a tub of ice with your kidney stolen.  Or like the story about razor blades inside apples which stuck around despite the fact that it has never happened.  And weirdly, this one: that movie popcorn has as much fat as 5 disgusting, greasy, steak and soda filled meals.  I don’t remember hearing that story but I also don’t recall having to be told that food you buy in a mall or movie theater isn’t exactly good for you.

The S stands for Simple, I think one of the C’s stand for Core or Condensed or Concise, and I’m pretty sure E stands for Emotional.  I forget the rest.

I really do want to learn something from this book though because I’m the communications guy at Headlong and I have a bit of a problem with things that are complex abstract.  Problem being, I kind of like things complex and abstract!   I mean, if I were comfortable with the literal I would have known what to say to my parents when I was nineteen years old and they picked me up when I phoned them from a truck stop after I dropped out of college without telling them.  I was broke and cold, having just been robbed by another hitchhiker who I was sharing the back of a flatbed truck with as we cruised up interstate 95 in what seemed like, at 65 miles an hour in the rain, a very cold March. Instead of speaking sensibly to my parents, apologizing or explaining even a little bit, I just stared at them saying nothing, daring them to be mad enough to leave me there.

I’m thinking a lot about my parents right now, not just because we’re smack dab between mother’s and father’s day, but because sometime in the next month I am about to become a father–apparently to a daughter!  I am deeply blessed because, as the last of us Headlong directors (and so many of our dancers!) to have children, I already know that Headlong as a community is the best place in the world to raise children.  It’s the kind of community I wish my parents could have had when dealing with their unruly son.  I couldn’t feel more lucky, or grateful for Headlong and all the love and support we have as artists, as parents and people.

Okay, so that blinking picture up top was a bit of a cheat to get you to read on which you might not have done.  But if you have or are skipping ahead, then I am now ready to get to the point:

Photobooth

…proud papa with dancers after we performed at NCDC benefit…

In this picture and the one up top are the Headlong dancers from I cannot tell you how to watch this.  A new Headlong ensemble! I feel like a proud Papa! (That’s the theme here in case I’ve buried that in my digressing and convoluted way).  Most of these audacious, lovely dancers came through the Headlong Performance Institute, a cutting edge training ground and think tank we’ve been nurturing for going on 4 years.  These artists, like 40 other alums of the program, aretalented and sharp and many of them are making their homes in our fair city to become the creating artists, thinkers, and consicentious citizens of our future.  Okay, so its true that the irrepressible veteran Lorin Lyle is slyly standing among the youth.  If you recognized him its because you’re a veteran too and you can feel mama- or papa-proud, along with me, of these new young turks.You may be interested in coming to see I cannot tell you how to watch this, which premiers this weekend.   It shares something with early Headlong dances– it has talking, dancing, pop songs, sass and sincerity all wrapped up together.  If you want to read even more about this piece you can go to the seriously geeked out section at the end of this letter.This dance and much more will be part of the Sam-Gam BAM! concert at the Mandell Theater  June 17-25th at 7:30.  That’s a weird time so I am going to say it again.  Most of the shows start at 7:30pm.  There is one Sunday matinee that starts at the very reasonable time of 2:00pm.

Amy  Video
Get the hand on top, Amy!

Also in Sam-Gam BAM! is Amy dancing a punk rock Bharatanatyam solo that she created with Viji Rao. By nature Amy is a hard worker, but I have NEVER seen Amy rehearse so hard or so long on any dance before. She’s rehearsing in the studio when I get to Headlong in the morning. She runs through counting sequences when there’s a lull in admin meetings. And in the middle of other rehearsals when we’re taking water breaks she runs into the small studio and rehearses A Presentation of Items some more. I swear she’s possessed. She says this is the most difficult work she has ever done. Come see it!

Did I mention that I am going to be a father very soon?  Maiko is huge and life is very, very good. Thank you everyone who makes Headlong possible!

Love,

David

Maiko Belly

…like reading a dance, a pregnant belly presents clues to a hidden world.

GEEK OUT SECTION following the already impossibly long newsletter:  DON’T READ ANY FURTHER.  I haven’t finished theSticky Idea book so the following is, well, probably pretty slippery. …notes on I cannot tell you how to watch this. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we pay attention inside of a dance and in watching a dance.  What is the relationship between experiencing something and observing it at a distance?  I am curious about the different ways we record, map and experience an event, both as it is happening and afterwards.  My own mind jumps around like a grasshopper as I try to understand the secret world hidden beneath the surface clues of something I am seeing for the first time.

A corollary question concerns the profound unruliness and complexity of the human body.  Does the messiness of human presence need to be eliminated in order to create something legible?  Some choreography attempts to pare the dancing body down to a codified vocabulary, a set of positions that can be reiterated in variations and ingeniously reassembled, highlighting craft and virtuosity.  But I love unruly bodies as they are, with their complicated presences.

I love choreography because of how it can diagram the complexity of experience, containing contradiction and difference within the same instant.  I sometimes imagine choreography as a Joycean novel compacted into a few moments:  it would take hours to read a description of everything happening on all the different levels of movement, feeling, image and thought.  But in a dance so much can happen all at once.  We can see, hear and feel the intricate pattern of something very intensely and very quickly.  Yes, the moments disappear as fast as new ones appear, but a moment can be thick with information that resonates beyond itself.  What is the relationship between density and contemplation?  I do believe that the more attention we try to pay to things, the more there is to actually see.  I’ve approached the choreography of I cannot tell you how to watch thiswith this in mind.

Oh, there is one simple thing about this piece:  in this dance someone is always getting left behind.

–David

Jet-Setting And A Little Nostalgia

Just when it seems like things are slowing down, they speed up again. The slow economy has meant less touring and therefore less travel for Headlong. I’m not complaining, really I’m not – Headlong has taken me to Japan, Spain, Portugal, New York, Portland, Nebraska, and other interesting places. But in recent years we’ve been more locally focused with our teaching and performing, which is nice because I get to hang out in my awesome dome home.DomeBut in the last couple of weeks I’ve had the pleasure of traveling from quiet rural Maine, to Los Angeles, and home again. Quite a contrast!

Maine.

We’ve been working with a group of five faculty members from Bates and Colby Colleges. The group includes a wide range of ages and kinds of experience: three women with dance backgrounds, a young male actor/director, and even an older male lighting and set designer who has never performed. They wrote a grant to bring Headlong up to create a piece using them as performer/collaborators.

Maine1
Rachel Boggia, Todd Coulter, Annie Kloppenberg.

Why? To explore the intersections of “Dance” and “Theater”, which are highly delineated (even segregated) in most academic settings, but not so much in Headlong’s working process. Also, to engage with each other in a very intense collaborative artistic process, which is a beautiful way to get to know other people as people and as artists. And finally,learn some of our creation and teaching methods that might be useful to them in their own teaching.

Maine3
Process notes.

Other than single-digit temperatures and the kind of ethnic food you can only find in Maine (why do we even try?), the trip was great. Hunkering down, artistically satisfying, a lovely group of performers, and what could be better than drinking a bourbon with Mark Lord at midnight, planning tomorrow’s rehearsal?

east coast > west coast.

From there, I jetted off to LA like a jet-setter. I got to see the Grand Canyon from my window on the plane. I caught up on some scholarly reading, knowing I would soon see Susan Foster, who was my Dance Composition teacher and mentor, and is an all-around genius. In her new book Choreographing Empathyshe writes about our piece CELL in a way that gave me chills. Obviously I love performing for people, and CELL was one of my most favorite performing experiences. But reading Susan’s intelligent words, putting our research into a cultural context, made me just as happy and proud as any performing experience I can remember.

Plus, when Susan was visiting Philly in September, she got to see Red Rovers, and later over coffee, I was so touched to learn what she saw in it. What could be better than hearing your revered teacher from the past respect and understand your current experiments?

Rovers
Red Rovers finale, taken by an audience member’s cell phone.


LA.

Once I got to LA, it was a whirlwind of work and play. I got to spend time with my dear friend Doran George, who was at the Center for New Dance Development in Holland with Andrew and I in the early 90’s.

Doran
Don’t ask about the blanket, OK?

He’s now a PhD candidate at UCLA, where faculty members include the aforementioned Susan Foster, Lionel Popkin, and Janet O’Shea, who studied Bharata Natyam with me at Wesleyan and is now a well-regarded scholar of that form.

Janet O'Shea

At UCLA I taught a bunch of workshops, shared news “from the field” with the faculty and the MFA students, and even had a 17-person site-specific dance made just for me.  Many of the undergrads are studio dancers whose ambitions seem to be dancing in music videos.  But they were surprisingly interested to work on Richard Bull improvisation structures, make “quick-and-dirty” dances, and hear about some of my “Life of the Artist” teachings.

While there, I got to go to LACMA with Miguel Gutierrez, who happened to be in town. We’ve known each other since my blonde days, too, and we still make each other laugh and laugh. (There might even be a super-secret collaboration brewing…shh!) And really, what could be better than laughing with an artist friend inside a massive Richard Serra sculpture?

Miguel

with love,

Amy (home safe and sound)

Amy & Miguel

  • photo: Andrew Simonet

    photo: Andrew Simonet

  • photo: Andrew Simonet

    photo: Andrew Simonet

  • photo: Andrew Simonet

    photo: Andrew Simonet

  • photo: Andrew Simonet

    photo: Andrew Simonet

  • photo: Andrew Simonet

    photo: Andrew Simonet

  • photo: Andrew Simonet

    photo: Andrew Simonet

  • photo: Andrew Simonet

    photo: Andrew Simonet

  • photo: Andrew Simonet

    photo: Andrew Simonet

  • photo: Andrew Simonet

    photo: Andrew Simonet

Avalanche

A pedagogical and process project commissioned by faculty from Bates and Colby Colleges.

 

Avalanche (2012) was one part of a series of five creative residencies conducted in Philadelphia and in Maine in 2012. Members of Headlong Dance Theater led the residencies, which were initiated by faculty members in Theater and Dance at Bates and Colby Colleges. Our working terrain was the possible interconnectedness of fields of Theater and Dance and the potential synchronicity between the practices of these two forms. In addition to this piece, our output included numerous conversations, some private and several public, in which issues pertaining to this project were uncovered. Headlong members conducted public workshops with students at both colleges and guest taught classes.

Headlong doesn’t make performance in a prescribed “style”. We start our creative process with wondering and asking and develop a constellation of interests that form the core of the research on a specific piece. Given that the lot of us had never been in a room together before and had performance, performing, and teaching as common ground, our early explorations drew on these. Out of stories and questions come proposals and assignments. From explorations come elaborations. From five individuals a company arises and a performance world begins to suggest itself, a world that embraces everything within it and its atmosphere.

Being A Line

It was probably one of the best weeks ever for my mom, Sallie.  Last Sunday, my sister Rebecca met Michelle Obama at a swimming pool.  Their daughters were taking lessons at the same time.  My sister offered to teach the First Daughters how to knit, which made my mom proud.  We’ll see if FLOTUS takes her up on the offer!
Sheila HicksThen on Thursday morning, Headlong met and got to collaborate with Sheila Hicks.You might not know who she is, but if you are a fiber artist like my mom, Sheila Hicks is a living legend.  We met Sheila getting ready to rehearse a performance installation at the ICA, part of an afternoon of activities curated by our dear friend and sometime costume designer Kelly Cobb (Hotel PoolCELL).  Kelly asked us to create something in response to the Sheila Hicks exhibition.
David and I had spent time at the ICA taking in the work, which beautifully bridges the (artificial) gap between conceptual art and craft.  Her work is sometimes more abstract, sometimes more referential, always rigorously executed.  She plays with scale, and the materiality of her materials, which range from newspaper and rubber bands to linen, raffia, jute and other natural fibers.
Rubberbands
Sheila Hicks happened to be at the ICA while we were rehearsing, and she talked to us about what we were planning, gave input on the costumes, and even collaborated with us on a section.  She brought down some gorgeous material that she had brought from France and suggested we use it in performance:
Mylar 2
We carried it through the space, laid it down, and then Erin wrapped me up in it.  Imagine the crinkly sound as I was rolled up and then unrolled.
Erin rolling Amy
David has been really interested lately in the idea of creating performances in galleries and museums and other visual art settings, and thinking about how we (the audience) view the body.  Any of you who saw our Big Reveal pieces that preceded More may remember a section where the dancers were lying down on the floor.  In that section, David’s instruction to the dancers was to become a line.  You are not telling a story, you are not revealing inner psychology, you are not “performing”. You are just being a line.
Big RevealBodies are lines
I learned something about David doing the ICA performance.  I think he wants to treat the human body the way a lot of visual artists treat their materials.  As material, not fodder for storytelling or revelation.  What is the form of the body?  How can looking at bodies lead to contemplation (the way we contemplate when we look at Hicks’ work) rather than satisfying an urge for entertainment?
Bodies near installation
All in all, it was a great week of exploration and research on these ideas.  And my mom was super happy.-Amy

Everyone Cried

Touring a piece is really different from everything else.
Ausitn 1
What will they make of us?

So we bring this piece MORE to Austin, the most challenging and audience-unfriendly piece we’ve made. People who go for the ride of MORE often feel moved and provoked. But it’s a tricky ride to go on.

People don’t know our work, and I think that helps. They don’t expect funny, endearing, accessible. And they do go for the ride, most of them.We have the best talkbacks I’ve ever been a part of. Real questions are asked. When the three co-directors worked separately in the lead-up to MORE, did you miss your other collaborators? That’s a hard question to be asked. And a good one.
Austin 2
Classes, Drinks, Documentaries

The amazing Phyllis Slattery plugs us into a ton of classes, talks, and workshops, like this one: Rebecca Rossen’s brilliant MFA class.

We have an amazing evening with the Rude Mechs, the brilliant Austin-based ensemble theater company.  They are a huge company: 6 Co-Directors and 28 company members or something ridiculous like that.  We have a delicious public conversation with them, savoring the moments of recognition, the fascinating evolution of their company.  Drinks, food, in a lovely old Austin guest house/home for art.

Like us, the Rude Mechs are having a full-length documentary made of their most recent piece. I told Lana, one of the Artistic Directors, that I didn’t think I could watch the documentary Byron Karabatsos is making about MORE.

LANA: What do you mean?  You have to watch it!

ANDREW: Well, are you going to watch the documentary about your company?

                     PAUSE. 

LANA: No.  No way.  Hell, no.

ANDREW: So I’ll watch yours and you watch mine and then we’ll go for a beer.

LANA: Deal.

THEY CLINK GLASSES AND GRIN.

Austin 3
500 Plays

We ran into Josh and Matt from Rubber Repertory (“tiny riots since 2002″), folks Kate and I met a couple years ago. Their piece The Casket of Passing Fancy sounds brilliant. 500 offers, each one used only once by one audience member. 500 tiny plays for exactly one person ever. One person sees it, it goes away forever.

Who wants to help an alcoholic mother change her baby’s diaper?

Who wants forgiveness? Who wants me to call their mother?

Who wants an intermission?

Who wants to have a song sung on their body?

Austin 4Migas                          

That’s David eating migas at one of the (too) many tex-mex places we visited.  By the end of the week, we were pleading for bean-and-cheese mercy, dreaming of miso soup.

Austin 5
More documentaries

Who are these filmmakers?  Shouldn’t they be covering Enron or whatever wars we’re in now?  Allison Orr uses a lot of people in her dances who are not professionally trained performers.  Her Trash Project brought 16 garbage trucks and 24 sanitation workers to a massive outdoor spectacle.

The last night we were there, I started talking to Allison about this Big Question I have:

Why are artists who are rigorous about community and situating their work NOT as rigorous aesthetically?  And why are aesthetically rigorous artists NOT rigorous about community?

We have separated those kinds of rigor, made them opposites.  I see it in my own work.  Allison has great insights: when you work in community, you are often limited in terms of time and training.  Sanitation workers are not prepared to rehearse the way professionals do.  They don’t have (or want, necessarily) performer skills of precision and the ability to remember set material.

But what about the reverse?  Why don’t artist making high art think rigorously about who it’s for, where it lives?

Austin 6

No MistakesCan you make a performance where there couldn’t possibly be a mistake?  A performer falls, the music cuts off, someone delivers a pizza, the set falls down…..everything would fit.  No matter what happened, the audience would never have that sense of Mistake, that sense that something had failed, been violated, or shattered the consensus illusion.MORE is an attempt at this.  Dancers drop what they are doing, interrupt each other, play music then cut that music off, walk off the stage.  Music doesn’t begin or end with dancing.  Everything in the space is carried on and off by the dancers.

