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CounterPULSE is building a movement of risk-taking art that shatters assumptions and builds community. We provide space and resources for emerging artists and cultural innovators, serving as an incubator for the creation of socially relevant, community-based art and culture.

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Dandelion Dancetheater

Winter 2011 Artist in Residence

Dandelion Dancetheater is situated at the crossroads of dance, theater, community activism, healing, and new performance forms. Our work is built from a fascination with artistic experimentation, vulnerability, and risk-taking and a simultaneous commitment to the creation of high-quality, radically accessible art. We view the exploration of the endless possibilities of the human body as a potent means for personal and collective growth and share this exploration with diverse populations through performance, teaching, speaking, video, and writing.

Photographer: Luiza Silva Pictured: Stacz Sadowski and Keith Penney

 


Performing Thursday-Sunday, March 31 – April 3,  8pm

Friend

Jump ship mid way & Friend ImageFriend is an homage to Sharon Mussen, a close friend of Director Eric Kupers who passed away in December of 2010. It is also an investigation of the nature of friendship. What does it mean to develop and sustain friendships in our fast-paced contemporary culture? Do we have friends outside of our work? Our art making? Our romantic relationships? How has the role of friendship changed with the deluge of hi-tech communication methods now at our fingertips? Is a friend on Facebook the same as a friend in flesh and blood? Is friendship all it’s cracked up to be? Are we able to be truly honest with our friends? Are there important things we miss out on when we substitute friendship with work, sex, distraction, addiction, ideas, religion, alone-time?

Friend is Kupers’ most personally intimate performance work in a long while. Incorporating what he has learned from a number of explosive, community-rousing and highly colorful, interdisciplinary performance pieces created over the last few years, Kupers is directing a highly diverse ensemble in looking inward to discover hidden longings and ambivalences about friendship. The group of collaborating performers include dance, music, theater and design artists with and without disabilities. Each will be creating crucial chapters of Friend, bringing together movement, sound, narrative, interactive metal sculpture, live video, miniature environments and more. Joining the Dandelion Dancetheater ensemble are close friends of both Kupers and Mussen: Bay Area composer Patrick Cress and Portland painter Benjamin Clark. Together these artists will tell a surreal story of the growth and loss of one unusual friendship, and through this tap into both the underbelly and heartful gifts of friendship throughout the lives of everyone involved.

Cast: Cristina Carasquillo, Patrick Cashman, Patrick Cress, Dana DeGuzman, Chris Gallegos, Dorine Hoeksema, Mickey Kay, Eric Kupers, Heather Lukens, Matt Payne (April 2nd only), Keith Penney, Mantra Plonsey, Anne-Lise Reusswig, Sue Roginski, David Ryther, Stacz Sadowski

Media Sponsors: SFBG logo 7x7 logo Bay Stages logo

Dandelion Dancetheater will be performing Friend as a double bill with Kegan Marling.

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Dandelion's Blogs

Underland Background
By
Mar 11th, 2012

As we finish up our first premiere weekend of Arthur in Underland, and move towards our last, (performances run through March 18th) here’s some background on the piece, from the Director’s Note I wrote for the program:

Arthur in Underland is one of the most personally vulnerable pieces I’ve ever made. It is based on a year in my life that turned everything I believed and wanted upside down. When I was 15 I left my native Los Angeles to spend a year at Berkeley High School.

My inner world no longer matched my outer and I was longing for new models, new experiences and some way to feel less fragmented. I plunged myself into a rush of boundary-pushing, rule-breaking and passionate seeking. With the help of psychedelic drugs, spiritual teachings from many different directions, a group of friends all stepping beyond the familiar, and soul-stirring music–I fell in love and fell apart.

My whole life was refocused around a spiritual path at my feet that I could barely see through the haze of confusion and desire. Central to this spiritual awakening was the blossoming of my love and desire for men. I caught glimpses of same-sex love in some very dark corners. I knew I wanted this and that it was somehow central to my inner truth, but I approached this love in some clumsy, dangerous and highly destructive ways. I came face to face with parts of myself emanating a transcendent beauty and also parts decaying in shadows. I was overwhelmed by questions and desires too wildly powerful for my teenage psyche to integrate. I tumbled into a state of anxiety, obsession and depression that took me many years to climb out of.

