seeing you seeing me

There is profound grace in vulnerability--making the choice to expose the parts of you that are difficult to share.  There is courage and humility in staying open to someone else. 

When you look someone in the eyes, you are connected in a way that reveals.  Do you look away?  Can you really see the other person, and in turn accept that they really see you?  What impulse drives you to break that connection?  Fear; Shame; Discomfort; Intimacy; Self-consciousness?

In a time where our daily interactions are mediated through screens, and composed entirely of 1s and 0s, we could all afford to see each other a bit more.

Forgetting the Steps

Originally Posted on Shen Wei Dance Arts' Blog on December 5, 2010.

Something people may not know about dance, particularly modern dance, is that we actually work toward forgetting the dance steps. Dancers spend hours upon hours learning material, practicing the intricacies and coordination of the movement and perfecting it. Then we work to forget the steps. This is to say that the mark of mastery of movement is the ability to rise above the technique and work in executing the movement and simply dance it from your heart and your bones. We often refer to this as muscle memory, where your muscles almost remember so your brain can relax and you can experience the movement almost as it is happening to you. This allows you to be in the moment and truly honest, raw and vulnerable in the performance of the work. I myself, as well as other dancers i have known, have even experienced coming off stage after a dance and feeling a sense of “how did i get here,” or “what just happened?” It is a lot like the common experience most people have felt of driving on ‘auto pilot’ where you drive a certain route on a daily basis and sometimes get to your destination without a recollection of the trip. To me this is actually the desired experience in performance. It allows me to feel fully engrossed and invested in the performance.

Crabcakes & Rice and Beans

Original Post on Shen Wei Dance Arts Blog on March 12, 2009.

A reminiscent reflection on my first residency with the company.

8:20 am.  My phone’s alarm blares a calypso tone into the dark room.  A few expert clicks and the darkness and silence returns to the room.  Hunter sleeps soundly through another three cycles of alarm, snooze, silence.

8:50 am.  I drag my overly tired body and mind out of bed and wander into the bathroom for a wake-up shower; calling to Hunter “ten to 9 darling.”  “Thanks” he mumbles as he turns over and settles into another comfortable spot in the incredibly, borderline overly soft bed.  Ten minutes in a warm comforting shower I step out and greet the day.  Hunter and I pack our dance bags, dress, snack on anything breakfast-like laying around and dance and sing to the morning line up on VHI (the only TV station that plays music videos these days); and we are on our way.

9:30 am.  After a quick clarification of who walked to the studio early and who we should wait for (so as not to leave anyone behind), we were on our way via Parkview Hotel Shuttle bus toward our days work.

9:45 am.  Climbing the stairs towards the third floor dance studio I am met with an intense soreness in my thighs; most likely due to the creation of our crab cake walking patterns.  Each step becomes a bit easier as my muscles begin to warm up to this first test of the day; three very tall flights of stairs.  Entering the door to the studio I am greeted by warmth, light, calming folksy music and six of my beautiful comrades preparing their bodies for the work ahead. 

After a quick change into my dance clothes and a few layers of warm ups I join my fellow dancers in our sacred place (the studio) and begin my own process of preparation for the day.  Feeling some kinks in my back and legs I decide to walk the perimeter of the floor to scan my body for achy places and assess my posture in motion.  What began as an exercise in self-evaluation quickly becomes an observation of each and every one of the other dancers.  As I walk I take in their images and remind myself of what I love most about each of them.

Hunter’s vibrant, outgoing personality.  Joan’s strong presence and unique, stunning beauty.  Jessica’s endless desire to learn and better herself and to do right by the environment.  Jenna’s smile, adventurous spirit and tenacity in any task. Evan’s self-assuredness, openness and freestyle tapping skills.  Sara’s quiet wisdom and groundedness.  Brooke’s playful spirit and ability to roll with anything that comes her way.  Javier’s sense of humor and wit.  Sarah’s self confidence and matter of fact personality.  Cecily’s sweet and caring demeanor.  Andrew’s professionalism and deep body awareness.  Kate’s precision and attention to detail.  Adam’s curiosity and intelligence.  

A welcome departure from self-evaluation, these observations reminded me of the strong sense of unity and group cooperation that Shen Wei is asking of us in our creation and execution of Re- Part III.  This unity, as Adam stated so eloquently in last night’s blog, is truly enriched by our proximity and accessibility to each other over the course of this residency; sleeping, eating, dancing and relaxing together.  