We talked about this idea during the talkbacks.  After one talkback, Jaclyn, a sharp artist and thinker, came up to me and said:

“There was one moment where I felt there could be a mistake.  When the dancers bring out the trees and stick them in the furniture, I felt that rush and anxiety that they could do this wrong.  This might not succeed.”

Yes.  She’s exactly right.  That moment is success-based.  I want to think more about that.

Austin 7Hotels, CryingTouring with Headlong is dang fun.  And funny.  Lots of meals.  Laughing fits.  Proliferating nicknames. (Andrew=AndyPants=Pants=Panties=Pantalones)  Lots of taking care of each other, especially through performing this provocative, dislodging piece.

During the last performance in Austin, one of the dancers begins weeping onstage.  Sitting on the couch, tears are quietly running down her face.  Up to that moment, the audience has been raucous, laughing and getting riled up.  They get quiet, focused, intense.  They give the dancers a standing ovation at the end.

We come together backstage and take care of each other.  It feels right.

And I want to go back to Austin soon.

Austin 8

With hair like this.

Replacing Someone’s Body

Sometimes, you have to.  We’re about to take More on tour to DC and Virginia.  And dancer Christina Zani is now this pregnant:
Zani Belly  
Bodily changes are perfectly in keeping with the world of More: bodies appear, change, disagree, and go away.(Ideally, More would be performed once a year for the next century.  Dancers would gradually lose their ability to do the movements, then – not to be too morbid – die off. Six dancers, then five, then four.  The final version would be a solo.)
Foot Band Stretch  
But because Christina’s due date is during our tour, she can’t perform as Pregnant MoreDancer.So we have to replace her. But dancers are not interchangeable, not in our work anyway.Like most companies that make original work, we don’t just “teach someone the role:” we adapt the role.  Amy volunteered to step in, which helps a LOT, because she went through the whole process of making and performing More.

 

Christina injured her Achilles tendon during the making of More.  Rather than replacing her (the normal choice in the dance world), we included her injured body in the piece. She does a duet in a wheelchair, and, later, this solo in the wheelchair that is one of the emotional pivots of the performance:

Zani Wheelchair  
When you try to “get a dance back,” by running through the movement and looking at video, you have a lot of conversations like this:NICHOLE: It’s here where we’re usually…..[PAUSE]

AMY: I remember that.

CHRISTINA: Yeah I think we just…..

NICHOLE: …to make it easier to get the wheels in the right orientation.

AMY: Yeah, that’s the….

[PAUSE]

CHRISTINA: …and making it seem less intentional.

AMY: Yep.

NICHOLE: Ok.

AMY: Cool.

Dancers also vibe off of each other physically.  Put them in proximity and they will start to move together and breathe together.
 

 

And after a few rehearsals, Amy is ready to step in to the duet with Nichole.

 

 
Since you’re still reading, here’s an image Kate Watson-Wallace (dancer in More) sent me:
Salcedo 
This is a stunning piece by Doris Salcedo and it captures something about the tone and verb of More.Excess.Abandonment.

 

Passing.

 

Time scales.

 

It’s so important to know that artists in other mediums (like Doris Salcedo) are making powerful discoveries about the questions I keep asking.

 

Especially when the questions we are asking – as in More – have a lot to do with loss.

 

 

yours,

 

andrew

www.headlong.org

Balance

Yes, sometimes the artist does.  I went to some lovely places in the past few months.  Like when I fed this rhino 
Andrew with Rhinos
at the amazing White Oak Conservation Center. My dear friend Colleen Keegan, one of the brilliant creators of theCreative Capital Professional Development Program brought me to visit this amazing place.  Philanthropist Howard Gilman made White Oak a home for two geniuses he came to admire: Mikhail Baryshnikov, who based his White Oak Dance Project in this beautiful studio
White Oak
and conservation biologist John Lukas, who has created the premiere rare animal conservation center in this hemisphere.  It’s astonishing.  We had dinner with John and his wife.  And we got to meet this ridiculously cute baby rhino, so adorable I’m gonna spring for a second rhino photo: 
Rhino
Sixty endangered species are bred at White Oak and studied as part of a global effort connecting zoos, animal sanctuaries, and land conservation efforts.  And right next door, experimental dance artists create new work.Nice.

After that, I headed to Camp Choconut for the wedding of David Brick and Maiko Matshushima.

Choconut
Then I headed to a dune shack in Provincetown, MA, for a week long solo artist retreat.  They drive you through these huge dunes that look like this
Dunes
until you get to this shack 
Shack
where I spent a lot of time writing 
desk
with this pencil 
pencil
because the shack has no electricity.  So no laptop.  Writing with a pencil is different.  You have to plan more.  You can’t just spew some nonsense and then clean it up.  A great practice for me.I had never taken an artist retreat by myself.  God, why not?  Headlong has had some wonderful retreats, and they are always big noisy affairs with lots of people and schedules and rehearsal spaces.  This was just me and a two-room shack and a lot of silence. It took about a day to really come to rest.  But then I did.

It was amazing. Please remind me to do this every year.

The last natural place I went was right off the tip of Manhattan.

Gov. Island
Governor’s Island is well worth the 800-yard ferry ride from Manhattan.  The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council hosted a five day Creative Capital workshop for 50 New York artists.  I taught on two of the days and the artists were fired up.  They were ready to change the world, and it was a beautiful thing to be a part of.That’s one of the things I spend my time doing, traveling with some hilarious other artists like this one and this onearound the country, teaching artists how to build sustainable lives.  In Philadelphia, I do it in a program I started called Artist U that offers a year of planning and professional development to 12 local artists each year.  Here we are at last year’s graduation in June:


Artists U
Sorry JJ, I cut you off on the bottom there.Artists can have a pretty rough ride.  I’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of people in the last five years thinking about why that is and about how that might change.  There’s a nice interview with Ruby Lerner here about Creative capital’s approach. And I also like the thinking of these folks.

Artists U is planning an expansion to two new cities and that has me thinking a lot about scale. Funders are obsessed with it these days: what are the best practices?  How can we get “to scale,” i.e. replicate a program to an extent that it will have broad, national impact?

So I got stuck on this thought, deep in my dune shack solo: there is a lot of arrogance in the ambition that I (and others) have for Impact.  We want to change things thoroughly, permanently, broadly, immediately.

I saw an announcement today: a group wants to get “health insurance for every artist by 2014.”   A nice sound bite, but what does that thinking really do to us?  So now, back in the urban jungle, I am trying to combine my ambition with a little more balance. 

Feet
There was a square of sunlight in the dune shack.  In the middle of the day it was on the floor, and then it crawled slowly up the wall till sunset.  It was the closest thing I had to a clock.  I made dinner when it was chest high on the wall.  And I went out to watch the end of the sunset when it turned orange near the ceiling.

Are you still reading?  How nice of you!  Here’s your bonus track:  Someone made a movie about us, a documentary you can see on September 13 .  One night only!  This is the picture to promote the movie, and it captures Headlong in our very first Philadelphia studio in 1993.Some things I notice: how high Amy wore her pants, and how low I wore mine.

And we shared the studio (at 20th and Snyder) with a band who kept changing their name.  For a while they were called Naked Culture and you can see it spray painted on the right there.

much love,Andrew Simonet
Headlong Dance Theater

India Does Amy

I do believe in reincarnation, and karma.  I believe that most of the good things that have happened to me (meeting Andrew and David, Headlong’s success beyond our wildest imaginings, having a wonderful community of artists and friends, meeting my husband when I did, having two healthy and brilliant kids) are all because I do my darndest to be kind to the Earth and its inhabitants.

When I was young, my dad was a devotee of  Guru Baba Muktananda and laterGurumayi Chidvilasananda. I would wake up at 5:30 in the morning, drink chai, chant the Guru Gita (ignore the weird image, just listen to the chant), and then go to school.

So of course, when I got to college at Wesleyan, I took Bharata Natyam.

LiveArts image

My teacher, Kay Poursine, had been a student of Balasaraswati, regarded by many dance historians as one of the finest dancers in the world in her lifetime.

India 4

I loved Bharata Natyam, which is much more physically difficult than any Western form I have studied, including ballet.  I loved the acting implicit in the abhinaya, or story-telling pieces.  I loved the math element, learning to count in 7s and 13s, and executing physical math puzzles, like doing a 7 with your top half while doing a 3 with your feet.  And I loved the religious/spiritual aspect of the form.  The devotion to the guru/teacher, which for me felt familiar.

India 5

Plus I looked pretty cute in a sari, don’t you think?

Over the years, Bill Bissell at Dance Advance (the dance funding arm of the Pew) has taken scores of artists on Professional Development trips, mostly to go see dance or visual art pieces in other places.  Bill invited me to go on an amazing trip in February, the most ambitious Dance Advance trip yet, with 6 Philadelphians (3 Indian, 3 non).  We spent 10 days in Delhi, not only seeing work and experiencing the culture, but doing a daily movement practice as well.   We did Experiential Anatomy with Mark Taylor and studied Mohiniyattam, a classical dance form, with Bharati Shivaji and her daughter Vijayalakshmi.  Mohiniyattam is related to Bharata Natyam, but much softer and more lyrical.

India 6

Everyone told me to be ready for the abject poverty, including begging children, some of whom have been maimed by their pimps so they collect more money.  It’s hard to see that up close, even if you know it’s coming.  And the trash.  And the stench!  Delhi smells like burning tires.  Infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired (every Republican Senator who honks about “smaller government” in the U.S. should go to India to see what it would be like if we had less road improvement, less regulation of emissions, fewer building codes, less regulation of water pollution, fewer sanitation services, etc.).  But somehow most people make do, even thrive.  Spirits are high.  Spirituality is everywhere.  A cliché, but you see it with your own eyes, and it turns out to be true.

India 8

Ganesh was everywhere, which was great for me because he is the Remover of Obstacles.

India 9

Mark Taylor is a beautiful man and beautiful teacher.  So full of knowledge, but not full of himself.  I’ve had encounters before with Body Mind Centering, which Mark studied and then found his own path. But it’s amazing to me that after all these years of thinking anatomically and about alignment, there’s still so much I don’t know about the actual structure of the body.   I keep thinking about Mark’s image of the “two footed foot”.   The first three metatarsals and the final two serve two totally different purposes.  The body is a miracle.

India 11

Bharati is a gorgeous lyrical dancer, a calm and generous teacher, and a Good guru in a culture where Bad gurus abound.  Or at least I think they are Bad, when I hear the stories about them [13 year old daughter tells her dance teacher father that she wants to study other classical dance forms, he stops speaking to her FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE].  Mucho reflection on my relationships with my dance teachers – have I given them the acknowledgement they deserve?  As a teacher myself, am I finding the balance between offering a strong point of view but encouraging them to find their own paths?After some very interesting sharing of our artistic histories and practices, Mark set us up in “arranged marriages” to explore possible future collaborations.  I got set up with Vijay Palaparty, a Bharata Natyam dancer and choreographer based in DC.  Though his work is quite traditional, we share a love of absurdity and a sense of humor and play about ourselves and our work.  We immediately started by working with each other on mini-pieces, then got into some shared interests.  It turns out that Bharata Natyam has named these two movement worlds:  “lokadharmi”, or familiar, every-day, natural movement, and “natyadharmi”, or stylized, high art movement.  Sounds like Headlong, huh?Vijay and I talk about an idea our forms have in common, and we come up with the idea of “sitting”.  We make a hilarious improvisation structure based on that idea, featuring Vijay doing Bharata Natyam movement to my a cappella rendition of “My Milkshake”.  High art, low art.  Loka, Natya.You can check it out here, along with other short videos shot by Merian Soto.In Bharata Natyam and Mohiniyattam, the face is used to tell us about the psyche of the dancer/character.  Why is there still so much of The Cunningham Stare in Western dance?  Why is using the face still so rare in American contemporary dance?  All of this makes me want to study more Indian Classical dance, both for body and face.

And I want to keep working with all of the people from the trip in one way or other.  It was overwhelmingly invigorating, personally and artistically. For those of you feeling particularly voyeuristic, here’s my journal.

I think I must be accumulating good karma.  Thank you, Ganesh.

 

Amy’s India Journal

Amy’s India Journal
“Over the years, Bill Bissell at Dance Advance (the dance funding arm of the Pew) has taken scores of artists on Professional Development trips, mostly to go see dance or visual art pieces in other places. Bill invited me to go on an amazing trip in February 2010, the most ambitious Dance Advance trip yet, with 6 Philadelphians (3 Indian, 3 non). We spent 10 days in Delhi, not only seeing work and experiencing the culture, but doing a daily movement practice as well. ” – Amy

[issuu width=1000 height=600 titleBarEnabled=true printButtonEnabled=false backgroundColor=%23222222 documentId=100315182330-67562beae59a4db5a79c1e7a6da0c172 name=amy_s_india_journal username=headlong tag=mohiniyattam unit=px v=2]

Dancing with the Dirt Eaters

Dancing with the Dirt Eaters
“I wrote this because of thoughts that came up while we were planning the Headlong Performance Institute and thinking with the faculty about how to train students in dance theater.” – Amy

The Dance Insider Essay, 2-7:
Dancing with the Dirt Eaters
Time to bring cross-training to U.S. Dance Education

By Amy Smith
Copyright 2008 Amy Smith

By now, many of us in the American contemporary dance community can agree that we have lost our place of prominence on the world stage. Europeans and Asians used to come to New York to hone their craft at the knees of the great teachers and choreographers of the 20th century. Today, young American dance artists go abroad to learn new techniques and choreographic concepts, and to soak up the sophisticated, irreverent, boundary-pushing atmosphere of European dance.

When my partner Andrew Simonet and I were about to graduate from college in 1992, we knew we wanted to continue our dance study — but where? Some of our peers went to Austin to study with Deborah Hay in her months-long intensive program, but we wanted a broader experience than that. Others of our peers moved to New York and hit the usual studios and workshops — Movement Research, Dance Space, etcetera — but we couldn’t afford New York, and we didn’t just want to study dance techniques, we wanted choreographic tools. A graduate program at most universities would’ve been too dance-y. I think it was actually Deborah Hay who suggested that we check out the Center for New Dance Development in Arnhem, Holland, where she had taught.

We applied and were accepted at CNDO as guest students, and went for almost a year. There we were immersed in an intensive program (10 a.m. – 5 p.m., five days per week) where we learned dance-theater techniques and tools from people like Steve Paxton, Stephanie Skura, Ishmael Houston-Jones, and other luminaries of the contemporary dance world. We dove into dancing and dance making with other dancers and dance makers from all over Europe and the world. We learned how to lie on the floor for hours, how to feel our sit-bones (and each other’s sit bones), how to speak and scream and use our faces in performance. Andrew and I jokingly and lovingly called our cohorts there “the dirt eaters.” These artists were not concerned with pirouettes and jumps. They wanted supple spines. They wanted to yell about injustice in their native tongues and call it a dance. They wanted to eat dirt on stage and roll around in it. Needless to say, it opened our eyes wide to the possibilities of dance as a theatrical form.

It was funny that we had to travel thousands of miles to study with Americans, who were the majority of the faculty at CNDO. Why weren’t these people teaching in the U.S.? Stephanie Skura landed at the University of Washington, but most of the teachers we had in Holland didn’t have a teaching home here in the States. When Ishmael Houston-Jones teaches at the American Dance Festival, which he does often (I accompanied him there one summer as his teaching assistant, not long after meeting him at CNDO), he is seen as the Token Weirdo as much as he’s the Innovative Genius. I’m sure some of it is by choice, their not wanting to be full-time teachers or get bogged down in an institution, but I suspect that these boundary-blurring dance artists have often been denied the respect they deserve by the pedagogical dance institutions in the States.

Years later, now that Headlong Dance Theater, the company I founded with Andrew and David Brick in 1993, has teamed up with some of our peers in Philadelphia to start a semester intensive program for college students in dance-theater, I’ve been thinking a lot about this question. Why don’t we have an accredited program for studying New Dance or Dance-Theater here in the States? Where do college students or recent graduates go if they want to immerse themselves in dance-theater training? There are a lot of cities even outside of New York, like Philadelphia or Chicago, where one can go learn from the scene and start making work. But where can people go to learn the tools? In a word, Europe. Or, specifically, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the U.K..

