Each and every day, I lose myself in the immediacy of the moment, find myself in the joy of the movement. Each and every day, I learn more and more...and, within that new knowledge, realize that I have so much farther to travel.

Shallom Johnson is a contemporary dance artist, visual artist and freelance writer based in Vancouver BC. She holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Contemporary Dance from Simon Fraser University, and has been active in the Vancouver dance community as a choreographer, performer, and instructor since her graduation in 2004.

Shallom is interested in art in public spaces, site-specific performance, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community involvement. Her street-based artwork, performance and photography examines and documents who gets to make art, where it gets made, and where/how the creative process and product is viewed. In the future, she hopes to explore this theme further via new media and technologies, new methods of creation, collaboration and community engagement.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Video Post: On The Verge, in rehearsal

I am currently rehearsing a piece by the lovely Samantha Speis, choreographed on Gesel Mason's company, Gesel Mason Performance Projects. Sam also works as an adjunct with the Dance Exchange, and Gesel is a former company member who still works with them from time to time. She just got back from touring Ferocious Beauty: Genome to Toronto, and was kind enough to stop in and give us some rehearsal notes after watching a few runs of what we'd learned so far.

This is my second rehearsal with Samantha, and I am still learning the movement sequences and trying to get them "into my body". So what you see here is definitely rough and needs a lot of work. The choreography is beautiful, when Sam does it...on us - not quite as brilliant. It's a huge departure from the way my body likes to move...but every time I do it, things feel better and better.

Still going to be sore tomorrow, though. My triceps are feeling the burn from moving into and out of the floor.

I'm the dancer in the turquoise teeshirt, in the middle. To my right (closer to the camera) is Laura. Or maybe Lora? Lauren? Sorry, we just met today and I'm horrid with names. To my left is Meghan, also an adjunct artist with the Dance Exchange, and working with Kelly's company, Contradiction Dance. I know, so much overlap, it gets confusing...everyone is working with/for everyone else, it's rare to find a dancer or choreographer who only works with one company. Yet another reason why making connections, networking is sooo important.

video

This is the beginning of the piece.

video

This section happens closer to the end.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Video Post: DC Improv Festival, Daniel Burkholder / The Playground

This is installment #1 of a series of video shot at the DC Improvisation Festival today. Last night I performed with Contradiction Dance as a part of said festival, and the show went really, really well. One of Kelly's collaborators, Boris (of Danceaday.com) filmed the performance for us, and he's going to make Kelly a copy which hopefully she will be able to pass on to me.

For now, I've got a bunch of video of artists from here and elsewhere (including another Canadian - yay!) dancing around 9th and G streets. It feels good that I'm starting to get to know artists from around this city, and to see their work in action. One thing I will say, however - out of all the work I saw in this festival, I liked Kelly's piece the best. :) And not just because I was in it.



This video is of Daniel Burkholder / The Playground. Daniel and Co performed right after us on Friday night. Their work was mainly composed of pedestrian movements and incorporated a lot of moments of stillness contrasted with fast, furious traveling around the space. I've included the section that I found to be the most interesting/engaging.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Q & A Period #1

I've gotten some great questions from the dance students at LDSS, and I"m going to attempt to answer them in a few new posts instead of in the comments. If you'd like to read the questions, you can find most of them here (some of them I got via email).

Ok, here we go...this post is for Megan, Katie and Candice:

1. I am inspired first and foremost by my love of dancing...because to me, I don't feel complete unless I am moving and creating. Loving what I do is essential to my happiness and well-being, and to put it very simply - I cannot imagine not dancing. There have been times in my life where I've went months without going to dance class or getting into the studio to generate movement and rehearse...and I was miserable. Utterly miserable. However, I will say this - no dancer can exist in a world all by his/herself. I am constantly building a support network of people and organizations who I can turn to if I am in need of inspiration, motivation or just a good kick in the ass to get me back on track. Immersing myself in my art is hugely inspiring, especially when I'm in a new setting, meeting new people and forging new connections.

I am inspired by those around me, by my peers and my students and my mentors and members of my audience...by artists I've never met, whose work I've admired from afar. Seeing other choreographers' work is very important for me - it's a way to get new ideas, be exposed to new concepts and methods, to see if I might be interested in working with them at some point in the future, and to just get a feel for what else is out there...locally, nationally and internationally.

