Sunday, December 21, 2008

the AOMC's Fundraising Mail Campaign, Winter 2008

First off, an explanation of the proliferation of posts: i'm on vacation, and finally have time to pick up some of the things i love doing, such as this, that i usually don't have time for. Don't be overwhelmed, take your time. I think they're worth reading though, so i'm hoping the quantity doesn't discourage you. More rehearsal videos to come after the break.

So i wanted to do a short post (before i run to catch my bus to DC) on the AOMC's fundraising status, as we've just sent out our first big mail campaign for the season.

In past mail campaigns (2006 and 2007 respectively) we've raised $3,125 (36 donors) and $2,400 (29 donors) The second season we were worried that there would be less donations due to a number of factors, the primary one being more donations in the first year from family/friends who wanted to help me start, but didn't plan on being regular donors. However, while this trend proved true, we were nonetheless pleasantly surprised by the campaign's return. I would LOVE for this season to return to the high 30's donor range. This season, there are a few big factors that make me very nervous about what we'll earn. However each has a counterpoint:

1. Horrible Economy. Point: Hard times for everyone, all different types of donors are feeling the pull, state support dwindling, etc. Counterpoint: with a bad economy, many private donors feel responsible for supporting the arts. Additionally, the arts have always been poor. We know how to function with very little money, so we're a good investment in a down economy.

2. Timing. The jury is still out on this one, but i keep going back and forth on whether the proximity to xmas/new years will help or hurt. Point: people have just spent a lot of money and are now trying to save. Counterpoint: xmas spirit breeds generosity and charity, plus people are trying to get in their tax-deductible donations before the new year.

3. Location. Point: What incentive does our donor base (mainly MD and DC residents) have to support a company that is now located in NY? Also, the NY dance world is completely different from DC's, and i feel very unsure about what to expect in terms of NY donors. Counterpoint: Hopefully, we'll get some of that "just starting out" support again, since it's our first NY season. Additionally, though it won't help for this season, we'll hopefully be developing a strong constituency of NY donors this season who will end up being our main supporters and repeat donors in the future.

4. Donor Profiles. Point: most of our "community" in terms of potential donors are artists and/or students. Young, less likely to donate. More likely to think that "it's not their place or prerogative" and to leave it up to "the people who have money" who in turn leave it up to "the people who really care about that sort of thing", who have no money to donate. Counterpoint: none really, other than increased effort to fundraise among students and artists.


In past years, we’ve only sent out one letter to all of our mailing list. This year, however, I felt that we had really reached a point where we needed to craft two different messages: one for those who had previously donated to the AOMC (and thus knew about the company’s history and mission) and one for people who hadn’t donated before, both long time viewers and new members of our community. I wanted to be able to thank those who had gotten us so far already, and at the same time be able to deliver a slightly more action oriented message to potential donors, most of whom are our age and artists. I therefore sent out two letters - same general idea with a few differences. Here they are (click on the pics for a more readable size):

Main Fundraiser Letter

Previous Donor Fundraiser Letter

And then here's the donation form that was included in each mailing (with a pre-addressed stamped return envelope)

In addition to the two letters, we've also upped the effort in our approach to online fundraising. I'll of course post some information here about how to donate, and we've also sent a message to our facebook group and are in the process of adding the "how to donate" message to our youtube and profiles. Additionally, a new AOMC newsletter will go out within the next week or so with the lead story being our fundraising campaign. While we're not quite done (and have yet to receive the DTW go ahead) with the newsletter text and the blog text, here's our language for the online sites. Each is a little different, but you get the idea. Here's facebook:
"All of us at the A.O. Movement Collective love that you're supporting our work by keeping in touch with us digitally! We want to keep bringing you innovative and exciting projects, and the number one thing you can do to make that a reality is to make a contribution - right here right now! We know that our supporters are students, artists, and revolutionaries - people who don't have wads of money to throw around - but think about this: if every member of this group donated just $10 (less than seeing a movie, proposing to your partner, or buying a new pair of jeans), we would have enough to self-produce an ENTIRE SHOW next year!

All you have to do is GO TO THIS SITE

and specify in the form that you want to donate to SARAH A.O. ROSNER on the drop down menu. To donate by mail, and for more information on how we use donations, check out our website. It's tax deductible* and can officially be considered your "good deed", "act of charity", or "protest against lack of arts funding" for the week! Also, we'll be eternally grateful.

*Sarah A.O. Rosner is a member artist of Dance Theater Workshop, Inc., a non-profit tax-exempt organization. Contributions in support of Rosner's work are greatly appreciated and may be made payable to Dance Theater Workshop, Inc., earmarked for "the Dance Theater Workshop member project of Sarah A.O. Rosner." A description of the work and current project activities for which such contributions will be used are available from Rosner or Dance Theater Workshop, upon request. All contributions are fully deductible to the extent allowed by law. (Note: A copy of Dance Theater Workshop's latest annual financial report filed with the New York State Department of State may be obtained by writing to the N.Y.S. Dept. of State, Charities Registration, 162 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY, 12231, or to Dance Theater Workshop, 219 West 19th Street, New York, NY, 10011)"
As i mentioned in the last fundraising post, my reason for posting all this information (which, i've been reminded by some, is more valuable if i keep it my business secret) is that i understand how immensely helpful it was for me to have something to go off of when i started working on my first one. With each letter i feel that i've been able to make some vast improvements (both in terms of language and design), and i understand that there's always room to improve. I welcome any comments or insights about what works for you and what doesn't. Additionally, if you have a recent fundraising approach or letter you'd like to add to the conversation, please feel free to post it, or send to me.

I've just started receiving mail donations, so i'll keep you updated on how this campaign goes, and all the details of what we raise. Fingers crossed!

Happy Holidays!

Found this on the countercritic blog (my new exciting find of the week!) and thought you'd enjoy.
Though humor was primary, it also brought up some notions of engagement/conflict/elocution that we'd investigated in tony's class. Check it out!

Oh, and if you haven't seen Mark Morris's "Hard Nut" see it see it SEE IT!

You can find it at some libraries, or order it off of amazon or the MMDG website. It's one of my favorite holiday traditions. Happy Holidays to you and yours from the Urgent Artist!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Review: Alastair Macaulay's "Consequences of Going to Tape"

As i posted below, a few days ago this article by Alastair Macaulay appeared in the New York Times. As it's one of my goals for this year to become more well read in terms of the dance world, i've switched my homepage over to the Times's page of dance reviews, and so was greeted by this one as i pulled myself out of bed. I read it, and had to read it again to make sure i wasn't misreading or misinterpreting it - one of those situations where you go "he said WHAT?!?!?!.......No.....that can't be right......oh."

In the article, Macaulay discuses the decline of using live music at dance performances (he seems to be talking about ballets, Ailey, and other "uptown" performances, although he doesn't clarify those specifically, nor does he limit himself to a discussion of solely those companies). He points out that, specific to Ailey's last season (although, the reader wonders by the end of the article if he doesn't feel this way about all dance) that "there are moments when it’s almost as good to look at the singers as it is to watch the dancing" and later, "the musicians are the main event".

