Sunday, September 28, 2008

Webvid 3 - Studio Time @ Topaz Arts

Hey all,
Here's the latest - sorry it took a while to get up - something was afloat with youtube, so this is posted on Anyway.
I'm still feeling out what's the best format and approach for showing this footage, so if you have an opinion about what you'd like to see (voice overs v. just pure footage, evolutions v. final products, etc.) please let me know!

Jonathan got some great footage yesterday from our two group rehearsals; i'll try to have it up by tomorrow!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Update on New Work

So in between the videos i thought it might be helpful (for me and for you) to verbalize some of what I'm working on for this new piece. I'm going with a tentative working title (...maybe...) of "over again". Although "Remote control" and "Clutch Clutch"would also be options.

We've had two group rehearsals (although, in true form we've yet to have a rehearsal with the whole cast at the same time...) and I've had five or six studio times to work on material. Needless to say, it's just starting out, and nowhere near gelling into some cohesive gloop yet.

But there are certain truths that have revealed themselves to me so far, as well as specific questions that i'm starting to investigate. I kind of see all the ideas and questions i have right now as fitting on a series of continuums or spectra. One of theses spectra starts as pure art-for-the-sake-of-art creative investigative questions and ends at pure dollar sign economic questions about the business of running my company and producing this piece. Within that spectrum lies a more specific dance-making spectrum of questions and ideas, ranging from the purely visceral to the purely subvisceral (having to do with the information and ideas related to the movement, but outside of the body). The third continuum is altogether separate, and slides between the pure-movement end and the tech/video/programing end.
Which is all just to say: I have many questions and ideas right now. This is how they look in my head so I don't go crazy.

One of the biggest revelations that i've had while working on the piece is a deeper understanding of where this specific movement vocabulary (or at least, one of them - what i'm referring to as "lush") is coming from. Larissa (who i first worked with in "the What's Left Over After") sent me some great questions (as she always does) after our first rehearsal, one of them being a basic "why me for this piece/role". As i've been working more and more during my studio times, I've realized that much of this movement comes from a melding of mine and Larissa's impulses. While it's not the first time that i've been in a great relationship of making dances "for" a dancer - specifically with them in mind - I think it's less common than I would like to believe. I always make movement with my dancers in mind - trying to fit their bodies and keep them engaged and interested, i think it takes some working with each individual to really understand how they move enough to be making for their body through your body when you're alone in the studio. Maybe the best way to describe it is the difference between being really good at knowing what someone would say and actually being so inside their head that you both say the same thing at the same time, but don't find it at all out of the ordinary. So that's exciting. And from here i'm looking forward to the point which we break apart again, and both surprise each other with what we do.

Since i mentioned the "spectrum thinking" that i've been using lately (...this morning...) I'll talk about the other side of realizing i'm really in tune with Larissa's moving - I'm stuck on Ollie and Nick. Being the two "newest" to work with in that i've never made work for them (as I have for Cavin, Lillie, Larissa, and Laurel) and never danced for or with them in a piece (as I have Christina and Julia), i'm a little out of touch with who they are, and uncomfortably so. I'm having my first small group rehearsal tomorrow and focusing on the Cavin/Nick Larissa/Oliver duets, so hopefully that will give me some time to get into their bodies a little more, but I'm also wondering how much of my ignorance in terms of what to make for them is their maleness. In addition to Nick and Ollie, I've also found two more male dancers who are interested in being a part of the piece (who i'll be meeting with and deciding on within the next week or so...) who i'll know even less - i've at least known Nick and Ollie as friends and gotten to see them move as humans and fellow dancepartiers for about a year.

I generally LOVE making movement for men, but for a few reasons making for this piece and these men is hard for me. I hesitate to generalize or present some over-masculinized or flat stereotype of "maleness" in the movement that I make for them (at this point i'm even somewhat internally conflicted about doing a piece that divides so neatly into "male" and "female", even though that's not a new thing for me), and yet at the same time, the piece is about my specific relationship to a male person, portrayed through these series of duets. Yet at the same time, he wasn't even stereotypically male. Yet it's important to me that there is a distinction between the male and female movement because at some level, the piece is about the end product of how the inherent differences in how men and women communicate and think. And yet.
So that's a big one for me right now. The mens.

Another big question is how much to "stay true" to my instincts and ideas, and how much to really listen to the feedback that i'm getting from myself, the dance world around me, and on past work. It's clearly always a balancing act, but it always needs to be re-negotiated. I got really freaked out after the first DTW meet and greet cocktail party really realizing for the first time what Ashley was going through last year - that, yes, it's incredibly intimidating to feel like "The Dance World" is watching closely to see what you'll make. Kind of the same way, i've been meeting more and more people who "read my blog" which is always hugely flattering and exciting, and a little bit terrifying. The world is watching. Who knew? I did. Or maybe I didn't...

