Barefootblogger: thoughts on dance

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Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fly Spring

Want to set a few thoughts down…

As I near the end of my thirteenth season with James Sewell Ballet, I am taking stock, and I find that I am happy. Recently, amid massive internal inquiry and indecisiveness about my dancing future, not to mention all the shit re: my divorce, I’ve remained grounded; I’ve been joyful even. I’ve decided to stay.

(Re: the “shit of my divorce”, I mean it like fertilizer. I’ve mined the process for all it was worth to emerge the person I always knew I could be. My heart thanks J, for having the forethought to make a brave choice for both of us. As horribly unilateral as it was, I know it to be the right thing. All my solidity proves that. I’m solid in a fluid sense, like how bamboo can bend with the wind but not break. I now know how to be vulnerable, what a gift.)

On this first day of spring I am reminded that I’ve never felt quite settled about spring’s arrival. It always makes me a little sad, even though winter’s no picnic. (Love those blizzards though, and the ready excuse for a fire.) I don’t know, all this sudden openness is maybe too much too soon. Maybe I’m not quite ready to abandon the cocoon that I’ve surrounded myself with over these dark months. Maybe it’s that I feel too much pressure, to rejoin the human race and my community. Maybe it’s that all this lingering light hits my windows at odd hours, and I see how dirty they are. I hate to clean, and yet I know it feels so good once it’s done.

Soon my balcony will once again be like another room of my cozy apartment. I’ll be able to hear the church bells without straining my ears. My cat will meow to go out and I’ll let her, chaperoned of course.

And then there’s my dancing. Our season ends with a kick-ass piece by Jennifer Hart that’s challenging me both athletically and balletically. And then in James’ expanded “Opera Moves” I get to dance duets with Sally and Nic. Playing two different characters that morph into one at the end, the parallel to my own recent experience is not lost on me.

Today I conclude that life is good. I love it for what it is: hard, bewildering, fraught with alarming things. It also offers so many moments of grace I can’t begin to count them; I wouldn’t want to try.

Today I am at peace with this mystery that is life. Perhaps some things are not meant to be fully grasped. Holding a thing down may change its nature, its it-ness. I remember early on in our breakup being hit with the notion that I had to let J go in order for him to maintain his J-ness. And low and behold, in that letting go, I’ve allowed myself to fly. Not that occassionally I won’t need to return to my cocoon. I know I will, perhaps even later today. For the most part I am untethered; no strings attached.

Monday, March 19, 2007

After Beauty

I….. saw…..Forsythe….

I am still seeing. I am marked.

Sometimes a thing is so beautiful it’s hard to look at. That’s how it was with “Quintett”. The last piece on the program, I had so far “kept up” with what was on view. The three works before intermission were astounding, graceful, hard-edged when necessary, sometines audible, always beautiful.

And then there was “Quintett”. Some works of art reach all the way through and touch my spine. Afterward I didn’t really want to talk, certainly not about that. How can words dare to aptly express, except to utter thanks?

Earlier this week Sally wrote a comment sharing with us her “audition” for Forsythe. It was the underbelly of the experience. At the end she talked about her level of bravery at the time, and that it wasn’t enough.

I can safely say, and from deep experience alongside her, that Sally’s heart is one of the bravest I know. That she stood in the seats last night, with “Quintett” just quietly gone, crying, was the bravest act I could imagine in that moment. Vulnerability and feeling deeply are fierce qualities. These shape us to be the artists that we are.

Sometimes Sally’s dancing is so beautiful it hurts. It’s different from what I saw last night, but similar in that she is so utterly herself. That’s the bottom line to me. Is the person dancing authentically them?

Each Forsythe dancer operates from this angle. They struck me foremost as humans, then dancers. That is the correct heirachy as far as I’m concerned. There was no façade, just graceful inquiry and then an outpouring of sharing.

I am inspired, but it’s far away, not needing or wanting to take a specific shape just yet. I don’t need to run to Frankfurt to learn how to dance like this. I am so thankful to have seen, to still see, and to get to dance today myself.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What Lingers (as seen on the Walker Art Center blog)

Dana Casperson is articulate in every way. Verbally, physically, and I can only guess, emotionally. The following are my thoughts about today’s master class and discussion later with James Sewell.

