Barefootblogger: thoughts on dance

My Photo
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

I am a dancer with Minneapolis based James Sewell Ballet, a small, contemporary ballet company. I also choreograph independently.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bridging the Gap

James Sewell Ballet has had two performances of our new piece “Turf” so far, and it’s interesting to witness the incoming responses. The subject matter (violence, torture, death and redemption) is bringing up people’s stuff, like it or not. Our job as dancers is to do due diligence in representing these atrocities as thoroughly as possible. However, is it possible to remain neutral, to just represent?

In talking with C yesterday it was interesting to note our experiential differences. I’m still thinking about that conversation and what it continues to bring up for me. The jist of it was that he is very much literally engaged in the piece. “Method” as he put it. He works himself into a lather and literally gets infuriated with me as his victim. I, however, blindfolded and bound, feel quite safe. I feel like I am interacting with C, not with a torturer. I bridge that gap myself. Otherwise it would be too terrifying, too uncertain from a dancing perspective. And here’s another thing: how “dancerly” need we be? This is the inherent struggle we are all having with this piece. Physically it’s hugely satisfying as we get to jump and soar and pair quickly and come apart. It gets quite spectacular in that sense. And then suddenly the virtuosity turns ugly and we are primitive-brained, competitive, and capable of killing. How do we make this transition while remaining within the form of dance? Need we remain within the form?

As we embark on the last of this series of performances tonight, I will contemplate these questions and look forward to re-opening them again in January when we tour and perform at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium in St. Paul. I think we can strike a balance. I think in many ways we have. My vote tends to lean toward the realistic rather than the performative. Yet here we are dancing to this highly dramatic Bartok score, and it must be acknowledged and represented in a real way.

I love this, this puzzling over a thing that’s so worthwhile. It’s interesting to note how, even with these unanswered questions, the piece is happening. It is vital. It is awesome to dance and experience in front of an audience. I guess that’s what it comes down to. Discovery onstage holds an important place for me. Not that I deliberately hold back in rehearsal (in fact I love the risk-taking that is inherent to the rehearsal process), but there is inevitably something more to be excavated onstage, and when I least expect it. I think this happens as a result of being in the moment and open-hearted.

As always I am struck by how many metaphors for life can be found in the dance world. At this juncture in my own life where I’m attempting to open my pedestrian self to be as open as the dancer in me, I discover that my suffering is down and dirty and that my joy is deeper.

At the end of “Turf” J and I meet on the bridge, hostages being traded back to our sides. We stop in the middle and remove our blindfolds. I look up into his angelic face and am flooded with compassion, recognizing a kindred suffering. We step out of time and do a duet of mutual support, physical longing and comfort.

That’s just the kind of interaction I’m reinacting in my pedestrian life. I listen to C’s romantic history and I send out threads of admiration and understanding. I comfort R with her impending divorce and can relate on a level I never thought possible. And I have a moment with B in the Rapid Park lot, where we fall deeper into the love of friendship for having shared our dreams with one another one day on my balcony at the height of summer.

Following the threads, I sip from my glass that’s perfectly full because it keeps replenishing. The stuff of my life gets dirtier and is loved harder like the Velveteen Rabbit. A door closes and another one opens. Sometimes you even get one leading onto a balcony with a view.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Stop Time Blind

Beginning the last day of my dancing week, and I feel like recording what’s going on.

James is basically done choreographing “Turf”, our new ballet premiering Wednesday with the Minnesota Orchestra. It’s about turf wars and torture, death and redemption, or not. It’s a comment on how things operate now, and what we might still be able to learn.

I play a torture victim, and for much of the piece I’m blindfolded, my hands bound behind me. Even so, I actually still achieve some dancing. The hard-core torture sequences are highly scored, so in theory there will be no surprises. But I truly cannot see, and anything can happen. It’s been a trip, living in my little world of sightlessness. My instincts kick in; sometimes I find myself responding differently to the external stimulous, even though I know what’s coming. There is much trust between me and the other performers. This has to look real, I must experience it in a real way to some degree, and so we all must find a way to “go there”. I still haven’t found the full through-line for myself. I get closer with every rehearsal, with every timing clarification, defining my boundaries so that I can then expand them. I look forward to pulling this off.

Simultaneously to this I’ve been doing my usual intrepid work with Deborah Jinza Thayer, a frazzled genius for whom it’s always a pleasure to work. Plus, submitted a grant and found out my new duet got accepted into the Walker Art Center’s Choreographers Evening! It was a big week.

