Playing the Field — Week 4

Some quick notes, lessons, perceptions from Week 4 of the Fieldwork workshop (last Wednesday – Sept. 30, 2009). I did not show this week.

  • I am reminded of the power of silence, pause, and stillness in all types of work.
  • Art is powerful when it nourishes the continuation of thought and provides images which the brain continues to process afterward.
  • Laughter is a gateway.
  • Never underestimate the appeal and effect of a well-placed zinger.
  • Memory is shadow – a glimmer, a remnant, a silhouette of reality but no less real and significant… just intangible.
  • Each person brings to the viewing of art, not only their own background, perceptions, insights, but their own desires and expectations.

Some notes on my own process…

I have developed some clarity in the goals for myself. Now I’m working out how to get there. Obligations in other aspects of my life sometimes leave me with little time or energy for the process. Finding moments to myself are difficult and ideally would be more carefully set aside.  With the workshop nearly half over, I’m feeling a bit pressed for time.

As for movement vocabulary, I’ve been working with isolated parts or regions of my body – compartmentalizing them. Though this “part” is the initiator and/or focus for designated periods in the movement phrases the rest of me seeks to estrange or alienate this “part”. Sometimes the body part is affecting transition, or change, or affecting nothing at all.

Descriptions and questions by viewers of my last rough draft: Torment. Buffeted. Puppet. Primal. Intimate. Vulnerability. Outside forces. Vertigo. Tension.


Playing The Field — Intro to my Fieldwork Experience

Have you heard of Fieldwork?

In a nutshell, it is a 10-week workshop in which performing artists of various disciplines (dance, theatre, music, writing) gather weekly to share work which they are developing and receive feedback from other participants.

In more detail, Fieldwork is a core program of The Field, which is an organization dedicated to serving “independent performing artists on a completely non-exclusive basis.” (meaning everything is open to artists from all aesthetic viewpoints, cultural backgrounds, and levels of development). Fieldwork participants meet each week to share their work and receive feedback in accordance with a particular system which was developed in the 80s by Steve Gross and other emerging artists. The system involves an experienced facilitator, who guides participants in providing feedback which is thoughtful, honest, and direct. This allows the artist (at any experience level) to feel safe in sharing work that is in development and provides him/her with a response to the work which is meaningful and useful to the process.

for all artists who would like to break through the isolations of working alone, would like to expose their work to a larger circle of artists from other disciplines, and would enjoy getting to know and work with a larger community. Also for people who work better under a deadline, these workshops are an incentive to keep working and producing material. – from The Field Chicago website

If you want to learn more visit

My Involvement

Though founded in New York City, The Field has extended its reach through association with other organizations throughout the United States and even into other parts of the world. Fieldwork is made available to artists via members of The Field Network. This is how I’ve come to experience the workshop!

Several Dancers Core, a company founded in Houston and based in both H-town and Atlanta, (I’ve written about them here) initiated The Field Forward Network in 1992. They offer Fieldwork workshops in both cities and I am currently a participant in their Fall Fieldwork session.

the grass of the fieldMy Experience… so far

I’ve completed Week 3 of the 10 weeks. Of Week One, I can say that I didn’t really know what to expect. I came with a loose idea and a phrase of movement. I wasn’t sure how much I would be sharing about my work/process and I’ll admit it made me nervous. I soon discovered that part of the Fieldwork system is for the artist to say very little about their own work, which can be difficult. When presenting something raw and untested, the tendency is to want to explain and defend what you’ve done so far. However it seems the object for the artist in this structure is to show and let the work speak for itself.

It was a bit intimidating to put a single phrase of movement before an audience of other artists without explaining where it was coming from or headed toward. However, a few things comforted me – 1. it was evident that others were in the same predicament, and 2. we were briefed that responses were to focus on non-evaluative statements (not I like/dislike, but I feel/I saw).

By Week Two, some additional work and thoughts were still brewing so I chose not to show, participating as a viewer only. There is value for an artist in this part of the process too. I write about dance and performance. Of course, it hones my skills to talk about what I’ve seen and felt. But, I’ve found I learn about my own artistry and process by reflecting on the work of others. This reflection better equips me to occasionally step away, even from my own work, to “see” it as others might.

In the last session (Week Three), I did have material to show and felt much more relaxed in presenting. What I have appreciated most each time I’ve received feedback is that not everyone in the group has the same level of experience with dance. It provides a richer and truer reflection than I could ever hope to get from a group of other dancers or choreographers. And, though the group is positive and friendly, I am not surrounded by friends but by individuals who are putting the work first.

I want to continue writing a bit about my experiences in the workshop as I go along. This introduction has been quite long and if you are still reading, I appreciate it. I’m going to aim for weekly updates from here out.

Have you been involved in Fieldwork? Whether you have or have not, feel free to share your thoughts below!