10:00 am.  We are bathed in the beautiful sound of Church bells sounding the commencement of a new hour.  A quick ten minute warning from Sara and we all wrap up our stretching/strengthening/warm-up routines.

10:10 am.  We begin class, led by Syracuse’s own Sara Procopio, with an incredible partner exercise aimed at opening our scapula and flattening the surface of our upper back into relaxed width.  Not only a beautiful opportunity to care for each other, this exercise was a perfect segue into our breathing technique exercises from Re Part I.  Moving forward Sara lead us through Shen Wei’s technique with grace and a deep understanding of the work.  We practice our Chinese opera hand and arm pathways and Chinese opera walking, we center shift, we use momentum on the floor, we prance, we cross the floor with sweeping legs and spirals, we practice standing momentum and finish with a flurry of quick, powerful, traveling jumps.  

11:40 am.  After a quick trip to the restroom I see that Shen Wei has arrived and rehearsal is in full swing.  We begin the day returning to Re Part II with varied attention to our duet or solo material.  I first join Jessica in reviewing the details of the duets from the last section with Kate and Hunter.  Kate is currently stepping in to be Hunter’s partner in this stunning, haunting, closing section of Re II.  She is up to speed in no time and I move on to reviewing my solo material and attempt to apply the notes I was given yesterday. The other solo reviewers and I alternate use of the portion of available space with natural courtesy.  Spacial awareness and the ability to share floor space when working is a vital element to dance and the creative process.  I am endlessly thankful to work with such advanced, professional dancers who understand this and many other aspects of dance etiquette; giving the process ease and expediency.  As six dancers review the section’s long duet, I see Kate and Sarah dissecting and perfecting Sarah’s solo; looking carefully at the impetus and pathway of each of her virtuosic movements.  Brooke is practicing her solo while vocalizing; seemingly distracting herself from over-thinking each movement (I’ll have to ask her about that).  When practicing we often employ all sorts of tools to help us feel or approach movement in a new way.  The connection between mind and body, energy and body, body and space, and energy and space are all complex components of what make dance.  You often have to subvert your attention from one of these elements to more deeply feel another.  

Bringing our separated energies back to the group we delve into the third and final section of Re II.  We delve into the section led by Joan with a stunning flurry of low expansive movement circling the stage and ending downstage center in a contorted, hauntingly, elegant shape on the floor.  Adam rolls onstage in a loop of smooth, cyclical floor movement as Brooke, Sara, Cecily and Andrew walk into the space with concentrated, steady steps.  Brooke joins Joan like an ancient pair of roots and the others delve into a pair of duets.  As the rest of us enter the space and begin a cannon of duets, melding into each other like ivy, we join the others on the floor taking our own rootlike, contorted poses.  Just before a final swell of exultant yet tragic music the entire group morphs into another pose settling in to what I feel will be a truly moving image.

While running this section we are met with the challenge of simultaneously remembering and executing the movement while listening to the music’s phrasing and taking in coaching from Shen Wei as to the proper timing of our duets and walking patterns.  This is an excellent test of staying open to multiple outside stimuli and the ability to take mental and physical notes about both the movement and timing.  

After a quick discussion of some of these points we return to our positions in the space to begin again.  The music starts, Joan dances in and just as Andrew and the others enter for their duets the unthinkable happens; my phone rings!  Since the whole point of this run is to hear the nuances in the music I feel the strong need to rush to my phone to turn it off; which I somehow failed to do prior to rehearsal (dance etiquette 101).  While racing to the other side of the space the floor goes out from under me and I’m down!  Turns out I slipped on a discarded sweatshirt and I bounce up realizing I have simultaneously created a larger disturbance than my ringtone and broken the tension of deep evaluation with a room-wide gut busting laughing fit.  It’s healthy to laugh at yourself (and others) right!?  Well in spite of my unintended disturbance the run, though far from perfect, was a much better expression of the phrasing and timing of the music.

1:10 pm.  yummy enchaladas, chips, rice, salsa, fresh salad and dressing, fruit brownies and sweet tea.  LUNCH!