Anyway. Part of the fear is that I'm a narrative choreographer. Yes i'm interested in the movement, but not for the sake of it just being movement. I'm interested in what it says and why it happened, and everything that it might convey in a personal, historical, or social context. As long as i've been making dances, it's been the "story" first (or the images, relationships, etc.) and the movement to convey or explore it second. Which is not to say that the movement itself isn't at the heart of my work - i'm a firm believer in the idea that the movement we do can tell us more about what we're feeling than we could ever intellectualize or verbalize or tell. It's just that narrative is so out of style right now - so many choreogrpahers working to deconstruct the limits of narrative work and so many critics just beginning to speak that language - that i hold fear that the work will be dismissed as "young" just because it's telling a story. Which it might be. Because I am. But my belief is that the work is strong ( know...will be) and that the use of narrative is a choice and viewpoint rather than a fallback or lack of innovation.

Over drinks with ashley a few weeks ago, I confided that "i don't know if i'm revolutionary enough for new york modern dance" - a statement that she prompted me to really take some time to think about and work through. After seeing two "fall for dance" shows at city center as well as a handful of other work, and doing a good bit of searching online, i'm ready to amend that statement. All of NY modern postmodern dance isn't revolutionary. It isn't all new. And that's okay. My obsession and instinct (regardless if i ever succeed in in) is to make new after new piece. I don't want to see the same thing over and over again. So it's easy for me to fall into this trap of thinking that i'm not "new" enough, because it's a standard that i'm holding myself to. For now, i'm trying to concentrate on making exactly what i want to make and holding myself to that standard - really being 100% satisfied.

I am sharing a lot more of this process than i ever have before - posting all these videos and such. So. Ask me questions. What do you want to know about the process? About what we're making? About the work? About our business practices? I'm hoping to do some website updating soon, and that will have all our new writing up there, but in the meantime, let's keep talking. Hope this was interesting for you to read - it helped me organize my continuums a little.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

WebVid 2 - Studio Time @ Topaz Arts

Sorry for the delay - it's been a busy week!
Here's the vid for my studio time last Wed. On Saturday we worked on the phrase I was working on at Chez Bushwick, but sadly we were without cameraman, so I can't really show you. We also did some development work on "13 variations on a car crash" and some of the other spots.

The AOMC business team also met for the first time to plan our fundraising/community building/fun having plan of attack. More on that later.

As a side note, i'm down one male dancer and, as always, they're in short supply and i'm somewhat hesitant to go running out to all the men of new york and offer it to them simply because of their gender. Anyone interested?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

WebVid1 - StudioTime at Chez Bushwick

The Hypermedia archiving process is back up and running!

Since we'll be filming all the rehearsals and studio times (Jonathan Stromberg is joining the collective as our new cameraman) like we did for "The What's Left Over After", I'm going to try to post a little video for each one. Super rough edit - just so you can start to know some of the movement we're working with. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why is "Bad Art" so dangerous?

Last night I went to Move the Frame's "Kinetic Cinema" at Chez Bushwick- a showing on the first Monday night of each month (curated by someone interesting in the dance, film, or dance film world) of a handful of films that fall under the broad scope of the "kinetic cinema" label.

The program itself was interesting - some good some bad as always - and hopefully i'll find the time to post about it tonight as well. But what was even more interesting to me was the discussion that followed, especially as it pertained to a specific piece - Ann Liv Young's "Snow White Paris" (2006). (Video of another work here.)

The film, less dancefilm and more archival shot/artifact, was excerpts from a performance of the piece. The story behind it being (we found out in our discussion) that Young had been chosen to show a work at a dancefilm exhibition, and gave the single-stationary-tripod-shot-at-a-distance film of the performance to the curator, and asked him to edit it down to the desired time. While I'm usually against this type of shooting of dance (because it neither conveys the performance nor invents something that's interestingly/impressively "new", and because for the most part it happens out of more of an oversight, budget constraint, or lack of options than aesthetic/artistic decision) I enjoyed watching the artifact for a number of reasons. First, the movement (in my opinion), while neither hugely innovative (it was in the genre of pop cultureisms reclaimed as movement, being performed to snippets of hip hop/pop songs) or shot in anything nearing good quality, the dancing itself was viscerally strong and thus interesting to watch, and the set was aesthetically innovative enough to grab my intention for the entirety of the piece - about 10 minutes. While I certainly wouldn't have called it a "dancefilm" per se, I did enjoy it more than some of the installation-like pieces that were created to loop in galleries that seemed to go on and on (as loops in galleries do...) -which exist in my mind not quite "dancefilms" either.

