Friday, December 21, 2012

Dancing Through the Holidays

My favorite way to stay happy and healthy over the holidays is to keep dancing.  That's why I am so happy that my favorite place to dance in Chicago, Visceral Dance Center, is open almost every day.  Merry Christmas!

I used to go home to Minneapolis, MN for break and get so disappointed that I couldn't take advantage of the teachers at my favorite Minneapolis studios while I was home because all of the studios were closed.  Yes, teachers need a break, but a lot still need a paycheck.

Anyhoo, get your butt into class (especially my students who have to look fabulous in my piece on January 24th at UWM) and have a happy New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Student Evaluations

This is the time of year where the faculty of my University sit in a room while the students file in one by one and hear the details of their semester from the mouths of their professors in one 15 minute time-slot.

It's intense, exhausting, and an inescapable dose of reality for many students. As faculty, it's incredibly valuable to hear how each person approaches a particular strength or deficit in the student. It's also helpful to hear that you aren't out in left field all alone when a student is having a difficulty in your class. Chances are if a student has trouble with, say, active participation in your class, they're having the same issue in other classes. It really makes you feel a bit more sane.

I'm human. I set up many checks and balances in my syllabi to make sure I'm being fair, challenging and engaging, but I still have a more than healthy dose of self-doubt. "Am I doing enough?"

Which brings me to my point. As exhausting as this process is, it's just as valuable to the faculty as it is for the students. As much as I've learned about my colleagues, how they problem solve and interact with their charges, I've learned even more about my students and their passions. This continued investment to discovery and digging deeper is why I teach.

One last thing: I love the candor. Ahhhh.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tragedy in Connecticut

Janet Gillespie (my undergrad dance prof) once told us that she believed if more people learned to dance, there would be less violence because you learn respect for your body and for each other. 

Today is my reminder that although I cannot control the actions of others, I can choose my own. Hopefully my actions will perpetuate respect for the wonder that is our lives and our miraculous bodies.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

More about Ek's Casi-Casa

More about Ek's piece Casi-Casa set on Hubbard Street.

Let me tell you more about Casi-Casa.  Or rather let me tell you about what it did for Hubbard Street, because it seems to me that is what I'm mostly jazzed about.  Viewing dance is all about context.  Who that viewer is, what they've seen before, what they are expecting, what they see in that moment and how it relates to what came directly before and after it.  Dance criticism is a whole different animal and I'm not going there.  I could, I have skills, I'm just more interested in telling you about why a modern dancer from the midwest with my background might see things the way she does.

Jumping to my expectations (you can look up my who and what on my website): Before I moved to Florida for 3 years, I had a number of conversations with different dancers about many companies including Hubbard Street.  They're the big modern game in town, so they come up quite a bit.  This is the number one sentiment I heard from people: "Don't get me wrong, they've got lovely dancers, but their choreography..."  And it trails off in various ways after that.  Talking about "lovely dancers" is dance world speak for "don't waste your money".  I use it constantly.  After all, the buck stops at the Artistic Director.  You've got the talent, don't waste it.  But, what has happened in the last few years since I left and came back? New Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton is what.  Same thing that happened to Luna Negra and others.  Their direction is what makes me excited about American modern dance again.  Them and the Cuban influx.  It's about time we had a revitalization!

So how does this fit in to my viewing experience?  I was expecting lovely dancers and I was questioning how they might handle Ek's work.  I mean, what could possibly compare to Sylvie Guillem in Ek's Wet Woman?  I must admit, my excitement was mostly about Ek's work and not about Hubbard Street, so when they did a fair job of it, I was very excited, especially considering the previous three pieces in the program (Untouched by Azure Barton and 2 others from Alejandro Cerrudo) which were more in Hubbard's zone of comfort.  How these previous three pieces played out, so strong in technical prowess, drama, and the highlighting of the human body (yes even Cerrudo's minimal Blanco was all about the body's prowess), really set the stage for Ek's focus on human interaction and his strength for moving bodies around the stage to reveal a landscape or a mood.

It was much less about the dancers' technical abilities as it was about how they could relax into the difficult movement tasks given to them and reveal what is at the heart of it.  Quinn Wharton's opening and closing solos weren't as grounded as I wanted them to be, although I've seen him in rehearsals (the plus-side of Hubbard Street's rehearsals often being next door to their open classes) for other works display the ease needed to sink into a work like Ek's.  The gravitas needed to really pin down a role like that just hasn't made its way into this particular performance yet.  It's all about that delicate line between doing and being, showing and revealing.  Don't hate me Quinn - you're so pretty and I like your shoulder-girdle mobility.  I told someone that loudly within earshot of someone else who I thought might pass the info along to the powers-that-be, so you're welcome.

