When I was teaching composition at a magnlet arts high school, the class would often revolve around a set of tasks designed to give the students creative tools to craft “interesting” compositions. When it was time to give feedback, I would always say to the students, “Take what you want and throw the rest away.” If we had showings, other teachers also proscribed to the “Take it or leave it” mentality. Even though I said that, I didn’t really mean it. I think I meant, “I’d like you to at least try to apply a part of my feedback to get a different result. If in the end you don’t like the result, you can always revert back to where you started or somewhere in the middle. In the trying, you might find something new somewhere along the path.”
I still had expectations about their products and as teachers we would often struggle with how much to lead a student to get a “good product.”* If the student was using the tools, testing boundaries and following their instincts I was always happy with their process and often their product was more successful, but not always. When mentoring the creation of a senior project, the students were struggling with figuring out what they instinctually liked, navigating what they thought “good work” looked like and how to make their work “good.” I gave the advice, “Stick to the process and the work will follow.”
I’m now the student and it’s interesting to see the teachers struggle in the same way. How much are they leading me toward their aesthetic or their style of discussion. Am I learning how to survive in the academic world or am I learning how to survive in their specific setting. I’ve decided in this moment that I will try to apply what I wanted my students to do. Try out some options revolving around the feedback given and see where that takes the work. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a setting where I’ve had to take into account constant feedback. It’s interesting that I am also still wrestling with the notions of “good work.” Stick to the process and the work will follow.
*A good product by definition is something created that is desired or approved of and is therefore all about perception and opinion. Not everyone likes the same things, that is why there are so many options and reasons for creating the art you want to make. Not everyone will like what you make, but someone will…somewhere.
The other day I realized I actually know things. I’ve been perfecting technique and practicing performance for a while, studying from different people along the way that had skills and certifications in Bartenieff, Alexander, Yoga, Feldenkrais, Meditation, Release technique, classical techniques (Horton, Graham, Humphrey, Limon, etc.) and various other forms of techniques that I don’t even know about and yet most of the time no one labeled them for me. You don’t go through a dance class labeling everything you have ever studied and explaining where it came from. You begin lying on the floor feeling your weight into the floor (meditation), perhaps some effort based stretching and abdominal work (yoga and pilates) and as you move through the class you talk about weight, time, space and flow (Laban) and then perhaps some discussions about finding ease and efficiency (Alexander), etc. You don’t necessarily label them as a teacher and I can’t say I knew their lineage and I still can’t say that I do. So as I’m finally realizing I know things, I’m just realizing that here is the place where I label them and understand their history and lineage. Pedestrian walking on stage originated in the Postmodern era. Ok, I knew that one. But, Laban is where you define weight, time, space and flow and dissect them. I just found this out.
Grad School is where it happens, this is where connections are made, this is where you dig into the granules of what has created what you already know.
Saturday night I attended “TICKTOCK” a work-in-progress showing of Syren Modern Dance and The Ohio State University’s Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP) Visiting Fellow, Dr. Paul Sutter. The collaboration was sponsored by The STEAM Factory which is an Ohio State space fostering research relationships in a STEAM (Science, Technology, Education, Art and Math) custom. I was super excited to see the space and get to know what actually happens there. This is the first time there was an event of this kind open to the public (so I still don’t know what actually happens there) and it was engaging and the audience’s reaction was palpable.
The performance was inside a demonstration illustrating how Syren generally works choreographically, how the company sought out Dr. Sutter for his expertise in physics and how their collaboration unfolded. That’s a lot of hows…
Sutter is an avid speaker and has the radio show, Space Radio.* WCBE 90.5 hosted the event as a fundraiser. The first segment of the work they showed featured his speaking and walking around the performance area Morgan Freeman style in the “Through the Wormhole series” as the dancers narrated his words, “The faster you move in space, the slower you move in time.” Sutter varied this sentence repeatedly and the dancers organized in different ways demonstrating/acting out through movement what he was saying. He also told stories and the dancers gathered around his storytelling self before blasting off as characters traveling through space, illustrating different continuums, alluding to time-travel and multidimensional worlds. At one point the dancers even lift him up in a half-sitting position and float him across the space. All to illustrate different moments of time. If you haven’t surmised, the piece Syren and Dr. Sutter are creating together is about time.
