Caught in the Loop: a dance, a mediation. (2017)
What is the value of art, of the artist? This question persists through contemporary times. Artists of all disciplines often find themselves having to defend their calling to make a life in art. A part II, or continuation of This dance has no name, but it still has value, Caught in the Loop is in part a dance, but also a choreographer’s meditation on the internalization of this question. In an effort to come to terms with current sociopolitical realities, the piece pulls on the nostalgia of antiquities to uncover a relationship between the past and the present. Using scenic fabric and a dancing projection, spirals whirl as a symbolic form of time. The live dancer unfurls to harken back to a different decade in American culture, and history reaches forward to meet her.
When I heard the archive of President John F. Kennedy’s speech at Amherst, it filled me with such validation in my own choices to follow my art form, that it threw me a little off guard. I don’t remember a time when I heard the leader of “the free world” speak that way of art, to artists. Hearing it felt so incredibly relevant, not only to me, but to all the artists I’ve ever known – personally or not. Do we even write speeches like that anymore? Do we even regard artists as primary to the social fabric of our country? I considered these questions, and I ruminated on my own perceptions of art in America.
In consideration of my most recent solo work, and as primarily a solo artist, I profoundly related to these words. The fascination I discovered with how something of our cultural past could be so necessary today, fueled my curiosity. I found my attention focused, and the fascination? - it made me want to time travel. Here, I dance for personal truth, and I dance with a hope for more reverence for the artist. I manifest a desire to connect with what once was and attempt to bring something of it forward, for the sake of fulfilling the mission of art.
Photo by Laura DiMeo
This dance has no name, but it still has value (2016)
A dance that is a seed for future dancing-making, This dance resonates as a beginning of something yet to come. Timing is a central focus in the movement design and execution, as though time has a language all its own. Moment to moment the dancing unfolds from the calm of solitude, giving itself over to rising energies and unexpected gestural impulses. There is mystery lurking in This dance. It resides in the thoughts of liminality; that we can exist between distinctive worlds of reality and fantasy, of time and space. Supported by the musical genius of Meredith Monk the choreography is beckoned into collaboration with her vocal intricacies. This dance does not seek to find or express specific meaning beyond that which is present in the performer at the moment of dancing it, and yet – it is codified. Fueling the choreography is a desire to connect with how the dancer can rely on the keeping of time as a map for revealing nuanced intention with each opportunity to perform the same dance.
The primary goal I gave myself when creating this dance was to commit to whatever my interests were while spending time in the studio. Non-judgement: just move, be moved, and craft from there – a place of honesty. Coming out of a process that was riddled with complications and content driven ideas, I wanted to simply allow the dancing to be whatever it needed to be. This dance was born. I had no idea it was to be the eventual inspiration for the next dance in my repertory.
In hindsight, I realize that the dance became a negotiation between two parts of my creative self. As a choreographer I was exploring space in terms of design, imagining the space within my body having a relationship to space around me. As a dancer I was exploring time, how to shape it and understand it as a specialized form of communication. The performance merges the two and expresses the affinity I have for investigating relationships between external and internal awareness, and pushing my own physical boundaries.
Photos by Peter Richter
Blend; I authenticate. (2016)
“If I am a certain gender, will I still be regarded as part of the human? Will the “human” expand to include me in its reach?” – Judith Butler, Undoing Gender
Originally created as part of a choreographic residency with coLAB Arts, in New Brunswick, NJ, Blend is a piece that crosses disciplinary boundaries to explore realities of gender. It was made in close collaboration with the TrueSelves Transgender Support Group associated with The Pride Center of NJ. Taking on gender as a social construct essential to one’s own sustenance, the performance takes viewers through an individual’s journey into questioning – into self-realization and personal agency to create an “I” perceived and experienced through the broad lens of gender. Blend strives for a reckoning between the non-self, the self, and the spectrum of gender identity. It exposes paradox as a central theme for conveying viabilities in the human condition.
The making of this very special dance ranged from exhilarating to quite nearly torture. From very early on in the process I knew what materials I wanted to work with, but the vast possibilities discovered in those materials felt practically insurmountable. I was flooded with inspiration but had no way to navigate it. At times it was as though I was drowning in my own creativity and my own inquiry. It’s astounding that I didn’t give up! Fortunately, the necessary determination came from my friends Nicole and Kim at TrueSelves who were as curious as I to find out how I would pull this off.
Entering this project, I understood my goal to be an altruistic one, but I could not make a piece that concerns the complexities of gender and not consider myself in the process. What is gender? And what does it want? To be seen, to be recognized, to be accepted as a normal and fundamental part of personhood – regardless of how it is expressed, or not expressed. A wise transwoman made sure I understood – “Sex is what’s between your legs, Gender is what’s between your ears”.