Not only am I inspired by other dance professionals and people working in the industry, I am inspired by random events in everyday life, by things I see in the media, by experiences in life that show me just how important the arts are to society, and how great the need is for people who are willing to devote their lives to creating and presenting art in all its many forms. I try to always keep a notebook on hand where I can quickly jot down ideas and inspirations for choreography, whether it's a leaf floating to the ground or an old man slowly shuffling along the sidewalk, or a song on the radio.

2. I always wanted to be a dancer, but I wasn't born with a body that was made for dancing. Compared to a lot of professional dancers, my flexibility (especially in my hips, back and feet) isn't that great. I knew that I was starting with a physical disadvantage, and I worked damned hard for every extra inch of turnout, every little bit of flexibility. It didn't come easy, but giving up was never an option. Still isn't an option.

Over the 21 years that I've been dancing I've had a lot of really wonderful people give me a lot of positive feedback and constructive criticism. I've also had quite a few reality checks, where I had to realize that my body sometimes just isn't made for some things, like going up en pointe (a horrible disappointment at age 13). I always had my mom behind me, pushing me to live up to my potential...and after I moved to Vancouver, I had many amazing teachers who did the same thing, never letting me get lazy or content with my abilities and accomplishments.

Dance is an art form rooted in the body, and supported by daily training.....hours and hours of training. It's not something you can do professionally if you're not working your ass off in the studio and outside of it, every day, keeping your instrument at its peak. Well, thats not entirely true. You can be a professional dancer without training every day. But you won't have as wide a variety of options or opportunities if you don't have the physicality to support the choreographer's vision. Unfortunately, companies like the Dance Exchange are few and far between.

So yeah, to answer your question (sorry I tend to ramble off on tangents) I would say yes and no. Yes I always wanted it and knew that if I worked hard enough it was a possibility...but no I wasn't sure if life would work out that way. And in some ways (when I was first beginning to dance, in pink leotard and black tights at Kidz-Up Dance in the Anglican Church Hall...my mom can tell you about that one) it seemed like such a faraway dream that I might as well have wanted to go to the moon. Once I started competing and, in highschool, started winning competitions and getting really encouraging remarks from adjudicators - that was when I seriously started thinking that I had the ability to succeed as a dancer. In university I began exploring my choreographic inspirations, and realized that I not only wanted to dance for others, I also wanted to create, to see a work through from concept to rehearsals to performance.

And as a side note, I often feel that I haven't accomplished enough - that I'm "getting old" and need to work as hard as I possibly can right now so that I get a really solid career as a performer under my belt while my body is still at its peak of physical ability. I feel that I have a lot of growing to do, as a performer and a choreographer and as an instructor, and that I need to invest as much time as is humanly possible into getting that experience so that I can continue to expand my artistic horizons.

3. Hmmm...I would say (especially after getting to know the folks at the Dance Exchange) that there is a place for everyone in dance. If you love it and are willing to dedicate your time and energy to it, there is a place for you where you can excel. There are so many many aspects of the dance insustry that you can excel in - not only is there dancing and choreographing, there is dance therapy, arts administration, teaching dance in schools/studios/community centres, dance and technology, dance photography, dance history, dance writing, movement-based research, community-based dance, dance presenting, marketing/PR, technical support, management...the list goes on and on. You just have to really look into your heart and discover what it is that you really love to do, what it is that you are really good at, and what you have to offer to yourself and to the rest of the world. And then, you have to do your research and figure out where you need to go, and who you need to know to make that happen.

Dance, like many things, is all about who you know. You can be a beautiful dancer and if you have no support network, no connections, you will have a really difficult time "making it" - not matter which path you choose. Networking, "schmoozing" as some call it, is key, especially once you get into the professional dance community. Get your name and face out there - get people to know who you are, know your name and your work, and acknowledge that you have something of value to offer them and the community at large...

For now, work as hard as you can, stay healthy and work safely, keep your body strong and flexible and keep your mind focused on your goals but also open to explore other avenues. One of the biggest things about working in dance is that you really have to be flexible, because plans could change at any moment...new opportunities open up without warning, and if you're not in a position where you are willing and able to take the chance on something that may be new and a bit scary (like moving to DC) then you'll really be closing doors on your own career. One thing leads to another, but if you don't take that first scary step you'll never know what you may have missed out on.