Sara Wookey, an American choreographer who recently returned to the States after spending 10 years living in Holland, thinks the Pina Bausch effect has a lot to do with the acceptance of dance-theater in Europe and the focus there on actually training dancers to be good performers and creators. “In America people aren’t used to this kind of dance, using character [and] humor, with relationship issues played out like in Pina Bausch’s work. She’s the founder of the form, and a lot of [the aesthetics of much of the European dance scene] is driven by her work and how it’s trickled out into other European countries.” From Wookey’s perspective, teaching at the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam, the European dancers she encountered living in Holland] are often less strong technically, but more creative. They actually study voice, somatic work, Body Mind Centering, and other forms as part of their dance training, rather than focusing solely on technique.

Wookey also noticed a big difference in how citizens of Europe and the U.S. value dance art, which has a big effect on how the artists are trained and the art is seen. “In Europe, people spend less time at work and have more time to see art, and do continuing education. The general citizen in Holland takes a dance or art class or creates as a hobby. They have an engagement with culture in their leisure time, and our U.S. obsession with economic gain has squashed that.”

Similarly, Janice Im, a recent Swarthmore graduate (who performed with Headlong in our piece “Cell”), says that at the London International School of Performing Arts, where she’s now studying, she’s “being given tools to not only become a better performer, but also a better person. I really appreciate the fact I am looked at as an individual, and the lessons I am learning are not just on the craft of theater, but how to live in a healthier, more connected and conscious way. In the U.S. I think the usual conservatory program’s approach is… the sink or swim approach — your days are crammed with classes and projects, and you are overworked until you have no life outside of the program. Here, the program is intense, but it is not our whole life. People can work part-time jobs outside of class; they have time to go to the museums, performances, etcetera. There is a lot we have to observe from everyday life, and bring with us to class. We have time to breathe, and absorb what we have been learning. It all feels more balanced, somehow.”

Melanie Stewart, a choreographer and dance professor here in Philadelphia, went to Europe in the mid-1990s to learn from the man who taught the people whose work she loved: “I went to Europe to study because I had the opportunity to see dance/movement-driven theater in Edinburgh unlike any I had seen in the U.S.. Much of the work forged new definitions of dance for me — companies like DV8, Volcano Theatre (Wales), John Wright Company, Complicité, and Benchtours. I decided it was time to go to the source — to study with Philippe Gaullier, who most of the artists I worked with had trained with. I did two ‘stages’ with Philippe — one in ‘Bouffon’ and one in ‘Clown.’ I also studied movement with members of Complicité while at L’ecole de Philippe Gaullier in London. It is hard for me to describe, but my experiences with this work in the U.S. has always felt like an imitation of something.”

One aspect of the weakness, or watered-down nature of dance training here in the States is the false dichotomy placed here on the separation of “Theater” and “Dance.” Most training programs, whether college, conservatory, or even studios, separate the students based on genre. If you want to learn about clown, or using your voice and your body simultaneously on stage, you’d better cross the pond. Maybe we have the French clown pioneers to thank for that?

…. And speaking of clown pioneers, one of the hybrid practitioners that Janice Im extols is none other than Charlie Chaplin’s grandson, James Thierree. But in addition to such cross-disciplinary projects, she also points to “major collaborations between prominent cutting-edge artists in the same field, like between Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and between Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant. (Click here and here to read Dance Insider reviews of these respective projects.) Then there are also fun, irreverent companies like Constanza Macras/Dorky Park from Berlin (reviewed today on the Dance Insider) that are reinventing the idea of contemporary dance performance. Here in London there is a genuine enthusiasm for anything that’s new and exciting in the performing arts, especially dance — people will buy tickets and shows sell out very quickly.”

I’m sure there are many reasons why Londoners care more about dance-theater, pre-eminent among them the UK’s long tradition of narrative dance. But having training programs filled with students and faculty from around the world, crossing disciplinary boundaries and making work together can’t hurt. It’s good for the young artist students, the faculty, and the audiences. (And the public shows its appreciation not just by turning out for events, but through state funding including the National Lottery; check out Siobhan Davies’s relatively new building if you don’t believe me.)

Come on, ADF. Come on, Bates. Come on, university dance programs. You know who you are. Aspiring artists need this stuff. We need to be figuring out how to train the next generation of dancers and choreographers right here in the United States. Yes, they need to know how to jump and turn. But they also need to learn how to eat dirt.

Amy’s Notes on Hippie Elegy

Amy’s Notes on Hippie Elegy
For a lecture at Rutgers University in 2007, Amy prepared these notes about Hippie Elegy, aka “An Open Letter About Myself”

Notes on Hippie Elegy, or an open letter about myself
By Amy Smith
For Rutgers lecture, 11/07

The ideas and images of Hippie Elegy came from remembered and researched histories of the 1960s and 70s, and from the personal histories of the co-creators. Headlong is a collaborative dance company, started in 1993, and I am one of the three founders and co-directors, along with Andrew Simonet and David Brick. You could say that even the idea of starting a collaborative, non-heirarchical dance company came out of our shared hippie values. We care about egalitarianism within the company structure, valuing process over product, treating our dancers and collaborating designers with respect, sharing credit for all the work, and giving back to our community. But usually our work has a subject matter that is either conceptual, or draws inspiration from literature or contemporary culture. We very rarely make a piece that is about ourselves.

In the case of Hippie Elegy, the first thing that happened is that we decided that we really wanted to work with Jeb Kreager. He was untrained in dance technique, but an amazing actor/performer, so we thought that would lead to an interesting process and product. We decided that Andrew Simonet, one of my fellow co-directors, would be the outside eye and Jeb and I would be the performers.

As we started the rehearsal process, without any clear ideas about what the piece would be about, it quickly became clear that all three of us shared a deep connection with hippie culture and hippie values. I was born in 1971, and I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is a hot-bed of hippies. I grew up eating homemade granola and tofu, and later participating in our town’s annual pot-smoking celebration, the Hash Bash. My boyfriend in high school had hair down to his shoulder blades, and did yoga. When I met Andrew in college, he too had long hair and was playing guitar and leading CSN and Joni Mitchell sing-alongs. Jeb is a little younger than us, but he grew up on a farm and later spent several summers following the band Phish around and doing copious drugs in a communal environment.

We have all found our way into being productive, and relatively straight members of society. But all three of us mourn the lack of hippie values today. During the Viet Nam era, our parents marched on Washington, got arrested, got FBI files fighting the war. Today, 4 years into a similarly unjust and unfounded war, we’re lucky if college students take the time to email their senators about their anti-war stance. While our parents lived on welfare and worked for the People’s Labor Party, today’s young people get MBAs and try to find a high-paying job. Of course these are generalizations, but you get the idea. We decided to try to make a dance that reflected the disillusionment we felt.

So Hippie Elegy came to be, in a process that included a lot of improvisation, sharing personal memories, and dancing around with muffins. It tells the story of a couple who meet and fall in love, and then descend into rage and sadness. In our internal narrative, Jeb plays a guy who is a bit more straight than my character, maybe even a little bit still living in the 50s, maybe he is a scientist or office worker. My character is more free spirited, maybe she’s an artist of some kind, or has a vegetarian café. We share a love of music and jumping through fields of flowers. In the first section of the dance, danced to Joni Mitchell’s song All I Want, we meet and fall in love. In the second section, we have a romantic picnic, complete with bran muffins and a cantaloupe. A lot of the material for this section came from memories I had of eating with my hippie boyfriend. We used to have a moment of silence before we ate, thanking mother earth for the food. We always lit candles and burned incense. And we often smoked pot (I don’t know if you could see it on the video, but Jeb dances with a sage smudge stick and I roll a joint on stage – but don’t worry, it wasn’t really pot). Whenever Buffalo Springfield tells us to “stop” and look what’s going round, we stop. Or at least most of the time. Things are still pretty good into Joni’s Big Yellow Taxi, which is about the destruction of the environment. But my character starts to realize that our natural paradise is being destroyed, and our personal love-paradise starts to be affected. In the fourth section, danced to Neil Young’s song about the Kent State massacre, things are falling apart. At first, we are angry together, locking and popping into stills from an anti-war rally, and fanning the tear gas from our faces. Then, Jeb’s character’s rage gets out of control and he knocks me down, which makes me fly into my own rage and destroy the beautiful picnic we created together. We lose ourselves to anger for a moment. Then, after some deep breaths, we calm down enough to dance the final section, which is the elegy. We used Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, which is both achingly beautiful, and incredibly sad.

I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm
I’m going to join in a rock n roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try and get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Later, she sings about dreaming that the bombers turn into butterflies. In this section, Jeb falls apart into sadness, and I mourn the loss of him. It may be just a breakup, it may be that his character gets drafted and dies in Viet Nam, or maybe he just takes a job working for IBM. But the loss, even if it’s ambiguous told in the language of dance, is very real to us. It speaks about the loss of the hippie values that we grew up with, and that we still cherish today.

In Hippie Elegy, and in all our work, we tried to make a dance that is legible, even to someone who has never seen a dance before. We believe that dance can tell a story, and in this case, it’s a story of two people loving and losing each other, or the loss of innocence. You may have interpreted the story slightly differently from how I describe it, which is fine. It isn’t a novel, and it isn’t a film. If we wanted a linear narrative, we would’ve made a novel or a film. We like it that dance, and this dance, can use a poetic logic, and can be evocative and even mysterious. We don’t want it to be so mysterious that you’re scratching your head, but we like it that two people can have very divergent ideas of what is happening. For example, there’s a moment in the first section, in which I lift Jeb’s hand over his head and spin him around, and then boogie around him in a circle. Maybe one of you thinks: Shes a feminist, and she’s literally manipulating him. Maybe another of you thinks: They’re at a disco, and she’s shaking her butt to try to attract him. Maybe another of you thinks: He’s really tall. You are all right, and that’s what makes dance such an interesting way to represent, or evoke histories.

One of the great ways that dance can speak to history or tell a version of history, is through the idiosyncracies of the human body. Bodies can be very beautiful, and there are forms of dance, like ballet, where the body is seen as perfect and ethereal. In the kind of dance we cherish, and especially in this piece, the bodies are imperfect. They sweat, they are hairy, they have big butts and crumbs on their teeth. They do not have plastic surgery. They do not do eyebrow grooming. They are human, and imperfect. So this is in and of itself a commentary on history. We want to remember and give voice to the embodied culture of the time. One reason we made this dance is that we cherish the memories of our childhood in the 1970’s, when people were trying to create new society, one without sexism (Free to Be You and Me), racism (interracial marriages), and class hierarchies (communes and coops). We are all disappointed at how little American culture has actually evolved from that moment in time when it seemed that we all wanted progressive societal evolution.

In Hippie Elegy, my character is groovy hippie, but she is also a strong, powerful woman. She is a liberated woman. Like my mother, she fights hard against expectations of women from the 1950s and 60s, that women should be meek housewives. But my character can’t change history, and can’t force society to progress and evolve. That is one of the emotions I am tapping into when I do my dying butterfly dance at the end of Hippie Elegy. In real life, when my 7-year-old daughter comes home from school and says: “Hey mom, Noah says that all girls are weak”, it makes me want to scream. I can just hear Noah’s dad making a sexist comment to him, and he parrots it to his friends, continuing the cycle of sexism. I understand that progress is slow, and things certainly weren’t all great for women in the 1960’s and 70’s (read Drop City by T.C. Boyle for a great rendition of this phenomenon). But at least back then there was a certain agreement that change was going to come.

Tin soldiers and Nixon’s comin’.
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin’.
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it.
Soldiers are cutting us down.
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?

From a website about the Kent State massacre:

Immediately after the Kent State shooting (sometimes referred to as the “Kent State Massacre”) on May 4, 1970, Neil Young composed the song “Ohio” after looking at photos appearing in Life magazine and then taking a walk in the woods. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young went to the studio and recorded the song, which was released to radio stations shortly after the killings. Soon, the lyrics “Four dead in Ohio” became an anthem to a generation. In some parts of the country, the song was banned from playlists because of its “anti-war” and “anti-Nixon” sentiments.

Let’s talk about protest and anti-war values for a moment. I assume that some of you are not against the war in Iraq, so you might want to put your fingers in your ears for a moment. One of the things I am most proud of about my parents is how they fought for what they believed in. To be specific, they fought the Viet Nam war and class injustice. They were part of the youth movement of their era, and as a result I grew up thinking that government was corrupt and that I had a duty to care about people other than myself, especially those less powerful. I think George Bush is a disgrace and the Iraq war is a tragedy of unthinkable proportions. Another emotion I tap into in the final section of Hippie Elegy is the terrible sadness over the loss of life in Iraq. I feel it’s my duty to constantly question the status quo, in art and life. When I was in school, I questioned authority constantly, much to the chagrin of some of my professors. I guess you could say I was a punk hippie in that sense. I am a vegetarian anti-capitalist pro-sex feminist and am raising my children with those values.

I’m not here to tell you that you should be protesting the war and working towards a better and more just society. Although you should do those things. But in my life, I’ve found a way to incorporate my beliefs, and to tell the stories, abstract as they are, in dance. I don’t go down to DC to throw things at the White House, and I’m not a member of the People’s Labor Party. But I do make dances that reflect my beliefs that war is bad and bodies are beautiful. How do we connect now to the values of the 1960’s and 70’s? We listen to the music, we look at the art. We read the novels. We ask Uncle Alex to tell us about the Freedom Fighters. Then, we write the music, we make the art, we write the novels, we tell the stories, and we make the dances.

Explanatorium Blog

We were invited to contribute to a blog at the Inquirer about the process of getting Explanatorium up and running. Amy, David, Andrew and Mark posted their thoughts, images and ideas about the inexplicable:

Headlong’s “Explanatorium”

A look inside the performances of Headlong Dance Theater at the Phila. Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe.

Authors

David Brick, Andrew Simonet and Amy Smith founded Headlong Dance Theater in 1993. They collaborate on all of the company’s dances, and over the years, have created more than 40 of them. Many of their dances offer a witty take on contemporary culture.

David, Andrew and Amy will blog their rehearsals for “Explanatorium,” which they will perform at this year’s festival. The piece explores what happens in the time between when an event is perceived and when it gets explained. Brick calls it “a visceral ritual of not knowing in luminous union.” Performances take place in the faded glory of a massive, domed sanctuary of an abandoned Christian Science church.

September 15, 2007
Am I Blue?

Tonight’s the last time the mother ship leaves The Explanatorium. The final time the organ pipes resound in the voluminous sanctuary we’ve been calling home for the summer. The last chance for us to try to reverse the big bang. The last time (probably) we’ll go home to comb snow out of our hair.

There are always reasons to be maudlin at the end of a run. So much of our selves is performed in this piece. And so much of the audience comes to us as we perform it. Although we’ve been collecting stories for months and months, they still seem fresh and new. And there are a world of possibilities we might try out…if only this wasn’t the end.

If you’ve read this far, you should have figured out that tonight is your last chance too.

Good news to accompany this little burble of solemnity:

1. Headlong will be back. First Friday showings will start soon (check the website for details —www.headlong.org.)

2. If anyone has a giant, sanctuary-like domed structure with an oculus, we’d be happy to do The Explanatorium there (or even in a different type of space). Just be in touch.

3. If you are engaged by Headlong’s work AND you’re a college student (or know one), you should know that next fall (2008) Headlong is inaugurating a partnership with BRYN MAWR COLLEGE. The HEADLONG PERFORMANCE INSTUTUTE is a semester-away program for students interested in dance and theater performance & creation. It’s 14 weeks and a full semester of courses, taught by some of Philadelphia’s leading dance/theater artists. Go to www.headlongperformanceinstitute.org for info.

Posted by David Brick on September 15, 2007 8:59 AM

September 10, 2007
Up and Running

The Explanatorium functions, on one level, as a series of invitations to the audience. The piece asks you to step inside it, to explore some ideas with you…even to move around a bit to “change your point of view.” Conventional performance attempts all this (when we’re on our game) but Headlong has gotten interested in making these words manifest. This piece really puts its heart where its mouth is, by inviting the audience into it.

Although we rehearsed, explored, and experimented with our First Friday audience as we were creating the piece, there is simply no preparation for the performers that really prepares them for what it will feel like when they ask 150 people to do something…and they all simultaneously choose, pretty freely from my point of view, to do it. Something happens in the room where we realize that the piece is largely in the hands of the audience. And it feels as if a space ship is lifting off. As if the performance is or might go to a place that no performance has ever gone to before.

That, about the space ship, is a metaphor. Still. And, happily so (to me).

