On Creative Courage

July 19th, 2014

 

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Professional Training Program students begin to arrive at registration.

There is a dynamic shift that happens at BDF this weekend. For those of us who have been here from the get-go, we start to adjust to a new energy on campus. Of course we are incredibly excited for all of the new dancers, faculty, events, performances, and classes to take place. However, there is something in the air that I’m picking up on, and I’m not quite sure what it is.

Perhaps, it’s anxiety? For me, anxiety is experiencing failure in advance. So, why am I so afraid of failing in such a nurturing environment? Furthermore, what am I afraid of failing at? As dancers, why are our nerves doing such a strange dance today?

Embodying vulnerability. Believe it or not, I think some of us are afraid of not being vulnerable enough.

Vulnerability and risk-taking gets back to this idea of what we are truly afraid of as young professional dance artists. I, for one, am not necessarily afraid of taking artistic risks and practicing vulnerability in performance — I am more so afraid of settling for less. I am afraid of not giving what I can give. And, I am certainly afraid of not taking everything that I can take while I’m here.

And so we find ourselves waiting for our chance to really experience vulnerability. During this waiting period, we find ourselves having an internal debate. Why am I here? What is my work? Is my work good enough? Well, you are your work. You are good enough. You and I are here because we’re addicted to vulnerability. With vulnerability, innovation and discovery comes. This is where rich work takes flight.

As Seth Godin puts it: “When we share [our work], when we connect, we have shifted all the power and made ourselves naked in front of the person we’ve given the gift of our art to. We have no excuses, no manual to point to, no standard operating procedure to protect us. And that is part of our gift.”

At this point, it’s not about where you came from, your dance education, or your resume. Most importantly, it’s not competitive at all. At this festival, it’s about getting back to that very human thing. As dancers, our duty is to connect to other human beings. Even if you just pick one person that you can impact for the better, with work that might not work — that is vulnerability and art in its highest form. It’s giving what you can give, and taking everything that you can take.

So, that “anxiety” that some of us are picking up on? It’s not really anxiety at all. It’s creative courage in the making. I can’t wait to witness all of these incredible professional-level dancers as they take flight.

This post was written by Ashley Yergens. Ashley is the BDF Social Media Intern for the 2014 summer.

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The Power of an Image

July 19th, 2014

How powerful are images? What do we really see in an image? How do these images comment on and inspire choreography? Camille A. Brown challenged us as an audience during the July 15th Show & Tell to consider more deeply the video and still imagery used in “Mr. TOL E. RAncE”. She challenged us because she knows the projection imagery used in this dance might make us uncomfortable as it “examines the ‘mask’ of survival and ‘double-consciousness’ (W.E.B. DuBois) of the black performer throughout history” and explores “the stereotypical roles dominating current Black culture” (http://www.camilleabrown.org/mr-tol-e-rance/).

Brown has a wonderful way of engaging an audience as seen in the audience warm up prior to the Show & Tell. Her energy is palpable. Brown and her company were also very generous answering audience questions about “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” and about their own life experiences. At the same time, Brown expects the audience to be equally sharing of their own insights, understanding and perceptions. She asked the audience what they actually perceived in the still and video imagery used in the dance. When answers seem to dwell on ideas like composition, lack of color, or other elements of art, Brown encouraged the audience to go deeper.

The ensuing discussion, prompted by Brown, probed issues of race, perpetuation of stereotypes, the power of imagery to lock in ideas of society for generations, and how we tolerate ideas we might be offended at in a historical context.

With their vibrant and profound movement in “Mr. TOL E. RAncE,” the Camille A. Brown & Dancers are less interested in a history lesson. Rather, “the goal of this personal work is to engage, provoke, and move the conversation of race forward in a timely dialogue about where we have been, where we are and where we might want to be” (http://www.camilleabrown.org/mr-tol-e-rance/).

The ideas in “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” are importantly universal as is the use of imagery to perpetuate stereotypes. As you experience this dance, consider the relationship between the chosen images and then look to our contemporary world for equal examples. Images are powerful and there is a story behind each one waiting to be fully understood.

This post was written by Jim Thurston. Jim is a professional designer and educator who researches the relationship between choreography and design for the stage. He is the chair of the Department of Theater and Dance at Colby College and is delighted to collaborate with artists and scholars at the Bates Dance Festival.