I’ve been slowly processing these experiences over the past 25 years and cycling through them in different forms over and over. When I made Friend with the Dandelion ensemble in 2011, about the loss of my closest friend from my teenage years, a host of memories and encounters resurfaced, demanding to be explored. I had attempted to capture my 15th year in a performance work for decades without success, but now it seemed I might be finally ready. I relayed all the stories I could remember to ensemble member Mantra Plonsey, and asked her to write a script that captured the energies of what I experienced through a completely fictional story. What she wrote blew me away. In the world she brought forth I’ve been able to re-enter and embody the violent conflicts of my desire, fear, confusion and longing to belong. If we had tried to tell my stories in factual detail, I don’t believe we would have been able to go half as deep as we’ve gone. Arthur in Underland keeps teaching me new things about myself and has pushed me to reclaim a vision for my life that is bold, immediate and exhilarating. I am eternally grateful to Mantra and all of the performer/collaborators for so tenderly accompanying me on this journey and bringing forth such powerful transformation.

I’d like to dedicate this piece to Barbara Davidson, who was a “safe adult” for me thoughout my growing up and who very directly helped me to integrate and celebrate my gayness and spiritual searching. Barbara passed away as we made this work and I was reminded of what a large part she played in my emergence from the world of shadows. May all young seekers be fortunate enough to have a friend like Barbara along the path–and may all beings be supported to live in direct contact with and expression of their inner truths.

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Dandelion – Interview of Underland Co-Director
By
Feb 29th, 2012

Emmaly Wiederholt interviewed “Arthur in Underland’s” Co-Director, Writer and Performer Mantra Plonsey about the creation of Dandelion’s new work:

 

EMMALY WIEDERHOLT: What was the process of drawing from Eric’s personal history to write Arthur in Underland? Conversely, what is it like to perform in?

MANTRA PLONSEY: Eric had recently completed the process of creating and producing AND performing in our past winter season’s piece FRIEND, which dealt with a dear companion’s death from a brain tumor, with whom he had gallivanted around during their middle teens in Berkeley. The material in that project brought up deeper memories from that period in the 80′s, when he was a perilously impressionable 15-year-old, separated from his Los Angeles family home of origin, and out of his depth as he navigated through the counterculture, including  neo-primitive, urban tribal music and ritual experimentation.

One of the defining features of that time was Eric’s deep attraction to a young male contemporary, prior to his coming out, combined with his distant encounters with a older, sexually predatory man who was both frightening and intriguing. This series of encounters with this man and his entourage in a rock band sent Eric into a descent into severe anxiety (“I went to pieces,” he says) for a time, and his work with a therapist “saved his life”, as he told me. He began to feel he was ready to address the earlier times that had in part included his friend who recently passed away, and look back to face that part of his past, and share those memories through art.

Perhaps because of my acute travels through severe childhood neglect– (I was abandoned in a locked apartment with my baby brother when I was 4, and later spent two years of my teens in psychiatric institutional life–) Eric felt he could trust me with what he felt required a dark re-telling of his story. My five years of working with Eric as a performer and collaborator convinced me that he could indeed face a story rich with risk, requiring strong confrontations with his own fear and dread. This direction builds upon themes of other works I have seen him initiate in the past, which, as I see it, have often referred more to the higher, more positive aspects of spirituality; I wanted very much to illustrate his and my congruent points of view, that one doesn’t achieve enlightenment by embracing only the light.

I asked Eric several times before we began if he truly felt safe with the prospect of confronting the character of Sarastro, the intensely violent and transgressive antagonist I was developing for my role as Eric’s opposite:  my own representation of an murderous, manipulative villain, a pedophile, an archetypal “Dark Man”. (I continue to ask Eric to check in with me regularly, in fact, and I need the same from him. His emotional safety, and my own, and that of the entire ensemble is a radical imperative for the two of us.) 