We DO explore the possibility of other worlds in The Explanatorium, and some people (including performers) may think of this as one of the central aspects of the piece. I, personally, am totally captivated by the possibilities of THIS world and, as I watch and participate in the piece each night, I’m mostly struck by the denseness of the sensual world. What brings me into the piece are the simple, but mostly overlooked, aspects of this world that it calls my attention to. Moving air, sound traveling, the height of a ceiling, the articulation of a dancer’s gesture, all these things take me deeper into this world. Deep enough that, sometimes, as when I am on my back looking up at the ceiling, this world feels as mysterious and full of posibilities as another one.

Note to self: at cocktail parties, when people ask me what I do, respond I’m in analogue reality.

MARK LORD

Posted by David Brick on September 10, 2007 7:14 AM

September 6, 2007
“Yes, I’ve been hagged”

Had a great dress rehearsal last night. One of my favorite parts was being outside where the audience is milling around before they go in. I ask people if they’ve ever had an “intense paranormal or supernatural experience.” A surprising number of people have. Sometimes I have them write their story on an index card for our collection, sometimes I ask them if they’d agree to be interviewed later about their story, and sometimes people are willing to tell me, but don’t want to share it any further than that (which is fine). Last night’s interview story was a doozy — I just have to share it here. I asked my friend Kelly the question and she said: “Yes, I’ve been hagged.”

She was sleeping in a dorm room in North Carolina, and she woke up to the sensation of someone or something sitting on her. She shut her eyes and waiting until the thing went away. The next day she called her boyfriend to tell him about it, and a friend of his explained: certain old-lady widow ghosts, or “hags”, like to sit on people who are sleeping in the rooms they haunt. The remedy is to pee in a cup and put it under the bed, and the hag will go away. Kelly tried the remedy and it worked.

Oh, the gorgeous inexplicableness!
Amy

Posted by Amy Smith on September 6, 2007 11:14 AM

Dress Rehearsal

There’s a moment before every dinner party and before every opening when suddenly you begin to have glimpses of how your guests/audience might see your choices. All along you’ve been planning to serve what you love, have shopped for the ingredients, have prepped everything and have set your table in ways that make sense to you. But suddenly (and always at the 11th hour, with the water boiling and your partner in the shower) you begin to question everything.

As we begin to prepare to share THE EXPLANATORIUM with you, we’re excitedly rethinking our choices, fussing with the details, and generally behaving like anxious hosts. This is a familiar feeling to all of us who make performance. It’s the feeling of our private expressions preparing to meet the public, our innerworld finding its way to the outerworld. For The Explanatorium, our excitement is perhaps greater because the audience is such an integral part of the piece. There are aspects of the work that we won’t see until you do and we’ll all find out together what’s inside the delicate crust of our precious Baked Alaska.

MARK LORD

Posted by David Brick on September 5, 2007 7:53 AM

The Fringe Vibe

Last night we went to see FLAMINGO/WINEBAGO –which was swell, and I recommend it highly, but that’s not why I brought it up. It was the first time I’d been to Old City since the surge of Live Arts/Fringe Artists has landed there. One of the great pleasures of making work in the Fringe is being a part of this larger-than-any-one-of-us friendly takeover of a neighborhood. On your way for coffee, or to the National, or to the hardware store (there was a time when Old City had actual hardware stores with actual hardware) you’d run into fellow travelers, other artists working through their own creative and practical problems. I felt a great sense of warmth in that and, when I could, I chose venues for my own work (ENDGAME, ACROSS, ZONE) that kept me close to the center of the fringe vibe.

For those of us on the margins of society (and I think almost all artists, no matter how much they earn, feel themselves located here) an occasion to meet one another in the context of the making of our work is a real boon. Creating works of performance is hard work. We’re simultaneously wrestling with our own deep dark inner visions, AND trying to articulate those often unsettling visions to our collaborators in language, AND trying hard to hear what’s going on inside them, AND working through the kinds of problems that attend making a performance (it’s too long, the theme won’t come clear, the performer can’t do what I want, a costume is too ridiculous) compounded by the fact that we’re mostly working in makeshift venues (the roof leaks, L & I came, what do you mean it won’t ever get dark). In making work for the Fringe/Live Arts Festival, we are all really pushing ourselves towards our limits. And running into someone who’s traveling a similar road can be really sublime. A gentle but crucial reminder that, even as we try to bring our deepest darkest doubts or our most out-there imaginings to the stage, there are others doing the same, in other basements and alleys and theaters and bars, all through the neighborhood.

Working on The Explanatorium in West Philly, I’ve been apart from that vibe this time–until I saw Thaddeus’ show last night. And I was glad to feel the warmth of the vibe coming back, as we ran into friends, colleagues, former students (it was great to see you Scott!), other artists AND…people we don’t know. People who we recognize as fellow travelers by their presence here. I recognize a bond between me and the other people clutching their 3-D glasses, wishing there was AC in the Bride but keeping their attention, our collective focus, on the perpetual inventions of the Lucidity Suitcase team.

As I think about it, our piece is really a way of trying to make The Vibe a little more present, so that we and our audience can feel it and work it and think about it. We made the decision to ask the audience to wear blue to the show in an intuitive way, but now I’m thinking that it’s asking people to put on their sense of belonging and of wanting to belong. To dress in your desire to be a part of the creation of something, something that gets made out of simple materials, right before your eyes, something that you can be a part of.

There is a generation of us who have come to our maturity as artists in this Vibe, in the gentleness, the warmth, the frenzy, and in the simpatico juices of our mutual endeavors. The Explanatorium is, on one level (and it has more than one), a welcoming place for the artists and the audience who thrive in this.

Mark Lord, dramaturg

Posted by David Brick on September 1, 2007 7:38 AM

August 30, 2007
tenderness

Last time I wrote, I said we needed to find the tender, vulnerable heart in this piece, find a way to share this delicate thing in this grand space. Well I think we found it yesterday. And it was hard, but I really think the new material works. I am so relieved! Mark Lord, our dramaturg wrote this following note about tenderness to help us all orient our characters and remember what it is we’re doing here:

Think about how to articulate the entire piece: the meeting structure.

Who we are is a group of people who come together from all over the place, mostly from the bottom end of the stick that stirs society. We are the subprime sublime. And we gather in this abandoned shell of a beautiful truth beneath a peeling plaster sky. Because we have faith in some mystery that stirs in us and which we see stir in one another. Hamlet says I have that within which passeth show. And we see that in ourselves, each other. It’s like a handshake so secret we don’t know the grip-only the memory of the feeling of solidarity it might bring.

So. We gather here.

We open ourselves to ourselves. We raise our doubts. We risk humiliation. We incarnate propositions and play them. We could all be leaving this earth tonight-we don’t know…and we seek to revel in our awareness of not being sure. In our sure moments, we incarnate certainty-but we never take it for granted and when it rests on us (horndance) we feel its glory, and its fleeting.

We open ourselves to one another. We tell our horrors and trust our vocabularies are not too…whatever. We hope to be understood.

We open the whole process to the audience. We accept that they may well reject it. They may not want to join, to walk, to stand, to share, to be honest. But our only encouragement for them is our own nakedness, our own good humor. Our willingness to fail. Our strong desire to be together in the light of the setting sun, in the failing light, in the dusk and, eventually, in the snow in the dark.

We should approach each part of the piece as if this coming together, this opening, are never far from us.

Posted by David Brick on August 30, 2007 8:37 AM

August 29, 2007
How they make these things (as it seems to me).

This is Mark Lord, the dramaturg for Headlong. I’ve been working with the company for the better part of a year on The Explanatorium. In this entry, I just wanted to give you a little bit of a sense of how we’ve been using our time.

The piece began with some fascinations with things that are inexplicable (to us, or rather, to some of us.) And, as I remember it, we started talking about things that could begin with the sentence, “Now here’s something I can’t explain.” This led to explorations of some out-there stuff (crop circles, UFO sightings, alien abductions) and some discussions of perception, the limits of language and the ways that we like to perceive/experience performances.

In addition to sharing these ideas and research, we started to collect stories from people we knew or met about things they couldn’t explain. And we began to play games and to explore improvisational dance structures that allowed us to explore these ideas. We showed much of this work at Headlong’s monthly First Friday series (check out the web site, www.headlong.org–it’s the cheapest date/best place to introduce your kids to culture/best respite from the Maddening Crowd on First Friday–end plug). These showings gave us a chance to test ideas in front of an audience. And, as our ideas have developed, being able to develop a sophisticated, authentic relationship to the audience has proved to be a Big Deal.

Each of the performers brings the wealth of her/his experience to this work. That means we can draw on all kinds of theater/dance vocabularies. And, between them, the performers are this incredibly funny, relentlessly inventive, smart gaggle of movers. I feel so delighted to come to work everyday to watch them interact.

And having this great big deserted sanctuary space to inhabit has given the piece its own playground and sense of itself. Perhaps I’ll blog later about the rotunda. Here, I’ll just say that it’s an awesome place to work–it inspires us.

As we finish shaping the piece, I’m happy to be able to see where all of the ideas came from and how they’ve threaded themselves into the piece. I’m excited to see that games that began as wholly innocent explorations have settled into the structure of the piece to be mature and dense ruminations–without ever losing their charm and their distinctly Headlong sense of smarts and cleverness. And ideas that seemed too cerebral for the piece to address are easily and confidently wrapped up into our work now.

Each aspect of the piece has been made by indirection, by experiment, and by conversation. Our ideas found movement presence that way. Our presences have found their ways into games and structures and stories. And those, now, have been woven together into an experience that we are excited to be shaping and preparing to share with an audience.

MARK LORD, dramaturg

Posted by David Brick on August 29, 2007 8:46 PM

Wheel In the Sky Keeps on Turnin’

One of the things I keep thinking about as we work on Explanatorium is the general lack of spiritual practice among the people I know. Being in the Rotunda everyday, I often imagine the Christian Science congregation coming together decades ago to sing hymns and hear sermons and create community. So much contemporary American culture is about Materialism and Consumerism, and the Christianity I encounter often feels crass and unspiritual. As artists, we create communities of deep caring and fellowship — our “chosen families” of fellow artists. But most of us don’t engage in any kind of disciplined spiritual practice. Doing Hatha Yoga doesn’t count. Are we unconcerned with our spiritual selves, put off by the available choices, or just too busy to fit it in?

As these things often go, I’ve been inundated lately with coincidental messages from the Guru, as it were. When I was growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, my dad and stepmom were followers of Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. I got into it, too. Besides being a typical pot-smoking, punk rock, jazz-dancing teenager, I also woke up every morning at 6:00 to drink chai and chant the Guru Gita. I went to the ashram in South Fallsburg, New York and received shaktipat (the ritual bopping with the peacock feathers) and got sandalwood paste put on my third eye. My boyfriend at the time was into it too, and after we broke up he moved to India and changed his name to Prashanti. Various internal goings-on in the Organization put us off and we stopped practicing. Also, I went away to college, and its pretty hard to meditate and chant in your dorm room. I just sort of drifted away, and frankly didn’t think about it too much until this summer.

Weird coincidence #1: In June, Andrew and his wife were visiting friends in California, and he ran into Prashanti, whom I haven’t seen in about 10 years. Weird coincidence #2: I finally read “Eat, Pray, Love”, the spirituality memoir, in which the author goes to Gurumayi’s ashram in India for 4 months. All the practices and characters were so familiar. Weird coincidence #3: I do tax preparation for artists as a side gig, and a few days ago I found out that one of my tax clients is a follower of Gurumayi. We talked for a long time about the Guru and how hard it is to have a spiritual practice in this life…

Lying on the floor in the Rotunda, looking up at the sky through the Occulus, pondering the great mysteries and chanting “EYES” (more on this later), is the closest I’ve gotten in years to a sense of spirituality. Maybe Explanatorium (and the weird coincidences this summer) will inspire me to return to the Guru, or more likely some other kind of spiritual practice. Or maybe I’ll just keep living my life, trying to See God in Each Other as much as I can.

Amy

Posted by Amy Smith on August 28, 2007 3:38 PM

August 28, 2007
shaky, terrene world

Today was tough. There are big disagreements about what needs to happen now. We have 3 rehearsals left before tech. The differences are submerged. Andrew, Amy and I float suggestions as if they are small things that need to be tweaked. But these mild suggestions are masking deep disagreements about the aesthetics and tone of the piece. And ultimately an idea of how the thing is going to work, what the audience walks away with. How would I frame the disagreement? I think that Amy’s concerns have to do with theatricality and formality. She might say that we need to weave the sections together more tightly so that parts are clearly referring to each other, are clearly linked to each other. She wants repetition and reinforcement of main themes and ideas on a structural level and a theatrical persona that is clear for everyone inside and outside the piece. Amy is a formalist. What does Andrew want? He wants the dance to work on a deep level of relevance and still be playful. Not heavy or clever or neatly tied up for its own sake. He wants it to live up to his dearest hopes for a work of art – that we the performers and the audience play together being as awake as we can be. He wants the vehicle for that play to have no false notes because everyone can smell a false note and won’t trust or risk if the deep sense isn’t there. And me? I don’t know. Amy and Andrew might say that I err on the side of inscrutability. Idiosyncratic preferences. But I just know when something is working. I have filters that are hard to explain. But I know when the poetry of something is coming across– when things are impossible to define and yet full of music and meaning. It’s hard to make arguments about exactly what will and what won’t work from my point of view. How do you collaborate with someone whose point of view is, I know it when I see it? I sympathize with them having to work with me! Really. Funny thing is-and this is why we’ve worked together for 15 years — we would all agree with the importance of all the points of view I just laid out. It’s a disagreement over emphasis. And what a particular emphasis ends up meaning.

We’ve all tried putting the material together in different versions so far. All have been interesting and problematic. I’ve been charged with this last phase of pulling it together. I have the authority to take decisive action. Of course it is understood that I will be conscientious about understanding everyone’s concerns. In other words, I’m in the hot seat. But I think I know what we need now. I don’t know what it looks like, but I know what we need.

We’re just missing a layer, maybe a moment, of tenderness and vulnerability. The piece is amazing and complicated and very big in an odd, funny way. The space is enormous, beautiful and grand. The Explanatorium is full of ideas and haunting stories, and the audience circles around, 200 people at a time, all dressed in blue which makes it even bigger and more full. And what the piece needs is something small and very human to ground it. And that soulfulness is there, we’ve worked on it. We’ve worked from that place – the place of knowing that we can feel so small and fragile in this world that we can’t always explain: a world that we yearn to explain, and yearn also not to know too well, to instead feel mystery and magic. I think we just have to put that small, vulnerable thing back in this magnificent space full of big ideas. And there we will tether this big balloon to our shaky, terrene world.
David

Posted by David Brick on August 28, 2007 1:52 AM

August 26, 2007
The Deep Blue Sea

People keep asking me if they really have to dress in blue when they come to the performance. That’s what our blurb in the Live Arts program says and they wonder if it’s a bit of a joke. The answer is, yes dress in blue. We have been warned that that’s setting a high bar for our audience: you’re going to keep people away! They’ll just decide to go to some other show that’s easier. But I disagree. I think plenty of people are hungry for meaningful experiences that involve very different kinds of consciousness and decisions from, say, watching television. There ought to be stakes in live performance. We come together with other people in real space and time. Wearing blue for the performance is our way of saying that we are going to deal squarely with the fact of us all being in a room together. Dress in blue, we’re ALL dressing in blue. Lets make this funny, surprising choice together and see what happens! And dressing in blue says that the experience of EXPLANATORIUM starts before entering the space and continues on after leaving the Rotunda. And of course the blue-dressed community becomes an important part of the piece: image, idea and experience all at once that is a crucial part of how EXPLANATORIUM works. I can’t wait to see it– our capacity is 200 people per performance and I think its going to look beautiful– a glittering, blue sea of people in variegated shades and patterns. Of course it might not work. People might not go along with wearing blue. But it’s an experiment and it’ll be fun to see what happens.
David

Posted by David Brick on August 26, 2007 3:05 PM

August 25, 2007
Sneaking into Boo Radley’s place…

EXPLANATORIUM takes place in an abandoned Christian Science Church. Its a magnificent, beautiful space. I can’t believe we get to use it. It has a huge 8-paned oculus at the center of a domed sanctuary. It has a massive pipe organ towering above the pulpit. Everything in this place is geometric and round. I feel surrounded by a heavy gorgeousness of rationality in this architecture which in turn is suffused by the light of the divine filtering in from above through the ornate and heavenly eye of the oculus. I love the curious mix of science and the sacred that pervades this space. Sometimes as I look around, I feel like I am inside the saucer of a space ship and I think, oh! science fiction is all about these twin yearnings of rationality and faith, the celestial palm of god navigated by the unstoppable mind of man.