Photo: me playing with my auto-timer at the Dance Exchange.

...will answer the next set of questions very soon. Stay tuned! :)

Contradiction Dance: Objects of Hope: The America Project (First Draft)



So this isn't going to be the most creative post, because it is almost midnight and I have to get up early for company class tomorrow...but I really want to let everyone know that I'm performing with Kelly Mayfield's compan
y Contradiction Dance, at the Martin Luther King library in downtown DC, tomorrow at 6:00pm! And everyone that's reading this who is in the DC area should totally come and see me! Here is the info, cut and pasted from the email because I am lazy.

I will be back soon with a more thoughtful post about the work, and my role in it.

Performances:

Objects of Hope: America - First Draft
Part of the DC Improvisation Festival
Friday, Sept 28th 6 pm
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
901 G Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
FREE!!

Save the Dates:
October 20th, 6pm
Objects of Hope: This Voice
Tribute to Adriana
Tickets? contact: Mitra@NileDanceStudio.com

December 5-8th 8pm, 9th 2pm
Objects of Hope: Planet
Dancing on the Earth
Tickets? Box Office at 240-895-4243 (ext. 4243), or e-mail: boxoffice@smcm.edu

Objects of Hope:

I NEED YOUR HELP!!! Yes, that's right, you... all of you. This project, Objects of Hope, will be a movement, sound, and visual display of our personal objects of hope. We all have them, they are all personal, and they are quite different, sometimes rare, and truly wonderful. However, we barely talk about or celebrate them. Last year was a look back in order to move forward... well, it's time to move forward. Join me.

Please respond to the following questions as you see fit. (pictures/drawings/sound/words/movement/etc.)

1. What are your objects of hope?

2. Why? Is there a particular story for any or all?

3. How do you celebrate/remember your Objects of Hope?

4. Anything else to share?

Many thanks for your time and willingness to share your experiences. Please request anonymity if you desire it. This project will include your stories, those shared by youth in both studio & outreach settings, college students, friends, family, and strangers. Who knows where this path will lead... forward as you like.

About Contradiction Dance:

Contradiction Dance is a place where theatre meets dance meets pop-culture. The company's vision is to make dances that report on, reflect, and question the world in which we live. Nurtured on the belief that artists and audience members communicate in a dialogue through the chosen medium, Contradiction Dance fosters discussion, reflection, and change through live performance and dance education.

Founded in 2006 by Artistic Director, Kelly Mayfield, Contradiction Dance blends several dance forms (modern, hip-hop, tap, and jazz elements) with aspects of storytelling, and theatre. This eclectic mix, fused by the direct purpose of theme, allows the company to create an exchange between art and life for audiences, performers, and collaborators. The company members are not simply dancers, they are artists; each contributes greatly to the process and the final product. Each has invested in their message, the desire to share it, and the study, practice and performance of the craft they bring to Contradiction Dance. For more information or to book a performance, workshop, or master class, please contact: Kelly Mayfield at contradictiondance@mac.com.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Farthest Earth From Thee: De-Exceptionalizing Disabilities in Performance


One of the projects I've been involved in is a show called The Farthest Earth From Thee. The project was commissioned in spring of 2007 by VSA Arts, and is a full-length production featuring a mixed-abilities cast of company and guest dancers. This FREE performance will be a "animated keynote" - a selection of excerpts from the production, accompanied by a discussion of the work led by Producing Artistic Director Peter Dimuro.

The creation process was highly collaborative. Peter acted as Artistic Lead on this work, crafting the movement generated by the entire cast. The movement was inspired by Shakespeare's sonnets - movement was generated by the sounds, metaphors, relationships and multiple meanings embodied in his work. The end product is a mix of dance and theatre, incorporating movement, music, character and spoken text.

During the Generating Dances institute that I attended in January 2007, we were exploring the beginnings of the idea that evolved into this work, playing with creating compositions inspired by words, and expanding on these initial phrases to generate longer, more detailed movement sequences. We used a lot of the toolbox exercises, which helped me to push beyond my comfort zone and experiment with new ideas and new ways of transferring those concepts into physicality.

This process really came in handy when I got back home to Vancouver, where I was working with 30Toes to create Between The Lines, a work inspired by the text found in children's literature.