    In the early stages, I immediately became engaged with a notion I had of the therapist as Sibyl, as a guide through the dream world, and as a foreteller. We share dreams with the people who help us integrate our personalities when in acute episodes of threatened personality and identity, and in recovery from trauma. These thoughts quickly became expressed mythically, as I wasn’t wanting to make a piece about two people in upholstered furniture in an office with a clock and a box of tissues — at least in the current creative cycle. Who knows.

I am fascinated with villains. You can’t have a hero without at least one player in a black hat, and as Eric said just yesterday, the enemy in a fable like this one is (at any rate, in a truthful telling) making a sacrifice, which, I’d say, can be of his or her self, body, life, or essence. I see this as a nearly erotic submission, a consenting to being overthrown, and this is an indispensable element in the play. There are, as well, the equivalent and/or opposing sexual tides and rhythms influencing Arthur, Eric’s character.

For me to perform in this piece is exhilarating, and I’m having the time of my life. This euphoria is tempered with bouts of doubt. (Rhymes with trout.) And guilt, even. The metaphorical and actual extremes I’m inflicting on my actor comrades in this play are often harrowing to deliver– often not in the moment, but later when I’m second-guessing myself. Was it too much? What are they thinking? Should I go comfort them or are they OK? I find myself feeling remorseful and pitying my performer friends for what I’m doing to them, but the ones most disturbed seem to be the ones having to watch the violence, not the ones being knocked around. The other side of the doubloon is that I’m getting a colossal charge out of acting out the sadism. I’ve been on the receiving end on stage several times, but very seldom have been the one taking charge.

The balance of energy in a group when this kind of business is written into the script can have chaotic consequences, bordering on disaster and havoc, with people crying and withdrawing, or becoming so psychically  merged with the power dynamic that their identities become lost. For stable, self-aware people, of course, it can have the best possible outcome. I hadn’t thought much about the possible effects of being on the dominant side of the exchange, or that I would find myself inhabiting the energy so completely, but I should have known better!

    One can express an elemental animal force in stage violence. You can give it or take it. There is genuine freedom in allowing yourself to feel the emotional, if not the physical impact of taking a slap in the face, or getting knifed, or just yelled at, to release your inherent masochism, or beat the hell out of someone who does or doesn’t like it… all of human variation is there.

 

EMMALY WIEDERHOLT: There are so many allusions in the text… Shakespeare, King Arthur, Lewis Carroll, The Rite of Spring, Tarot cards… why did you draw on so many different references, and what do you hope to illustrate through the use of so many references? Was there a particular theme you looked for when choosing references to allude to in the text?

MANTRA PLONSEY: The story of the transit through an “underworld”, in many traditions, begins with the Epic of Gilgamesh, travels through Greek theatre, European and Asian myth, appears in every recorded history in every culture and continues to present day (and will, I predict, for as long as we tell stories). Its themes have been unceasingly with us in ancient and contemporary works– see Wagner’s Ring Cycle, The Matrix films, Harry Potter– and in these, the residents of the Underworld must always meet the hero with ordeals and tests before he or she may ascend to the sunlit lands, and this occurs always with the hero receiving precious new knowledge, gifts and secrets.

I chose to draw from several “Underworld” traditions for the questions Arthur must answer before he may reach each level — Tarot for the occult, Shakespeare for tragedy and to express a use of  literary  scholarship as an arcane challenge, Alice in her rather disturbing transit through distorted reality– I believe it was David Ryther who contributed the idea of using Le Sacre du Printemps, which happens to dovetail with the trope of the virgin sacrifice– King Arthur appears as the champion of Right vs. Might, whose visionary idea of chivalry is broken and destroyed at the end of Malory’s medieval work, Le Morte D’Arthur. All of these sources have a sort of shadow to them, and I love each of these elements for the sense I have of their origins in a sort of eternal, infinite past, which we imagined as the setting for the band’s lair.