In the discussion following the screening (there were maybe about fifteen of us there) two women in particular raised the point that they were offended somehow by the inclusion of Young's piece under the title of dancefilm, as it (they argued) clearly was not. One woman (I don't know her name) described her feelings towards pieces such as these saying something along the lines of, "I always cringe when I see a piece like this in a dancefilm festival, because I think about the one person sitting and watching it who's never seen dancefilm before who's just so turned off by it...we have to really uplift the genre of dancefilm and start defining what's 'good' and what's 'bad'." The other woman in agreement echoed her opinion, suggesting that this was an example of bad dancefilm (which made her have a "viscerally enraged" - her words - reaction). When Tony suggested that maybe it wasn't productive to exclude anything from the umbrella of dancefilm yet, he seemed to be quickly dismissed. Other suggestions for "uplifting" the genre of dancefilm included taking more cues from a study of film, as it has been being taught for years and years, which seemed to me a suggestion to take "what the film world has already decided is good and bad" into our aesthetic code, simply because it carries a history and legacy.

As I thought about it more that night, I was struck by the memory of why dancefilm first seemed attractive to me - Ezra Caldwell, Kathy Westwater, and Sara Smith speaking at a Sarah Lawrence dance meeting about how their film work had reached thousands more people than their stage work, and cut budgets nearly in half. Though dance tech certainly isn't the same thing as dancefilm, I also recollected many of Tony's teachings through the last two years - the use of dance tech and media as a gurellia tool to circumvent what was deemed impossible by the traditional dance world, artistically, viscerally, economically, and in time and space.

To me, dancefilm has always been a freeing platform partly because it doesn't have to be "good" - film is a relatively new technology for the dance world, so it's somewhat understood that choreographers are still developing and refining their skills as they produce each new instalment. It's not that dancefilm should be unkempt, or should have a pass from being judged on the same levels as both film and live performance just because it's young and choreographers are still figuring out how to work a camera and FCP in a sophisticated manner - as i've said a million times: bad work is bad work. But it does seem that there's a little more leeway given in film - a prime example was Jillian Pena's piece "COMPROMISE" (2005) where the illusions she created were sometimes eclipsed by the lack of technical sophistication, but she more than made up for it with the charm of her work.

It also seems to me that part of the excitement of dancefilm/tech/media is that there are so many different aspects of it, and everyone is still making sense of what is what, what it can be used for, and why it's effective, or not. There's straight up dance film - dances made for the camera and nowhere else - but then theres web dance, performance connected through webcast, projection/film/dancefilm within performance, dancefilms based on a work that was originally performance, dance performances based of what were originally dance films, and everything in between. And yes, artifacts of performance in the form of video. Doesn't that fit the bill too?

I don't know Young or the cannon of her work well enough to argue whether she was being clever and provocative by insisting that, yes, this was a type of dancefilm, or just uninterested in the conversion of her work to a film medium but wanting to be shown in the original festival, but the fact that she sells DVDs of all her performances on her website points to the former.

Regardless, I am still impressed by this trend i'm noticing, mostly in older (30's/40's) group of dancers to really be quite damning of "bad work". Why? It's one thing to not like a work, consider it bad, or really think that it's poorly made. It's another thing altogether to advocate that "bad work" (of any medium) shouldn't have a place or voice. Again, why?

Is it a fear that the bad work will spread and contaminate our own? Is it distain for those who have not learned what we have already discovered about the mechanics and aesthetics of "good work" (if it can even be can't)? Is it an embarrassment because it reflects our own past? Really - someone tell me - why is bad work so threatening? If it's bad, so what. No one died because you didn't enjoy it. No one couldn't afford to feed their family because it got negative responses on youtube and got rejected from a film festival. And, surprising though it may be, your own work probably didn't suffer from seeing it - if anything, maybe the experience of seeing a "bad work" clarified your understanding of what does work and is successful in dance.

So what is it?
Could it be that we - as the woman who first spoke out against Young's piece felt - really feel that the dance and dancefilm worlds are so close to making it out there in the big wide world, so close to being accepted by the mainstream population, and we worry that if someone sees a bad piece, it will just be another tip of the scale out of our favor? Are we really still under the impression that if we continue to just make ourselves better that someone will finally like us?

Wake up, people.
Continuing to make "good dance" will do little to nothing for the dance economy, and even if it would, it wouldn't be achieved conversely by outlawing "bad dance."

Anything that claims to be dance has a place in our community, and likewise for dancefilm.