All that said, it's interesting to come back to this project, now that the work is finished and has premiered, and is being remounted for another performance. It's intriguing to see where they've taken the initial ideas, and how it has evolved into a strong, cohesive work that really brings out the best in all of the cast members.

It's a new experience for me to be working with such a diverse group of performers, and I'm really enjoying getting to know everyone and finding new inspirations in the ways people - including myself - move beyond their physical or mental or emotional to come together and create something really amazing.


One thing that I love about the Dance Exchange is their ability to help people find value in their own physicality, in their own movement. To really accept who they are and what they have the ability to create, and to see it as beautiful, regardless of their body type or training or background. It bothers me that dance (and especially contemporary dance) is often very elitist, only acknowledging movers and ways of moving that conform to certain standards of virtuosity and technical prowess.

We have three performers in wheelchairs, one survivor of polio who has minimal mobility in his arms and hands, one performer with Downs' Syndrome, performers who are visually impaired, and many others (like myself) whose disabilities are less visible (but still there, nonetheless). And one cute li'l puppy dog, with cupid wings. Instead of thinking of a mixed abilities cast as a group of people with extra limitations, I like to think of this experience as a phenomenal opportunity to create something completely new and different from anything I've ever seen before - and that's exactly what they've done. In a way, having a structure like this to work in challenges you to make new and more interesting choices about movement and how the movement is presented to the audience.


It's also interesting to see how different people's movement looks and feels when transplanted to a differently-abled body...for example, Elver's movement uses a lot of swing and momentum from the back and shoulder to move his arms, which is a radically different choice than one I would have made - and probably not something I would have experienced had he not been there to create that specific phrase. I'm incredibly appreciative to everyone who participated in this work, for giving me a chance to meet them all and work with them in the process of remounting it for another performance. (And I'm sorry in advance if I run you over with my bike during the show! I promise, I'll be careful...)

Anyways. This show in particular is family-friendly and super-accessible, ensuring that all audience members will find a way to enjoy the performance. It is being held in honor of National Disabilities Awareness Month. We've got an ASL interpreter dancing and signing on stage (he's great!) as well as audio description, captioning, assistive listening, and the availability of programs in Braille and large print. Pretty cool, eh?

The show is happening on Monday October 1st at 4:30pm at the following location:

University of Maryland
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

Robert and Arlene Kogon Studio Theatre

University Boulevard and Stadium Drive

College Park, MD


The show is completely free of charge! Hope to see you there!

Photos from The Farthest Earth From Thee, in rehearsal.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Toolbox in Action: A Week in Review


As I mentioned before, a big part of my apprenticeship has been co-teaching various classes at the Dance Exchange. One of the classes that I'm helping out with is "Community in Creation" on Saturday mornings. Today we only had two participants attend - Dorothy and Bob - so we decided to move around a bit and then tack on an extra class at the end of the session to make up for the missed hour.

Peter led us through an exercise that was new to all of us...he didn't have a name for it, so I've decided to title it "A Week in Review". Here it is, step by step (bear in mind that you could always adjust these steps, add your own, find new ways of exploring this idea):

1. Begin by walking around the room, thinking back on the previous week.

2. Find a place of stillness. Focus on the first day of that week. Pick a place in the room and move over to that place at your own time, continuing to go over the events, feelings, thoughts, actions that you associate with that day. Incorporate some movement into your pathway that comes out of your thoughts, etc.

3. Repeat this six more times, once for every day of the week.

4. Find a partner and tell them about your week, however you like. You may find yourself incorporating some of the movement you just explored into your story, you may not. You can give a brief overview of the whole week, or focus on one key aspect of your experiences. Listen to your partner's story and pay attention to the words and movements that stand out for you.

5. Change partners and repeat. Notice whether or not your story changes, and if so, how? Try to make sure that you have a turn telling your story first as well as second, and see how it may be affected by first listening to what your partner has to say.

6. Change partners one last time and repeat. Again, take note of movements, gestures, words, anything that catches your attention.

7. Everyone comes together in a circle, and we share which moveents, text, feelings etc stood out during this exercise. These collected movements can then be used to build a phrase, can be scripted, can be layered with the text...the collected words or sentences can be used to create a Movement Metaphor or Equivalents phrase, just to name a few more tools that could be used at "the next steps" in this composition exercise...