I also feel like I am in a haunted house when I am in the Rotunda. Like me and my friends have just snuck into Boo Radley’s place. Or some empty building somewhere, an abandoned farmhouse in the middle of a field…. I want to share this feeling with the audience, that we are exploring some lost building with our best friends. Its spooky and thrilling and if we all make it out unscathed then we’re going to be closer than we were before…

Andrew, Amy and I are co-directors of this piece, as in all of Headlong’s work. We conceive, create, direct and perform together. This complex interplay of our visions, personalities and lives, hides beneath the attribution of our work that says simply: choreographed by Headlong Dance Theater. In collaborating with each other and all the amazing people we work with, we ask ourselves, how can we tap everyone’s intelligence and passion to make the most visionary work possible. We believe every work of art needs to have a strong, singular point of view, not a recitation of thoughts by a committee.

In this project we are working with an amazing band of creator/performers: Nichole Canuso, Geoff Sobelle, and Niki Cousineau. The three of them each direct awesome companies of their own. We are very lucky to be working with them. Mark Lord is our dramaturg/ co-conspirator. He’s recently become a 4th voice at the creative/ conceptual table of Headlong. His insights during rehearsals are brilliant, original and provocative. The three of us co-directors teeter on new ground with him in the mix. He’s like a new-found sibling that our parents gave up for adoption before we were born.

I feel like I need to lay all this out at the top of this blog because so often people want to know who is really responsible for making our work and wonder how it gets made. We are so deeply a collaborative company – a community of individuals with strong personalities and even stronger ideas that are often at odds with each other. Rehearsals are a laboratory to find the idea that matters. We make work from scratch, without a script or a piece of music as a starting place. Ideas, conversations, and our experiments are our starting points and slowly we begin to grow a piece. There is a magic in how this works, an ineffable alchemy that transmutes our bodies and minds into a work of art that is greater than any one person could conceive. This blog will be a refraction of our process in these final days of putting EXPLANATORIUM together. I might be the main lens of this refraction, here in this blog. But I am not the author of EXPLANATORIUM, we all are.

If you want to know more about Headlong and our work you can always go tohttp://www.headlong.org.

David

Posted by David Brick on August 25, 2007 11:07 AM

Copyright © 2006-2007 Philadelphia Newspapers L.L.C.
All Rights Reserved.

Amy’s Shosha Blog

Amy’s Shosha Blog

We taught for a week at Concord Academy and performed for their Summer Stages Series in the summer of 2007.

HEADLONG CO-DIRECTOR AMY SMITH
ON THE MAKING OF “SHOSHA”

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I have loved the writings of Isaac Bashevis Singer for a long time. When I find a writer I like, I often just read everything they wrote, which I did with Singer when I was in my twenties. He wrote in Yiddish and English, short stories and novels, about life in rural Poland and life in New York City. Being half-Jewish, I always felt a little bit interested in Judaism and the struggle with Judaism depicted in Singer’s books. But Singer was first and foremost a humanist, which is how I most strongly connected with him. Of all his books, “Shosha” stuck with me over the years. For one thing, I always pictured David (Brick, Co-Director of Headlong Dance Theater) playing Ari — there is something about David’s stage personality that is both sympathetically laughable and tragic the way Ari is in the book. And I always pictured Nichole (Cousineau, Company Member) as Shosha. Nichole’sexpressive face and “holy fool” clown character are perfectly suited to Shosha, who is childlike, and even mildly retarded in the book, though more spiritually connected than the others.

After a few years of talking about it, I got Andrew and David on board to think about how we would make the piece. First of all, everyone in the cast read the book, and we worked with Mark Lord as dramaturg to help us think about the framing of the piece and collect relevant images, text, and video. “Shosha” was written in the 1970s and takes place in the 1930’s as World War II is engulfing Warsaw. Its original title was “Soul Expedition”, which refers to the communal meditation on free-will free-love experiments undertaken in the fantasies of Ari’s circle of intellectual friends. We tend to think of the 1970s as the time when people broke free from oppressive societal norms in favor of libertarian ideals, multiple sex partners, feminism. But the 1930s in Warsaw was also a time of such experimentation, at least according to Singer. The character of Ari represents the struggle between tradition and modernity, and the uprootedness that can come from sudden freedoms.

It wasn’t long into the process that we realized that the group that puts on the dance play of “Shosha” needed to be characters other than our contemporary selves. Mark turned me on to the diaries of Judith Malina, who with Julian Beck started The Living Theater in the 1970s, and we watched videos of their work and the work of Peter Brook. In many ways, the experimental theater groups of the 70s were Headlong’s philosophical and artistic predecessors (of course, the Judson Church movement was also hugely significant for us). So we started playing with the idea of setting the piece in the 70s and having Andrew (Simonet, Co-Director of Headlong Dance Theater) play the Director of this group, which is trying to put on the play-within-the-play of “Shosha”. We watched videos and did theater exercises to get into “character” for these characters, at the same time developing the movement material for the “Shosha” sections, which more or less tell the story of the novel in a series of wordless scenes.

Another aspect of the piece that felt especially relevant to us was the “personal as political.” In our contemporary time, there’s a lot of struggle about how to be a moral person, a good person. If life isn’t about he acquisition of wealth, or the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, what is it about? Without religion to guide us, how do we make choices? In Headlong and in our community of friends in Philadelphia, we think about these questions a lot. And our opposition to the the war in Iraq feels relevant to the 1970s characters we play, who were meaning-seekers and political activists, and opposed the war in Viet Nam.

So all of these ideas were swirling around our artistic process, and all of these ideas are part of “Shosha”. Singer’s book was really a jumping off point for a series of characters, scenes, and visual pictures. I was reading an article in this week’s New Yorker and a quote by Peter Brook really stood out for me — it reminds me of “Shosha”, and I hope a lot of Headlong’s work: “A play in performance is a series of impressions; little dabs, one after another, fragments of information or feeling in a sequence which stir the audience’s perceptions.” I hope this piece induces that stirring.

Amy Smith
Co-Director
Headlong Dance Theater
July, 2008

Amy’s Dominican Diary

Amy’s Dominican Diary
In May 2006 we brought Hippie Elegy to the Encuentro de Danza Contemporanea in Santo Domingo. Amy, Jeb and Anna learned how to live in the delicious way that they do in the Dominican Republic, thanks to Mundo Poy and Pedro Alejandro who devised and organized the EDANCO festival. Amy wrote about her experience here:

Dominican Diary

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Fun travels with Anna and Jeb. Anna reading Lonely Planet, Jeb reading restaurant reviews in New York magazine, Amy attempting sodoku. On the way into San Juan, Anna and I realize that we know nothing about Puerto Rico, even though they are our colony. Are they U.S. citizens? Do they vote or pay taxes? What passport do they have? How sad that educated Americans know so little about our compadres to the South.

Arriving in Santo Domingo, we realize that Mundo Poy, the organizer of the festival, will have no idea who we are, and vice versa. How will he recognize us? Of course immediately upon exiting the airport we hear “Headlong?”. His first words to us are: “Welcome to the Dominican Republic, time to relax.” I immediately love this man. We pile into the tiny van of young Guillermo, who dances with Mundo. He pops in a Doors tape and puts on the red interior light, and we have a nearly hallucinogenic ride along the sea into Santo Domingo proper. A midnight torta con queso and fried plantain (Cuban sandwich for Jeb) later, and we fall into bed.

Thursday, May 25

The longest day in history. Mundo picks us up at 8:00 to go do tech rehearsal at the space. The theater is an exercise in contradiction. It’s a beautiful, well-designed facility, with a nice sized stage and about a 500-seat house. But the air-conditioner is broken, there’s no water, and toilet paper is scarce. Thank God Anna can speak some Spanish – she manages to communicate our lighting and sound needs to the staff. Jeb is entranced by the crazy scaffolding on wheels, with a plywood platform on top for focusing lights. The man who climbs it does so barefoot and shirtless. There is definitely truth to the idea of “Dominican time”. Everything starts a bit late and people aren’t where they should be, when they should be. But by some miracle, we run through with lights and sound almost perfect.

There isn’t anyone in the audience when we run through “Hippie Elegy”, but the tech people seem to really enjoy it, which is pleasing. I imagine the question of “is it dance?” is in people’s mind, but they truly enjoy the humor and theatricality. I think it’s a welcome change for them to see everyday-type people doing everyday-type things on stage. Most importantly, Mundo loves it. His aesthetic and value system are very close to ours, from how he describes his work and his life.

We briefly meet SilverBrown Dance. Eva is much more strong-willed and leaderly with her dancers than we are – the egalitarianism of Headlong’s aesthetic becomes pronounced in the moment of watching her tech in her piece. The work they are performing is an abstract quintet to classical music, in the style of Mark Morris. Proficiently danced, with lots of nice patterning, but not innovative or conceptual (to my eyes) at all.

One structure we have been doing a lot of at the end of warm-up is a get-to-know-ya sort of dance-making structure: we make a big circle, one person steps out into the middle, invites someone out to dance with them, and they make a dance. Others may join, too. Lots of nice following, contact, and short minimalist dances. Sometimes music informs the tone, but they are very open in style.

After a long rest in the hotel, we walk up the Avenida Independencia to the Plaza Independencia. There is some kind of vault there (dead founding fathers?) and an armed guard instructs me to remove my hat. We wander down a pedestrian street full of vendors selling carved wooden tchotchkes and cheapo clothing stores. Jeb sticks out quite dramatically and attracts a lot of attention. Anna gets the up-and-down from about half the men we pass. They are appreciative, but polite. I get suckered by a 12-year-old boy into letting him shine my shoes (which are sandals, with only about 8 square inches of leather). He asks for $5 and I give him $2, which is more than I paid for a pair of beaded earrings from a street vendor. The third-world economy can be disheartening.

Next, we hit the oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere, built in 1520 out of native coral. It’s stunning. A guard instructs Anna to put a pareo on over her sleeveless top. Men are constantly trying to sell us guided tours or send us into the shops. It’s tiring to have to say “no, gracias” every 2 minutes. Makes one long for the American puritanical politesse of not speaking to strangers. On the other hand, one kind man goes out of his way to help us cross the street (the Malecon, a beautiful seaside road, with 2 lanes of cars whizzing by in each direction), just to be nice.

We find a little restaurant and drink beer by the sea for about 2 hours. We watch a man fishing on a small concrete jut and the kids swimming in their tighty-whiteys, carefully avoiding the trash littering the beach. It feels like it must be dinner time already, but it’s only 3:00. Ay, dios mio. The sun is hot on gringo skin. There’s a reason most people take a siesta in the early afternoon.

We stagger back to the hotel. Napping, reading, staring at the fan for about 3 hours. Finally at 8:30 we go out for dinner. A sweet place on the Malecon that makes their own pasta, and has Italian food that rivals South Philadelphia’s best. A welcome treat for me and Anna, who have eaten nothing but queso tortas all day.

When we hit the hay at 11:30, all agree that it has been the longest day in history. Somehow the Dominican relaxed time-sense has infected even the time-sensitive Americanos.

Friday, May 26

The day of our first performance. Mundo picks us up early to go to the theater for a morning dress rehearsal. The first piece is by a Dominican choreographer, an emotive high-modern ballet, ostensibly about the Mirabar sisters, who were Trujillo martyrs, I think. The sisters grimace and stretch their arms out pleadingly between renverses and stag leaps. There is a chorus of about 10 young dancers, who bring on fake flowers and gauze capes for atmosphere. At one point, they form an upstage line with buckets of water, which they splash on themselves (and all over the stage), and the final image is of the sisters dying in a red down spot with water pouring all over them. Why did they make this the first piece of the evening?

After a stage wipe-down with 2 Scooby-Do comforters (?), Jeb and I do our thing. It feels good to have performed the piece so much over the past year that we are really easy and playful within it. Thank god Anna brought her laptop, as the CD version of “For What It’s Worth” doesn’t play the vocals when they play it through their sound system. Weird.

A surprising pleasure is the third piece on the program, by Maricarmen Rodriguez. A trio for 2 actors and one dancer, the piece is a neo-clown dance theater romp. The three keep fighting over, sitting in, and wheeling each other around in a shopping cart. Their monologues, which I got partially translated, are making fun of stereotypical egomaniac types: the sexpot woman, the intellectual revolutionary man, and the lesbian artist. The performances are amazing. The dancers use their faces and voices and find full-body characters in a way that reminds me of Philadelphia dance theater work. They are fluid and precise, and do some amazing contact with and on and inside the cart. I hope we can figure out a way to bring the piece to Philly, or at least stay in touch with Maricarmen. She is so humble and lovely I smile every time I see her. And it’s fun sharing a dressing room with the trio, who are all funny freakers, even if we can barely understand each other. We give Maricarmen a DVD of Mixed Tape for a Bad Year, which she says is incredibly refreshing for her to see. She especially praises the intimacy of the work and the subtlety of character, which, she says, is much-needed in the D.R. (as evidenced by the Sisters Mirabar piece).

We have lunch at the home of Chiqui Viciosi, a famous playwright and dramaturg here. We briefly meet her husband, who was a huge figure in the democratic revolution and much revered. The lunch was arranged by Pedro Allejandro, who heads the Dance Dept. at Wesleyan, and is the reason we are here in the D.R. He has brought his spiritual guide, a plump dark woman named Brigida, who is mostly quiet, but brings a nice energy to the room. I think she is some kind of shaman/priestess. Also joining us is Polibio Diaz, a photographer and conceptual artist who shows his work internationally. He is an especially fun person to talk with, as his artistic ideas are very parallel to ours. After seeing the piece, he tells Jeb: “your work is good art – it dismantles the walls of the classical tradition and builds new walls in its place”. He tells me that he loves the “ruptures” of Hippie Elegy, from the body types and costuming, to the every day actions on stage. Over rice with corn, chicken, salad, and coconut macaroons, Mundo talks about how important the cultural exchange is (this is finally starting to dawn on me), and tells us that we are the first international dance companies to come the D.R. So this is a truly historical event, and one that will probably have huge and long-lasting effects here. What an honor and a gift.

Later in the afternoon, Anna teaches a ballet class (thank god again for the multi-talented Anna) and I teach a “contemporary dance” class to teenage girls. They are very focused and sweet. I give them a floor warm up with X rolls and leg swings, and teach them the Headlong Slide, which they enjoy. Then we do some basic contact and they make short partnering duets. Very fun and totally brand new for them.

Opening night is a huge success. The audience is enormous and includes many big-wigs, which makes Mundo really happy. The Interior Minister is there, and there are lots of speeches and congratulations. The audience really gets “Hippie Elegy”. I hear laughter right away, and feel the attention from the audience later in the piece when it gets sad. (More on audience responses later.)

One funny and indicative moment comes during the curtain calls. There is a lot of fussy, ballet-type hierarchical bowing for the Sisters piece, and then the rest of us bow, but the choreographers get their own bow, which I don’t participate in. I think of Jeb as being such an integral part of the making of the work, that it feels weird to take more credit than him. It’s bad enough that they don’t put dancer bios in the program (only choreographers). Alas, old habits die hard in the dance world.

After the show we all go out to a restaurant on the Malecon and eat and drink into the wee hours. Guillermo brings his friends Jean, a handsome, fedora-wearing Haitian, and Renato, a painter. They love “Hippie Elegy” and express deep satisfaction in the rule-breaking the piece implies. Renato describes the contorted gestures in “Woodstock” as “broken doll”, or “broken classical”. In broken English and Spanglish. What fun.

Saturday, May 27

Unfortunately, another early morning. Another cheese and bread breakfast. At least this time I know how to order the orange juice that doesn’t have added sugar. But the reason we go to the theater early is a beautiful one – teaching a workshop for professional (or at least college-age) actors and dancers. This is where the real knowledge and aesthetic passing on will happen, and I really feel a pressure to bring new ideas to this tiny burgeoning artistic movement.

There are about 12 people in the class, including Wendy, who translates for me. I think there are about half actors and half dancers, but several of them, I can’t tell what their background is. I split the time into three parts:

Physical Response: we start with Skinner releasing lines of energy and go into walking and gentle moving with the partner giving lines. Then the partner starts more assertively giving manipulations to the mover, and they make some beautiful improvisational duets. Half the group watches the other half for a while once we get into it. Then we switch roles. I talk briefly about how they could go forward with manipulation and response (changing up body parts, the quality of touch, using it as a tool for setting movement material, doing a Stephanie Skura lines-of-force responding without touch, etc.)

