Friday, March 20, 2020

The Show Must Go On (Part 2)

Over the next few weeks, I'll share some of my thoughts on the dances you may never see. The thoughts won't necessarily be pretty. The part of choreography that I love is that I read, read, read, and let the information sort itself out. Putting pen to paper is a whole other animal. 

I Love Structure
Because my background is somatics, postmodern techniques, and site-specific improvisation, creating structure is imperative in my work. It's a way to contain the many ideas and set them free. It's nuance: detail and spontaneity in one. I have several concepts and nudge them into order, creating intros and outros, and allowing exciting mixtures to happen in the moment. 

Here's the way I tackled "Navigating the Firing Field"
I kept this file open during rehearsals and amended as necessary. 
Sometimes my process is writing on paper, but many times... It's excel. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Show Must Go On

On Hold...

Like so many artists across the country, I have cancelled my show and have no idea when or if it will go on. But it's already on, baby. The generation process began last winter and it has been moving steadily on since then. 

Often, choreographers sit and stew with the flotsam and jetsam of life. We sit and stare at the movements and flow until something settles or rises to the surface. As if we are reading the tea-leaves on a grand scale; we see patterns emerge and we make sense of them through movement. We pin down or leave mystery as we see fit and what we leave our public with is mere minutes of the days, months, and years it has taken for us to collate the information newly settled into the patina of our own life experience. 

I may finally have my show, or I may turn our hours of rehearsal into a video. I don't know. But I do know that I don't feel the need to stay in a holding pattern. I want to acknowledge that choreography is so much more than the sum of its parts and share the grand ideas behind the minutes of product. 

Over the next few weeks, I'll share some of my thoughts on the dances you may never see. The thoughts won't necessarily be pretty. The part of choreography that I love is that I read, read, read, and let the information sort itself out. Putting pen to paper is a whole other animal. 

Photo: JHsu Media

Part 1: The first dance

The movement came first and the research began within the process of creating the movement. I was exhausted and needed to create something gentle. Something gentle to teach, something gentle for my mind, something healing. I began with that and discovered...

“Navigating the Firing Field” 
Spacetime Dance
Choreographer: Katie Sopoci Drake
Performers: Amanda Blythe, Jordan Gehley, Althea Skinner
Soundscape by Katie C. Sopoci Drake, Use of “shai pu beng pai, regnmalers, and kolhoz diformin mascularity spendful” by Sofie Loizou through a CC BY-NC 3.0 license

Program Description
“Navigating the Firing Field” is a work that is performed with eyes closed. It uses improvisational scores and set movement to explore the vulnerability and tenderness of a body in space as it navigates in the dark. The dancers were directed to find each other by sound and touch, and to navigate by memory. I began by examining the comfort found in familiar spaces and ended up diving into the neuroscience behind navigation.
Firing Field: a region where place cells (neurons in the hippocampus) exhibit a high firing rate. Firing fields are thought to provide a "cognitive map" of specific places in our environment.

Katie’s Description
This 12 minute trio begins by traversing a dark landscape in gentle waves. One, by one, 3 dancers softly palpate their way across the space. With their searching movements, they safely find their way to each other to reform into a gentle embrace. 

Small escapes and captures lead into movement towards the viewer. It is now we begin to suspect, to see that their eyes are closed. These palpating movements that bring the trio towards us in starts and stops are because they are venturing slowly away and refinding each other. 

From here, greater risks are taken. 
A duet with one body clinging to another, just a hint of touching the ground before being guided back up and away again. 

A solo that glides so close to the separated pair but skirts away again. 

The risk of traversing the space to reunite with the lost pair. 

The solace of finding each other again only to push away and trust in memory and feeling to stay together. 

Larger and larger risks that rely on the memory, the feel, the internal landscape we have built in our minds, our senses telling us that the breath we hear sounds like a curve, that one a push, that one the relief of an ending. 

Furtive steps and faster gatherings. 

The feeling of the body next to yours. 

Finally we rise and press against one another and gaze for the first time upon the widening landscape with our eyes and see that our memory has served us well. 

Choreographic Prompts

Connor, M. (2019). Wayfinding : the science and mystery of how humans navigate the world. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Eichenbaum, H., Dudchenko, P., Wood, E., Shapiro, M., & Tanila, H. (1999). The Hippocampus, Memory, and Place Cells. Neuron, 23(2), 209–226.

Mitchell, A. S., Czajkowski, R., Zhang, N., Jeffery, K., & Nelson, A. J. D. (2018). Retrosplenial cortex and its role in spatial cognition. Brain and Neuroscience Advances, 2, 239821281875709.