For more information on the Dance Exchange toolbox, click here. You may need to register, but it's free and only takes a few seconds!
Photo: The Farthest Earth from Thee, a rehearsal shot. The camera crew was filming footage for a promotional/educational DVD and material to go up on the website.
Peter was Artistic Lead on this work, which was developed using many of the D.Ex tools, and is currently in the remounting process for an "animated keynote" performance next month. What's an animated keynote? Stay tuned for all the details.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Have SpaceTimeShip Will Travel (May request inflight musicmovies)

I was wandering around Dupont Circle on Monday because I got there waaay before call time. I seem to attract strange characters, wherever I go - this guy came up to me and started going on and on about all kinds of weird stuff. He gave me this flyer:


And told me to check out this website: Kitsault.com. It's a northern BC ghost town that was bought by a Washington businessman in 2005.

Kitsault was built in 1980 to take advantage of a rich molybdenum deposit in the area. It was a company-built mining town, 3.5 hours drive away from Terrace, BC. The town had all the amenities of any other modern town, including a hospital, rec centre, pool, movie theatre, homes and apartments, post office, bank and grocery store. Many people moved in once construction was finished, mostly company workers and their families. In 1982 there was a huge drop in the molybdemun market, and the mine was closed for good. Everyone moved out of town, the gates were locked and the town was promptly forgotten. It's all still sitting there, including the molybdenum, all 110 tons of it.

I found all of this very strange - I grew up in Northern BC, not that far away from Terrace - and I'd never heard of Kitsault, not even once. I'd like to go and visit, it seems like a very spooky place. "Kitsault was left empty and eerie. The glasses are still stacked for the next pint at the Maple Leaf Pub. The sign-in sheet at the day-care center shows a dwindling roster of 3-year-olds. Amber LaForge was the last to attend -- alone -- on June 27, 1983. The pool was left filled. Residents left the doors unlocked." (The Washington Post, July 2005)

Plans for development include: "an eco-tourist destination or an artist's colony...conferences, gathering scientists for forums and evening salmon-roasts on the beach. Wedding receptions. A corporate retreat. A movie set. Skiing, hiking, a spa, bans on smoking and cars, maybe a high-speed hydrofoil to bring tourists 85 miles from Prince Rupert." The guy who was telling me about all of this was excited about going up there for an artists retreat, he said he was a musician. And also a spacetime traveller. Who has a thing for inflight musicmovies.

If you'd like to meet this guy you can probably find him at Dupont Circle park, or hey - just give him a call! Maybe he'll take you with him in his spacetimeship.

Intro to Modern Dance: Loie Fuller



One of my responsibilities during my apprenticeship is to co-teach some of the community classes here at the Dance Exchange. On Tuesdays I'm helping Elizabeth and Shula teach Intro to Modern, a class for adults that looks at modern dance through the methods of technique, composition and history. Each week we take our insipration from a different person in the history of modern dance - the class gets an assigned chaper of reading, and our in-class work is structured around that icon's technique, concepts and interests.



So far we have covered Isadora Duncan and Loie Fuller. Next week we will be doing Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. This Tuesday, our technical exploration of Loie Fuller was based in the use of momentum and weight. We started with a gentle warmup, then progressed to a couple of simple combinations. The first was a swingy arm combination, feeling the weght of our limbs and their ability to move the body through space. The second was a combination focusing on the lower body, exlopring shifting weight from one foot to the other and finding the undercurve that facilitate a grounded, weighted feeling of being connected through the body to the floor.


We explored these concepts further going across the floor, with low runs leading into a suspension, the leg pulling you back into two slow steps. We found that the most diffuicult part of this exercise was controlling our momentum going into the suspension, and finding the opposition in the back leg to pull us backwards instead of allowing the forward momentum to overpower it. We also played with contrasting "up" and "down" movement qualities, juxtaposing the same long, low runs with quick, light prances.

For the composition exercise, we took all of that movement information (in vocabulary or quality) and added another layer - being inspired by light and fabric. We split everyone into two groups and gave each group a long piece of white fabric to work with. The afternoon sunlight was streaming in through the windows, making a perfect performance space for our creations. Here is what the groups came up with. Simply breathtaking work! I was wishing that I could join in, it looked like a lot of fun. Very inspiring...



video
Group 1



video

Group 2

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hello LDSS Dance Students!