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Designing “Heart of the Matter”

July 17th, 2014

At the July 8th Show & Tell with Prometheus Dance, a member of the audience asked how the design elements work to support “Heart of the Matter.” This is an excellent question since without light we wouldn’t see the dance and without sound, projection and costume, meaning might be lost. It’s also a great question for the creative team of Prometheus Dance because collaboration with professional composers and designers is central to the company’s mission.

Recently I was able to interview Diane Arvanites (Co-Artistic Director/Co-Choreographer), Tommy Neblett (Co-Artistic Director/Co-Choreographer), and Linda O’Brien (Light Designer) to discuss design process and final design elements evident in this impressive full-length dance.

“Heart of the Matter” opens with a video projection depicting garden elements accompanied by a constant musical tone interspersed with electronic chirps, static tones, and other composed punctuations. Amidst this engaging visual and aural landscape, bursts of sidelight and toplight reveal a cluster of dancers wearing formal attire. Instantly, this overture gives way to a serene composition of slow motion gestures, a soft instrumental composition, and low intensity sculptural sidelight, all backed by a monochromatic projection of a flower. After a beautiful and controlled movement sequence, the pace quickens with the introduction of new gestures, implying different relationships between dancers. Some new influence grips the ensemble as they twist and turn, shaking their hands and forearms.

Experiencing the beginning of this dance as an audience member, a number of questions arise. What forces are at work and what do they mean? What will the journey be like for the dancers until the final moment when the light snaps out on the ensemble individually working within fitful athletic gestures? Why are the dancers in formal clothing and why is it stripped away as the dance progresses? Given the particular relationship between the choreography and design elements, how did the creative team arrive at these choices and how do they shape the final meaning of the dance for the audience?

In the yearlong choreographic process for “Heart of the Matter” a very particular, layered design process was at work to achieve the final dance. Arvanites and Neblett typically begin the rehearsal process with movement itself and hold off on integration of design elements until the overall dance structure is visible. With the structure in place, designers attend selected rehearsals and begin to learn the dance and explore design expressions. Arvanites and Neblett guide the design process with research and ideas inherent in the phrasing but leave much to the imagination of the design team. Prometheus Dance is fortunate to have several long-time designers on the team, providing an important level of trust and efficiency of process.

An exception to the above stated process is projection design. From the start, Arvanites knew she wanted projected imagery, in a confined way, to be a significant part of the dance. She provided much of the still and video imagery, with some created by Adam Noya, and eventually collaborated with company dancer Callie Chapman Korn to complete the visual score and perfect the editing and timing. This extended design process allowed Arvanites and Neblett an opportunity to be very selective about imagery based on choreographic intent. At the same time, and much like the musical composition by Miguel Noya, Chapman Korn was able to finesse editing and timing to match progress during rehearsals.

Costume designer Penney Pinette worked with Arvanites and Neblett to define the style of the formal wear, then identify and color the period undergarments. Arvanites has a collection of formal wear and the use of these clothes in “Heart of the Matter” fit perfectly with the desire to start the work with dancers covered in formal, rigid layers that would gradually peel away as other aspects of identity emerge. With this thought in mind, a provocative moment in the dance occurs when the women unzip their gowns and slowly allow the formal wear, the “veneer”, to slip away, revealing another layer of the self. In this moment, movement, costume, light, sound, and projection all work together to highlight what Arvanites and Neblett refer to as the “…stripping back layers of a personal history” (BDF Interview with Diane Arvanites and Tommy Neblett).

The final layer of design in “Heart of the Matter” is the one that allows us, as audience, to see the dance literally and figuratively—light. In professional dance this is often a design element added right before a public performance since time working in a professional theater is very costly. Light designer Linda O’Brien had many weeks to come up with more abstract design ideas but had only several days to implement these ideas. This process requires discipline, planning, organization, attention to detail, and a lot of trust between the designer and choreographers. The final light design for “Heart of the Matter” uses light to “help complete the picture” according to O’Brien. Arvanites and Neblett add that with light there is a wonderful sharpening of choreographic images. Using color, angle of light, pattern, specific focus of instruments, and movement of light through the cueing process, O’Brien worked to sculpt the bodies, enhance the ideas within the choreography, and ultimately create a mood on stage that pulls the audience into the work.