Niediek, J., & Bain, J. (2014). Human single-unit recordings reveal a link between place-cells and episodic memory. Frontiers in systems neuroscience, 8, 158.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Music Editing Day, Part 2: Is It Through You

Welcome back to music editing day! Like before, I will remind you that the process of creating sound for a show is different every time; some choreographers work with composers (which I'd love to do, but I don't have the budget this year), some work with set music by other composers, and some make their own sound scores. For this show, I'm landing somewhere between the latter two. Here is my process for Is It Through You, one of the two pieces I'll show in March. 

Just to remind you, here's the upcoming show: 

Photo: JHsu Media
Is It Through You
March 15th, 2019Friday at 6:00pmMillennium Stage, Kennedy Center

Katie Sopoci Drake presents an evening of dance featuring the Mountain Empire Performance Collective in Is It Through You, a multi-artist collaboration directed by Katie Sopoci Drake that takes inspiration from Whitman's poem "To A Pupil"; and her company Spacetime Dance in Awakening which floods the stage with sound and motion designed to awaken our senses to nature. 

Awakening features special guest company LucidBeings Dance.

Is It Through You is a group work I am directing for the collaborative company I am a part of, the Mountain Empire Performance Collective (MEPC). I am using MEPC's signature long-distance collaborative method, in which we create work separately with the same set of movement prompts. Each piece we are creating and their musical elements will highlight each unique movement artist moving in their own choreographic voice. Which is where the excitement of blending these very individual sound-prompts into a cohesive whole becomes a challenge fit for a long-distance choreographer. 

As each artist began creating their solos, I asked them to send me or describe to me sounds that they loved or defined their lives right now. Here are the sounds each person has ascribed to them:

Shay (Spacetime Dance, DC) told me about her dog, her love of the rain, her love of classic rock.

Aquiles (Spacetime Dance, DC) told me of his time spent out of doors on a daily basis, and sent me music he created himself. 

Emily (MEPC, UT) sent me sound clips of her children Henry and Eloise the sounds of her grinding coffee beans and pulling an espresso shot, and sounds of Eloise playing in the leaves outside. 

Eliza (MEPC, OR) sent me sound clips of her child Claire in the rehearsal studio, and described the interlude music found between news segments on NPR. Then she told me her dad was a musician, and I asked if he could give us some "NPR-like" interludes to use and he graciously obliged. 

Joy (MEPC, MA) was really busy so I pulled an audio clip from a vacation we took together on the Oregon coast when a whale surprised us at the beach. It contains her naturally excited and exuberant sounds and I hope she doesn't nix it in the final edits!

Rachel (MEPC, VA) was also really busy, so I pulled audio from a previous piece MEPC worked on where another collaborator, Annie, recorded herself giving Rachel movement prompts. It may be added on to or may remain, but it will always remind me of Rachel dancing. 


Good question. I'm trying not to freak out about it, but thankfully this ain't my first time at this particular Long-distance-improvisation-based-collaborative-dance Rodeo. 

Flippant Answer: It involves much massaging through the music editing process. 

How I Put All The Sounds Together, Step-by-step Answer: 
1) Decide an order for the dancer's movement contributions
2) Decide which of the dancer's sound contributions you will actually use and edit them into useable forms, or create/find the ones you need. 
3) Start putting them into the sound editing software and create a first draft. 

My first draft went something like this...

Shay's entrance: 