Now, don't get me wrong, I think Macaulay's heart is in the right place, and i understand and agree with the just of his arguments:
there's a certain power and seduction of seeing a performance with live music, it allows for a different relationship between the dancer and the music, one that allows spontaneous and often exciting musicality on the part of the dancer, that, if the company uses taped music, it's often most effective (which i understood as easiest to watch) when it's used to achieve a nostalgic, artefactual, or kitsch effect, and that companies even such as Ailey, amidst our breathing it's last lifeless breath economy, are canceling shows and "turning to tape" (a phrase which perhaps further indicates the extent with which Macaulay is out of touch with modern technology, among other things). He even spends a paragraph or two illuminating how financially unfeasible it is for companies to support live music, based on a previous article by Joan Acocella. He writes:
"In 2005 the Graham company was able to give a two-week season with a live orchestra of 28 players, but the cost - Joan Acocella, reviewing in The New Yorker, reported at the time — was $184,000. The same month a Mark Morris season with six instrumentalists and eight singers cost, for four performances, $35,000. Ms. Acocella (also reviewing the excellent Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, which had three instrumentalists and a vocalist) remarked: “In these days of near-zero public funding for dance, one assumes that the companies more or less killed themselves to raise that money, and the result made all the difference in the world. Dance audiences, I believe, have now got used to taped music, and you can get used to it, the same way you can learn to eat Spam instead of ham, or breathe smog instead of air. Your life is just diminished, and you don’t realize it until you see concerts such as we saw last month.”
He also looks at the Miami City Ballet's predicament:
“Live music for programs this season would cost the company $480,000, and as of Dec. 4, 2008, $188,281.83 had been raised,” the release says. The company’s board, it says, determined that “the goal would not be met.” Such stories have occurred elsewhere; more will follow."
Reading this, my first reaction was a positive one to the article - glad that a reviewer was doing his part to look at an important and negative trend that's happening as a result of the dance economy, and also glad for a dance article that wasn't just about what the reviewer had seen and what they personally thought about it. Macaulay had laid out all the information, and as i followed the link to the second page, i was ready for his pointed yet poignant conclusion, perhaps with a suggestion about how the dance world could utilize this power of live music to gain enough money to afford it.

Oh, but that second page.

In the conclusion of the article, Macaulay makes a few statements that i find to be completely flatly inexcusable for someone who acts as the leading dance critic for the New York Times to be making.
Macaulay goes on to lament the "turn to tape" (meaning use of non-live music) in the dance world (here meaning Ailey and other uptown, well funded, lyrical modern and ballet companies) or as he also deems it, "indifference to musicians", and expresses distress over choreographers choosing specific recordings of arias or symphonies that are not (he seems to think) the 'best' or 'most interesting' versions. He also expresses a fair amount of distress over companies not listing the music in their programs (which, for the record, irks me as well) admitting "I was much more interested in trying to identify that recording than I was in watching the choreography." But that's not the worst. Macaulay then closes the article with this which, because there's really no way for me to sum it up or make it worse than what he actually wrote, i'll just give to you here:
"I’d rather see smaller companies in smaller theaters, where dance still feels like music making...

A flamenco dancer at a Dance Critics Association conference once stated this rule: If you see flamenco to taped music, it’s not real flamenco. The rule should apply outside flamenco, too. When you’re hearing taped music, don’t be too sure you’re seeing real dance. As we enter dark financial days, this battle must be fought and fought again."

Really? This strikes me, as a choreographer, as...well...wrong. And i'm pretty sure that i'm one of the people in the position to point that out. Let's analyze this for a moment so we can pick out what's wrong with this statement:

1.) "I’d rather see smaller companies in smaller theaters, where dance still feels like music making" - While that may be true, and Mr. Macaulay is certainly entitled to his opinion, let me remind him that those dance companies may not have an interest in smaller theaters, or for that matter (hold on Alastair, this may come as an unwelcome shock to you) making dances that feel like music making. They may in fact be interested in making dances that feel like visual artwork, storytelling, abstraction or (are you ready for it?) dancemaking. Movement. Aesthetics of the moving body in time and space. That's why dance is a different art form from music. Because it's not music, and doesn't have the goal of being music. Now, tell me if i'm overreacting. Is it wrong that it alarms me that the lead NYT dance critic is upset when dance fails to "feel like music making"?

Don't get me wrong. I do understand that Macualay's argument is mainly for companies, such as the New York City Ballet and Alivn Ailey where the spectacle and presentation of the baroque aesthetics of the company seem to be in the forefront. I do understand that, for a company interested in such musically-driven work, that after the decision is made to give the music that large a role in the piece, one must then at least consider the implications of not delivering a quality of sound as important and immediate as the role of the music is professed to be.
However. Dance. Is. Not. Music. Making. Dance. Is. Dance. Making. It doesn't matter the genre, the aria, or how much the dance longs for the power of live accompaniment. It is it's own art form. Let me say it again: Dance has no obligation to be or support music. Dance is dance.

2.) "The rule should apply outside flamenco, too." Maybe i'm wrong to imply this, but dance styles are different precisely because they each hold a set of different values, aesthetics, and rules, all of which can then be followed, evolved, or broken by each piece/choreographer/company. The role of line and upright carriage is what makes ballet not modern dance. Agreeing to the seduction of gravity rather than remaining upright against it is what makes contact improv a form. It follows then that the dance's relation to music might be different per genre. Yes, live music is vital to flamenco (although would it surprise me to find a company that argued otherwise? No. Would I agree with them? Maybe.), but it is not for a number of other dance forms. Even understanding that Macaulay is (although he doesn't clarify) speaking of Ailey and ballet, forms to which music is clearly vastly important, the implication that one genre's rule is again, coming from the NYT lead critic, is deeply troubling.

3.) "When you’re hearing taped music, don’t be too sure you’re seeing real dance." Really, Mr. Macaulay? Really? Because i'm pretty sure that i've seen some damn good dance that been to recorded music. Or no music, even. He's not talking about postmodern dance, clearly, but the fact that he doesn't find an analysis of why it matters to which forms necessary to his argument is troubling at best, and willfully ignorant at worst. Dance, believe it or not, is, as we've stated, it's own art form.

4.) His conclusion is perhaps the most troubling to me.
"As we enter dark financial days, this battle must be fought and fought again." Rather than suggesting alternatives for fundraising, rather than thinking about how we could turn the deficit of music funds into a suportive relationship between these arts (for, while the music world is clearly in the same econmy we are, musicians are getting by famously compared to the dance world), Macualay suggests that we just keep on trucking. Don't pay the dancers what they're worth, or even at all. Don't pay for healthcare or insurance, don't work towards sustainability. Don't invest in new media or technologies that will take us into the future. Don't work on dancers not having to have "real jobs", but by all means, have live music. That's what's really important.

It is disappointing and frustrating that Alastair Macualay is the head dance critic for the New York Times. Moreover, it is unfair and unhelpful to the dance world, both the artists within it and the potential audiences without.

Mr. Macaulay, I declare war.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Mobile" vs. "Stabile"

Returning from the Calder exhibit at the Whitney (where i was so graciously taken by Darla's art-loving parents) I find myself very excited about a new term I learned at the exhibit - a "stabile".

Alexander Calder, now famous for his ceiling-attached slightly-moving abstract modern art, had a great deal of works that were both stationary (as in not moving at all, ever) and semi-stationary (for example, a wire sculpture that doesn't re-arrange in relation to itself, but does move via the vibrations and indirect movements of those walking by and looking at it). I was reading on one of the walls that Jean Arp coined a term for this type of Calder's work - "Stabiles".

Defined as "an abstract construction that is completely stationary" the text at the exhibit noted that the point of deeming these works "stabiles" was to relate them to their moving counterparts, mobiles. In doing so, Calder was showing that these stationary works were mobiles too - only with these, the movement, shifting perspective, and kinetic nature of the art came from the viewer's movement, not the sculpture's.

Neat, right? I think it's a lovely concept, and one that's immediately relatable (at least for me...) to dance and dance film. While i think the most logical connection is to look at pieces where the audience is asked to move and change perspectives, there's not really my cup of tea and, having never made one, it would be a brief and unthurough analysis. However, i think that looking at dancefilm through the structure of "mobile" vs. "stabile" can be quite illuminating.