Another moment I have a question about was the militant housewives with the dragging vacuum cleaners.  A hilarious section complete with bagpiping music (all the more funny given their implements of cleanliness) and dancing that gave a little send-up to traditional step dancing was overdone by angry outbursts from the women.  By itself, the section is brilliant, but all previous verbal outburst we at the top of the emotion spectrum as well, so this one played overwrought.  That being said, the housewife of this section, whose name eludes me (Anna?), was spot on.  Holy crap.  Her emotional depth in this role was certainly equal to that of Meredith Dincolo's striking opening solo in Azure Barton's Untouched.  Everyone else paled in comparison to her bound-up Housewife, and I wanted it that way.  A little salt on my meal, thank you.

A couple of words about the empty stage, caution tape, and blaring music:  You tease. I liked it, music might read... on the annoying side of startling, nice placement, and thank the good lord of dance it didn't come after the baby-oven scene.

I described, with zeal, this piece to my college students who were not impressed and made faces at my descriptions.  Ha!  I guess this means this work isn't for everyone, but I like to think it is for people who are especially interested in the messy and often banal intricacies of life.

The end.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dancing beyond college

So yesterday I had the final rehearsal for the piece I'm setting on UW-Milwaukee dancers before they go off on a long winter break, come back, tech and to the show.  So it was an important one.  What did I do instead of running the piece 8 times?  I spent a good amount of time (an hour!!!) talking to my dancers about what it's like out there in the real world of dance.  I told them about how hard auditions are, the realities of Artistic Directors, the realities of pay, how much class and technique they actually need, and shady situations to avoid.  They were like, "do you have any happy stories?".  

I couldn't think of any.  But I know I have a ton!  They just didn't come to mind.  But I did say I love what I do, couldn't imagine doing anything else, and if you love it, it's all worth it.  

I did pass on what has helped me stay "real" about auditioning: 

Becoming what you want to be - read the dancer bios of the companies you like.  Do what their dancers did.  
Filtering out "total embarrassment"  auditions - Again, read the bios of the dancers before you audition for a company.  If your background aligns with theirs, go for it.  On the other hand, if your total dance background is 4 years taking Somatic-based modern as a BA at a small private liberal-arts college, don't buy a $500 plane ticket to audition  for a company whose dancers all went to conservatory program for ballet and have at least one ballet company on their bio.  Some companies are super helpful and cues like "bring your pointe shoes" on the audition notice (which would weed out those of us who don't use the damn things), and some do not.  Do your research.

As it happens, I got turned on to another blog that has more dancer stories of the real world (probably happier than some of the ones I told them ;-). This shall be my way of balancing out the slightly dark stories with some good neutral to hopeful ones. Check it out and pass it on!

Holiday ballet hair

Doesn't come out during pirouettes and reminds me of the Swedish dolls my Grandma put out at Christmas.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Buzz on Tere O'Connor and Deborah Hay

Here's the buzz today:
Alastair Macaulay has been bunching undies with his dance reviews at the New York Times for a bit now.  Here's the latest in undie-bunching.

D Foy's blog ranting about Macaulay and his own review of Hay's show

Macaulay's review of Hay

Macaulay's review of O'Connor

Tere O'Connor posted the following review from The New Yorker on his FB feed saying,
 "Wow, finally a review about my work that doesn't start from being perplexed! Thank you Andrew!!! 
I am so exhausted by some of these dilettante critics who have such an antagonistic relationship to any expanded idea of poetics in dance and 
continue to force their anachronistic value systems on the work- systems that many artists have clearly discarded years ago. Another thing to point out about Andrew's writing is that he asks questions about problem areas in works he has seen, choosing a sense of inquiry about artistic choices as opposed to defaulting to the incredibly toxic yet popular stance of pomposity and dismissiveness in the face of alternative choreographic authoring."

I love it when this happens because it teaches me even more about dance criticism.  Keep it up y'all.  It's more fun than TMZ and more educational than a MOOC.

All Work and No Dance Makes Katie a B**ch

Today I'm grumbling because Mordine and Co. is on break so I'm not dancing as regularly.  I usually get my butt into Visceral Dance Center (Lou Conte is good too, but they have only SCAAAAARY pro-ballet in the morning whereas Visceral's adv/pro ballet isn't so scary.) but this is the end of the semester at UW-Milwaukee, where I teach, and I have a crap-load of grading to do.  Then my receptionist gig at The Dance Center of Columbia College  in the evenings to pay the rent.