Because of this process, I now understand gender more than I ever thought I might. Learning through research that included reading, moving, drawing, wondering, investigating, and most of all - listening. I observed through actively listening to the members of the support group something I knew tacitly, yet the weight of it in the presence of this trans community made it so undeniable – self-identification is a human right. It pushed me to observe through listening to myself as well. I learned that although I identify with the sex I was assigned at birth, my gender is made of a wondrous concoction of feminine and masculine qualities that ebb and flow through me and out of me, moving fluidly. At some point it became clear that in capitalizing on my craft in order to question and explore my own gender, I was routing my way towards deep empathy for the community I was working with and hoping to embody. It is with all my sincerity that I approach the performance of this dance, knowing that if it weren’t for the generosity and willingness of the trans-community with whom I interacted, I would have failed to find answers to the choreographic challenges I posed.
Raw Sweet is the Promise of Spring (2015)
Performers: Chris McLaughlin (drummer), Harrison Holmes, Melissa House, Sénait Judge-Yoakam, & Stephanie Nerbak
The spring is a time of a great stimulus, of regeneration, and taking pleasure in the sensation of nature’s renewal. Raw Sweet takes a cue from the spirit of these observations and asks how can dancers bring that same kind of sensation to the dance? This is a piece for 4 dancers and 1 live musician. Through touch, breath, vibration and rhythm the performers listen to their environment and to each other. The dancers move with a deep sense of responsiveness. What is set and what is improvised? Movement created from experimentation with these ideas forms the heart of the dance. Trusting in and being challenged by internal sensations, imagination, and honing focus on each other, gradually builds an excitement in group dynamics. Raw Sweet is a generous dance that strives for shared cohesion and crafts physical connectivity.
Photos by Paula Court
The Newborn (2014)
“The experience of Motherhood is mediated through the body to an extent unparalleled by any other form of relationship. Women who speak of being altered by Motherhood from the inside out are not engaging in metaphorical flights of fancy; they are expressing a literal truth.”
Created as a response to early Motherhood, The Newborn draws back the curtain on a day in the life of a young Mother navigating her way towards her new normal. It takes the viewer into the reality of Mothering with all of its excitement, anxiety, hope, pain, fear, pleasures, and, ultimately, love. How does “Mother” become part of one’s identity in our contemporary, American society? Where and how does this human experience reside in the body? When a baby is born, is not so a Mother? These questions and more underscore the making and performance of The Newborn. Motherhood has the power to reveal a deep well of issues not necessarily open for discussion. It also has the power to create profound transformation and awareness within a brand new appreciation for life. The Newborn explores these experiences, pulling from the choreographers’ real-life and other Mothers’ personal accounts.
Becoming a parent in today’s world is quite unique to that of parenting decades ago, and ironically, in as many ways as the world has made it “easier” to be a parent, it has made it equally as difficult. It’s a wash. Has it always been a secret…how difficult the transition into Motherhood is, I mean? Asking this is like opening Pandora’s box.
The process of making this dance began with memory. The dance incorporates real-life artifacts from early Motherhood. Interacting with items that hold energy of past experiences provided a reconnection with sacred memories, stirring a desire to move as well as a barrage of emotions. Movement explorations were supported by trusted colleagues who witnessed the outpouring of physical responses and generously offered up their observations regarding any emerging corporeality, and/or their own personal experiences with Mothering. It was an ideal space and time for this kind of deep and scary work. Then came the tricky task of using this raw, authentic material to create a dance.
In an effort to comprehend my own transition into Motherhood, I found great solace and inspiration in the pages of a book by Susan Maushart, The Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes Our Lives and Why We Never Talk About It. While reading, I became fueled with validation from the similar recounts of unexpected disorientation and instability that accompanied the care of a newborn. This author was articulating experiences that I had struggled to express and thoughts I had been afraid to share. In the text I found answers, but I also found more questions. If I’m not alone, why are women not talking about this? How does one break the silence of an experience that is so intimately between a woman and her baby? Is it possible to shift human (American) perspectives on Mothering?
This piece is not just autobiographical – I believe it to be connected to many other women’s stories of coming into the often very misunderstood and complicated role of Motherhood. The process of making it was a process of healing, of accepting, of honoring my unique story while realizing the strong thread of humanity that ties me to the stories of other women who became and who have yet to become Mothers. The Newborn is my contribution to breaking the silence.
Photos by Paula Court