2:10 pm.  I quickly run the dust broom over the dance floor to start with a clean space and we’re back in action!  We forge ahead returning to our exploration and experimentation of ideas to create Re Part III.  Shen Wei describes this process as “shopping for movement” and we all truly have ever-expandable shopping bags as we delve into many many new movement ideas.  We solidify and clarify our “Swiss Watch” section; standing connected in a line, both manipulating and being manipulated in mechanical motions at various points on our bodies.  This leads into movements led by the hips in circular sweeping motions expanding the line to a group covering the stage.  We create various sections of movements in counts of ten all with different impetuses.  In one instance we lead movements with varying body parts making the rest of the body trail behind the specified point, changing in rapid succession.  In another ten-count section we move by isolated rotations of our limbs head and trunk with precision and clarity.  After quite a bit of exploration with this idea we link movements generated by swinging the full weight of an arm allowing the body only to move in an honest reaction to the motion of the swinging arm.  After linking these various ten-count phrases onto the end of the “Swiss Watch,” with quite a frenzied result, Shen Wei opted to try a new angle.  He asked specific soloists or pairs of soloists to sort of introduce each new movement idea before being joined by the whole group.  This seemed to give a greater clarity and separation of the movement variations.  Though not yet set in stone it seemed to be a very smart and effective device to bring precision and order to the section.

After a while Re-visiting our Crab Cake groupings of three (and in one case four) dancers sandwiched together while traveling in space we bring our workday to a close.  

6:20 pm.  Back at the ranch I go to work preparing my grandmother’s old family recipe of Puerto Rican rice and beans for my new SWDA family.  I feel privileged to have the opportunity to nourish their bodies and sooth their souls with my personal favorite incarnation of comfort food.  

8:00 pm.  We sit together in the communal kitchen enjoying food, each other’s company, a few well-deserved beers and glasses of wine, and a mind game Shen Wei teaches us that challenges your listening, observation and quick thinking skills.  Kate was by far the champion and after a few reports of people’s Crabcakes hurting from too much clubbing we parted ways and retired for the night to settle in, sleep, wake and start again.

**Entry by Brandon Whited.  Born in Poughkeepsie, NY, raised in Fayetteville , NC since age ten.  I attended the NC School of the Arts where I earned both my HS diploma and BFA in dance. I joined the SWDA family in October of 2008.

Touch & Connectivity

Together we have filtered through our differences towards a common experience which embraces all of our differences.”

”As we increase our knowledge of ourselves, we increase in understanding and compassion for others.”

”When we touch someone, they touch us equally.
— Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen

I found the above quotes, from the book Sensing, Feeling and Action by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, to be truly enlightening.  I came to the text as a selection for Bebe Miller's Floor Work/Somatics class here at OSU.

These thoughts bring up an interesting point that in our own self discovery, we grow in our capacity to understand and connect to others around us.  We often consider introverts or self-studiers to have some sort of social disconnect, or in some cases we may read that internalized reflection as narcissism or self-involvement.  I appreciate this alternate line of thinking that through the inner illumination of ourselves, we are, in effect, connecting energetically with others; gaining a deeper level of understanding and empathy.

This is illustrated most obviously in the general notion of the "worldy" person, who perhaps is well-traveled, as having a greater understanding of a variety of different cultures, and (hopefully) thus has a greater sense of compassion and empathy for others; accepting their differences as they are.  Often, but in no means across the board, people who have seen little of the world may have a harder time understanding or even accepting other perspectives seated in cultural differences.  I see that Ms. Bainbridge Cohen's notion of 'increasing our self knowledge, and in turn increasing compassion and understanding for others' is a way around the potential result of a limited world view.  It reminds me of that age old saying, "walk a mile in their shoes" and then you might understand them.  It is a nice way to think about the connection of inner discovery to that of discovering the world around us as well.

Yoga in relation to Choreography

Considering the relationship between Dance Choreography and Asana Sequencing in Yoga, I found the most correlation between them in decisions made for sequence  design, considering: efficiency and optimal benefit, the connection to breath cycle, and creating a build/crescendo of effort and energy.

Efficient sequencing is highly important to both of these practices.  In Yoga practice the sequence affects the body’s ability to be ready and/or fully prepared for the next pose or posture in the sequence.  “Certain asanas require particular preparation or counterposes…(Desikachar 41).”  The decisions we make in regard to the flow of poses, transitions, length of holds and resting moments, can effect whether you have a truly efficient and body-conscious practice or one that is difficult and perhaps un-effective.  The same is true of dance.  When considering the flow of a piece and the composition of the work structurally, transitions between sections, phrases and even individual movements, attention to the overall "picture" or outcome is a primary concern.