Suchu Dance – How to Absorb the Colorama Format

How to Absorb the Colorama Format

Suchu Dance’s second premiere of the 2008-09 season, features six newly recruited and four veteran Suchu Dance performing artists in this breathtaking and unusual dance theatre premiere conceived and crafted by Suchu Dance founder and artistic director Jennifer Wood.   Set inside one continuous, 45-foot diameter circle of 13-foot tall translucent panels enveloping both performers and audience alike, with dramatic lighting by Suchu Dance resident light designer Jeremy Choate, the scale of this production is at once intimate and gargantuan, with imagery that is bold, colorful, at times surreal.   Wood’s cutting-edge, powerful, and highly inventive choreography is complemented by even more of her unique creative contributions:  original stop-frame video animation, a dazzling array of costumes, her signature humor and twists, and a few select Wood original musical compositions.

Thursday, March 5: dinner at 7 pm catered by Huynh, Houston’s hottest, most critically-acclaimed new Vietnamese restaurant, followed by Sneak Preview show at 8 pm — $29.99 (or show only for just $14)
Friday, March 6: show at 8 pm — $16
Saturday, March 7: show at 8 pm — $18
Thursday, March 12: show at 8 pm — $14
Friday, March 13: show at 8 pm — $16
Saturday, March 14: show at 8 pm — $18

Additional $4 discount per ticket if purchased 24 hrs in advance or student/senior at door.

Artistic direction, choreography, costuming: Jennifer Wood

Light design: Jeremy Choate

Performers: Stephanie Beall, Chelsea Books, Kristen Frankiewicz, Lydia Hance, Ashley Horn, Leo Muñoz, Jessica Prachyl, Tina Shariffskul, LaKesha Sowell, Nichelle Strzepek

Yes, that’s me!

As always, a week before a show opens, it feels like there is so much to try and pull together. There are certainly a lot of elements in this show. As mentioned above, a huge curtain of panels surrounds the stage and audience. Entrances and exits can come from just about anywhere! The lighting is sure to be inventive (I haven’t seen it yet) but Jeremy always has something up his sleeve! The music includes an eclectic mix of styles and soundscapes. And, for this show, Jennifer has created some colorful and whimsical animations that will fascinate and amuse. Oh yeah! There’s dancing too! The work is imaginative and often juxtapositions elements that are unexpectedly cohesive – well, I think so anyway – but you’ll have to see for yourself!

So what’s it all about anyway?

Well, if you’re looking for a story, there isn’t one. Unlike ballet or other narrative dance works, there are no characters or plots (not in the traditional sense, anyway). In this case, the work allows the viewer to look for their own meaning or story, and understand the relationships between people, or music choices, or video segments in their own way. Often the movement exists simply for movement’s sake without much intention to express something. Therefore, each audience member is free to interpret for themselves what they see in the dance. Or not! They are also free to watch, enjoy, laugh, cry, and just be present – witnesses to theatrical magic and mystery!

The elements of the production don’t exist in a vacuum, however. There are relationships (though you may have to search to find them). And, certainly the inspiration for these components come from somewhere. In fact, if you’re wondering about the title, I suspect… yes, even the dancers are typically kept in the dark… that the Kodak Coloramas were an influence in the naming and design of this particular show. But, again, you’ll have to see for yourself to determine if I’m right!

We are excited to premiere this new work so I hope you’ll come out and see it. Jennifer Wood’s choreography is always creative and a bit zany. You are sure to chuckle and maybe even guffaw! And, seriously, how often do you get to do that at a dance performance? (not enough!)

Going to Bat for Boys in Ballet

The Pick-Me-Up

Not long ago, I had the “yipee!” moment of discovering a new dance blog. And within this blog, I found a great link to an audio interview with three male dancers in which they discussed their experiences growing up in dance, their thoughts on Billy Elliot, and more.

I found the interview very encouraging. Overall these men, who dance with Mark Morris Dance Group, began as children taking ballet and other dance styles, and received much support from not only their families but people (and other boys) around them. I’ve always felt strongly that boys must be offered a place and space in dance schools that would allow them to feel comfortable, thereby encouraging young men to dance. However, I believe my interest and concern about male dancers increased when I became the mother of a young son. He is still a toddler, having been born not long before I “birthed” this blog, and is therefore not old enough to even know what a dance class is, let alone participate in one. When he is old enough, I hope to find a dance program in which he can explore creative movement. Later, if he wants to continue in other dance styles or forms, I would of course be overjoyed but I have no desire to push my child into dance or any career, for that matter. And I would not refuse his desire to play sports, start a band, or be his own person.

Anyway, it is a great interview, and I highly recommend clicking here or downloading the mp3 to listen to this discourse. (The interview is over 20 minutes long, so you may want to finish reading this post first. Knowing the specifics of their discussion is not necessary in order to continue with this article, and you may need a lift after reading on… sorry).

The Buzzkill

In light of the above statements on motherhood, you might understand some of my dismay when I discovered this blog entry within the Houston Chronicle’s website. I’m not sure I’d even post the link if it weren’t important to see the original statements made. However, it gives me some comfort that this “author” has not posted since she released these thoughts for public consumption in November. Anyway, it is a short entry, so go ahead and read it then please come back.