Contact Improvisation: we go over basic contact skills (lean, counterbalance, surfing, etc.), then dance openly for a while. Again half the group watching after a while. They watch very attentively and learn a lot from watching. I’m glad Jeb is there so I can show certain skills and how they can go further with contact. I even describe how a Jam works, and later one of the dancers tells me that she and another student want to start a monthly Jam.

Talking Improvisation: Jeb and I show a mini-version of “Permit” and teach the basics of the structure. Then two pairs dance the piece for everyone else. Both versions are funny, touching, and beautifully danced. Even not knowing Spanish, I can catch the drift of the questions, or sometimes get the wonderful surprise of not knowing what the question was about and just seeing the action it referred to.

At the end of the workshop we talk a lot about being real and being human on stage and how appealing that is for the audience. A lot of discussion about the relationship between audience and performer being intimate and two-way. They really get it in a way that makes me so happy for the future. One young woman asks “is it wrong that my teacher says when you are on stage you should think of a blank wall instead of the audience?” My response: There are some forms, usually more classical ones, where that idea of the audience could be helpful. But for this kind of work we want to see the audience, and invite being seen in all our shared humanness. That giving up the idea of super-human performers can lead to a much more satisfying experience on both sides.

The political implications of Headlong and “Hippie Elegy” are really profound in this culture. There is a serious tension between the laid-back, go-with-the flow attitude of the larger culture of the D.R., and the dictatorial, hierarchical nature of most of the dance culture here. Mundo is very sensitive to this idea, and is so happy that we can share new ideas with the young generation of dancers and choreographers. He’s been working on it for 20 years, but inside a school and dance culture that is very classical and traditional. He hopes that Headlong confirming his value system will help push the point. And push the form(s) into new directions. I really want to do this for him as best I can.

After the workshop we went back to the little pool at our hotel and had a nice afternoon with Pedro. Pedro’s scholarly work is about the movement differences between chimps and bonobos, and how our human brains are constantly switching between the two. The chimp is about aggression, regulation, militarism and direct movement. They move like football players, using their arms to locomote. The bonobos are more childlike and play-oriented, bisexual, with less social heirarchy. They locomote more with their pelvises and have round bow legs.

According to Pedro, many of the comments he heard from people after seeing the show were extremely complimentary to the playfulness and liberatory nature of “Hippie Elegy”. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if the Dominican audience would enjoy the piece, because so much of it is about American music, hippie culture, and history (Kent State, Woodstock, etc.) But what they responded to most powerfully was the nature of the movement and the delivery system, not the content. And they deeply understood the politics of individualism and egalitarianism that were part of the working process and were visible in the work.

Some people said we looked like animated dolls, not in terms of flatness of affect, but in terms of the playfulness of the piece. They mentioned my bowleggedness (the anti-ballerina legs) and African roundedness, which had to do with the low center of gravity and human shape my body makes. I could hear the audience specifically enjoying movement moments like when I spin Jeb around and dance around him in a circle with my butt wagging, or when I dance around with the muffins, as if alone in my living room or stoned in a night club.

People saw a respect for individuality and unity in the movement choices, in contrast to the unison, virtuosity-oriented, and uprightness of the ballet piece and Silverbrown’s work. Pedro also said the picnic scene in “Hippie” was poignant to the Dominicans because their lives are so infused with magic and ascribing magical powers to objects. They have a fruit drink down here called “to die dreaming”, which says it all….

Others said they loved the simplicity and elegance of the gestures, which was echoed by Maricarmen when she looked at our dvd of “Mixed Tape”. According to Pedro, the piece being about “the democratic body of liberation” in a dance world that is “under house arrest of classicism” was a gift to the audience. I was extremely touched to hear that. And it brought home again the significance of us being here. Not just the performance, but the teaching, the conversations, the connections large and small we are making here.

Saturday night the piece went very well again. At one moment the CD skipped — Jeb and I both said a silent prayer on stage, and in true vodun fashion, it miraculously stopped skipping.

Speaking of prayers, Mundo’s car has been named by us the “caro milagro”. He’s been driving all week without a clutch (!) in his ancient Russian (!) car. There’s a steep hill on the way to the theater, and every time we attempt ascent, we chant “caro milagro”, in hopes that we won’t have to get out and push. The traffic and driving style here is insane. Stop lights (which are few) and signs are more of a suggestion than a rule, and accidents and near-accidents are common.

After the show, Jeb, Anna and I go to the pedestrian walk, the Conde, to find a place to eat. While drinking our beer we run into Guillermo’s friend Jean, the Haitian actor. He sits with us for a while, convinces us that the food isn’t very good at our chosen place, and takes us to get falafel. Anna and I dig in like starving people, which we practically are, given the paucity of vegetarian options here. Later, Jean takes us to Park Duarte, where people hang out at night, drinking Presidente and chatting. We meet up again with Guillermo and his crazy painter friend Renato and have a great time. The only difficulty is that no one speaks English, so Jeb and I have to use our brains a lot to understand and communicate. Luckily both of us know French and another Latinate language (Jeb Italian, me Latin), so we have some basis for guessing the Spanish words, and a facility with picking up language.

Boy oh boy will I insist that both my kids get a working knowledge of Spanish.

Sunday, May 28

The day of the last performance. For the first time, we can sleep in and have the afternoon free. After a nice breakfast of mangu (mashed plantains) and eggs, we wander around the city. Anna takes some alone time, which unfortunately is undermined by the friendly and/or hustling Dominicans who keep talking to her everywhere she goes. Jeb and I check out a flea market and wander down the the Plaza Hispanidad, where we watch some skinny young boys playing baseball. Then we see a Butoh-esque performance by an armed guard at the vault where all the revolutionary heros are buried. He walks every-so-slowly down a red carpet, then stands at attention for about 10 minutes before being replaced by another guard.

The final show is the best one for us as performers. For some reason, in the rage at the end of the “Ohio” section, I felt so full of rage — it was like a faucet was turned on and my body just went crazy. Maybe the terrible injustice of the poverty here? Whenever I travel, I am reminded of how lucky I am to have been born in the United States. Though I love the spirit of the Dominican people, I miss the freedoms of choice I take for granted at home.

After the show a big bunch of us go out for food and drink. For the first time since we arrived, we hang out with the Silverbrown dancers, who are lovely and fun. Stylistically, the are quite the opposite of Headlong, rehearsing all day, a two-hour company class every morning, etc. By contrast, Jeb and I drink beer into the wee hours and do a little contact to warm-up before the show. Mundo is so pleased with how everything has gone — the audience reception, the artistic exchange, the personal connections made. Jeb and Anna and I wholeheartedly agree. It’ll be sad to leave this place.

After the group hang, we go over to Jean and Renato’s grungy apartment. Jeb and I buy paintings from Renato, who only paints clowns and cats. We hang out more with Polibio, who has a brillant artistic mind and a great sense of humor. I hope to stay in touch with him. He’s had pieces in the Venice Bienale and the Havana Bienale, so I tell him I’ll see him in New York.

Monday, May 29

Mundo has arranged for the Americans to have a day or two at the beach at Boca Chica, a resort town about 20 miles from Santo Domingo. The hotel that donated the rooms is an all-inclusive resort populated mostly by Americans. It’s nice to sit on the beach and swim in the water, and drink pina coladas with the other dancers. But there is something surreal and disheartening about the lack of connection with the local culture here. After the depth of connection we had in Santo Domingo, it feels selfish and shallow. But rest is good, and tomorrow we go home!

Amy’s 2003 Kyoto Journal: Part 1

The initial exchange introduced us to the amazing Takeshi Yazaki. He and his company, Arrow Dance Communication, were our long-lost siblings, closer to us spiritually and artistically than any company we’ve ever encountered. We put together a project with Arrow and spent six weeks in Kyoto at the end of 2003, creating You Are So Beautiful. These journals are from that extended residency:

Amy’s 2003 Kyoto Journal

Part 1

After a crazy adventure (missed connection, unplanned stay in Dallas), we finally arrived in Tokyo. It felt like midnight, but we still had a full day ahead of us. We went to the performance space, which is in the Park Hyatt tower, where “Lost in Translation” was filmed. There, we were met by Lang, the English-speaking tech director, and a bevy of extremely efficient Japanese staff. Luckily, our living quarters were nearby at the Olympic Memorial Center, built in 1964 in fabulous moderne-Japanese style. The rooms were tiny, but beautiful, and there were amazing views.

After a delirious late-night run-through with our TAKE THREE translator, Mineko, we finally hit the sack. The next day, we had a rehearsal, then tech, then dress rehearsal, then performance. It would have been a super-busy day even if we had not been suffering jet lag. The other groups on the bill were from Russia and Costa Rica, so it was a very international and varied program. Unfortunately, the evening was billed as dances that use humor, which they did to very different degrees. The Russians were funny at times, and the Costa Ricans were absolutely unfunny.

We performed SWINGINGING and TAKE THREE. SWINGINGING went well, although really not very funny to the Japanese. TAKE THREE was a challenge — trying to work the translator into the dance and still staying true to the piece as we usually do it. But the audience seemed to enjoy it and we were happy with how it went.

The next day we did a short presentation at the Tokyo Performing Arts Market, the Japanese version of APAP. There we ran into Bill Bissell from Dance Advance, and Ellis Finger from Lafayette College. It was surreal to casually run into people we know from the States in the middle of Tokyo. Ritsuko, who is one half of the Japan Contemporary Dance Network, along with husband Nori, took the train with us back to Kyoto, where they live. She helped Rich and I get settled, showing us how to use our appliances and taking me to the supermarket. Thank god we can cook — it really helps us feel more normal when we can eat a home-cooked meal of something familiar, especially when the rest of the day is spent wondering what is in what we are eating.

The first day we had a lunch meeting with Takeshi (Arrow choreographer), Megumi (dancer and translator) and met their third dancer, Kentaro. We talked a little about possible ideas for the piece and how we could get to know each other.

So far now it has been about a week of rehearsal, with a usual schedule of 10-5 with a break for lunch. Every day a new person leads warm-up, which has been really fun. They vary from set exercises to very open dancing structures. People generally try to teach in their nonnative tongue, which is difficult, but fun. The day I lead, I tried to stick to patterns that are simple and repeat a lot, so that after learning them, we can just keep doing them, with “mouikkai” (repeat), and “hantai” (change) as the only imperatives. Learning the body parts has been hilarious. On the first day, I taught the Japanese the song “head, shoulders, knees and toes,” which we then also did in Japanese. That led to us playing with an idea that might actually end up in the piece, a song about body parts (for example, “hana, hara, hana, hara, hana, hara, me” = “nose, belly….eyes”).

One structure we have been doing a lot of at the end of warm-up is a get-to-know-ya sort of dance-making structure: we make a big circle, one person steps out into the middle, invites someone out to dance with them, and they make a dance. Others may join, too. Lots of nice following, contact, and short minimalist dances. Sometimes music informs the tone, but they are very open in style.

It is truly amazing how much we have in common with Arrow. All three of them are great funny people, and all three are dancers with lovely technique and very good improvisers — a rare combo. In terms of aesthetic, Takeshi is interested in a lot of the same ideas we are, even to the point of being just formal at first and letting content come later (this is a radical idea, I think, even in the States). He likes to use talking and singing in the piece and is into lots of different ways of working (give an assignment, set a structure, set movement to music, are all on the plate).

I worry a little about Headlong dominating the Arrowhead process, because we are three and Takeshi is one, and because we are doing most of the talking in English, and because Takeshi is by nature (and nurture, I suppose) a shyer person. But we have been fairly intentional about asking his opinion and giving him lots of decision-making power. So far, at least, I think the collaboration has been quite equal and mutual, and I am really excited about what we come up with.

I’ve also been really happy with Nichole and Christy’s participation, which has really been great. They bring a lot to the table, but know when to step back and let the many choreographic voices have their chat. Their teaching and dancing and connecting with Arrow has been a pleasure to see.

A brief list of some of the ideas we’ve been playing with:

Conversations in which one person speaks Japanese, one English. Dancers dance to the sound of the talking.

Singing “Nothing Compares to You” with upside-down faces while Megumi dances a solo.

Translating dance into English, Japanese, nonsense.

Women’s quartet – four sisters intertwining and competing.

Men’s quartet – a zen square dance to a slow sad country song.

A map of the U.S. made out of bodies. Amy leads Takeshi on a honeymoon/tour.

Amy sings a Japanese soul song while other women do a jazz dance based on classical Japanese gestures.

Duets, mostly one American, one Japanese. About connecting or not connecting.

So that’s all for now. We’ll just keep playing and working until the dance gets made!

Andrew’s 2003 Kyoto Journal

The initial exchange introduced us to the amazing Takeshi Yazaki. He and his company, Arrow Dance Communication, were our long-lost siblings, closer to us spiritually and artistically than any company we’ve ever encountered. We put together a project with Arrow and spent six weeks in Kyoto at the end of 2003, creating You Are So Beautiful. These journals are from that extended residency:

Andrew’s 2003 Kyoto Journal

Saturday, December 7, Chicago O’Hare

The thing about missing planes is that you encounter the full gamut of customer service responses. It’s not a rationalized market.

1) The cheery, Texan stewardesses on our three-hour delayed flight to Chicago, grin and say “Think positive.” And I have this great feeling… “you’re going to make that flight!” And “What is modern dance? That sounds so neat.”

2) The American Airlines telephone operator, reached on Christy’s cell phone as we agonizingly sit on the tarmac in Chicago waiting for a gate, offers a flight to Tokyo three days from now, refuses to connect her with a manager, yells, then hangs up on her.

3) The harried check-in clerk who, informed by me that there was another Tokyo flight leaving in ten minutes, first denies its existence, then says it’s with another airline, then says it’s with a partner airline but it’s full, then runs after me screaming “Even if it’s not full, you’ll never make it in time.” Think positive.

4) The eternally helpful Trish Kelly who, reached by cell phone, locates 6 beautiful seats from Dallas to Tokyo.

5) The heavenly midwestern Kolleen, mother of three boys, corrals her big-haired friend and they devote 25 solid minutes to confirming seats on a flight tomorrow from Dallas to Tokyo, getting an early flight to Dallas today, offering hotel discounts, rerouting our baggage, and booking all seven of us through with sweet phrases like “Let’s try to get you into Dallas early so you can get dinner and some rest.” And “Let’s make sure you get vegetarian meals.” And “Let me talk to my manager about getting you guys seats together.” And “If you talk vaguely about needing accommodation to the agents in Dallas, they’ll probably give a free hotel and dinner.” Like the high-functioning, well-connected grandma of your dreams, she saved us with way more action than talk.

I found the booth promoting tiny Sony gadgets (laptops the size of sandwiches, cameras the size of film canisters), sent a few warning emails to Japan about our 24-hour delay, grabbed a goat cheese and black bean burrito (hell, yeah), and waited at the sunny gate to fly to Dallas.

We will get to Japan, only a day late, in time to salvage our Tokyo performance.

Sunday, December 7, DFW International

We spent a oddly restorative night at the Holiday Inn Select at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. The hotel was a shocking den of corruption and Soviet-style bureaucracy. The restaurant was closed, BUT the bar served food, BUT children aren’t allowed in the bar BUT you can get food to go BUT if you want to eat in the lounge you have to order from the snack bar waitress BUT she has no idea how to take you order BUT she is happily insists on $80 of airline food vouchers for our $57 bill and another $30 cash for tip. The airport shuttle driver tries to coax a bribe out of me for asking for a 7:30 shuttle before confessing that they have to take us whenever we want. A cashier hands Christy far too little change when she buys a Coke, acts like she doesn’t understand, then relents and gives her the difference. Still, we manage to get thoroughly rested and set off for Japan feeling dyn-o-mite.

Tuesday, December 9, 3 pm, on the bullet train to Kyoto.

We made them laugh. We pried an astounding number of chuckles and giggles from their stingy mouths. TAKE 3 was the only dance of the evening, entitled “Humor in Dance,” that received any laughter from the attentive, quiet-as-a-tomb audience. Our first piece of the evening, SWINGINGING, is a silent women’s trio, usually accompanied by a respectable chorus of gigglers. In Tokyo, the sound of a man unwrapping a piece off candy in the ninth minute was the only sound that penetrated the black, black silence. The showcase was intended, in part, as a sort of object lesson for Japan audiences: IT’S OK TO LAUGH AT A DANCE PERFORMANCE! Several Japanese friends assured afterwards that the audience members were laughing “in here,” as they gestured toward their rib cages.