Here's how it makes sense to me:
If we're looking at it analytically from a kinesthetic point of view, it seems we have four options.
1.) camera stationary, dancers stationary
2.) camera moving, dancers stationary
3.) camera stationary, dancers moving and
4.) camera moving, dancers moving.
While there are certainly a million shades of gray (what happens when you have multiple dancers, some moving some not? are we defining movement spatially? viscerally? etc) almost all situations are at least comprised, at a base level, of these four options. In that case, since the camera takes the role of the viewers perspective, we could also look at it with this parallel:
1.) camera stationary, dancers stationary - "Super-stabile" (or whatever.)
2.) camera moving, dancers stationary - "Stabile"
3.) camera stationary, dancers moving - "Mobile"
4.) camera moving, dancers moving. - "Ultra-mobile"
While, at first glance, this might look like a spectrum from least to most movement, I don't think it is. As i've often argued, the way to kill a dance is to film it from a stationary tripod. Which is not to say that you can't create a stationary shot that really conveys a sense of movement, it's just to point out that sometimes a moving shot can convey movement in a more visceral way (take, if you will, the camera movement for kiss in the elevator in Bazz Luhrman's "Romeo + Juliet" - tiny clip w/i the preview - versus the (okay, semi-)stationary footage of Beyonce's "Single Ladies").

Though you could spend time arguing that one conveys movement better than the other, i'd be satiated just agreeing that they convey it differently - one wants you to see the dancing for all it's aesthetic and visceral glory, and one wants you to experience that glory viscerally as the camera moves for you.

This has been on my mind of late, because we're getting closer and closer to being able to film Julia's solo for the new piece ("Glass Tree in Harlem"). The basic question has been (as it is whenever i make a dance film): what is the best way to film this as to make an art of it in it's own right? I don't want to make an artifact of the performative version - i want to make a dancefilm - and so an intersecting and re-working of the performative version's aesthetic into an aesthetic that combines the technique of both dance and film is necessary. So how to do it? Is it better to show the movement from full front? Better to have the camera move around Julia since much of the piece is still or small movement? Better to have both Julia and the camera moving? Or is that too much, to shaky to be viewed seated?

I've begun to assemble a sort of mish mosh of shots, some still others moving. I think my vision for it (at this point, we're still pretty young) is to have most of the phrases (the piece is composed of 30+ four-second phrases and two longer phrases) shot still from the front, at various different perspectives (for example, one mid range full body shot, one close in resting on the floor, etc). THEN, for the two longer phrases, i'm working out the mechanics of a shot that combines choreographed camera and dancer movement. If we can pull it off like it is in my mind (maybe 76% chance?) it will be GORGEOUS, and i'm pretty excited for it.

Since we'll also be utilizing slow and fast motion as well as reversing in the editing of it, I'm hoping to do a test of this shot sometime soon so i can start playing with it on final cut and seeing if it's possible. I'll post whatever I make!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Totally Inappropriate - "Consequences of Going to Tape" by Alastair Macaulay

Check out this recent NY Times article by Alastair Macaulay.
I find it completely inappropriate, in terms of it's blindsidedness to the diversity of the dance world, what it says about dance's value as an art form, and what it suggests for the economy of the dance world.

Open letter to Mr. Macaulay to follow tonight.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Check it out - "Choreographic Captures"

Just got word of a new site via - it's called "Choreographic Captures" and it's awesome. They have a bunch of high-qual dancefilms from their first competition (shorts no longer than 60 seconds) and an interesting format for their dissemination into the world ("via various pathways under the motto 'art for those who didn't ask for it'") such as in movie theaters in between previews. Exciting! You can also download a bunch for free!
Ch ch ch ch check it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

i heart gondry

Declare Independence

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Kitsch, Cliche, Australia, and Big Emotions.

The concept of "cliche" has been following me around lately.

It all started with Sarah Dahnke, who's been working on a lovely blogject, "This Dance is a Cliche", examining and exorcising the cliches that seem to keep presenting and re-presenting themselves in dancemaking. Then the awesome Adrienne Truscott (who's my mentor through the Van Lier Fellowship) came and sat in our last rehearsal, checking out the guitar solo along the way, which lead to a great discussion about the fear of cliche in postmodern movement work. Link number three in the chain was an email from friend/collaborator/composer/co-poster Theo Wilson warning me against palling prey to cliche in my piece. Last, the New York Times reviewed Baz Luhrmann's new epic "Australia" (which, for the record, i've yet to see) with some words about kitsch that helped me tie all this haunting together (full review here).

So this is the story about all of those things.

What is a cliche? Why has cliche become frowned upon (specifically in PMD, but in a larger context as well)? Are they dangerous, or simply a nuisance? Why?

For me, the idea of "cliche" has always been one of the simultaneously most terrifying and harmless things i deal with as a dance maker. On one hand, I've always had a fixation with doing something "new", never wanting to make the same dance over and over, never wanting to make something that i've seen before. While i assumed this was the mode of all artists for quite some time, my friend Jeremy helped point out that this was far from true. But, while some would like to make the same dance a million times (since, of course, each one is vastly different anyway), each time refining their skill and craft, that option panics and bores me. New, new, new. It's a pathos. And, even if the end results don't look that vastly new or different, holding myself to it in the process keeps me interested and making dances. On the other hand, much as i might wince to admit it sometimes, much of what i make is highly cliche. What is a cliche, after all, than something that's been felt/thought/expressed so many times and by so many different people, that rather than having to respond specifically to this incantation of it, audience members look at it as one instance of the larger and largely repeated occurrence? Love is cliche, heartache: cliche. To look at it flatly, humans are cliches, repeating an endless cycle of life love loss recovery heartache brilliance sex and death. And, for better or worse, that's what i make dances about.

So I know, on one hand, that what I'm making will always have a tint of "cliche" about it. I don't make abstract anatomical experiments, i don't make strictly spatial analyses, i make dances about love, and i make people cry. Invariably, my pieces seem to strike a human chord with my audience, prompting both dance people and non dance people to tell me that they've "been there before" or "reminds them of that time in their life". My dances, very simply, are love stories. Why fight it?

At the same time, working on this piece, i find myself terrified that this piece is nothing more than a cliche. For me, the saving grace of working with a cliche base is that it offers connection and humanism. From there, there's always a new way to see it if you work hard enough and look in unexpected places. As Aderine pointed out in our meeting, when someone tells her that something is "cliche" it just signifies the challenge of finding additional layers to it. However, it makes sense that i'm terrified: though i'm no stranger to narrative work, this is the first time that i'm taking a direct chain of events and crafting them into a dance (eg: boy leaves girl, girl is heartbroken, struggles toward meaning) rather than using a question or topic (eg: long distance relationships or gender power struggles). Additionally, dances have always held a therapeutic position in my life, meaning that the working of my personal shit into some sort of craft has always been my catharsis, my way to process and finalize. That doesn't mean that the entire making it therapeutic, however. Crafting necessitates remembering, reanalyzing, and reworking, all of which are usually messy, sometimes painful, and hold the threat of sucking you back into the muck that you're exorcising.

The recent big question for me being: when is this process helpful and productive (god forbid i ever stop being productive) and when is it whiny and a sob story...dare i say...a cliche?

A recent email from Theo snapped me on guard again. I've been thinking about the setting of the piece as a sort of purgatory - a reckoning place for the characters at hand. He writes:
You get to weep. You get to bitch. If he's allowed to break your heart, you get to tear him apart. There is no need to respect his feelings. But righteous self-pity is a self-extinguishing flame. Eventually contemplation must preside, and it presides in purgatory. You feel bitter, but you don't feel good about feeling bitter. You know how you must behave, but you find yourself unable to live up. That's an interesting struggle, and one I haven't seen you attack, whereas you have explored victimhood already (very skillfully, I might add). Like I said, though, as a thinking person you cannot continue without morality asserting itself.

Men have a right to hurt women's feelings. Women have a right to hurt men's feelings. The utopian alternative is emotional chattel slavery.

Use the rock song test. Rock songs have a built in language of cliché to address break-ups. Go down the list. Can any of your dramatic or symbolic devices be fond on the list?