Done? Now, at first I sort of brushed off what this woman had to say. Her views of dance were obviously limited. It was clear to me that she equated ballet as a pursuit not fit for a boy, and let’s be honest, I had some pretty good ideas about why (although she doesn’t state her reasoning here, her wording about “tights and leaps,” twirls, and pirouettes when accompanied by the picture she chose for her post, do offer some indication that she sees men in ballet as effeminate and possibly ridiculous). As I stated, though, I was prepared to just brush it off. Curiosity killed the cat, unfortunately, and I began reading through the comments. While reassuring that most of the responders were insenced by what they had just read, what flabbergasted and, I’ll admit, angered me were Ms. Randall’s comments to her comments!

When asked to clarify her fears about having her son enroll in ballet (after all it seems, according to her post, that having a daughter in ballet class would have been a dream come true), she replied she had no fears but went on to state that she could “love her child without loving what he does,” and that she did not intend to “facilitate a life of tights and codpieces.” Hmmm, a bit of denial there about any fears she might have. She later asserts her belief that ballet is a feminine pursuit: “I am tired of the whole concept that everything must be unisex for our children. Some avenues are more appropriate for females and others are better suited for males.” Yet, when these statements backfire and the responses are not very friendly, Ms. Randall claims that she has been misunderstood and begins backpedaling, as evidenced by the following:

“…dance is a very hard way to make a living – just like swimming or skateboarding or acting. As he gets older these decisions will fall to him, but at three years old I have the responsibility to guide his interests (to an extent) and I choose not to pay for ballet school just because he likes to twirl in front of the TV when the Wiggles sing.”

“My question was, how do you decide when to support an interest 100% and when do you politely dismiss it as a fad?”

“I stick by my assertion that at three, my son is too young to decide that he wants to take formal ballet lessons – I would be happy though to take him to see the Nutcracker.”

To anyone with reading comprehension skills, it is clear that Ms. Randall never asked or intended to ask in her original post if she should or should not support her son’s interest in dance at the tender age of three. Nor did she ever assert that this age was too young to do so. If this were truly the intent of this article, it would have been stated in some way, shape, or form. In fact, I believe the initial intent of the article was to point out that parents do not mean it when they say that all they want is their child’s happiness (a reasonable topic, perhaps, if the person delivering it did not wear her judgmental nature on her sleeve or in her writing style). Or, if she seemed to encourage independent thought within her family. (See, God help those who don’t like my food…)

It seems Ms. Randall would be happy for her son to be cultured where dance is concerned, as long as he didn’t have any notion of being a participant himself. Her reasons for this continued to reveal themselves in her responses to criticism, throughout which she consistently offered up a thought which she felt dissenters would find acceptable. For example:

I am not yet willing to enroll him in classes to satisfy every passing phase that he goes through. If at 9 he still is passionate I might reconsider and perhaps put him in ballet, tap, jazz; whatever he wants. But my kid is only 3.

…only to reveal some of her true fears and misgivings about pursuits that she would deem emasculating, in the next sentence:

If I give in to ballet now, what’s next? Am I stifling his inner make-up artist by not allowing him to put on my mascara?

…and then (again, in the next line) grasp at straws to find a “masculine” equivalent that, I can only imagine, she felt would “cover up” and make acceptable her irrational fears and stereotypical views.

Or preventing him from becoming the next famous sumo wrestler by not giving him all the junk food he desires? As parents we have to guide them, and not give into their every whim.

Speaking of food and healthy eating, this is Ms. Randall’s topic of choice for her blog and she often implores parents to do the right thing regarding their children. I have no doubt that she loves her son and that part of her fears stem from wanting to protect him from scrutiny or even others who share her narrow-minded views. Her writing is not eloquent, she perhaps does not always think her philosophies through before she posts them publicly (her post on breastfeeding might be a good example of this). I could simply dismiss what she has to say. In fact, posting this rebuttal is possibly a waste of my time and a tad unfair. If I thought Ms. Randall was presenting her views merely for shock value, I would not even bother. However, in a classic example of bigotry, she doesn’t seem to know she is bigoted and is either attempting to be funny or thinks she is helping others.

It is an encouraging thought that many, many readers felt strongly enough to take Ms. Randall to task on her views (some, like trainer, numbersdontlie, yabullar, among others offer clear and relatively compassionate responses). I couldn’t help but feel disheartened and a bit in need of a rant, however, that this line of thinking about ment in dance comes from someone who is likely an educated member of society, and who in many ways probably sees herself as a progressive and enlightened mom. It illustrates, I think, that no matter how many encouraging steps forward we seem to have taken in the U.S. regarding male dancers (and a whole host of gender issues), there is still quite a distance to travel.

It is common for female dancers to feel a twinge of jealousy toward their male counterparts, as it is a common belief that the limited amount of males in dance makes competition for work or opportunities less intense for men. However, it is clear that the pathway to a life or career in dance is not easy for anyone, regardless of gender. What a shame that it is made particularly and unnecessarily difficult for boys and men by prejudices and misconceptions rooted so deeply that parents, neighbors, or bystanders would discourage a three-year-old boy from any type of formal movement experience out of fear that he may want to investigate further, that it might lead to homosexuality, might be seen as effeminate, or be the gateway to a “hard life.”