Tonight I found out that the dance students at Lakes District Elementary School (Burns Lake, BC, Canada) will be using this blog as a resource for their class - every week they'll be trekking up to the computer lab to read updates and watch the videos, and hopefully I'll be able to broaden their view of what constitues dancing, and who is able to dance, and also help them to see that a professional dance company doesn't have to be stick-thin girls with long legs wearing leotards.

I have my mom to thank for this, she runs the dance program at LDSS, my alma mater. I've been working with her class for the last two years in a row. The first year I set an evening of work on them called Blinders. It revolved around the theme of social blindness, about seeing (or choosing not to see) the truth about the world we live in, and making the next choice to stand up for what we believe in. It was a multimedia work that incorporated a lot of students - live musicians, video projections made by the computer/digital arts class, student choreography, all kinds of stuff.

Last year, I brought two friends (two of the three girls that make up our collective, 30Toes) up to Burns Lake to help me set another evening of work - this time, about this history of hair as a social and political statement. We each took a couple of sections and workd with the kids to create a dance based on variations on this theme. Some of the songs were more serious, some were humorous, some were more technical...we were working with kids from all different backgrounds, so we had a lot of variation in the final show.

My section was sourced from the cutting of children's hair in First Nations residential schools earlier in the 20th Century. For those of you who may not be familiar with the history - In the early 1900's, the American government shifted their genocidal policies from extermination to assimilation of Native peoples. Instead of endorsing massacres, forced relocations and the destruction of villages and food supplies to solve "the Indian Problem", they decided to "kill the Indian, not the man". This translated into a systematic descrution of Native Americans' spiritual, cultural and socioeconomic systems, replacing them with White values while keeping them in a perpetual state of poverty and disposession. Almost an entire generation of Native children were ripped from their homes and communities and placed into Catholic residential schools, where they were stripped of everything identifying them as Indian. Their hair was chopped off, they were forbidden from speaking their own language, from engaging in traditional spiritual practices, and often forbiden from seeing their families for months, even years on end.

*As a side note, hair also played a large part in the "Indian Wars" of the 18th and 19th century, as American governments on the local, state and federal levels levied "scalp bounties" on any Indian hunted down and killed - man, woman or child. The Scalps were taken to prove that a kill had been made. Often other body parts were taken as souveniers. Bounties often ran upwards of $100 per adult male scalp (adult males were usually defined as 12 and over, women's and childrens' scalps were less profitable). Many private citizens' organiztions also paid scalp bounties in the attempt to clear the land of any and all Native inhabitants. This happened to some extent in Canada, but was not nearly as systemic.

Burns Lake and the surrounding area has a very large First Nations population, many of whom were in residential schools or are children of parents who grew up in these institutions. There is also a very large part of the community who are descended from the "settlers" that stole the land away from its original inhabitants - the Gitksan and Witsuwit'en peoples who were forced into small reserves, often arbitrarily placed far away from their traditional villages and huntung/fishing territories. I wanted to draw on this past and present power dynamic, engaging the community's collective experience to create a piece that was relevant, poignant and evocative. I wanted to create something that would make people stop and think.

During the process, we used a few of the Toolbox exercises in creating the choreography. I started by researching text - excerpts from interviews with elders from the area who had gone to residential school as children - and asked the students to pick a few words that stood out for them. We then used the Movement Metaphor and Equivalents tools to come up with movements from the chosen words. We used these movements to Build a Phrase (another Dance Exchange tool), then experimented with different combinations of text and movement. (Click on the links for a full description of these tools) Eventually we ended up with a duet and a small group piece. For the group piece, we also made use of some traditional Native songs, and the duet was in silence.

I was so impressed with their creativity and enthusiasm for the project. I wish I could have seen the final production, but by then myself and my friends were back in Vancouver. I heard that it went really well. They had an amazing reaction from the community, just like they did the year before - my mom said that people were still coming up to her, months later, to tell her how much they enjoyed the show.

I'm excited that they'll be following me through my experiences here in DC - hopefully I can inspire them to "reach for their dreams" (as cheesy as that sounds) just like I am continually reaching towards my own.

Photo: The Dance Exchange core company rehearsing Lemkin (a section of Small Dances About Big Ideas, another work about standing up for truth and justice) for the upcoming Charter Oak performance. Photo date: Sept 11th, 2007.

