Month: March 2015

On the Nature of Things (#underthewhale)

I am very, very excited to be performing at the American Museum of Natural History for the next three nights (March 25-27) as a student guest artist with Armitage Gone! Dance. If you happen to be in the New York area, I absolutely encourage you to check it out–the company members are beautiful and fierce, the concept exudes intellectual passion, and yes, we really are dancing underneath the giant whale.

I am a huge believer that dance can help us to articulate and understand things that we cannot always put into words. When academic and intellectual endeavors are added to the mix, I think the conversation between reason and intuition that occurs creates something that is deeply evocative. Even from my vantage point in the wings, On the Nature of Things creates this dialogue in a meaningful and beautiful way.

Event info and tickets here. (P.S. There’s a student ticket deal if you phone the box office.)

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(un)finished

What is a work in progress?

This question, scrawled in my notebook last week as the lights dimmed for the dress rehearsal of “Starts and Fits, No Middles No Ends: Eight Unfinished Dances,” was the first and last coherent statement I wrote that evening. My classmates and I had rushed over to the Danspace Project to see our composition teacher Rashaun Mitchell in a brand new “dance dialogue” alongside Jody Melnick, Sara Mearns, and Sterling Hyltin. Theirs was a casual intensity, one that made the decidedly unfinished nature of the work feel like a natural choice. It was brilliant, strange, humorous, unexpected, thought-provoking…

Unfinished. It begs the question ‘What do we mean by unfinished work?’ A work in progress, something not-yet-complete, a piece in the midst of process.

All of which implies, when you think on it, that there is a place this work is attempting to reach–a place in which the work will be “finished” when it is reached.

So, next question: Does this place exist? Can we even get there? Do we really want to?

My reflexive answer: Yes, of course. Allow me to point to a standing masterpiece, say George Balanchine’s Apollo. Immediately, however, I have to amend my answer. Balanchine’s Apollo is an oft-performed masterpiece that the choreographer created, and re-created, and re-created throughout his career from his days at Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes to his own New York City Ballet. Even today, every major ballet company in the world who has Apollo in its repertory differs from every other, because virtually no one dances the same version. The Royal Ballet has a prologue that was later omitted, while NYCB begins with Apollo and his lyre and dances what is perhaps the most stripped-down version. Are these each in their own right complete? Yes, absolutely–just not in the same way. And, I would argue, they are all constantly, delightfully, works in progress.

Dance, by its very nature, is ephemeral. Our bodies are our instruments, and we wake up in a different one every day. The work that we do, by extension, changes with us. No two performances of the same piece will ever be identical, even with the exact same dancers. Add in new performers and the work changes even more: seeing Sterling Hyltin take over Wendy Whelan’s part in Alexei Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition was a markedly different experience, even though the choreography was identical. The work is never static or unchanging.

Maybe that’s what makes art so inherently human–maybe the ephemerality, the ever-shifting nuances, the countless choices that go into creating a moment onstage is what makes dance so transcendently us, in the end. It is all just an ever-changing, hopefully improving, draft. Does this lessen the work? I don’t think so. Do we attempt to present something to the audience that is “finished”? Yes, but the key word is not “finished,” but “attempt.” It is the striving, the discovery and the failures and the surprises that create the work, that make the work worth doing. “Process not product,” one of my teachers is fond of reminding us. “The dance is never done,” he continues.

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The work is always in progress.

 

 

 

{an aside: In the 2004 film Hawking, listening to Bach’s final, unfinished composition, Roger Penrose (Tom Ward) muses, “Bach didn’t finish it…but it’s so perfect. Everything done before it [is] so perfect, it’s as if it doesn’t end, you can hear it after it stops. Listen. Can you hear it?”}