Is anyone breaking your heart and tearing you apart?
Are you standing in the pouring rain?
Do you find yourself saying "how dare you"?
Are there clouds in an otherwise sunny sky?
Were you "shocked to discover"?
Have you "lost everything"?

You are literally taking out the trash. That's a filthy enterprise. The dirtiest part is getting rid of one's own hypocrisy and coming to terms with righteousness. The cleanest, easiest, and most rock-songy part is vilifying the other party.
So there's the line. Victimhood versus villainy versus reckoning. And reading it again in the midst of writing this post, i'm immediately aware that he's not saying that victimhood isn't necessarily "bad" or a cliche, just that i've been there before. Funny how when i read that, his pointing to that i've already explored it immediately crossed it off of my list. Oh, patterns, oh pathos. But this piece, though i've been here before, needs some sort of understanding of victimization to initiate the reckoning. At least, i think it does. Will this be the piece that re-makes what i've already done? And...don't I do that anyway? I've been joking that this piece will be called "Over Again" since it so closley parallels "The What's Left Over After", but as the piece evolves and tectonic plates shift, that become both more and less true.

Regardless, i don't want to play victim in this piece. It feels weak, feels uninteresting, and frankly, isn't where i am any more. I don't need this to be a victim piece because i've already exorcised that journey i took. I need the answers about what happens after. In words it seems clear enough: the difference between the question of "what is remembered and why/who does the other become?" versus "why did this happen to me? I didn't do anything wrong". However, it's one thing to be able to speak those two and understand the difference, and quite another to express them through bones and muscles.

Reading the New York Times's review of "Australia" gave me a little clarification this morning, and pushed me to write this post. A long time fan of Luhrmann's work (especially his over-use of everything, refutation of "clarity", and love of the epic) I haven't really been drawn to Australia, perhaps because of my bordness with it's two main actors. However, reading this review might have convinced me to see it instead of Transporter 3 (say it isn't so!). Also, the pictures of Hugh Jackman. Of Luhrmann, they write:

A maximalist, Mr. Luhrmann doesn’t simply want to rouse your laughter and tears: he wants to rouse you out of a sensory-overloaded stupor with jolts of passion and fabulous visions. That may make him sound a wee bit Brechtian, but he’s really just an old-fashioned movie man, the kind who never lets good taste get in the way of rip-roaring entertainment. The usual line about kitsch is that it’s an affront, a cheapening of the culture, a danger. “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession,” Milan Kundera wrote. “The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.”

True, but it doesn’t make the second tear any less wet.

So that's the line i'm walking right now - trying to move, together all mankind, to remember how that purgatory feels, without making it a victim story about me. Though, clearly, it's my story. I guess what i'm saying is, i'll take a tear that's backed by kitsch over dry eyes any day. Always have...probably always will.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fundraiser Recap

So, as you know, having been hit over the head repeatedly with many invitations for the past few weeks, the A.O. Movement Collective had their first houseparty/fundraiser last weekend, and the lovely residence of Julia PT.

I thought it would be helpful (for myself to recap, and for anyone else who's interested in the business details) to examine how it went in a fundraising light, outline a bit of our strategy, and project a little about what this means for our future.

The main goals of the party were as follows (from order of most to least important):

1.) Have a great and enjoyable party, so that guest leave feeling like "that was really fun, i want to come to the next event that the AOMC throws"
2.) Announce our arrival in NY (both at the party and via emails and invites to the party) so that our name starts to get out there. At the party, talk a little bit about the projects that we're working on and show some old work
3.) Raise money

To achieve these goals, we did focused on a few main aspects:
1.) "Party" - we wanted to make sure everyone had an amazing time, so we focused on food, drinks, and music. Master baker Larissa Sheldon brought a wealth of amazing treats, and the rest of the company was equally apt at creating a feast of finger food, cheese, and dips, each donating what they could. We spent about $60 on wine (mainly 2 buck chuck from Trader Joe's) and a few people brought beer. Once at the party, a run was made at some point to a liquor store for a bottle of vodka. A few people brought ipods and shared DJing duties through the night, providing what are commonly known as "phat beats".

2.) "AOMC News" - the party started officially at 8, with guest starting to trickle in around 8:30. At 10, Julia gave a welcome toast, letting people know about the dancefilms that we had streaming on two laptops, welcoming them to the party, and telling them to eat drink and be merry. Around midnight, I gave a more formal "speech", describing the work that we've been doing with our 100 hours of free studio time and asking for donations.

3.) "Fundraising" - aside from our plea for donations, we set up a few "stations" to encourage cash flow. The first was a small table as guests entered, which held donation forms for anyone who wanted to write a check, business cards, and a vase which we pre-set with some 1 and 5dollar bills. The second station, set up at the kitchen table, held a silent auction. We initially hadn't planned to do anything big, but a generous donation from a dancer's family specifically intended for the auction allowed us to make a bunch of different gift baskets (a "romance" basket with chocolate and champagne, a "pasta" basket with nice sauce and pastas, a "spa" basket with lots of body lotions and...stuff, a "wine and cheese party" with small cheeses, crackers, and a bottle of wine, and an "xmas" basket with cookie cutters, decorating things, sugar cookie mix, and the N'SYNC xmas album). We also had member donated items such as 4 hrs of admin work, pillates classes, a museum outing, and a kit hat and scarf set.


1.) All in all, i think the party was a success. I think everyone had a fun time, enjoyed the chance to pary together, liked the food and free alcohol, and met some new people. As an artist, I found it nice to get to meet other dancers (friends of a company member). I don't think anyone showed up who wasn't a friend of someone, but at the same time, there were at least ten people there who hadn't heard of the AOMC before or come to one of our events.

2.) I think the two speeches went well, although in the future i think it might be wise to do the second speech a little earlier, and separate from the reading out of the silent auction. I'm always very self-conscious and unsatisfied with the speeches i give (somewhere in my heart of hearts, i always desire a speech that would melt the heart of every man, woman, and child, emptying their pockets and inspiring a new i'm always a little disappointed when it's met with polite applause, even when it goes well) but i thought that it got the point across and was simple and short, which is always a victory for me.

3.) We didn't make any money off of the event, but we didn't loose a whole lot either, which considering that our main goal was just to throw a great party and not worry as much about the money, made sense. We were able to raise about $150 off of the auction and the donation vase combined, and then received one $50 check donation from someone who couldn't attend later that week. Definitely not bad for our first party, although a cloudy warning sign to take heed of for events to come.

Analysis + Next Step.

So. Why didn't the event make money?
First, as aforementioned, it wasn't the main goal. Would we have made money if it was the main goal? Debatable. For one thing, most of the guest in attendance did donate, either via the silent auction or the donation jar. However, most guests who bid on the silent auction did not also make a donation. Somewhat expected, although good to know when keeping in mind that our biggest net gain comes from the donations because there's zero spending on our part (or, a percentage of $60 when you consider the wine and food). It seemed that everyone was willing to donate about $5 for the drinks, but after that point, goods such as those offered in the auction were needed to increase spending. I guess the question that it comes down to for me is: did the auction actually help us at all? Not so much in terms of re-hashing this event, but for looking to the future, considering that we're planning to do this on a bi-monthly basis. Should we do it again? Every time? Just at the larger events? Money-wise, it didn't really make us any money, considering that the donation we got to make the baskets ($150) wasn't even met via their auction. However, it did encourage donations (one guest admitted that she hadn't meant to spend the +$50 that she spend bidding), and I like being able to "give back" something and have people feel like they're getting a great deal. Ideally, if people come to know these events as places to get a great deal, they would come already intending to spend money on bidding, and then hopefully bid more than they had originally intended in bidding wars, causing the overall donations to increase each event. However, most of the guests in attendance were under the "poor young artist" category, meaning that there probably a limit (one not to far above what we hit) of what people are willing to spend. Which brings me to the second point:

Who was there?
As i said, poor young artists. All friends of company members. Many still in college (as over half of the dancers are still full-time students). Most under 25. Transportation and distance seemed to be a big issue, as it was hard for us to lure people outside of Manhattan, although there was a large contingency from Manhattanville. Mostly female, almost all artists.