For more perspectives on the politics/sociology of hair, here are some interesting links:

Dangerous Hair
Bernice Bobs Her Hair
Nappy Hair
American Anthropological Association Statement On Race
Nappy Hair: A Marker of Identity and Difference

For more information on Indian Residential Schools and related subjects, here are some links:
The Crucible of American Indian Identity: Native Tradition versus Colonial Imposition in Postconquest North America (Churchill, Ward)
Suppression of Indigenous Sovereignty in 20th Century United States(Churchill, Ward)
Gathering Strength: Canada's Will to Reconcile, Recover and Repair
"The Circle Game": A Review

If you've never read Churchill I recommend his work wholeheartedly, I'm reaing his book "A Little Matter of Genocide" right now and it's...making me very sad, and angry, and frustrated at the history of the supposedly "Civilized" Western nations, and the disinformation/misinformation/Orwelian doublespeak that is perpetuated to this very day.

This project is something I'm interested in revisiting at some point, creating a work that will that will have a longer-term research/generation/development period and will involve more of the community.

Video Post: Full Cast, Still Crossing

As promised, this is a video of the entire SEIU Cast performing Still Crossing. It's amazing to see such a diverse group of people all working together, and to see the same simple, beautiful movements on so many different bodies. I am truly honored to be a part of the Dance Exchange - I think they have something really special - by taking contemporary dance beyond the expected , by challenging preconceived notions of who can dance, by giving rdinary people the opportunity to see the value in their own movement and to see themselves as dancers, whether or not they have formal dance training...to be a part of a group that is so dedicated to bringing people together in sharing something as wonderful as movement, dancing, creating, performing...to see people push beyond their own comfort zone, challenge themselves and those around them to take that extra step, to get up onstage, to involve themselves in a project like this...it's inspiring, and overwhelming, and it makes me excited about being an artist. I haven't felt this way for a long time.

Show Time!

Well, just before yesterday's dress rehearsal we found out that we needed to cut an extra minute and a half from the performance. Of course dancers are nothing if not adaptable, so we made some quick edits and pressed on. The rehearsal was long and exhausting and frustrating for all involved, as all tech rehearsals are wont to be. The space is less than ideal - carpeted stage, no wings, no backstage area - but the company and the community dancers and the production crew were really committed and focused and we got through it together. I was really proud of the little step dance kids for staying engaged and focused until we were finished (late, of course, but that's to be expected) and for being so well-behaved in the hallway where we all have to wait before going onstage.

My job as Community Wrangler is actually a lot of fun, I get to worn on my people skills and get to know the cast and the technical crew and the Artistic Leads (Peter and Liz) and Elizabeth, the Project Lead, and just really be involved in every aspect of the production, which I love.

I'm going to leave you with a few pictures from the venue: the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton.




This is the stage space, and the company rehearsing the "Suffragette" section.


The ceiling of the conference room.

The swirly floor of the space where the audience will be seated (the stage carpet isn't this pretty).


Two beautiful chandeliers in the hallway.

And now, I'm off to our final rehearsal and the following performance. I'm tired, excited and a bit nervous. We still have some choreographic changes to make for the company's section, and we have all of thelast minute detailests to take care of. Hopefully it all goes well! I will be back later on with a full report, and some video from the full cast rehearsal yesterday.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

SEIU: First Full Cast Rehearsal

Today we had our first full cast rehearsal for SEIU. It was amazing to see all those people gathered together in one room - dancers of many different ages, ethnicites, body types and backgrounds. We have been very lucky to have the opportunity to work with such a diverse group of people in putting this project together - and it was amazing to see Still Crossing performed en masse. The simple gestural choreography is surprisingly powerful when you see everyone in the group moving in unison - even the smallest gestures are poignant and beautiful.

We put as much of the production together as we could in a short period of time, trying to figure out our transitions, pathways on and offstage, and the timing of the various groups' routines. Tonight we will get a better idea of how the entire show will run, as we will be rehearsing in the performance space - the conference room at the Washington Hilton.

Random bit of trivia: it's the hotel where Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981.

