Last spring, Houston Metropolitan Dance Company premiered jhon r. stronk’s Not Yet Soaring as the finale of their Mixing It Up concert. Its fresh and joyous movement language was a highlight on the program and the company encouraged stronks to develop the work further. The resulting collaboration, Still Confronting the Ground is a dance theater work that “finds them attending to the serious business of happiness in an evening of choreography and performance created in honor of growing up, and what it takes to get there.”
Clair Hummel, a graduate student at the University of Houston Theatre, Dance, Costume Design and Technology department has created costumes for this piece. Kris Phelps serves as Houston Metropolitan Dance Company lighting designer. Meanwhile, Houston composer, DJ, and sound designer, Jerahmiah DiMatteo is live-mixing an electronic score that mingles with spoken text, some written by stronks himself.
I caught up with jhon to find out more about the work, its rehearsal process, and what audiences can expect from Still Confronting the Ground.
How is this work a departure for the dancers of Houston Met Dance?
We spent a week in November with improvisation – the concept the “thing,” the monster, confronting our ideas about improvisation, and how they relate to our individual dance histories. We also used it as a tool to get at how we relate to dance and then worked on how we relate to each other through our dancing. We closed the week with the creation of an improvisation score based on sensation. That score now exists as a prologue to the evening scheduled to take place 30 minutes before the top of the show.
The larger departures lie in the theatrical elements. The costuming, live spoken text, the level of intimacy we will share with the audience, the fact that this work is about who we really are and the way we try to hide behind what we do… maybe… The real answer will come from those that follow the work, I am so curious… how far did we go?
Describe the collaborative process of marrying sounds and score with your ultimate vision for the work.
Jeremiah [DiMatteo] and I have worked together a few times. In addition to doing some sound work on a few Met Too [Houston Met’s pre-professional dance company] choreographies, he has accompanied my classes at both the Houston Met and the University of Houston. With this development of the work I wanted to put him at the helm of the ship so to speak. He is a great DJ and his improvisation will create an interesting context. We are still in process, so ill let you know more about that after the show…
What kind of valuable feedback do you receive from the open rehearsal process, and how does it relate (if at all) to your Fieldwork experiences?
An expression of what is experienced is the most valuable and potent information I can receive. I am working with behavior. I see behavior as an action that elicits another action (this can be reaction or response). From that cycle we end up with situation. A situation that is rooted in an initial behavior, and that is what I get from the Fieldwork process and why I have always allowed a certain level of openness in my rehearsal processes. In the case of this work, we have had many visitors and each one has their own experience. The more I know about what people are experiencing the closer I get to being able to say that thing I have to say that has no words.
Describe the role of the audience in this production.
The role of the audience is unchanged. The performer’s relationship to the audience is the one I am addressing, or expressing rather. We will be there to greet you. We will not hide in the back. We want to meet you. We want to thank you for coming and we hope you will let us express our gratitude. We will not ask you to do anything more than you a moved to do. We don’t want you to be uncomfortable. It’s not an audience participation situation it’s a audience infusion. The theater will be our common ground. We come together there, breathing the same air, look into each others eyes, smile and like magic we are one and many.
How long have you been confronting the ground?
I don’t know. It feels very old, ancient, like it may have started as many as five lifetimes ago when I was a grain of sand perhaps?
Still Confronting the Ground will be presented at Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex at 2201 Preston, Houston, 77002 on January 21-23, 2010 at 7:30 PM; and January 24 at 6 PM. Tickets for the evening are available on-line at www.barnevelder.org for $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For performance information visit www.houstonmetdance.org.