Breath is another key factor in both forms.  In yoga we decide the order of asanas in relation to their nature: either relating to the inhale or exhale qualitatively.  Some have  heart-opening, upward-moving, energizing characteristic (relating to inhalation), and others are organ-protecting, downward-moving and calming (relating to exhalation).  In the bulk of dance work (with the exception of choreography that may consciously oppose breath or place emphasis on execution over quality) choreographers have a keen sense of breath pattern, ebb and flow, of movements as they approach choreographic composition.  In a way, it could be argued that choreography that is highly musical also relates to breath--effectually relating the dancers'  breathing to the breath pattern of the musician.

Build and crescendo are other shared principles between the two.  A yoga practice often has an energetic build as it progresses, warming the body and deepening the effects as you continue along its trajectory.  The same can be said for much of the dance work out there, prizing build and development for excitement and as a means of keeping  audience attention and interest as the dance progresses.

Some of these connections seem obvious enough, but the overall relationship between yoga and dance is perhaps closer than one may initially think.

 

Source Cited:  Desikachar, T.K.V. The Heart of Yoga. Inner Traditions International: Rochester, VT. 1995. Print.

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Obstacles: in Yoga and Beyond

When I reflect on my yoga practice and the journey it has taken me on over the years, I find myself continuously encountering the same obstacles as challenges within my practice.  These challenges are arguably beneficial as part of yoga in terms of their ability to help one learn and grow.  Considering the nine obstacles listed by Patañjali, I find myself at times combating lethargy and injury (illness) as a result of my strenuous dancing schedule (both here at school, but especially in the past few years dancing professionally).  Though Yoga has many benefits to me personally and as a supplement to my dance life, there are residual obstacles I often face in my practice.  If I can learn more about the tools and power of tapas, particularly the practice of pranayamas (regulated breathing techniques), then I might be able to more effectively combat these challenges.  I often utilize breath in my dancing for efficiency and stamina--and in daily life to settle my stomach and calm my nerves.  In yoga, these more extensive breath techniques (especially inhale and exhale breath retention practice) could certainly help me to energize as a combatant to lethargy.

Two other obstacles I often find myself coming up against are distraction  and pushing too far/over-stretching which in Patañjali’s list are expressed as haste or impatience.  The practice of Svadhaya in the Kriya Yoga umbrella is considered the process of self-inquiry and self-learning.  By taking a deep look at ourselves and the intentions behind our actions (with observation, not judgement), we are able to then hopefully find greater understanding of self.  If I can hone this self-inquiry, I could then hopefully understand the desires and drives that lead me to go too far in a shared community practice, and ideally learn to work and exist in the present, in the current place and time and disallow distractions or anxieties to limit the full scope and expression of my practice at that moment.

(No)Contact Improv

Recently I have been pondering the idea of partners connecting without physical touch.

I was considering the ways in which we might (and often do) connect with other dancers in class/rehearsals/performance without any actual touch.  I feel this often when traveling across the floor with someone I kinetically connect with;  I feel it when walking in space, weaving in and around my classmates, keying into their energetic pathway and the imprint they leave behind;  I feel it dancing Shen Wei's Rite of Spring with a cast of bodies I know so well, never touching, but always feeling their presence;  I feel it at the barre connecting my breath and movements to those in front and behind me and across the barre from me.

As someone who craves touch and connectivity with other dancing bodies, I suppose I actually place equal value in the interconnectivity of energies in space.

This concept manifested itself for me in a truly magnificent way this past Sunday at the Contact Improv Club's Weekly Jam in Pomerene Hall.

After a few intensely connected partnerships that worked into a frenzied, risky energy (and resulting in me spraining my toe),  I re-entered the dancing space to play with feeling solo improv as a contrast to the work we'd been digging into.

Perhaps sensing my desire not to touch anyone at that moment (mainly as an exploration, but practically as a safe-guard for my newly injured big toe), Rachel approached me and began to improvise near me without ever making contact.  This progressed into a sort of spacial game playing the negative space and pathways around each other's bodies, as well as a game of matching trajectories (all without speaking or planning).  A third party, Amanda, joined in and picked up on our energetic interplay; seamlessly adding herself to the mix.  We continued this for quite sometime, developing tempo, momentum and rhythmic changes along the way.

Afterward, I felt the same elated feeling I experience after following a jam with actual visceral contact;  My nerves were humming and my senses heightened.

Something to think about.

Thoughts on Chroma

 
 Ed Watson and Mara Galeazzi (Royal Ballet) in Wayne McGregor's 'Chroma' 

Ed Watson and Mara Galeazzi (Royal Ballet) in Wayne McGregor's 'Chroma' 

 

I am most taken by the partnering in Wayne McGregor's 'Chroma' for a few reasons; all to do with what I consider innovations within his approach to a ballet partnering format.

