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Scribbling in the Dark

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 5.37.34 PMIf you’ve noticed that this blog has been terribly quiet of late, that’s because it has been. Not because I have any shortage of things to write–quite the opposite. In the past couple of months I’ve written articles for Dance Magazine and Pointe (another one for DM is in the works!). I’ve also become a contributor to The Stewardship Report, which as of now is becoming a home for my more formal critical writing. I’ve also been asked to curate a new dance/arts blog with one of my good friends that is now in the works. So it isn’t that the writing has stopped, just that it’s expanding in quite a few directions very quickly. So, in case you missed it:

My first review for The Stewardship Report covering new work from Cameron McKinney|Kizuna Dance;

A formal review of Sylvie Guillem’s final US performances at City Center;

In my first feature article for a major dance publication, I went behind the scenes of Troy Schumacher’s most recent work for New York City Ballet to accompany a photo essay by Kyle Froman;

I took a stab at writing about Andrea Miller’s latest for Gallim Dance, W H A L E;

And, going way back, my very first byline at Dance Magazine.

So, in sum, keep an eye out! I’ll still be posting here, but maybe this will become a more normal, reflective blog in the meantime? Who knows! More coming soon.

On the Other Side

I can remember sitting down at the end of my first year at Tisch Dance to write this post. There were so many pieces of advice that I wished I could have travelled back in time to whisper in my younger self’s ear—so many, in fact, that I had to do some serious editing in order to get the information into a bloggable format (It’s still a little long. I’m not sorry.). Now, on the tail end of my undergraduate career, I’ve realized that what I have learned about myself through my adventures as a second year Tischie is far simpler.

On headset with one of my most favorite friend/colleague/collaborator.

On headset with one of my most favorite friend/colleague/collaborator.

I think that there’s an idea that by the time you’re my age (21, beginning my senior year of university), you ought to have some concept of who you are and where you stand in the world. And I also think that in a world that can be obsessed with categorization, it’s easier than we realize to slip into the roles that we perceive—not necessarily a denial of self or anything so extreme as that, but perhaps a settling in to the person we believe ourselves to be. “This is who I am, and this is what I do,” we say, and we find our way forward following the pattern that emerges. And, speaking as someone who has declared to anyone who would listen that I was going to move to New York and be a professional dancer since I was thirteen years old, that is not a bad thing.

But how strange would it be to define ourselves, for the rest of our lives, solely by what we studied in college or the job we chose to do? This is who I am, this is what I do. There’s the dancer, the finance bro, the English geek, the anthropologist, the art historian.

At the historic Judson Church, waiting to watch a dress rehearsal of Dusk & Melon (the first time a colleague ever asked me to write for them).

At the historic Judson Church, waiting to watch a dress rehearsal of Dusk & Melon (the first time a colleague ever asked me to write for them).

So many of the craziest cool experiences I’ve had in the last eight months have happened because a part of me said, “Yes, and maybe I could be this, too.” I have been a dancer, yes, but also a choreographer, a collaborator, a sound tech, a stage manager, an office assistant, a writer, a fact checker. I have brainstormed and problem-solved with a team of designers over a giant, three-dimensional Rorschach-inspired set and sat with a string quartet in performance to help align musical cues with visual ones. I’ve talked to students considering entering the mad world of Tisch Dance, scribbled impressions into my notebook when invited to review a colleague’s work, and dug through the photo archives of Dance Magazine as a summer intern. This, I am beginning to think, is what it means to have a life in dance, not just be a dancer—performing a new contemporary ballet at an outdoor festival in Queens in the afternoon and then calling cues for a friend’s new work that night, plus an infinite number of possible variations thereof.

Accepting that I actually do not know everything there is to know about who I am and what I am capable of was admittedly a terrifying realization. I had, for years, been able to say with relative certainty what I was and what I was not, where I fit and where I never would. And then I was proven wrong on many counts, so much so that I scheduled a meeting with one of my teachers to explain (read: freak out) that I had no idea who I was as a dancer anymore.

Thinking back to this time one year ago, if I could say one thing to myself it would have been this: You know who you are, but you are also so much more than you realize.

Now this is obviously veering into dangerously corny territory. Which, okay, I sometimes live in. I’m not saying I don’t have limits. But I will say this: I have far fewer than I once believed.

So this is what I say to you, the dancer, the economist, the writer, the curator. Whoever you know yourself to be today, brilliant. But this isn’t everything you are.

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.)

Listen

Your heart is alive. Keep listening to what it has to say. –Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist

There’s a part of The Alchemist where Santiago begs his heart to never stop speaking to him. He promises (if memory serves) to always listen. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about listening. I’ve been wondering how much we miss when we’re so plugged in that we don’t hear the sounds of the city around us, or when we don’t hear what the people we care about are actually saying to us, or when we forget that our bodies can communicate with us very, very effectively without using anything that necessarily resembles language. And I’ve been wondering what would happen if we just listened. Not even asking questions and waiting for a response, but just…listened.

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As a dancer, someone who, by definition, is a professional mover, you would probably guess that I am very good at listening to my body—being aware of its quirks, what makes it look and feel good, how to imitate or create movement without needing to actually see what it looks like. You would be correct. But imagine, if you will, a roomful of us students of movement being given the task to stand as still as possible, in silence, with our eyes closed until further notice. After an interminably long time (okay, it was ten minutes, as we later found out) we were allowed to move again with the simple directive, “Move however your body wants to right now.”