Working there is great because I get a free ticket to their Presenting Series and therefore get to see even more dance on my limited budget.  Plus, when I'm reception-ing, I can use all the rollers they have scattered about the building.

But at this point with a whole 5 days between me and my last dance class, I'm only bitching about work, so let me get back to it.  For those of you who don't have the dance-addiction it's like this: you know when you haven't eaten in a while and you're like "no one talk to me until I shove this cookie in my mouth or I'll bite your head off"?  Well, it's similar with dancing.  I'm going to be grumpy until my next class.  And no, the yoga-home-practice and pirouettes I did in my living room didn't help at all.  They just pissed off my downstairs neighbor and made my husband laugh at me while we watched the Bears lose to the Vikings.

So I'm off to read all of my students Movement Analysis papers (at least it's about dance) and try to pry my brain away from the internet so I will actually finish instead of looking up PhD programs and interesting choreography.  CONCENTRATE!  Maybe I need to unplug my internet...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Double Dance Show Weekend

My single dance date turned into a double dance date! My husband and I met my dancer friend Kelly Anderson at Kate Corby's show "Passing" at Links Hall this past Saturday. We had a chance to chat with Kristina Fluty about life and school and Kate, herself, about the dance scene in Chicago. Then I scored a cheap-seat at Hubbard Street's Show "Transcendent" today at the Harris Theater to see Mats Ek's premier Casi-Casa.

Kate's show, about life and death, was made more full in the intimacy of Links hall by the ambient sounds from the passing trains and party-goers on the busy Saturday night.  It was only a welcome intrusion because the casual nature of the choreography.  Dressed in street-clothes and alternately tossing themselves about or lightly placing their gestures about the space, we felt as if the cycle of life and death wasn't too heavy or heady of a topic but something that just happens or slowly floods into one's experience.

The highlight of Kate's show was definitely the duet between Josh Anderson and Michelle Scurlock. Vacillating between linear movement phrases and repetitive gesture we get a glimpse into a relationship that is complicated, a little competitive and often hilarious in the most understated way.  This understated hilarity is mostly in thanks to Michelle Scurlock's deft looks at Josh which manage to be just at the right moments and neither too subtle or too imposing.  She also has the fastest arms in Chicago.

My dance weekend then went from 10's of seats to 100's of seats with my trip to the Harris.  I've been dying to see more European choreographers.  It's not often that I get to see their work live (money, proximity, etc.) so I was so excited to see this show.  Although Canadian Aszure Barton's piece "Untouched" was a dramatic hit, the highlight of the show was certainly Swedish choreographer Mats Ek's piece Casi-Casa.  Finally a break from the relentless ballet vocabulary!  It was full of emotion without beating you over the head with it.  The emotion came from the pedestrian movement, the spare household objects that had a life of their own and the little bursts of sound and often incomprehensible words from the dancers.  I bumped into Dr. Green and his wife from Columbia College afterwards and they were discussing how the Ek piece had a taste of Pina and a clear influence from Ek's time spent working with Nederlands.  I could go on, but I want it to settle first.  I'm sure I'll have dreams tonight of roll-stepping pedestrians, militant housewives, and complicit furniture.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

OMG. Aaaaaaaaaaand I'm back.

OMG. It's been so long. Aaaaaaaaaaand I'm back. I guess I got sucked down the rabbit hole of Facebook, instagram and linkedin. Why? Oh because there are so many more things I can do with my smartphone and those social media platforms...

Whatever. I'm back and I'm going to start writing to you because I miss you.

So what's new? I'm living in Chicago now! Yes, if you remember a few blogs back I was bitching about Miami dance and then I was like "someday I'll get back to Chicago". Well I made it and now I'll bitch about Chicago and say "someday I'll get back to Miami!".

Anyhoo, I'm dancing with Mordine and Company and teaching up at UW-Milwaukee (you want to cry about your commute? Mine is 2-3 hours). Ahhh, what I do for dance. My favorite thing? I can take class every day and see multiple shows every week. Not that I have any money, but still. Tonight I'm seeing Katie Corby's Passing

I'll tell you ALLLLLL about it after the show and a martini. By the by, there's still a crap-load of ballet here so I'm not getting off that easy with the classes. Molly Shanahan!!! You better finish that PhD quickly because I need some more of your classes here in Chicago dammit!!!