  • I start with layering a woman laughing that sounds just like Shay. Shay's got this laugh... and she uses it liberally. 
  • Then I bring in the sounds of melting ice on a river. I wanted natural running water or rain, sounds that are soothing to shay, but I chose this because even though it's melting ice, it registers to the ear as a more pleasant running water. It is warmer, deeper, and softer than regular flowing water. 
  • Next up is the dog snuffles. Shay's dog Chase snuffles around a lot and he's definitely a big part of Shay's day. 
Rachel's entrance: 
  • Annie's voice calls to Rachel (pretty clear, right?) and directs her in movement. 
  • I've left Shay's water noises going through this to add continuity and soften Annie's sharp (and hilarious) speaking pattern. 
Eliza's entrance:
  • Eliza's Dad's first composition is lovely and rolling, so it is a great segue from the soft water noises. 
Aquiles' entrance:
  • I added crow calls because they're ubiquitous in the city and countryside. All places Aquiles inhabits. 
  • Then comes Aquiles' original composition. It is distorted and hazy, all qualities that work nicely with the soft woodland and bird noises in the background.
  • At the end, I bring the birds back up and add in ocean sounds to prepare us for Joy's entrance. 
Joy's entrance:
  • Here I swiped the audio from our trip to the Oregon coast. We were at the beach and a whale began spouting in the nearby cove. You can hear Joy exclaim and talk. Very Joy. 
  • I keep the soft wave and beach noises in here to keep us at this ocean location for the duration of Joy's solo.
Emily's entrance:
  • I overlapped Henry's counting song with the waves. 
  • Eloise and Henry's playing come next as the waves fade away. 
  • We hear the espresso machine in the background warming up. This gives us a sense of depth and puts us into a home environment. 
  • Then I layer Eloise's feet in the leaves with the grinding of coffee beans and the espresso machine working. All very homey as Henry sings his counting song again. 
Aquiles & Shay's duet enters:
  • We hear the reemergence of Aquiles' music and birds. 
  • I brought in a soft thunderstorm here. I wanted some classic rock for Shay, but alas, rights to fabulous songs come at a price (and time). So imagine "Riders On The Storm" here. 
  • Shay and Aquiles love the storm. I personally think it gives them the soft crackly energy needed to connect. 
Eliza and Emily's duet enters:
  • The thunderstorm overlaps Eliza's dad playing another NPR-inspired theme. I tossed a soft baby coo in there (it's Eliza's baby, Claire!!) to precede it just to get her ears going. I'm sure she'll recognize the piano, but I KNOW she'll recognize Claire. 
  • I then faded out the thunderstorm and brought up the sound of a meadow on a hot day to bring us back to a homey place (for Emily). 
  • Claire's cooing comes up to make us feel right at home. 
  • I then rounded it out with a sprinkler. Feels like summer. 
Rachel & Joy's duet enters:
  • The sprinkler continues and Annie begins talking again. Rachel will definitely get this cue.
  • Ensemble can begin to enter after Annie says "fingers and toes"
Ensemble begins to gather:
  • The sprinkler fades as the water fades 
  • Chase sniffs
  • Crowd conversation ambience to give us a sense of community
  • Birds in the background to put us outside
  • Dog sniffing
  • Crowd and birds begin to fade

    Ensemble finds resolution:
    • Claire cooing to prompt the women laughing
    I'm currently looking at sound levels of each section and listening to the final product to suss out drops in energy, sound, and funny pops. There will be more edits and substitutions/additions of sounds, but this is a good and meaty start. 

    I sent it out to my collaborators so their ears and sensibilities can get used to it. I'll ask for thoughts and edits, then head back to the music editing software for more tweaks. 


    Monday, February 11, 2019

    Music Editing Day, Part 1: Awakening

    Today is, amongst other things, the day I will try to finish editing most of the music for my show in March. Some choreographers work with composers (which I'd love to do, but I don't have the budget this year), some work with set music by other composers, and some make their own sound scores. For this show, I'm landing somewhere between the latter two. Here is my process for Awakening, one of the two pieces I'll show in March. 

    Just to remind you, here's the upcoming show: 

    Photo: JHsu Media
    Is It Through You
    March 15th, 2019Friday at 6:00pmMillennium Stage, Kennedy Center

    Katie Sopoci Drake presents an evening of dance featuring the Mountain Empire Performance Collective in Is It Through You, a multi-artist collaboration directed by Katie Sopoci Drake that takes inspiration from Whitman's poem "To A Pupil"; and her company Spacetime Dance in Awakening which floods the stage with sound and motion designed to awaken our senses to nature. 

    Awakening features special guest company LucidBeings Dance.

    For Awakening, which has 6 distinct sections, I've used a mixture of gorgeous music (with permission & compensation, naturally) by Hildur Guðnadóttir ("Opaque" & "Aether") and Judy Kang ("Over the Moon" & "Sleepwalk") as well as copious amounts of natural and unnatural sounds that were gathered, recorded, and arranged by yours truly. 
    Photo: Rob Cannon

    Since awakening is a piece juxtaposing human and natural environments, I chose music that emulated the feelings of wonder, danger, and awe I wished to convey through the different sections. 

    In Far Afield, a trio depicting the wide open spaces we create and stumble upon, I used Kang's dreamy "Over the Moon" embedded into two created sound landscapes: A sunny field out in the country-side, much like Sky Meadows that crosses the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, and a city field with a distant road. 