This AM as I sit in my overstuffed, garage sale chair with my cat on one arm and my coffee on the other, I contemplate a new day of my body expanding through space in its attempt to stop time.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Exquisite Pain

Today we had folks come in to watch some sections of “Klezmer Dances”. This went rather well considering this ballet is new to all but three of us. These situations are always good in that they seem to bump us up a notch. We have to find a way out of snags or mishaps during the course of a run-through, and this begets a deeper inquiry into a piece.

This audience in particular helped immensely in gently guiding us toward an understanding of traditional Jewish dances. James is very clear that he is not attempting to manfacture a culture other than his own. He is instead inspired by this music and by the idea, inherent in Judiasm, that dance is the highest form of worship.

And so we are off on an investigation of exquisite pain, agony and ecstasy, shame and pride, that reflect the tradition of Jewish culture. These are our new launching pads for the piece. It’s now becoming an inside-out process, no longer anymore just about the steps and pointed toes. (Steps and pointed toes are inherent to us, so they will be there, just no longer as the main focus. Rather, no longer mine.) I feel free to conduct experiments, to flub a step in the name of exploration and deepening.

Tomorrow we will begin to reconstruct my solo. I am eager and slightly nervous, in the best sense. I’ve been thinking of having a closed door policy, just me and James. But tonight I’m pretty sure I’ve decided to let it be open. My process is everyone’s and theirs is mine. This is, blessedly, that kind of company. If I truly work from the inside out anyway it shouldn’t matter. These folks are my people.

During a conversation with James last week we were discussing the solo and how he, this time around, wants to get me to a place that is estatic in my experience. I was saying how hard that will be for me. I have a much easier time being dramatic and angsty. He knows that about me, and when I assumed everyone felt that way, he said that he doesn’t. He is not afraid to express his ecstatic joy. And so that’s my starting point. I will attempt to bridge the gap between my fears and their revealing. This task feels so apt at this juncture in my life. What a perfect opportunity to finally shed. I have a real tragedy to call upon, and now that I’m mostly through to the other side, I see joy. I experience it daily now, again. So on to the task of expressing it, letting it out, giving it voice through my performing, but first, through this newly informed process.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


It is dusk. The church immediately across from my balcony just rang its bells. I am going to a play tonight at the new Guthrie Theater, the proscenium space where JSB will perform in October. I can’t wait to see it, apparently blood red, like the inside of a heart or a womb.

I took yoga this AM. I have three days off and felt the need to get “in body” and to cleanse. I do indeed feel detoxified and refreshed, though tired, pleasantly tired. This is the gentle lull before my night begins, a transition that I love. It always begets a thinking in me, a thoughtfulness about my own dusk as I contemplate turning 36.

I am mostly excited at the notion. My body, though dealing with ever-present issues and old injuries, feels, in many ways, healthier than ever. I witness C, on the cusp of 40, as he negotiates time and his own body as a fine dancer. Today I felt a pride, a degree of wanting to take good care of myself, that feels deep and sincere in its necessity.


Just returned from seeing Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing”. It was about love. I am reminded that it all comes down to that. One of the lines went something like, “It’s easy to love a person when they’re at their best. What’s hard is to love them when they’re at their worst.” True. It comes down to having faith that the person you’re with is deeper than what they’re demonstrating at a worst moment.

This reminds me of my body too. How fine I am when it’s feeling fine, but oh how morose and out of balance I become when it’s operating at a low speed and agility. Here too it’s about loving it anyway, giving it the benefit of the doubt that it will bounce back, rise again, serve my needs toward fulfilling myself. I’ve got to have an unconditional relationship with it and not be a fair weather friend.

I take responsibility for not always being at my best in relationships. I acknowledge my tendency to be self-absorbed when it comes to my dancing. To some degree, I may always be this way. And yet here’s what I’ve learned: I am deeeper than my dancing self-absorption. This divorce is teaching me that. It’s forcing me to sink or swim and I choose, everyday, to swim. To keep my head above the water of insecurity and smallness. And in this act of daily choosing, my capacity for love grows. I feel it like a pulling. I give it first of all to myself with the hope that the outcome will be that I won’t feel so completely driven to prove my worth through my dancing. Yet I am, even as I say this, first and foremost a dancer. It is what I’ve always been, what I’ve always wanted to be, from when I was about 7. It’s just that now, I’m realizing that also what I want to be is full, big, enormous as a person, as a human, connecting to others, either through my dancing or my newly easy smile. I am becoming more integrated and therefore freer to express, in any medium.

Tonight’s play was about love. I am about love, whether or not I have a lover to bestow it upon. It’s still there, not in the least dried up. In fact it overflows. It pours forth; my eyes are clear, my ears are hearing, and tonight, the rain reminds me of all of this.