Wayne McGregor has a true sense of three-dimensionality in his movement in general, which carries over to his partnering choreography with stunning results.  I am drawn to the elements, in 'Chroma,' of off-center, weight-sharing/counter-balance, freedom within restraint, and his use of multiple planes and axes in motion.  All of these principles, which are most commonly associated with contact improvisation or contemporary partnering, are, in the case of 'Chroma,' utilized within the context of the more traditional frame work of a ballet partnering structure.  Here, we often see the man behind the woman, primarily utilizing his hands and arms to lift, support, and manipulate her in various ways.  Considering that description, one could easily recall any one of the many pas de deux from the cannon of classical ballet, as well as within most of what is considered contemporary, neoclassical or other new ballet forms.  McGregor's departure from the norm happens in the execution and combination of truly magnificent shapes and movements within this traditional set-up of 'man behind woman.'  As seen in the first pas de deux in 'Chroma,' Wayne uses stabilization as an anchor for more movement freedom on top of a controlled structure.  I see this clearly in moments where the man almost holds the woman down in a balance as she snakes and spirals her back; as if she is a worm trying to break free from the grasp of a curious child.  By anchoring and stabilizing her base, in balance over her supporting leg, he is freeing her upper body for extremely active, multi-directional movement.  Had she attempted to execute this alone, she would likely fall off balance after the very first torso snarl.  We see a similar iteration of this motif when the male dancer lifts the female dancer in a sort of first position grande plié up in line with his chest.  Holding her there, she snarls and snakes side to side with minimal movement of her lower body, other than the required leverage to facilitate these multi-directional spirals.  The most stunning versions of this idea is the very last image we see in this first pas where, in an arabesque pliée toward the front diagonal, the man stabilizes her weight and balance with his own counter-balance, freeing her torso up for the signature serpentine snarl motif.

This motif, of freedom within stabilization, is also represented in reverse with the woman stabilizing herself in a static shape and the man, in various ways, moving her in space or redirecting her in one piece.  We see this in a repeating motif where, from her side tilt facing upstage, the man wraps his arms around her waist and with only a slight redirection of her standing leg, he shifts this shape by laying her over his thigh and changing her axis so she is now almost upside down in a diagonal across his base - legs split now horizontal as opposed to vertical.  We also see many "catch and carry" lifts, as I will call them, where the woman sustains a seemingly stiff, static position as the man lifts her in high, delicate arcs; addressing both the horizontal and the vertical.  We also see this idea represented in tight, multi-deirectional pirouette sequences where he will spin her on her vertical axis, stop her and spin her in the other direction with only slight positional changes on her part.  This particular iteration reminds me of the style and signature of La La La Human Steps (http://www.lalalahumansteps.com/new/), a contemporary ballet company based in Montreal, known for their fast and frenzied hand partnering (as I like to call it).  They women often dance on pointe, which reduces friction for more freedom in turning/spinning, but the movement is rooted in a similar mechanical functionality within the partnering.

One other approach I would like to point out is seen in the tender, gentle pas de deux that comes about halfway in the piece (starting at 12:55 in the full video included in my previous post 'Chroma' by Wayne Mcgregor 9/13/13).  Here we see a continual, elegant use of counter-balnce with intricate, intertwining shapes falling away from each other, off-center promenades and sweet moments where he jostles her slightly off balance almost as if they are discovering her balancing potential together.  I am also drawn to moments in this pas where the male dancer sweeps the female dancer's supporting leg out from under her, flowing into a new motion or finding a new shape.  One of my favorite moments in this duet is when she dévelopés her left leg over him and, supporting her pelvis from underneath, he softly moves her through a sort of jeté over his shoulder, gently placing her down in a plié arabesque behind him (~13:55).

I could go on forever about the many moments that leave me in awe, but I will stop here and encourage you to watch for yourself and discover if these or other moments speak to you.

Wayne McGregor and his work for Random Dance (http://www.randomdance.org) are an endless source of inspiration for me that I have been drawn to since first discovering them 10 years ago late one night in my High School dorm.  I will leave you with a link to Wayne's TED talk where you can see in a broad scope some of the aspects of his approach to choreography and development as well as generation of partnering material.  Enjoy!

http://www.randomdance.org/video/ted_talk