So after a dreadful dress rehearsal (TAKE 3 was tense and brittle and not at all funny), I was resolved to browbeat the audience into laughing. My opening speech, which had collapsed into a scripted rush in the face of the Japanese translation, was the key. I faced the 200 Japanese rib cages, determined not to give up until they were with me. I looked each one in the eye. I explained that this dance was inspired by a painful relationship with my (fictional) ex girlfriend Kate. At the mention of the name “Kate,” I had them. They laughed, they loosened. They were with us. David stepped up and as soon as he turned his head toward the audience, they were chuckling away.

The evening concluded with a 30-minute dance by a Costa Rican company, distinguished by being perhaps the least funny dance I have ever seen. Long, slow posture changes by a duet seated in wooden chairs (chair dances are a universal language), accompanied by booming, pompous music, with long blackouts so they could move the chairs to a new part of the stage. An onstage costume change provided the obligatory almost-nudity (upstage, dimly lit), scant relief from this choreographic roofie.

Like the anti-drug articles that inadvertently teach the reader how to crush up and snort oxycontin, “Humor in Dance” seemed to convince its audience that supposedly funny dance is best met by funereal quiet. If you must laugh, do it “in here.”

Sato-san (head of Japan Contemporary Dance Network, our sponsor in Japan, and and a real cutie, with a boyish grin and sparkly eyes) professed himself “very happy” with our performance, the Japanese equivalent of rolling on the floor and barking with glee.

A side note: Japanese dance lighting differs from American lighting in several key ways. Things tend to be lit more starkly, with sharply outlined boxes of light on the floor. Where in America, we shape the body with a lot of side light, in Japan they shape the space with crisp corridors and down spots. There is less varied use of color. No stage manager calls the cues, the board operator just sort of learns the piece and does it on the fly, making the dress rehearsal rough, but the performance great. And they have these incredibly long telescoping aluminum poles so they can adjust lights that are hanging up high without climbing a ladder or a genie lift. They extend these massive poles, which bend under their own weight, and delicately change a shutter cut or an angle 30 feet overhead. It’s like cleaning someone’s ear with a 30-foot Qtip: impressive, but of dubious necessity.

After the performance, we had a celebratory dinner at a restaurant, small pre-ordered dishes crowding the table as we drank beer and chatted with the two Russian dancers whose dance had made us laugh quite a lot.

This morning we packed up and sent six of our suitcases ahead to Kyoto. Here’s the story: I packed terribly. I didn’t start until midnight (before leaving for the airport at 5:00 am). So I packed two big rolling suitcases, but they’re not really that full, and I could have simplified it. And one of the rolling suitcases has a broken handle, so rolling it is like herding a large autistic dog. The Japanese were quite visibly horrified by the quantity of luggage we arrived with, so I burn with shame every time me and my autistic dog crash and bumble in view of our hosts. They convinced us, quite reasonably, to send most of our luggage ahead to Kyoto. The tragic and telling fact is that the six of us can’t manage our own luggage without help. With the two kids to manage, there just aren’t enough free hands to carry our staggering TEN suitcases and SIX smaller bags. We arrive like entitled 19th-century imperialists, waiting for Sherpa porters to take up our trunks filled with oyster forks and backgammon tables.

So this morning, Marie Takamoto, who seems to run the city of Tokyo single-handedly, came and helped us ship out our luggage (one weighed in over 25 kilos, and had to be lightened to avoid the Slipped Disc Fee). Then we set off awkwardly for our Video Presentation at the Tokyo Performing Arts Market, Japan’s big presenter conference. Unfortunately, we arrived ten minutes late. But more unfortunately, there was no one there to attend the presentation. So the three companies – Headlong, the Russians, and the Costa Ricans — sat as the Japanese proceeded to feel absolutely awful around us. The sense that this was a loss of face – a nightmare for the Japanese — meant they all completely shut down emotionally and administratively. As our lovely and amazing interpreter Mineko said, we should have photographed each face as they entered the empty conference room. The complete collapse of everything they believe in, the shame, the unbelievable discomfort. No one could stay in the room, it was just too awful, so it remained literally empty, a cavernous embarrassment shrine. Various functionaries opened the door, crossed the threshold, then turned and fled as if they had just walked in on someone masturbating. Bill Bissell arrived, disappointed that the presentation was (seemingly) canceled. Finally two more attendees arrive (perhaps to attend the next presentation, but no matter), and at 10:25 we were hustled into the conference room and the Russians began by playing a relentless 20-minute tape of a butoh-like solo, the dancer reciting Shakespeare sonnets in Russian as she tossed an inflatable sex doll in the air. He fast-forwarded with great purpose, gravely announcing “Next section” as the tape showed a scene indistinguishable from the last. There remained about 15 minutes for the last two groups, and we happily let go of our prepared presentation: a brief company intro, some talk about BRITNEY’S INFERNO, a video clip, and an announcement of our Arrow collaboration and Hotel Pool. We just squeaked in under the ironclad 11:00 deadline, stepping out in the hall to stand around like awkward wallflowers, hoping a presenter will ask us to dance. They never do.

Wednesday, December 10, 10:30 pm,
Yoshimizu Ryokan, Kyoto

It seems we are forever destined to become enmeshed in the Japanese tangle of shame, disapproval, loss of face, and poor planning. We are constantly having a high-status Japanese lay out a series of problems and say “Please, discussion.” This usually involves sitting around a low table late at night wandering through tatamae (official stated position) in a vain search for honne (actual opinion). Our decision not to stay at the unheated hostel we were booked into is now legend in Kyoto. Just this morning I met a dancer from Condors (a Tokyo company famous for being big, loud, and entertaining) who had been in town for less than 24 hours, and had already had more than one conversation about Americajin departure from Air Kyoto hostel.

We fled to the magical serenity of Yoshimizu, a ryokan (traditional inn) at the top of Murayama Park. It is one of the most sensual, lovely places I have ever slept: tatami mat rooms, sliding screens, low tables, two beautiful baths. David and I stayed here last time we were in Kyoto and it made a huge impression on us. Spending two days here with Nichole and Christy was delightful. The nighttime walk up through the park is magical.

So Ritsuko-san from the Japan Contemporary Dance Network (our hosts) made a blizzard of cell phone calls and we found two singles at a sort of business hotel/apartment place, and a sort of two-bedroom (one real bedroom, one small changing room) apartment over Nishikidori, a market street much like the Italian Market in Philadelphia. After some elaborate “Please, discussion” among Headlong, we are all getting situated.

Thursday, December 11, 11:30 pm,
Apartment on Nishiki-dori

I am now a real resident of Kyoto. I have an apartment. I have a Japanese cell phone (the first cell phone of my life). I have a bike with a basket. AND I HAVE GODDAMNED SLIPPERS THAT FIT ME! Thanks to a diverting detour to the 100-yen store (at 115 yen to the dollar, it’s cheaper than the Dollar Store), I got myself a pair of black stretchy-terry slippers for less than a buck. Things in Japan, often more expensive than USA (we paid 16 bucks to copy two keys), are occasionally much cheaper.

Christy and I had a hilarious trip to the supermarket that included:

  • Confusion about whether the “natural foods” section was a separate store with a separate checkout. Faced with this dilemma, we did what any fearful gaijin would do: we dropped all our natural foods and fled to the regular aisles.
  • Apples the size of an 8-year-old’s head. And they are delicious. Our attempt to set out a fruit bowl at our new apartment was foiled by the relative size of Japanese bowls (small) and apples (huge). Our bowls fit precisely one apple, less a cornucopia than a Magritte.
  • The which-sauce-is-it black hole. After several near disasters at Tokyo restaurants — Sato-san screaming in slow motion “No-o-o-o-o-o, eeeeeet’s nnnnnnnot soyyyyyy saaaaaaauce” as Amy grabbed the oyster sauce and tilted it toward her noodles — we were prepared for a sauce wipeout. Christy meticulously compared the English/kanji sign for “tamari” with the kanji on scores of bottles, and found some tamari.
  • Scallions that are two and a half feet long.
  • Self-bagging. True at most Japanese supermarkets. Cashier takes each item directly our of your basket, scans it, and places it in the basket left behind by the last person. You take that basket over to the bagging area, and your old basket becomes the transfer basket, and so on.

Sunday, December 14, 11 am, Red Rubber Ball Cafe

Laid-back french music (think Astrud Gilberto) plays as six Japanese cool cats and I sit drinking our coffee and the light-filled moderne Red Rubber Ball. The waitress speaks better English than anyone I have met here. She had “Rufus Wainwright” written on her hand in pen, showing that hipsterism is a truly universal language. Coffee here is $4.50, no refills (

never in Japan), but worth it for the warm smooth vibe. As the saucers read: “My favority pastime is spent the eating and drinking cafe.” Amen.

Last night a rather elaborate journey to a town outside of Osaka to a see a dance performance by a famous duo. (Apologies– I could understand the names after repeated attempts.) The piece began the “turn off cell phones” announcement (for the first time in my life, I had a cell phone to turn off; I have accepted the mark of the beast.)

(A slight divergence: cell phones in Japan are now offering two Orwellian services coming soon to a handbag near you: television reception, and position locator. You can now watch TV ALL THE TIME with certain Japanese phones. Eliminate those annoying moments between TVs, erase the last few remaining times of reflection: the train ride, the wait for a bus, the elevator. And you can find out the location of the person you are talking to. By triangulating cells, your phone can tell you approximately where your child, husband, political dissident is. The Devil will come dressed in a shroud of convenience.)

After the cell phone announcement, there was an INCREDIBLY long silence as the house lights stayed up and nothing happened. For a solid eight minutes, we sat there and NO ONE MADE A SOUND. It was an excruciatingly beautiful Japan moment: having been told the piece was about to begin, we would have sat motionless and silent forever. In Haruki Murakami’s “Underground,” his compilation of interviews with survivors of the Aum Shinrikyo nerve gas attacks on Tokyo subways, he recounts chilling stories of functionaries and salarymen going about their business even as their vision blurred, they lost control of their limbs, and they vomited uncontrollably. They simply could not be budged from the rutted grooves of their everyday road.

The dance was of a genre I adore, but its particulars lacked build and flow. Two dancers overtaken by gestural worlds and movement states, a charming, if predictable, interlude with hundreds of ping pong balls, and intrusive, boisterous music choices: marching bands, classical choirs. It was dynamically quite flat with more than one false ending, and though events occasionally recombined with a subtle puzzle logic, very little coherence or development.

We saw our friend Maho Semiji there — choreographer who took our workshops here last year — who bowed VERY deeply and offered an amazingly formal greeting in English, something like, “I am saddened by the long absence of Headlong Dance Theater director, and honor his return.” No high five, no “Wassup?” What’s a gaijin have to do to get a hug around here?

Monday, December 15, 6 pm, Red Rubber Ball Cafe

Just me now in the hipster cafe. A hilarious Sly and the Family Stone cover, delivered flatly in slightly accented English.

We have finished our first week of Arrowhead. This morning, Takeshi, Megumi, and I met to discuss the overall theme/concept for the piece. The general feeling in the group has been toward a more open, slightly abstract idea, nothing too narrative.

(A brief digression: the coffee here is so strong and good. In America, I start each day with a big old cappuccino, and the standard coffee here has been just as satisfying: dark, flavorful, and served with a tiny creamer full of heavy cream. Coffeehouse culture is really taking off here, sadly evidenced by the proliferation of Starbucks and Tully’s — an obvious Starbucks ripoff. When I told Megumi that I kept hearing the same samba music in different cafes, she said that there are certain CD sets for coffee houses that all the cafes buy.)

So we are working in a far more open way than Headlong usually does, which is exciting. Takeshi wants eight chairs or stools or cushions, and the dancers never to leave stage (all costume changes at the chairs). So that will be our spatial organization: shifting constellations of seats and bodies defining different spaces. And then a general them of “lining up:” divide, compare, (mis)translate, merge. That is how I wrote it in the meeting. This comes largely out of the material we have already generated. I estimate we have created about two hours of rough material so far; much will be discarded, some developed further, but all will contribute to our shared process.

Tomorrow we have a day off to think some things over and relax. Then I think the process may get a bit more focused: refining existing material and generating specific new ideas. We will probably divide up sections and rehearse two things at once a lot. We have four main directors, but really everyone is a choreographer, so our flexibility is immense. We have access to Takeshi’s sound designer, who can find, create, and mix music as needed. And we will play around with making some short video sections, cutting them if they don’t feel integrated.

I must stress the amazing connection we have with Arrow. When we dance together, there are amazing synergies of formal movement choices, character, relationship, and attention. I have never seen Headlong integrate so seamlessly with another group of artists. They are so like us, and yet they challenge and stretch our dancing, our process. After all the travel, the language barriers, and the cultural differences of coming to Japan, there is this immediate wordless connection when we dance together. This kinesthetic art form, so often a burden we carry in a language-centric world, is a magical space for connection, boldness, and humor across our cultural divide. I would work with these dancers all the time if I could. And it is immensely gratifying to find artists that share our questions, our impulses. We are not alone.

Both Christy and Nichole have made great strides in acquiring Japanese dance language, so warmups are peppered with “Ashi yubi” (toes) reaching, “Me sen hidari (look to the left),” and “Shinkokyu (deep breath).”

(OK, now some French woman is singing a samba version of “Day By Day.” That’s a first.)

I find real joy in trying to live Japanese. Putting away my futon and bedding each morning, changing into slippers for the 8-foot walk from the dirty shoes area to my bedroom, then kicking them off and walking sock-footed onto the tatami-mat floors. Riding my granny bike down one-way streets choked with pedestrians, tiny cars, and motorbikes. Eating noodles for breakfast. Buying just enough food for a couple days to fit in our lunch-box sized refrigerator. Taking cell phone calls as I sip my coffee. Eating miniscule cups of ice cream (about a quarter of an American scoop). Bowing. Giving constant sounds of assent while another is talking. Saying “Maybe, I think it’s good, yes? What you thinking?” Taking up as little space as possible at all times.

The Japanese have ingenious, often frugal, sometimes wasteful ideas about heat. Many spaces are unheated: hallways, entryways, toilets. And heaters are only turned on when people are in the room, so there is always a long warming up period in the studio. In this cafe, there are heaters on, but the door is wide open. All of us patrons have blankets over our laps. In many restaurants, there are space heaters underneath the sunken tables, creating a warmer space around your legs, an echo of the home tradition of a heater underneath your low dining table, and a sort blanket skirt surrounding it, so that when you kneel, your legs are in the warm under-space, and you don’t heat the room. Hot towels at restaurants provide an initial moment of warmth when coming in from the cold. Some bicycles have built in glove sleeves on the handlebars. I saw a front-mounted baby seat with a plastic windscreen shell enveloping a two-year-old, a toddler in a plastic bubble. Very few Japanese wear hats, and almost no one wears the knit ski-caps we all sport. Many schoolgirl uniforms have short skirts and no tights, exposing a lot of skin to the cold, often accessorized with 80s-vintage white leg warmers bunched around the ankles. Though it may provide a modicum of warmth, it seems more connected to the schoolgirl fetish than to their comfort.

Well, I’ve moved on to beer (birru), a seamless transition in this land of unregulated liquor. And the cell phone calls keep coming (from Takeshi, David, and Nichole). Now if I could only get TV on this damn phone…

David’s 2003 Kyoto Journal

The initial exchange introduced us to the amazing Takeshi Yazaki. He and his company, Arrow Dance Communication, were our long-lost siblings, closer to us spiritually and artistically than any company we’ve ever encountered. We put together a project with Arrow and spent six weeks in Kyoto at the end of 2003, creating You Are So Beautiful. These journals are from that extended residency:

David’s 2003 Kyoto Journal

December 6, 2003 En-route, Dallas to Tokyo.