Concerns and Questions this raises for the future -

1.) How do we get more people to attend that we know and are already connected to the company, but that feel like they "don't have time" "are too far away" or are dubious about if it's worth spending one of their weekend nights at an art event? Is it worthwhile to be courting this crowd, or should we focus on gaining a new, closer audience?

2.) How do we get people to come that are new to the AOMC? Aside from friends of friends (which seemed to be a great way of getting new faces to come, in the future i think it would make sense to ask each dancer to concentrate on getting three new friends to come, or something along those lines) how do we attract a new audience?

3.) While the event was a great party, part of my eventual goal in having these events be bi-monthly would be to have them become networking and idea-exchanging events - still a fun party, but also a (i hesitate to say it but) semi-serious place for artistic dialogue. Is it possible to combine these things without it feeling too forced? Would they be better as separate events?

4.) In the future, we also hope to host these events as a platform for other companies to fundriase - for example, the AOMC would still host it, but maybe two other companies would also be bringing guests etc. and have the chance to get to talk about what they're doing. In a structure such as that, what are innovative ways to increase donation, so that guests feel motivated to donate to the AOMC and these other companies. Is it necessary for the AOMC to take some kind of cover charge or percentage? Or is there a way to all work together to create a frenzy of giving?

5.) Location. Julia's apartment was great for this type of event, but it would also eventually be great to have a location where we could show work. Where would be a good location to keep the casual party vibe, be able to show, and also be conducive to community building and fundraising?

6.) What did we miss out on? Are there things we should do next time to fundraise differently? Someone at this event mentioned a kissing booth, charging a cover charge, or selling merchandise. Anything else? What's most profitable?

7.) Does making this event a "house party" casual format discourage older and perhaps larger donors from attending? Does it discourage larger donations from those that do attend? Would making it more formal or in a different format lead to better fundraising? Is it necessary to separate our supporters into two groups (young artist partyiers and older formal donors) or is there a format that would allow everyone to mingle and have a great time together?

So that's the long short-story of it. Of course I have more questions and more vacillating on decisions to come such as the silent auctions and attendees, but these seemed like the main points. Would love to hear any feedback or ideas, as always. And, if you missed this one, hope to see you at the next one!

And so it begins...

It's reached that time again - when webs, artifacts, and sticky notes begin mounting a battle to cover my walls and encroach upon my sanity. (It's a good thing)

Thought i'd share some pics, blurry as they may be.
Sketches courtesy of Oliver Hensel brown, note cards courtesy of myself, bone courtesy of chicken.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

To Share or Not To Share...a post about future posting

As i get less and less free time on my hands (and inversely - hopefully - more paid work) I've been thinking more and more about what i want to post, and how I want to go about artifacting this year. Is it more important to show what we're doing in rehearsal every week on a regular basis? Post discussion-starters of my views on a piece or current event? Tell you about what the AOMC is doing? What is the reader most interested in? Who are the readers, anyway? And what postings challenge me the most, to think and re-think, to create more and better or maybe just less more softly.

These are the questions in my head.

What I'm feeling right now, is that there's been a lack of "idea" and "dance world" posting, although it has been fun to spend more time on the videos. Part of my dissatisfaction with posting videos is that it feels like the urgent artist has become sort of a tv station - more of something to watch when you're bored or interested rather than an online place of dialogue and ideas. Being a tv station is fine - and i'm always excited to hear that someones been watching our rehearsal clips or keeping up to date with the company - but it's not so fulfilling to me, as it ends up being more about regurgitation and less about challenging myself via reflection. So, unless I hear a rallying cry to keep the videos coming with the frequency that they have been (and by all means, if you feel that way, please, rally cry away) I'm going to start posting a little bit more about big questions, dance business, company issues, etc.

One of the questions in my mind for the last few days has been about home much information to "give away" on this site. The NY dance world, because of economy and size if nothing else, is cutthroat in terms of finding funding, support, dancers etc. and part of me wants to hold any "advantage" that i might think i have close and secret. But the bigger (better?) part of me wins over: the only way to evolve the dance economy is through open exchange of information, and an acknowledgment that we're all in this together, even if we end up fighting against each other in the end for the funding.

My stance dance-wise has always been one for a sort of forced evolution: i'll be open about what i'm doing. When i think it's brilliant, when it's not so hot, when it's a secret and when it's obvious. If this should help another individual do better or make better work (be it the dance work of the business work) then my only option as a working artist if i want to compete in search of funding is to find ways to make myself better. Then i'll tell you what i did and how i did it, and hopefully the cycle will continue.

In my work founding the A.O. Movement Collective in 2006, and in the subsequent two years that we worked with CrossCurrents Dance Company, one of the most helpful resources that was provided to me was simply old documents: bills, budgets, grant applications, fundraising letters. While i want to discourage copying or direct formatting, having somewhere to start (a place from which to say "yes, this works" and "well, this might work better") was immensely helpful. Even now as I work on our third fundraising mailing, I scour the web to find resources that will help us raise more money: how do the big arts orgs (DTW, the Kitchen, etc) fundraise online? What language do they use? What about sample letters from non-dance charities? Any useful tricks to be learned there? Let's be honest, we can all use as much help as we can get. And even if it means that i'll have to work harder, i would like to be one of the many providing it.

So in the near future, i'll be posting (among videos and quandaries) some specifics about how the AOMC is run, how we're fundraising, and business strategies. Hopefully, dear readers, some of you will find it helpful or at the very least, interesting. I also encourage you to post your own responses, either with feedback or comments on what i've posted, or posting your own samples.

Later today: a breakdown of the AOMC's first fundraiser, and what it says about future efforts.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Videos! Rehearsal 10/25 at Topaz

Here are some new vids from our work on the 25th at Topaz. As you can see, we're using the general structure of "jumping around from section to section and trying to fit everything in". This was all in about a three hour period - touching on the main (or, most in focus right now) aspects of the piece. Enjoy!

Work on Muerte Chiquita:

Work on the MC Duet:

Julia's Twisting (the beginning of a new section?:

The Unison Phrase:

Collage of the Googlism Gestures:

Adventures in Lifting:

as always, feedback welcome!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Photos from rehearsal number uno!

These are some photos via Tony Shultz @ of our first rehearsal, way back when in August. We've come so far! Check it out.

Find more photos like this on

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Graphic Invites

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

2 News Items!

Hi all,
I know the posting has been a little sparse lately, but starting this friday i'll have internet in my appartment (as opposed to being able to steal minimal seconds - seriously - from someone in our apartment) so I'll be able to be posting more regularly. (That's news item number one.) News item number two is this:

Join us for the AOMC's first "Raise the R.E.N.T. Houseparty" on Sat Nov 15th @ 8!

Come help the AOMC raise the R.E.N.T!

The A.O. Movement Collective couldn't be more pleased to be working on a new piece, but we need your help to make it a reality! We're trying to raise money for:

R - Rehearsal Space
E - Enrichment (such as being able to send our dancers to workshops, classes, and professional seminars)
N- Networking (both in terms of going to existing events, and community building that we initiate)
T - Tech Needs (in terms of media expenses for our film and new media projects, and in terms of the technical expenses that go into producing a show)

this event, while it is a fundraiser, is equally about networking, creating a community, and having an awesome time. There will be (free! yummy!) food and drinks, new faces, and new art! Community and an open exchange of ideas is incredibly important to us, so we're hoping to make these parties a regular (bi-monthly) occasion! Even if you're not planning on donating anything, we'd love to have you there so we can share what we've been up to and where we're heading with you!