Dana generates movement from her hips. Teeny-tiny, she is larger than life when she dances. She tells us to think of the body like a snake. A snake cannot move without bringing its whole self along. As dancers we can think of our bodies in the same way. Any gesture contains the potential to become a full-body experience/expression. As classical ballet practicioners, we tend to isolate movements. They are always living, just often internally. Here, today, it’s like she’s telling us to show the work.

She tells us to think of approaching points on a three-dimensional grid. One can approach with any part of the body. Here’s the thing though, how can you get from point A to point B intelligently, without it being a non sequitur? What is the priority, the imperative, and what must be abandoned out of necessity?

“Leave something behind”, she tells us. Move like a wave that simultaneously regenerates even as it breaks/arrives. I am reminded of a lotus flower, simultaneously blossoming and seeding, cause and effect existing simultaneously.

My brain fries. A part of me wants to physically experience this stuff, and I must admit, a part of me simply, complexly, wants to watch. I want to write, to experience this work from the inside of my own brain, grasping what precious little I can in two hours. It’ll be interesting to see what lingers.

I wrestle between my brain and my instincts, a hyper, encapsulated experience.

Ultimately dance is about the expression of the spirit.

It’s important to allow the head to fulfill the chain of events promised by the body.

I close my eyes and imagine myself in my grid. I sense my backspace and all the possibility. This gives me hope, in my dancing and in my life in general. I think this grid of possibility can apply to all we approach as humans. Adding focus, we follow the head. And for me, (I sense this with Dana too), I follow the heart and its sincere pursuit, to wherever it may quietly lead, often with surprising results.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

My Naive Impressions of the Forsythe Method (as seen on the Walker Art Center blog)

My first viewing of a Forsythe piece was when I was fifteen. I was in New York City with my mother and best friend, auditioning for the Joffrey Ballet School summer program. The Joffrey, still magnificent in 1986, before it crusted over and moved to Chicago, was performing at the State Theater at Lincoln Center. One of the works on the mixed-bill was “Love Songs”. I was blown out of the water of my Dayton, Ohio existence. Now that I think about, I’m sure that that night, that viewing, affected my choreographic aesthetic, especially regarding male/female partnering. Those duets were fierce and borderline abusive. And so beautiful in their danger. I think it was the first time I had ever seen juxtaposition.

When I was twenty and living in NYC, San Francisco Ballet came to town and performed Forsythe’s “In the middle, somewhat elevated”. I remember loving the costumes, the hats in particular, I guess you could say the general aesthetic. At the time, I did not know how to critique work, how to talk about what I was seeing. Now I know that I was absorbing, taking in, educating my eye. Then, I just knew that I think I liked it.

Cut to Minneapolis. A few years into my tenure with James Sewell Ballet, my friend Christian Burns spent a chunk of time in Germany with Ballett Frankfurt, William Forsythe’s home base at the time. Upon his return he told me all about it, over several long conversations. It was clear that Chris’ dancing life had been deeply affected. It remains clear that that affect has remained. His experience was deep and rich and had something to do with a dance phrase called “tuna”.

Near that same time, during a summer visit back in NYC, my mom and I were at the Whitney Museum. I found myself in a darkened theater. A film of a dancer was playing. Somehow I knew it was Bill Forsythe. I was captivated. Again, I didn’t really know what I was seeing, how to relate his dance to my daily practice of the form. I love how dance can still surprise me.

Through James Sewell Ballet I got to know a long-time Forsythe dancer, Noah Gelber. An old friend of Sally’s, he visited one fall season and performed a solo on our show. The swinging light enchanted me, as did his magnificent dancing, his layers of socks, his sense of humor.

The summer of 1997 I was in Paris and saw Noah with the company. They danced a piece called “Sleepers Guts”. My boyfriend’s father and my mother fell asleep. My boyfriend and I sat with eyes wide open on our little bench seats in the rafters of the theater, I forget which one. The piece had text, live video, and kick-ass dancing. It defied categorization.

Noah visited Minneapolis again several years later, after he’d left the company. He gently led us through a mini workshop/explanation of just a few of Forsythe’s improvisational methods. We barely scratched the surface.

So here I find myself at the heart of these residency activities. I look forward to getting confused, drudging up questions and my shit. Maybe I’ll have a break-through. Maybe I’ll break. However it goes down, I’m ready to be surprised.

Penelope Freeh –