Turns out Christy brought a walkman with a handful of CD’s. When she saw meflipping through the American Airlines Attractions magazine for a radio guide, she produced her set-up. I’m listening to Nirvana, Nevermind. Why, I don’t know. I wanted to listen to something moody and atmospheric, or soothing and melancholy. Maybe something I hadn’t heard before. Christy has tons ofmusic that’s super cool, that I’ve never heard and I usually like when I do hear it. I almost put on a band called Sparklehorse that I always love when Christy is playing it in her car. Instead I put on Nevermind — something old, familiar and insistent. And angry and self-hating. “I don’t have a gun” he says in the song over and over. And then in real life he goes and blows his head off. We’re just about 5 hours from Tokyo. Now I’m sitting in the bulkhead seats with Rich and Dexter. Richholds a book with arms cradled around Dexter whowatches “Finding Nemo” with enormous head phones that cover his 2-year-old ears and half his cheeks all at once. Now he’s playing wishbone with the headphones. And Amy has come and sat back down. She was in the back of the plane. Maybe talking to Andrew, Christy, Nichole and Ruby who are sitting in the very last row of seats. They are back by the lavatories and seem to function as the stewards lounge. We’ve all been popping “NO JET LAG” pills every two hours. These are from the same company that makes a product called “DRINK EASE.” The insert advertisement for that product says, “I’m never going to get another hangover.” How many times have you said that yet you keep doing it and suffer? Drink Ease, it turns out is a homeopathic remedy “designed for those who enjoy drinking.” We all got a good laugh out of that, but we know NO JET LAG works. Andrew and I took it last year when we flew to Japan. The trick is to stay awake for the first day in Japan and go to bed at a normal time. No naps! Our bodies will feel like its 2 in the morning when we arrive but it will be 3 in the afternoon in Tokyo. If we make it to a normal bedtime without sleeping, then we will wake up the next morning completely adjusted. Such is the power of NO JET LAG. Yesterday’s crisis has quickly helped us to feel our contours as a group. We are a sudden community of eight joined differently than when we are five headlongers rehearsing in Philadelphia. Its not just the addition of Rich and the kids. ts the animal of us as a group, navigating a new terrain away from our full, complex Philly world of jobs, spouses, friends and lovers. Yesterday, for a while we thought we would have to cancel our Tokyo performance. Our late flight into Chicago meant we missed our connection to Tokyo and American said no room on flights until Sunday which meant us getting to Tokyo too late. But then Trish, Nichole’s step mom located a flight out of of Dallas. So we flew to Dallas to spend the night and take the flight to Tokyo the next day. It worked. And there was some small shared joy last night after our brutal day of continental hopscotch as we laughed together about the absurdity of finding ourselves in Dallas instead of Tokyo. Honestly, I was glad for a good night’s sleep and a little more transition time before getting to Japan. My life has been screaming along way too fast for too many months before this. I’ve been doing a hundred on a highway and the road just ended at the edge of a cliff. Now, I’m sailing through air. I have a chance to turn my mind to what’s in store: the collaboration with Takeshi, Megumi and Kentaro. I’m excited. Its only now beginning to dawn on me. All has been bureaucracy and frantic scheduling until now — an abstract plan. But now its begun; we get to make a dance. Together, 5 of us, with 3 of them. I can’t wait to see Takeshi and Megumi again, whom Andrew and I made a quartet with a year and half ago in Kyoto. And I can’t wait to be back in Kyoto, the most wonderful city I have visited. I wonder if it will still feel that way in early winter instead of early summer. I haven’t even thought of Tokyo. We spend the first few days in Tokyo where we perform in the Jade Festival before heading to Kyoto for the rest of our time to actually make the dance. In Tokyo we will be performing in the ballroom of the Hotel that “Lost in Translation” was filmed in. We are to perform TAKE 3 and SWINGINGING. But right now I wish we were headed straight to Kyoto, land that I love. According to the creeping airplane graphic on the in-flight gps map we are where the Sea of Okhotsk meets the Pacific. We have 3 hours to go to Tokyo, 1123 miles. Then we go, with all our stuff, right to the ballroom for a meeting and then, god help us, to a rehearsal. We’ll see if we we make it!

December 9, 2003

Tokyo to Kyoto.

We’re on the bullet train, Tokyo to Kyoto. Christy clapped her CD headphones on me. Its the band Modest Mouse singing a song that says, “Ohio, Ohio, O-hi-o gozaimasu” over and over. Ohio Gozaimasu means good morning in Japanese. The single most said phrase so far on our journey. By us and to us. We all reinforce our language acquisition. Ohio gozaimasu we say to each other over and over as we see each other for the first time each morning. Dwellings upon dwellings, valleys, mountains near and far, and occasional fingers of water rush past us. More than urban Tokyo, this says Japan, Japan, Japan, you are really in Japan. Strange little pyramids of something that looks like hay lay bundled in the farm fields we pass. Neat rows that stripe across small squares of dun. I can’t help thinking of the swollen haymows that dot rural America: fat, rolled plugs. These tiny, elegant teepees on their neat patches of earth are hemmed in by low houses and apartments that carpet the land as far as the eye can see, up to the feet of the distant mountains. Often, the train is boring through mountains and we don’t see anything but black. Upon arriving in Tokyo we endured a painful 2 1/2 hour bus ride from the airport to the Park Hyatt to see the space. Painful, because by then we were sick to our stomachs with exhaustion. Ruby and Dexter were as much a mess as us adults and giving voice to it. And we were crushed by the convoy of luggage we had to tote around: 11 enormous bags in addition to our backpacks and carry-ons. The bus was stifling hot. Our bodies knew it was 3 in the morning, though Tokyo pretended it was 5 in the evening. We finally made it through the interminable Tokyo traffic: picture a suburban rush hour in the U.S. and times it by about 50 and you start to get the picture. I think it took 45 minutes to get the few blocks from the highway exit into Narita to the Park Hyatt in the center of Narita. Narita is the section of Tokyo where we were staying and performing. The odyssey of getting all our bags plus children through the park Hyatt building complex to the ballroom confirmed Rich Kaufman as a hero for the ages. Depleted state notwithstanding, he nimbly hoisted a cranky child in his arms while towing a stack of luggage down steep stairways, through finicky mall-like concourses of shoppers, and into utility corridors and service elevators. All with nary a raised voice or harsh word: a saint. The ballroom was a splendor to behold. Picture a white room ceilinged by moderne, dimpled cubes that lower and raise to any height in the two story air. A press of Japanese techies are hanging and focussing lights when we peek in, so several of these five foot by five foot square cubes float at different heights in the space. A spectacular, breathtaking room. Sadly, this giant, white room is being converted into a black box theater for our performance. Descending cubes will all be pulled back into the ceiling. The temporary stage will be hung with black and floored in black marley. The generic and neutral has triumphed over the fabulous and singular, so that we artists may reliably re-create our own visions without any taint of context. And to be fair, at least three different companies need to be able to perform in this space and who knows what moods their pieces need to evoke. But I mourn not being able to dance in the cool, white dimpled palace of floating cubes. Here we are greeted by Sato-san and Ritsuko. My heart jumps for joy. I have missed them. They are JCDN (The Japanese Contemporary Dance Network) who hosted Andrew and I in Kyoto a year and a half ago and are sponsoring our performance with Arrow in Kyoto at the end of our collaboration. And Nori (Sato-san) presented our work to the other Jade festival programmers to get us into our Tokyo performance. They are a couple on a mission to open up more space for contemporary performance in tradition-bound Japan. Without Nori and Ritsuko there would be no Headlong in Japan. But more than that, they are wonderful people. Passionate, playful, and incredibly hardworking. When Nori laughs, which is often, his eyes get this most mischievous glint. And Ritsuko disarms with these exhausted, wry looks. I feel I should write about the actual performance. Why is that so hard? It went fine. TAKE 3 was difficult as always. Often, the frustration of rehearsing it gives way to joy in performance for me. Not this time. Couldn’t find the right rhythm, the right touch. hat piece is the most challenging act of consciousness. Working with an interpreter wastricky, although Meneko did an awesome job. SWINGINGING rocked, the three ladies performing and intricately improvising with their usual jaw-dropping virtuosity and brilliance. The structure for SWINGING is Andrew’s brainchild and its one of my favorite all-time dances. I just can’t believe its happening every time I see it. Its simple, simple, and then accumulates shocking density all at once. It speaks to my hidden minimalist. Very hidden, since my tendencies are towards the complex, the simultaneous, the expansive profusion. When SWINGINGING ends and the stage goes black, a single plaintive voice wails out “mommy.” Dexter wonders where Amy has disappeared to in the mysterious dark. And it reminds me that I, too, am often left with a small longing when the lights go down, and some lovely, intricate world vanishes so radically and permanently. December 14th First Night. Okay, so our arrival in Kyoto quickly turned into a situation fraught with our deepest fears. We arrive at an unheated artists’ hostel, which is supposed to serve as our home for the next 5 weeks. We promptly decide not to stay there. Turns out that is easier said than done and we are deeply enmeshed in that most difficult of American-Japanese maneuvers: nitty-gritty negotiating. his happens in light of a complex set of previous agreements and financial transactions made by Takeshi and Megumi. Which means that we are putting our hosts in a most uncomfortable position. The owner of the hostel is a personal friend of Takeshi’s and an arts advocate in this tight knit community. He runs a performance space for contemporary performance to boot. Oh the angst and exhaustion on all sides. And we’re starving and cold, and there are no good solutions, and above all there is no way for anyone to save face. Just blunt, blunt Americans saying no way. I am sure Andrew has written about this night in detail so I’ll skip it for the most part, except to say that I was terrified this harsh beginning would wreck the good will we needed to have a satisfying, hopefully joyful collaboration. We are to spend the next two and half months together after all. But it all worked out, truly and fully. No lingering ill effects on our affection, excitement and energy in the studio. Not right away, but over the next couple of days all was put to bed. And as for that first night–we ended up at our cherished Yoshimizu ryokan where we had lived last time we were in Kyoto: a magnificent, traditional Japanese home nestled amongst the shrines and footpaths of Muryama Park. Expensive, but heavenly. First Day Dancing. First day’s rehearsal confirms my expectations about this project. For reasons I can’t fully explain, our bodies speak the same language in the studio. Our visceral sensibilities are freakishly similar. The mix of abstraction, theatricality, formalism, physical thrill and intelligence, interpersonal fearlessness and sensitivity–all this and more it seems like we share in similar degrees. For the first day, Megumi led a warm-up. Then I set up some structures for us to dance together. I wanted us to feel each other, manifest our dancing selves with each other; begin to discover and embrace each other and lay the groundwork for pushing each other’s idiosyncratic, composing selves. For about 25 minutes we danced duets while short pieces of music (half a minute to 3 minutes) played off my iBook in the corner. We stood in a hippy circle and one person would enter and pick another to dance–improvised duet after duet. I love the first moment someone enters the space and chooses. Such a moment of desire and will, no matter how low key. Its in the structure. You have to pick and there are a million reasons why you might pick one person or another, but you do have to pick, to decide, to follow through with the leap into the unknown of intimately interacting with the presence of another person. The second structure comes from my beloved mentor Richard Bull — a performance and rehearsal structure called “Visions.” The same short piece of music (45 seconds to a minute) plays over and over. (This time we danced to Erik Satie: Meditation, A Albert Roussell) Each dancer leads one “vision” or round of the song. The other dancers enter and support or elaborate the material the leader has begun. A vision can have any number of dancers in it, preferably a mix over the course of all the visions: solos, duets, trios, and so on. Everyone dances the last one. That means we did 9 visions since there are 8 of us. I love the way this structure forces you to compose instantly, to see as fully as possible what is happening and make it cohere. The dance is so short that you must act and compose with instantaneous, full commitment. No getting bogged down in the daunting complexities of possibilities. And the redundancy of the music emphasizes the sense of a known terrain in which much is possible, but not so much that you can’t focus or push against something. Its a perfect structure. The visions were lovely, everyone expertly led and followed, and followed through on the developing logic of each vision. Or, someone might sensitively transgress the developing rules. Its hard to describe this exactly. We are on the same page when it comes to the development of form and conversely, the limits of formal logic. It seems important to note that we don’t have this degree of consonance when we step into the studio with other dancers and choreographers closer to home, whether they are experienced improvisers or not. How is it that we Americans and they Japanese arrive at this similarity of sensibility and skill coming from such different places? And indeed I believe we arrive here on pathways forged from radically different starting points. Lastly I split the group in two and gave a choreographic assignment. I thought it important that we feel out actually making something together, not just improvising together. I wanted us to feel how communication might work between us all as we suggest and refine ideas for working on a particular, intended thing. Not just to see how we communicate and collaborate as artists, because I have a great deal of faith in that. But more, how the technical problems of speaking different languages affects our ability to share ideas. Of all of us, only poor Megumi is fluent in both Japanese and English. So we had to feel it out before there was too much at stake in the developing dance. I made two groups out of the pack of us: Takeshi, Amy and Nichole in one group; Megumi, Andrew, Kentaro and Christy in the other group. I decided at the last minute to sit out I am not sure why. I wanted to observe what happened, how the different groupings might function differently. I wasn’t sure it was wise to hold myself apart, but I went with my impulse anyway. Both groups created lovely, coherent short dances in the space of half an hour. We performed them for each other and then I had each group meet and discuss the other groups efforts. They were to come up with a suggestion to give to the other group for pushing the material further, or refining it further in some direction. I wanted us as artists to begin to be able to critique and make specific choices together. That second stage of editing and refinement, after stuff has been generated can be such a pitfall in collaboration. Strong, visionary choices need to be made in service of the work itself, not in terms of egos and ownership. And I thought this might be a friendly way to get our comfort levels up around that kind of pushing of the work. Each groups suggestions were generous, insightful and pushed the work. The two groups went back and worked more on their dances for about 5 more minutes and showed again. Exciting and better dances had emerged. Amy, Takeshi and Nichole showed a formal and evocative face dance, a shifting 2 and 1 structure that began with Nichole’s and Takeshi’s outrageously elastic, expressive faces shifting in response to each other. Between them sits Amy, back to the audience. The trio ends with them on their backs, heads uncomfortably cocked back towards the audience singing “You are so beautiful” through strained throats. Whereas group one was contained, formal and very theatrical, group two is looser, spacious and very physical. Megumi, Andrew, Kentaro and Christy begin spread out, each in their own odd, physical world. Christy sighs something plaintive and unintelligible. The dancers coalesce around her in a frantic ineffectual community of concern. Suddenly, the community unifies: Kentaro is the problem and they menace him. But when they attack, instead of ripping him to shreds, they hoist him high and flap his gangly wings into the air. Amy finished the day with the children’s game, “head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…” An inspired idea. We played it in English and then in Japanese and so began to learn the Japanese words for body parts, which we have been using constantly in rehearsal ever since. December 17 Rolling Along and The Ecstasy of Kyoto. Okay, so I am the slowest of the group to pick up on the language. But I fantasize that my algorithm of learning simply follows a different trajectory. After some period of slow absorption and gestation, I am going to leap ahead with full blown sentences and canny phrase choices. My Japanese friends will reward me with spontaneous oooohs and wowwwws. Meanwhile my senses, if not my linguistic centers, are processing at full tilt. The ecstasy of transitions: Here in Japan, change ofspace and activity and interaction are marked in small, unavoidable, sensual ways. There are rituals of transitions, so that I am always conscious and carefully so, of each new situation, each tiny shift of geography: the slippers on, the slippers off. The heat turned on, the heat turned off, as one passes from the warmth of a room inhabited into the iciness of a room just starting to be occupied. The cooking of a meal can’t sprawl into a simultaneity of actions, a homogeneity of attention. Instead, space imposes a temporal discipline, each part of cooking requiring its own focus: one must chop this, set it aside, clean up, free up a dish and some space and then chop that. Then, when all is ready, and each phase of preparation has in its turn been completed, and space and dishes recovered, one may cook, fast as possible on the one burner, so that one thing is not cold before the second has been warmed. Thank god for the mandatory rice cooker in every kitchen, no matter how otherwise spartan its furnishment. Muryama park is a joy. I love the shrines ensconced in permanent gloam amidst the intimate sprawl of footpaths, ponds and bridges. Every time I go out I am constantly, vainly, trying to match the comportment of the japanese as my huge, careening body attempts to slip amongst the bustling crowds. I can’t stop myself from squeezing down the mad, market streets so that I may gaze upon the most breathtaking array of mushrooms. In these cases, I don’t care whose way I get in. I must study the alien fungus to decide if I want to buy the bouquet of tiny, tendrilled, spotted ones, or the enormously fat, cartoon specimens that come individually wrapped. Best of all maybe, is biking down the tiny side streets in the middle of the night, the cold, exhilarating night. This happens in quiet Kyoto, the biker slightly abuzz from beers around a small, sunken table in a very warm and very intimate restaurant whose soft, secret glow is carved into the pervasive subterranean gloom that lurks just off any major street. The dance rolls along. Four days rehearsal, I think. We have a dozen small dances that we could delve backinto. But already time feels like it is runningshort. We need to make some decisions that will allow us to push deeper into this thing. Everyone is such aspectacular performer, such lovely, strange, generous beings. We have to live up to that. The potential is so great. But so far we haven’t been able to really set the sail and run out into the wide open sea. We’re sloshing around the harbor right now. But soon, I feel sure, we’ll find the mouth and summon the wind and we’ll be streaking into unknown waters full tilt and sure.