Again, it's FREE with an RSVP - just email, and we'll let you know where it is!

Hope to see you there!!!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Webvid 7c - Air Guitar Rehearsal 10/18 @ Chez Bushwick

(apparently the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have a tight watch on YouTube, and aren't letting people post videos with their music in them. Good thing there's and a million other sites to post on. WORKING video now below!)


Lillie and I returned to our "let's pretend we're rock gods" movement practice this past saturday, bringing new AOMC dancers Alex and Carlos along with us. It was great to have some new mind/bodies bringing in different movement and viewpoints to the improvisation, and it also felt surprisingly wonderful to get that movement back in my body, getting the chance to thrash and strut around.

But as much as I love how it feels, and despite the fact that I am interested in watching the improvisations, I'm still bugged by nagging feelings. Is it too silly? Not accurate enough? Self Indulgent? Lacking umph? It's obviously not postmodern, never-been-seen, or subtle. But since when am I so interested in any of those things?

I think the thing that "worries" me the most about it (the basic idea, by the way, is an air guitar solo that starts with the dancer in control of the movement and ends up with the movement in control of the dancer) is the audience's response. I know, I know, don't think about the audience, don't worry about what they'll say. But (as I've stated before) i think its both contradictory and dumb, as the same people that give that advise will also warn you not to be too self indulgent and urge you to present well edited work. There is no way to pacify, so (for now) i think that considering the audience is perfectly legitimate. So that's what i'm doing right now - putting these clips up to see what will fly. Please don't worry about censoring yourself - we know it's silly, we know it needs work, but yes, i'm putting it up anyway because i think it's entertaining, engaging in some context, and really fun to do. I think there's something there. However, even if your comment is "there's nothing there" i'd still love to hear it.

For instance, Brian, from my internship, mentioned that he really liked seeing the men dance it - that before it made him dubious that it was a statement "about" something (women's-lib inclined, he said) and that if it was "about" something that he didn't understand those type of dances. He said that seeing four people do it, it became more about how it started as guitar, and then the movement eventually became just movement for movement's sake. Gerrit mentioned that his preference was for the solos that got into the more abstract movements - he enjoyed seeing the literal guitar movement weaving in and out, but liked seeing what the eventual amplified abstractions of that movement was. Ulises thought it was really bad. Jeremy was worried it would be too self indulgent. All of these things are interesting to me.

If you're unsure of where to start, here are some questions you could respond to specifically:
- what is your first reaction upon seeing this movement?
- does it change your watching of the dance when it's a female versus a male dancer?
- is this "about" anything to you?
- what movement specifically are most easily identifiable as "guitar" or "rock god" movements?
- what's your reaction as the movement gets more abstract?
- Is this "worth your time" to watch? Is it engaging? entertaining? silly? boring? frustrating? why?
- does it make you want to move? does it make you want to tell us how to move?

We each took a turn (alex, carlos, lillie, and i) doing two rounds through the song ("Man" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). I made two videos out of it - the first is an edit together of all four, and the second is all four at the same time, so you can compare linearly. Would love to hear what you think!

Monday, October 27, 2008

a new video: "Still Life."

The following video is called Still Life. I submitted the song to Jack Rohman after seeing some of his video tests. For me, it marks first time that both the recording of a song and the filming of a video have lived up to initial vision.

Still Life
Words and Music by Theo Wilson

Plum. Plum. Beautiful Plum. Purple and dumb.
Some hand has painted you in on top of the toy drum.
And I bet his skin is soft and makes such a beautiful sound.
And I bet he's never going to kick you off. And you're never going to come down.

Plum. Plum. I got a drum, that everyone plays.
Still. Still, I am the one who's beaten in a lot of ways.
But believe me, I will be fine, as long as he says that he's mine
and pretends that he needs me, part of the time, and promises never to leave me behind.

But don't you think that it's a little mean? Nectarine?
Saying that he loves me still?
Promising to never leave when I know he will?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Webvid 7b Rehearsal 10/18 @ Chez Bushwick: Googlisms

Here's some footage of our use of the structure of "Googlisms" as a choreographic structure. Specifically, we worked on the men's movements: "a googlism for after", and the women's: "a googlism for existing strongly".

Webvid 7a Rehearsal 10/18 @ Chez Bushwick: The Mens

Working on Variation #4 (the mens) for the main unison phrase

WebVid 6c - Unison Phrase and Variations

Here's the unison phrase (and three main variations) we're working with from our rehearsal 10/11 at Topaz.

Webvid 6b - The best moments are the best moments - Discovering "Stealing Forefront"

As you know, we've been filming ever rehearsal. We've been doing this for the purposes of keeping the possibility of making a hypermedia for this piece open, although the more it progresses the more i think i wouldn't really have a use for it. That being said, you never know, and especially if this piece turns to a film rather than a performance, having all this footage is a definite bonus. So. We film.

The other reason for the filming being that I wanted to further investigate the benefits of filming rehearsals for me as the choreographer, as it gives me the ability to watch and re-watch rehearsals. I've also noticed that knowing that i have a film of the rehearsal lets me act different as the choreographer/director in rehearsals, knowing that I don't need to spend rehearsal time being careful of holding on to details, and letting myself be much more impulsive in trying new things and putting myself fully in them rather than always being an outside eye.

I've also noticed that there are some downsides to it. In Enrico Wey's rehearsal, i noticed that as a dancer I felt a bit slower picking up movement and phrasing - partially because i haven't been to class in a while, but also because i'm used to having the luxury of being able to see something as many times as I want, in a way that doesn't hassle anyone or use their valuable studio time. So. There's that.

But what i really wanted to post about was a newish feature of the video work - using the footage as a lens for new material. This differs from the previously mentioned uses in that what i was picking up editing the video was something that a) i hadn't been focused on or aware of during the rehearsal and b) couldn't have seen if it were not through a video medium.

Here's what happened.
In looking at Jonothan's lovley footage from this saturday, i noticed that there were a few shots that didn't particularly show any of the specific movements that we were doing especially clearly, but they had a certain feel about them that was interesting and pleasing to my eye. I decided to make a little collage video of them, to show them just as aesthetic shots rather than what I have been doing, which is more mini-doc style. In editing them, i was able to finally understand why these shots were interesting to me and what they had in common: First, many of them framed the torso rather than the full body - a range of from the neck to the pelvis. Second, they all had moments of what i'm now calling "stealing forefront". This was reached when tow groups or individuals were working on different things, and the shot looking through one group to the other would create an interplay between the two fields that would shift according to what group was most interesting or active. Many times, one dancer would be still long enough that the foreground would become what was going on behind them, only to be stolen back when the dancer started moving.

This is fascinating and interesting to me, and I'm starting to think about how I can pull it into the dance and work with it on a choreographic and structural level by studying the effect it has on the film. So yes, video is still extremly helpful in this little quest, and in new ways every day.

Video collage of stealing forefront and various other aesthetics below:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


hey all,
sorry we're so behind on the videos...
I have about five more, all edited and ready to post, but internet at my apartment is being impossible. I've been at the wireless cafe without heat for about as long as i can, so know that i'll be getting the new ones up as soon as i possibly can.

Sorry again for the delay. Soon! I promise!

Webvid 6a! Rehearsal 10/11 @ Topaz - Our Warm Up

Warming up our dancer bodies with an improv/danceparty score:

  • first song working anatomically, giving attention to what is sore, tired, in need of stabilization and strengthening
  • second song letting our bodies tell us rather than our minds what needs to happen, more of a danceparty style - just moving around
  • third song retaining danceparty style. but entering into weight bearing relationships, partnering etc.
  • fourth song going back to an anatomical mind frame, working on whatever feels like it still needs attention.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Long awaited (Part 2!)...WebVid #5b! (Rehearsal 10/4 @ DNA)

Here's part two of our work on the 4th - we were re-working a phrase for the "Muerte Chiquita" section, as well as figuring out the mechanics of one of the jump/lifts that comes mid-phrase. I'm working on the video for this past saturday's rehearsal today, so you'll soon see how the phrase expands...