Easy, right?

Blind, silent stillness. This task, set in my improvisation class this past semester, only left one thing for me to do, short of panicking. I told my body, “Don’t stop talking to me. Whatever happens, I’m here, and I’m listening.” It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I am a firm believer that our bodies understand things that we cannot quite express with our language-driven brains, so I allowed myself to (mentally) step back and just breathe.

I thought I understood how to listen to my body before then, but it was an entirely new world that opened up within my own skin. The experience I had dancing in that state of mind is something for which I do not have words.

We’re two weeks into 2015. Two weeks into a new year, and whatever resolutions that we have (or have not) made to greet it. Maybe those are going swimmingly; maybe not. Whatever the case, I’d like to offer you, dear reader, an additional challenge. Listen. Whether it’s to your heart or your friends, your body or the sounds of your morning commute, is up to you. You’d be surprised how easy it is, once you get past the difficult task of admitting that you might not already do so as well or as much as you could.

Here Or Maybe Elsewhere

The notion of ‘home’ becomes a rather tricky concept when you find yourself in the midst of your college education. Us college kids will say that we’re ‘Going home for the Christmas/summer holiday.’ Upon finding ourselves amongst our families in the places we grew up, however, we also might find ourselves referring to our college towns–the places where we spend the majority of the year, where we have an entirely different group of friends/families-we-chose, where we actually live–as home. It is a strange place to be, moving between the homes we were born into and the homes and lives we have made for ourselves.

Being a dance major, for me, sometimes makes this dichotomy even trickier to navigate. Because let’s be honest, in pre-professional dance training you often see your teachers and classmates as much as, if not more than, your parents. Those people and that studio can be a massive marker of what ‘home’ is for you–that has always been true for me, who from the age of twelve has quite vocally defined home as, “Anywhere with music, mirrors, good space, and a decent floor.” That was certainly true of Lafayette Ballet Theatre, where I danced as a student company member for my final two years of high school and where I return to take class during school holidays.

Two years since I left the company for college, however, returning to take class has a certain sense of surreality mixed in with the normalcy I have always felt walking into the studio. Same floor and mirrors and barres and art on the walls; same directors, with the same quirks and particularities and absurdly quick petit allegro combinations; even many of the dancers I used to perform with are still there, doing their plies in the same room I left them in. And yet the two years has somehow also changed everything. Some differences are obvious–dancers who have come and gone, new company members who were gangly students when I was dancing here, the exponential growth of certain young dancers who have gone from tentatively feeling out their bodies to fully embodying them. Others are subtler–a new CD for technique class, a pointe warm-up I’ve never seen before that is now referred to as ‘the usual’, the ways the girls I used to see on a daily basis have grown into women.

But, perhaps most striking of all, was the realization of just how much I have changed as well. The minutiae could not be of interest to anyone except me, but the past two years, one in London, one in New York, have helped me to become more myself.

It’s funny, because when you start living away from ‘home’, part of you expects to come back and for nothing to have changed at all, as though there is a time lock on the entire place, preserving it as it was when you knew it intimately and called it, without hesitation or qualification, home. Though you know intellectually that time has passed, going home is made strange when you observe the differences; even stranger is when you observe them in yourself. You might breathe just a little easier when you find yourself once more in the home you have made because there, at least, all the ways you have been becoming seem less strange and more a matter of course. I walked back into Tisch Dance last Tuesday for my first day of being a second year BFA student, and something inside of me settled, never mind that I was utterly confused about the class schedule, had never worked with four of the teachers with whom I was now facing twice-a-week sessions, and was surrounded by more than fifty brand new BFAs and MFAs. I was home, where I knew exactly what to expect in that I never really knew what was going to happen once I showed up.

It’s occurred, of course, that one day I might find myself walking these halls and internally marking the strangeness of being in a place that I once considered home, that I will graduate and move on and this building will still be here, subtly changing with the program and with the students. I have certainly found alumni in the elevators, heading to a rehearsal, remarking on how odd it feels to be back years after graduating. It’s a bit terrifying, I admit, that I only get two more years here.

And that’s okay. Because I have realized that there is a sort of certainty in the act of showing up somewhere every morning and convincing your body and soul that you can get through another class, another rehearsal. There’s a certainty in taking class, in not quite knowing how things are going to turn out on this particular day but listening to your body and finding out. It’s been true of every city or studio I have called home: as long as I am in the practice of moving and of listening, everything will be okay. I do my first plie of the day and the rest of the world quietens. I know I’m lucky that this is true for me, that I can carry my ‘home’ to anyplace that I am able to move. A few of my non-dancer friends have even expressed a modicum of jealousy over it. But I think that everyone should have that, in some form; if we’re not at home with ourselves, then where? And I hope you find it, whatever it is, whoever happens to be reading this. I really do.

So what’s the point of this rambling nonsense? I’m not entirely sure. Just the feeling that, for now, I am happy to be home even as I am missing home.

Here OMaybe Elsewhere

 

 

Hello again…

So, if anybody out there is still listening, I still have stuff to say. It has just taken me a while to decide what, among those things, ought to be on here. Not to mention the insane business that has been my life at Tisch Dance/NYU for the past several months of radio silence.

But here we are again. And all the madness business that has kept me from writing has given me a lot to write about. So keep an eye out.

For now, enjoy Federico Bonelli, meme courtesy of the Cloud & Victory facebook page…Image