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!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

As promised...

As promised, here are the two full videos of mine and Lillie's final improvs for the day.

These came as a result of going back and forth watching each other's improvisations, picking out things that worked and didn't work, and then going again.

We also spent some time looking at specific guitar stances from the Red Hot Chili Peppers's "Can't Stop" video (an all-time favorite of mine), which i've also added below. If anyone else has any favorites, feel free to post a link in the comments section!

Webvid 4a - Dueling Air Guitars at Topaz Arts (9/27)

Check it out!