Long awaited...WebVid #5a! (Rehearsal 10/4 @ DNA)

Sorry this has taken me a while to post!
Here's our work on the "Muerte Chiquita" section of the dance.  This video shows our improv and then excerpts of the following discussion we had.  For the piece, this section will be performed by Julia, Cristina, and Larissa, but for the sake of dividing up groups for separate rehearsals i've been building it with JPT and Xtina, and then they teach it to Larissa at a rehearsal when everyone's present.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A video from the Wall Street Journal, via
Sometimes I'm turned off by "bells and whistles" performance art, but i thought that this was pretty cool, especially what he was saying about the mouth game.  I'm interested in seeing more about the web he was making.  I'll see if i can find any more on it and get it posted for you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

New slow-mo for your po-mo pleasure...

Sorry i'm a little behind on rehearsal videos. When the market crashes, artists get let go, and thus it's job hunting rather than posting. But never fear! I have at least two for you that i'm hoping to post within a few days. In the meantime, here's some new slow-mo that i found via Geekologie. Hope you enjoy!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Revision(ish): Bill T. Jones through the lens of Urgent Art

I had a great mini-conversation with Julia today, and it illuminated some things in my head about the Bill T. Jones show that might provide an alternate view from the review below. Isn't it great to say something and realize mid-sentence how true it is?

Here's the thing. It's not that the piece was horrible or bad or lacked skill. The dancers were good, it was well made (debatable) and it was somewhat entertaining or maddening or nothing at all. But. What i realized in talking to Julia is that maybe the thing irking me about it wasn't all of these factors, but that the piece as a whole seemed to lack any matter or urgency. As Julia mentioned, a friend of hers who saw it said that she was entertained, but didn't take anything from it or think of it after.

So what does that mean, lacking urgency? It's clearly not a rule that modern dance convey something meaningful and passionate, and it would be silly to argue that the greatest dances all do that. Yet there seems to be some core difference between the work of emerging and "downtown" artists, and the cushy pieces of "accepted" artists.

I've been trying to craft my life (both personal and artistic) into something that, were i to die tomorrow, i would be at least satisfied with. It obviously doesn't have to be perfect, but i feel a need to be at least working towards what i want from it. No regrets.

And I feel that that's also how i'm thinking about dance. Moreover, for various reasons, i feel like thats how a lot of emerging artists right now are thinking about dance. If this was the last piece i ever made, would i be happy with what i'm making? Or the inverse opposite of that (which seems to be the broader reality): I have to make this piece the absolute best it can be, or it will be the last one i make due to a lack of support and funding. Even the feeling that "well, i'm doing this now, but i don't really know why...maybe i'll stop after this one" seems to be pervasive.

While that might seem bleak, i think it gives these pieces a drive that, even if the pieces themselves are not thematically or tonally "urgent", make them urgent in their creation and intention. These are pieces meant to cut, pieces meant to draw people in, and pieces meant to hold the future open.

Bill T. Jones's "A Quarreling Pair" was not one of these pieces. But is it fair to begrudge the piece on that account? Surely a choreographer's work does loose some urgency when the shift is made from fighting for one's life for a chance to keep making work to being supported by the acceptance of major funders and presenters, but this shift could be as readily seen as an improvement as a decline. Maybe it just signifies the maturing of a choreographer's intentions, a grace period, so to speak, where they get to attend to all the lesser and triter pieces they always wanted to make but were not quite impassioned enough to choose over other, more Important projects. Why is that a bad thing?

What is it about urgency that makes work good, if we think it makes it better at all?
Is it possible for a choreographer to retain their urgency, rawness, and innovation after they've been accepted by the "mainstream"?
If we agree that both "underground" and "mainstream" artists are necessary to create a cycle of patronage and viewership, how do we come to terms with what this cycle creates in terms of an artistic laxness in terms of the work that is being produced by the mainstream artists, and the survivalist urgency of the more underground work? Or, is it that the lax work is just more enjoyable to those "mainstream" viewers?

Most importantly, is it necessary to differentiate between work that comes from "urgent artists" and "accepted artists" when critiquing the work itself? Should I not be bothered by the sneaking suspicion that, if Bill T Jones died tomorrow, he would be vastly upset that this was what he spent his last year on, because he's earned the right to explore less "urgent" ideas and stories?

And, if we are going to differentiate for the sake of critique, what does each of these conditions for making work do to the art itself?

This seems to me to be a handful of questions that I won't be able to answer for myself until i'm at that point where i have the luxury to make relaxed work. Will i want to? Will i even get there? Who knows. Right now, the urgent artist instinct is alive and strong. I'll let you know when i'm ready to cross over.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Review(ish): Bill T. Jones's "A Quarreling Pair" and the Circus of Quirk

When Lillie first told me she had an extra ticket for Bill T. Jones's "A Quarreling Pair" at BAM, i couldn't have been more excited. While i've considered myself a fan of his work for a long time, the only time i had seen him live was performing an excerpt of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" at Fall for Dance a few years ago. Aside from that, the youtube previews of his work, and the respective documentaries on "Still/Here" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin", I had no experience watching his work. While I've always held him in my mind as the type of choreographer that might be able to make the most of a hypermedia system, this was my first time seeing a full show. I was looking forward to this as a real treat - quite like i looked forward to Susan Marshall's show - with the nervously giddy expectation that i would enjoy what i was about to see rather than a question of what this new work was or how the creator was reinvisioning dance, as I do when i'm about to see someone i've never seen before.

So perhaps that built up anticipation was what led to my quite opposite experience. Maybe it was that i'm not familiar with the puppet play that it was based on. Or maybe i just was in the mood for more dancing, after taking former BTJAZ dancer Alex Beller's class that morning. The audience seemed to like it, jumping to their feet to give a standing ovation as Jones came out for the bow, but Lillie and i just sat there, shaking our heads, as the forest of standing applauders obscured our view of the stage.

Why was it so bad in my mind? You'll notice that i don't say i "hated it" - if i hated it it would imply (to me at least) that there was something that i had a gut-wrenching averse reaction to, something that made me angry or upset or uncomfortable. And i think that's why it was so bad for me - i didn't hate it, it was just boring, and (i feel) poorly done.

To start, the first third of the evening length piece seemed to be a criticism of itself, repeatedly pointing out how boring the piece was. At certain moments (for instance, a prolonged and repetitive shadow-puppet exchange between the two sisters) localized sounds would broadcast over different sections of the speakers of people talking, making it sound like it was coming from the audience. Some of the comments included "this is boring" or, in other sections, jeering for the performer to get off of the stage. While this, the first time it happened, was a little interesting, if only for the "trick" of it, it quickly got old. At first I thought Jones using these "crowd interactions" to create the atmosphere of a carnival/cabaret (to mimic the piece), and to create the performer-audience dynamic that is more common with black art - a vocalness of part of the audience in both praise and critique of the work. Okay. Point taken. But why was Jones pointing out that the piece was boring? If he was aware of it, why didn't he change it? It seemed to me, then, that he had to be directing out attention to the fact that we as an audience might find it boring, but that he as a choreographer wanted us to pay attention longer. However, the piece gave me no answer as to why.