    Kang's music gives us that languorous feeling we have on a hot summer's day. We find respite we find wide-open spaces. We create these spaces not only to have room to play and find perspective, but to create a distance between ourselves and other people. This is the rest we crave, this distance. In this environment, our thoughts can freely roam like the birds and butterflies I found myself watching up on the field in Sky Meadow. 
    Listen and watch Far Afield

    In Subterranean, a group work that cozily travels through underground caves and subways, I pulled sounds from an underwater cave, a wet and dripping cave, a subway platform, and distant wind through a canyon. I had plenty of cave sounds, but the underwater cave gave me that deep and muted sound that I desired to create a feeling of closeness. 
    Listen and watch Subterranean at timestamp 6:20

    For Petrichor, a crepuscular solo that happens between a bedroom and a stormy forest in the moments before sleep, I used Guðnadóttir's "Opaque" nestled into the sounds of both a bedroom, a storm, and night creatures. 

    For the bedroom, I used sounds of squeaking floorboards, footsteps on carpet, the making of a bed and settling of sheets, the rain against a windowpane, and the sound of opening that window to let in the night's thunderstorm. To create my forest at night, I used the sounds of driving rain, an oncoming thunderstorm, crickets, and various night creatures that may signal the shift between day and night creatures. 
    Listen and watch Petrichor

    Crossing is a complex group work about risk that pulls elements from water crossings spanning human civilization. Not only did I need a sense of the human elements of wonder, danger, and emotion needed to leave a homeland or explore beyond, I required the sea's character as well. 

    I chose Guðnadóttir's "Aether" for it's sense of wonder and it's fantastic second section that blends woodwinds to give the piece a gentle rolling feeling. For the soundscape, I open with gentle waves under the zither music to set the landscape. Then I transitioned by adding in some wind through a canyon to give us the sound of depth and foreboding. The sounds of a creaking ship (my favorite) come in as the waves are layered on one another and I add additional wind and sea sounds. 

    Next comes the storm. I added the sound of driving rain, a blizzard (this gives us the additional cover of sound needed to feel the rain whipping past our faces on the sea), and a wet afternoon rain to mimic the sound of drips coming off of an overhang. I added in the sounds of people coming into the thunderstorm to give us a sense of business and concern. 

    Then we find some respite with the woodwind section as I back off of the wind, rain, and thunderstorm sounds. I transitioned it into mostly wind through a canyon and blizzard on top of the waves to bring us back to a sense of depth and danger. I slowly added in more snow and a snippet of a choir to give a ringing in our ears as the thunderstorm descends upon the ship's occupants again. You should get a sense that there is an open question if our crew survives this last storm. 
    Listen and watch Crossing

    Pinnacle is my "ambition" solo. It simultaneously sets us high on a skyscraper and a high peak.  Both landscapes set us apart and require effort to build, climb, and survive at their hight. I chose Kang's Sleepwalk for it's soaring strings, it's climbing passages, precarious dissonances, and enticing rhythms. 

    The sounds I chose to embrace Kang's work are: sounds from the top of a NYC building with traffic below, ambient noise from a cathedral, our canyon wind again, and wind through pine trees. I weave and layer these back and forth to give our soloist a chance to exist in and manipulate both spaces with her movement.
    Listen and watch Pinnacle

    Lastly, I used elements of each of these pieces and soundscapes to create the word of State Change, my own solo that whips between natural and performative states. I use a bit of each environment in order to foreshadow what is to come. The rapid environmental shift in sound mimics my own state change between worlds, feelings, and performative states. I feel the rain as I walk over to receive the next instructions from my imaginary director. I try out the new movement and dance it into the next environment.  
    Listen and watch State Change

    Next up: I'll reveal the sound elements of Is It Through You

    Tuesday, January 29, 2019

    Is It Through You

    My next show will take place on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center on March 15th, 2019 at 6:00pm.

    I will present two incredibly meaningful works. Works that couldn't have come about unless I was truly inspired to dedicate my precious time, energy, mind, imagination, and... let's face it, my bank account to them.

    Photo by Julie Sopoci
    Awakenings is a love letter to the incredible depths found in the connection we, as humans, instinctively embody between the natural world and the man-made world. As a mass of beings with complex and disparate desires, we recognize the aspiration to climb the heights of the corporate ladder right to the penthouse office of the tallest skyscraper as akin to the aspiration to climb the tallest mountain and gaze down from its height. We feel the burrowing warmth of the blankets at night as we imagine the creatures of the deep forest and fields heading underground as the weather turns for the worse. In these linked vignettes, we see dancers as humans, plant, animal, and mineral moving and becoming the world that has always been, and the world we have created.

    Photo by Julie Sopoci
    Is It Through You is a experiment in movement to suss out the Personality of movement. Inspired by Walt Whitman's letter "To A Pupil", found in his book Leaves of Grass, we are creating individual solos based on our own movement legacy and how it informed the movements that define us as artists. Whitman demands: "The greater the reform needed, the greater the Personality you need to accomplish it".  We answer with movement.