Anyways, I have video footage of today's rehearsal, and I will try to upload it by tonight or tomorrow. Probably tomorrow, as I'll be getting home very late tonight.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Squirrel Dance

Even the squirrels like to dance in DC! I was in the park last Friday near Union Station, and saw these two squirrels acting like cute little kittens, rolling in the grass, chasing each other, playing hide and seek, jumping around and acting silly! I got right up close and turned on my camera, got it all on tape...


Video Post: SEIU Project Rehearsals

Want a closer look into what goes on before the production hits the stage? Here are a couple of videos of the SEIU project - footage of the core company members and adjunct artists during today's rehearsal. Bear in mind, this is still a work in progress - we've got a whole day of rehearsals tomorrow to get things polished and ready for performance.



The presentation is made up of four sections, each pertaining to a time period or event in which people stood up for what they believed in and effected social change. This first video is the "Suffragette" section of the work. "Suffragette" is the term given to members of the Women's Suffrage Movement, who rallied and protested for the right to vote in the early 20th Century. The movement originated in the United Kingdom and quickly spread to the Unites States and Canada. It starts with a solo by Martha Wittman, and progresses to a group section including the other female members of the cast: Elizabeth, Cassie, Meghan, Samantha and Shula.




The second video is a chair section, and will be performed directly after the Suffragette section. Included in this shot are (from left to right): Samantha, Matt, Elizabeth, Thomas, Cassie, Megan and Shula. I'm not sure what meaning this section has in relation to the overall theme, or how it was developed - I suppose that's a good question to ask the company members during our lunch break tomorrow.


This last video has a few wobbly bits in it (and a stray finger over the lens at one point), because I was also running the audio and almost forgot to repeat it when the song finished. Oops! This section includes the whole company, and is the last section before the community participants join in for an excerpt of a Dance Exchange repertory piece titled "Still Crossing." The original work was created by Liz Lerman in 1991, and performed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, one of six international companies selected to perfrom at the statue's centennial anniversary celebration.

(If you're wondering, the puppy in the picture is Madelaine, the resident Dance Exchange Mascot and part-time company member. She had a small role in The Farthest Earth From Thee.)

First Week at the Dance Exchange: SEIU Project

Well, I'm finishing up my first week of apprenticeship at the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, in Takoma Park, MD. I've travelled all the way across the continent, from Vancouver, BC, Canada - and I'm finally getting adjusted to the time change, the hectic schedule, and the humidity. I meant to start blogging right away, but I've been so busy this week that I haven't had much of a chance to get my thoughts organized.

So far, my days have been jam-packed with rehearsals (for two different projects - more on that later), co-teaching a few weekly classes, various administrative tasks, and jobs relating to my position as "Community Wrangler" for an upcoming performance.

The core company, adjunct artists, and participating community groups are preparing for a project that culminates this weekend. The performance on Sunday is taking place at the opening ceremonies of the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) conference. This important conference happens every four years, and includes union members from all around the country. The SEIU is one of the largest unions in the world, made up of the people who keep our society running - janitors, health care workers, waitresses, home care workers, maids, etc. They are mostly Latino women, and mostly recent immigrants.

During the symposium, the union members will hear speeches from all the Democratic presidential candidates and vote on which candidate they would like to back in the upcoming federal election. In order for the candidates to even attend the conference, each candidate must walk a day in the shoes of one of the union members, to get a taste of what it's like to live farther down on the social ladder. They must also agree to a Q&A session where they will answer any and all questions posed to them by members.

Two weeks ago, the Dance Exchange was invited to perform at the conference. We will be doing three performances. The first (on Sunday) involves external community groups as well as the core company members - Tappers With Attitude, the Dance Place Step Team, SEIU members and volunteers from the community at large, all dancing together. The second and third performances are on Monday, and will only involve the core company and will include some performance, discussion and audience participation activities to keep the delegates engaged in between all of the speechifying and pontificating. The conference will be broadcast on national television - CSPAN will be there to film the whole thing!

My job in all of this? The esteemed "Community Wrangler", I have to be the person on-site who can answer any and all questions - I have to know contact information for everyone involved, know the choreography, know the facility layout, the rehearsal/performance scheduleand anything else that may come up. Sound like a lot of work? It is. We've been packing rehearsals into every spare moment - and with just three more rehearsal periods to go before the show, we'll be going full steam ahead right up until the last minute.

I have to go and warm up for rehearsal, but I'll be back later with more updates, info on the other projects in the works, and some rehearsal pictures!