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.