    Sunday, January 27, 2019

    Works In Progress Showing!

    Works in Progress Showing with Nancy Havlik and Katie Sopoci Drake/Spacetime Dance
    Photo by Denaise Seals
    This January saw us at the Dance Exchange in Takoma Park sharing a Works in Progress Showing with Nancy Havlik's Dance Performance Group.  I shared excerpts from my expanding piece Awakening as well as some beginning nuggets of my new piece Is It Through You. Both will be shown at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage this March. 

    In the video below (click on the image to link) I share a little of what I'm working on with each piece. Take a look and come see the finished product on Friday, March 15th at 6:00pm on the Millennium Stage.

    Follow me to the video

    Monday, May 21, 2018

    New Work! The start of Awakening and Is It Through You

    I'm working on a new show...

    The culminating event will be on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center in March, 2019, but in the mean-time, I'll be workshopping the material in a series of shows & showings (Nov 2018 & TBA).  I hope you can come to one and chat with me after about what you see.

    There are 2 parts of the show:

    PART 1
    Awakening (25-30 min), which will be a feast for the senses and "awaken" your ears and kinesthetic awareness to the parallels of where you are now, and how it connects to the wild earth.  I will be taking my dancers and, hopefully you, on a journey from human-inhabited hovels to places in nature that have a similar spirit.  This part of the show features local dancers and the company Lucid Beings.

    Here are some of the places I've created so far (which will be tweaked along the way):

    • Inside a quiet bedroom just before sleep to the forest floor at night
    • From the top of a skyscraper, to the top of a mountain
    • Inside the busy transport of a ferry to underneath the waves in a storm

    What I would like to create next:

    • Inside a subway terminal and the trains to inside the byways of a cave
    • Inside a cathedral with the voices echoing to a vast rolling forest with the wind talking through the trees

    This is an ongoing project that will naturally branch out as inspiration strikes. For now, a half-show seems best.

    PART 2
    Is it Through You (20 min), is inspired by Walt Whitman "letter to a pupil" and will feature the Mountain Empire Performance Collective:

    IS reform needed? is it through you?
    The greater the reform needed, the greater the Personality you 
    need to accomplish it.

    You! do you not see how it would serve to have eyes, blood,
    complexion, clean and sweet?
    Do you not see how it would serve to have such a body and soul 
    that when you enter the crowd an atmosphere of desire 
    and command enters with you, and every one is impress'd 
    with your Personality?

    O the magnet! the flesh over and over!
    Go, dear friend, if need be give up all else, and commence to-day 
    to inure yourself to pluck, reality, self-esteem, definiteness,
    Rest not till you rivet and publish yourself of your own Personality.

    The theme of finding the essence of oneself, the personal purpose, the idea that to effect real change means you must dig deep and do the personal work because that is where the real and sustainable passion worth following will come from, these are all impactful themes to explore in this particular turning point in both our culture, and our art.

    Within dance, we are slowly turning away from replication of our choreographer's personal body of movement, and looking to honor the gifts that come into the studio from a wealth of movement lineages.  What better time to dig deeply and do the work of acknowledging the personal lineage of our movement, and honor the individual movements that have developed along the way?

    I hope to find along the way: How does this "Personality" manifest?  What will we accomplish with this elevated definition of self?  How does the acknowledgement of creating movement solely through the breadth and depth of the individual change the direction of our art? And how does that change the power structure of creation?

    Tonight I head to the studio with these prompts:

    • Comfortable Phrase: Start by making movement that feels comfortable on your body. Stop. Now create a phrase that feels "comfortable" for you.
    • Identifiable Phrase: Make a phrase of movement that people would recognize as "your movement". What are those identifiers?  Tease them out and play with them. 
    • Personal Theme: Make a few short phrases that are comfortable for your body to repeat. Find the one that you feel the best with. How does it relate to "your movement"?  What could you add to make it more identifiable as you?  
    • Make-it-Your-Own Phrase: Take a phrase you see someone else performing and learn it (not too closely).  Now change it to make it "yours".  Pretend they made it for your own show.  How would you massage it to fit within your aesthetic?
    • Legacy Phrase: Recall a mover or choreographer that had a great impact on your movement.  Create a phrase that identifies them, that recalls their style. Now change it to reflect more of yourself.
    • Relating Phrase: Move about relating to the space or a person in it in a manner that feels natural to you.
      • Claim the space in your own way
      • Observe the space in your own way
      • Remove the person or literal reference to the space. Set this phrase of movement.