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!!!