They showed multiple sections. One section was created from physics action words that Kate St. Amand, co-director of Syren and choreographer for TICKTOCK, asked Sutter to come up with, such as rotation (which as discussed is about traveling less through time and more through space). Let’s just remember my affinity toward aboutness for a second. And we’re back.
The audience was given multiple opportunities to ask questions. At one point the dancers improvised the answers that Sutter was giving about questions such as, “Is there such a thing as a parallel universe? and “Is the discovery of time travel considered inevitable?” The dancers mirrored each other through space as Sutter described perpendicular multiple dimensions as a possibility more than parallel universes. This reminded me of Marvel’s The Flash. Sutter responded to the latter question explaining that time travel at this moment is considered impossible, but no one actually knows why. The ten year old next to me even asked a few completely succinct and thoughtful questions throughout the evening about the speed of light. The audience was energized and felt engaged and heard, you could feel it.
*He also hosted a segment this week with the Syren Modern Dance’s co-directors Kate St. Amand and Lynn Peterson.
I went into the studio on Monday with a stack of newspapers, a highlighter and my computer with a article of Susan Kozel discussing the possibility of doing a phenomenology on affect. I had an image in my head of drawing a simple house on pages of newspaper and crumbling them up and throwing them away. I couldn’t and still can’t figure out if or how that fits into my laban movement phrase but when I presented my further investigation to my MFA Choreography Workshop, they found a seriousness, a darkness and a political content within the new laban inspired phrase. I found this interesting because I envisioned drawing that picture of a house on the politics section of the paper. In the studio, I adhered to the rules stated in the previous post. I noticed I was seemingly most interested in leading/initiated movement with a particular body part and primary weight in a place that is not your feet.
In Choreography Workshop it is currently an open forum for anyone to give suggestions or choreographic thoughts in an attempt to remove the preciousness of something created and find other creative avenues. I performed the movement the first time among Dave Covey’s paintings on canvas scattered around the floor. Dave is the facilitator of Choreography Workshop and he has created paintings inspired by our workshop together among others. For the second showing of my phrase, Dave selected a soundtrack of the women who confronted Senator Flake in the elevator to play during my movement and another student suggested I confine the phrase to a specific part of the stage surrounded by his paintings.
I’m noticing the state of the country, our president, Kavanaugh/Ford, the “Me Too” movement, the fact that California has to make a law to require women on the boards of publicly traded companies, etc. etc. etc. is increasingly effecting me. Perhaps this movement does have something to do with the current political climate. Perhaps my affect has something to do with the effect?
One of the team building exercises we have done in the first few weeks of my MFA at OSU is called “Your awesome!” I think it’s a great way to open the space with positivity and help everyone feel, well, awesome actually. Norah said it came from a theater exercise.
You stand in a circle and jump up and down and one at a time yell out 3 things you learned. It doesn’t have to be the most insightful thing. It could be that you saw plants in the space. You label each thing as 1-3 and everyone repeats the number back to you, loudly. Then you say your thing, like “Plants!” and everyone yells, “Your Awesome!”
It was awesome to take a minute to recognize everyone’s feelings of displacement of self in location, field and humanness* and break the ice. The exercise made me feel grounded in a safe space for creating.
This would be great for any age group. We all could use a little more recognition that we are awesome. YOUR AWESOME!
This summer we were tasked with reading “Honest Bodies: Revolutionary Modernism in the Dances of Anna Sokolow” and I was very excited to then sign up for a class with the author. How fun is it to take a course from the person who literally wrote the book on it! I am currently in Dr. Kosstrin’s Laban class and although this book is not required for that course it is wonderful to see two sides of someone you have just met. Below you can read my summary of her book for Graduate Seminar. There are so many grad words in there! 😉