The Prometheus Dance creative team relationships are also built around an important visual aesthetic. Neblett mentioned to me how he and Arvanites used to travel to New York City to experience Pina Bausch’s choreography. The “total work” sensation—all elements (choreography, music, design) working together as a seamless whole—left a lasting impact on Arvanites and Neblett. Not that Prometheus Dance aspires to fill the stage with water, rocks, or hundreds of chairs, not at all. However, they emphasize the intention of all design elements as they support the choreography and complete the experience for the audience.

There is a minimal, elemental quality of design at work in “Heart of the Matter” where movement, light, shadow, color, fabric, silhouette, videography, and sound fuse together to create a whole that underscores the choreography and thematic intent. Combine the choreographic aesthetic and design choices with the theme of how humans struggle to find themselves amidst society’s shaping and reshaping of identity and you have “Heart of the Matter.”

“Heart of the Matter” is somewhat of a transitional work for Prometheus Dance. The choreographic process involved more improvisation, that is a willingness to use collective material generated from dancers through experimentation. This desire to open the process and explore alternate modes of working led Arvanites and Neblett to an upcoming collaboration with professional photographers Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison. Likely working with these unique professional photographers at the inception of a work will take Prometheus Dance on a new creative journey—one that will be rewarding to follow.

This post was written by Jim Thurston. Mr. Thurston is a professional designer and educator who researches the relationship between choreography and design for the stage. He is the chair of the Department of Theater and Dance at Colby College and is delighted to collaborate with artists and scholars at the Bates Dance Festival.

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Live Twitter Chat: Camille A. Brown

July 15th, 2014

 

 

Today, the Bates Dance Festival participated in a live twitter chat with Camille A. Brown, which was hosted by Piper Anderson. Lincoln Center’s Bill Bragin and 651 Arts were a couple of the dialogue’s participants. The brilliant conversation surrounding arts, activism, dance, theater, and dialogue unfolded under the hashtag: #CABchat.

Keep the healthy dialogue going by visiting the thread here: #CABchat

Don’t forget to check out tonight’s Show & Tell!

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(Click on photo to enlarge.)

IF YOU GO TO THIS EVENT

WHAT: Camille A. Brown & Dancers Show & Tell

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 15

WHERE: Schaeffer Theatre

TICKETS: Free

This post was written by Ashley Yergens. Ashley is the BDF Social Media Intern for the 2014 summer.

 

 

 

 

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In Need of a Social Consciousness Tune-up

July 13th, 2014
Camille A. Brown engages the students in an unforgettable workshop.

Camille A. Brown engages the students in an unforgettable workshop.

Viral videos bring the latest social dance trends into our homes. However, as the digital sphere explodes with dance, cultural and historical context is often neglected. As a result, we perpetuate unhealthy stereotypes and cultural insensitivity without even realizing it. Today, Camille A. Brown started to break that cycle for our BDF Young Dancers. They began to physically trace the evolution of social dance in the United States.

“Movement is progression, right?” Brown asked the dancers.

In the 1920s, culturally acceptable movements and gestures looked and felt a lot different than they do today. Yet those movements are still embedded in today’s latest dance crazes. While social dance continues to evolve, one thing remains the same: the social institution of dance provides an arena for people to safely communicate with one another.

Injecting social dance into the classroom is an effective way to hold a mirror up to society for our youth. It’s a task that Camille A. Brown excels at. In her artistic statement, Brown writes:

“Overall, I am striving to build a strong sense of storytelling from a black female perspective, stories that are based in current times and historic times, constantly connecting history with the contemporary; not a history lesson, but a journey and understanding of what is relevant to our present day lives. In this way we are able to provoke dialogue, to be technical and to be free of its constriction, moving between the tension of form and expression, story beyond technique. What we do is to bring those things together. Not just looking at the technique of the body but the language of the body and the history it carries. At the root, these stories are human stories.”

On Tuesday, Camille A. Brown & Dancers will share their artistry and social activism with excerpts of “Mr. Tol E. RAncE.” This Show & Tell is bound to leave you wanting more. If you’re in need of a social consciousness tune-up, which most of us are, then you won’t want to miss this.

IF YOU GO TO THIS EVENT

WHAT: Camille A. Brown & Dancers Show & Tell

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 15

WHERE: Schaeffer Theatre

TICKETS: Free

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