The first "dancing" didn't happen for at least seven or eight minutes, and after that point continued to appear with such sparsity that it seemed more of an interlude to the theatrics and songs that were being performed around it. At first, i thought this was intentional to push the audience towards a feeling of "more dnace! give us more dancing! all we want is more dancing!", but that moment of "more dancing" never came. The piece's two "big dancey" sections contained more walking in slow triplet rhythms than any virtuosic or innovative movement and, in contrast to the Lar Lubovitch performance I saw at DTW on Friday which also made extensive use of slow walking triplet patterns, Jones's use of them literally did nothing but make me sleepy. Yes, yes, and yes, the dancers themselves were GORGEOUS, and it was clear that they had serious skill, presence, and moving power. But we never (aside from one movement - an incredible jumping back flip that rolled to the ground) got to see them really move. There was too much stuff in the way, and if you know me or the work i've been involved in for the past year or so - a champion of "more" and an anti-clarity crusader, you know that's saying something.

Maybe it wasn't the volume, as much as the content. Many of the sections were solely singing or theatrical gags, and, for me, nearly all of the gags fell very flat. Maybe it was seeing Susan Marshall's show in such proximity - both shows dealt with notions of illusion, gag, entertainment, performance, campy sexuality, etc, and both shows adopted a vaudevillian style. But where Marshall's show used the comedic elements of vaudeville choreographically, melding them with her gorgeous movement, Jone's seemed to lack both inventiveness and an ability to meld his gags with the piece as a larger whole. It even seemed that Jones was trying to adopt the trend of blatant quirk in downtown dance, and somehow ready it for an uptown audience by squeezing it into the guise of vaudeville. The most successful section by far for me was the male duet shown on the show's card - the pair of men in a mock baseball getup. It was gestural, quirky, hipsterish, and felt like it had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the show.

To top it all of, the show was very formally narrative, but was unclear and hard to follow. And yet the audience seemed to love it. Which leaves me wondering, a) what was i missing? b) did the audience like it just because it's been deemed "good dance" c) is it possible for a choreographer to retain the fierceness that they had before they were deemed "good dance" after they've been accepted by the "mainstream" and, most shockingly to me, d) is it possible that i've really disliked Bill T. Jone's work all along, and thought that i've loved him because of the outlier few pieces that i've actually seen?

Looks like i have some homework...

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the video projection was both uninventive and low-qual.
i am not threatened by bad work, i am not threatened by bad work, i am not threatened by bad work...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Review(ish): Thoughts on Susan Marshall's "Sawdust Palace" @ DTW

Though we (me, laurel, cavin, and larissa) saw the show last saturday, it's taken me some time to gather my thoughts - there's so much to be said about that piece! Two main things, somewhat unrelated, come to mind as the most forward things in my mind that can be conveyed in writing about the show. Much of it can't be, as it was beautiful and evocative and sexy and very much ephemeral, so i won't go there.

So then, two things.
1.) Susan's program note and (again) the idea of explaining/apologizing work
2.) the gender roles and relations at play in the piece

1.) I thought that this piece and program note was a great example of a way that a choreographer can give context and much needed direction to a viewer without overwhelming, "explaining", or otherwise directing their viewing experience. One of my favorite things about Susan Marshall's work (or, the two pieces i've seen - Cloudless and Sawdust Palace) is it's ability to use props and equipment (harnesses for arial work especially) in a way that doesn't feel gimmicky or trick-oriented like so much arial work i've seen tends to do. Where many choreographers have the harness dictating what happens, and often not being vastly innovative in their use of it, Marshall makes the harness work for her movement - integrating it seamlessly into the greater movement of the piece, allowing the drama and richness of the piece's non-linear narrative elements blend into the idea of harness and flying themselves.

That being said, this piece was very vaudevillian - based on turn of the century spiegletents and composer Edward Elgar - and skillfully played that line that runs between "trick" "illusion" "image" "exploration" etc.

In the program notes, Marshall writes: "In making this work, i found myself immediately immersed in the question of "popular" dance versus "serious" work in much the same way that Elgar must have been in his own day. Questions such as "when is a trick just a trick and when is it something more?" came up all the time. In a way, "Sawdust Palace" is part period piece put through the mill of my own sensibility, and part "oh, hell, let's just embrace the cabaret-like form and let it all go!" Sometimes a dance is just a dance and a cigar is just a cigar. Although, in this evening a cigar is never just a cigar - and a cup of tea isn't just a cup of tea, either."

For me, having this in mind as I watched the piece was extremely helpful, as it successfully negated any impulse i had during the show to negate or devalue a certain scene or section because it was more on the gimmicky side or because it was genuinely based on the unfolding of a "trick". Knowing that Marshall and her dancers had brought these concerns to the table in the making of the piece let me allow it for what it was - sometimes a trick, sometimes an illusion, sometimes the magic of live movement in a theater setting. Moreover - it was an investigation of these things - it was an open question to me as an audience member. Is this just a trick? What about this? Is that bad if it is? Why? To me, this set apart the piece's humor, which - yes - felt simpler and tamer in many regards that much of the quirky "down town" humor, from much of the dance going on now that is almost entirely quirk. While those pieces often bite at me though i do enjoy them and find them humorous (which, maybe is a jab more at my own seriousness than any fault of the pieces themselves), my experience of this piece's humor felt different in that it was an investigation of entertainment and performance as much as it was entertainment and performance itself.

2.) Just coming off of my post on my own gender struggles in terms of making movement for my men, watching this show was vastly interesting. I love Marshall's partnering - a great mix of innovation, flow, full body physicality, and gesture filled with the utmost level of humanity. I also love (and found myself studying enviously) her ability to switch in an out of what seems to be an awareness of gender. Maybe a better way to put it is this: at some moments, the dancers interact in very specific, societally reinforced gender roles, and at other moments the dancers partner and interact as if they could detach gender and gender context from their moving bodies. For example, many of the sections that were a) more campy and/or b) sexy (and Susan Marshall knows sexy) prominently featured a heavily erotic male-female duet. However, there were also male-male sections and sections involving the whole company that seemed to not care about the genders and power interactions as much, if at all.
Let's just pause for a second.
How does she do this!?!?

I'm a firm believer that you can never divorce the societal context and implications from a body, especially on stage, but at moments Marshall could have fooled me. After thinking about it i've come up with a few different explanations of how she's able to polarize this divide.

a.) Because the camp/erotic/sex-laden duets were so drenched in their gender interactions - often poking fun at the seriousness and intensity of this attraction and dynamic, the interactions without that tilt seemed more like a breath of fresh air. Had the "drenched" duets have been more subtle, they might have brought out more of the politics or context of the other interactions.

b.) I noticed in writing this that the gender interactions that i found most prominent were the male-female camp/erotic duets, while the male-male duets had some erotic tones, they weren't as clearly sexually-marked bodies, and even became more body as physical matter than body as culturally inscribed organism in some of the sections (especially Body Music). Because much of the male-male movement seemed less culturally inscribed (due to a number of factors including the specific performers, costumes, etc), I was previously classifying this in my head as somehow negating or ignoring gender in these interactions, whereas it was very much adhered to in the other sections. As far as I can remember, there weren't any female-female duets. So this brings up the fact that maybe it's more about the idea that women's bodies are inescapably culturally inscribed (especially on stage), while the male body (especially on stage) has a history and ability of being able to divert the gaze and escape it's very body-ness. What Marshall trying to escape gender stereotypes in the male duets and enforce it in the female-male ones? Or was my gaze simply a product of the dominant societal (white male patriarchal sexual) gaze?

There was clearly sex in this piece - one of the heavily yet subtly sexiest pieces i've ever seen - and for sex there has to be body. Where there is body there is gender, and where there is gender there is culturally inscribed meaning...Marshall was clearly thinking about gender at some level too - the heavily "normative" sexual interactions of the f-m duets were camp enough in some way to prove to me as a viewer that it couldn't just be her unexamined internalization of m-f interaction. Power dynamics were clear as well - from the submission-laced tea for two (originally seen as a solo in cloudless) to the very use of harnesses.

So what does this all mean?
No idea, but i've been having a great time tumbling it around in my head, thinking about what i can learn from it in my own making and watching practices.

All in all, a heavily gorgeous show.
I hope that video footage becomes available soon!