The name ‘Arthur’ for our hero was my spontaneous impulse, which led startlingly to countless parallels for the story. Eric was born in England, which I had forgotten. King Arthur’s inclusion led, predictably, to irresistible appearances from several other members of the Round Table. Eric suggested we name a central character, played by Keith Penney, “Lance”, perhaps half-jokingly, but the resonance really grew and continued to evolve. I couldn’t help it. The references shouldered their way in, and, for instance, one young knight in particular became utterly crucial to the plot in ways we hadn’t anticipated. That’s the sort of thing that happens all the time in Dandelion– happy accidents of lighting, location, properties, circumstance, people showing sides of themselves that were dormant or not fully expressed blossoming– myself included.

EMMALY WIEDERHOLT: How has your understanding of the text changed from when you wrote it to now when you perform it?

MANTRA PLONSEY: One way to look at is that to perform this part myself means that it can be played the way I see it. Besides this convenience, the relationships between each of the characters and mine (onstage and in real life) have deepened. I was becoming intensely identified with the role as I was writing it, and because of this, the villain’s effect upon my comrades is possibly more profound than it would have been if I didn’t play the part. I feel that  my understanding of the text itself hasn’t wavered. The individual words, dance, music, blocking, lights, effects, etc., do indeed keep metamorphosing, as they always do in Dandelion, which is a big reason why I love the company.

The Therapist as Sibyl idea quickly disappeared almost entirely, becoming subsumed into the character of the sinister bandleader Sarastro. Indeed, I personally had never meant to play anything more than a disembodied voice, nearly obscured in the darkened loft with my back to the audience, and wearing a blindfold, leaving me free to help direct. Of course, sometimes it seems that, due to our  dedication to create a collectively functioning ensemble,  nobody in the troupe ever really gives up one responsibility for another, except in the degree of involvement per piece. Mostly we add more on! We thought of casting every other member of the company as Sarastro, until Eric had the brainstorm to try cross-gendered portrayal, with me playing the male character as male in costume and makeup, yet ambiguously so, with the spoken and singing voices ranging between male and female tonalities. Sarastro himself went from being a purely evil, singly dimensional archetype to becoming a more conflicted, fully developed personality while still retaining a supernatural glamour; he assumed the classic position of the disguised, apparently hostile guide who initiates the novice into the mystery.

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Entering Underland
By
Feb 5th, 2012

I’m thrilled to be back at CounterPULSE, about a year after our first ARC residency. The piece we created through the residency, FRIEND came out of the recent loss of one of my closest friends to a brain tumor at the beginning of our time at CounterPULSE. In working on that piece and unearthing stories about the beginning of our friendship in 11th grade I was flooded by other stories. I had met Sharon during my one year of attending Berkeley High School and we were part of a group of friends that came together quickly, briefly and intensively–united around shared desires for consciousness expanding, artistic exploration and boundary pushing of many kinds. Sharon had been the one friend I had kept in touch with after high school, through college and into our adult lives. As she died, many of the friends from that wild year reunited at her bedside.

It was wonderful to reconnect, and it also stirred up a potent mixture of memories and unresolved feelings. During that year in the late 1980′s we opened many doors that flooded us with more insights, questions, darkness and light than our young psyches were prepared for. Some of us were able to recover gracefully, and some (like myself) were cracked open and tossed around by the winds of confusion for many years.

I am exploring once again all that was unleashed for me through that rush of spiritual seeking, psychedelic drug-tripping, sexual exploration, rebellion and power play with the help of the Dandelion Dancetheater ensemble.

I relayed my stories in as much detail as I could remember to Mantra Plonsey, who then wrote a script that became the seed and structure of our new work, ARTHUR IN UNDERLAND. The piece is taking me back into a frightening and wonderful land wherein I seemed to have left important pieces of myself–a sense of wonder and delight, a longing for discovery and a trust in the mysterious synchronicity of the path that is always at my feet.

The story of ARTHUR IN UNDERLAND  is fictional, and yet it feels painfully true to me, more so than if we had tried to retell the literal story of that time. I am powerfully reminded once again of my love of performance as a vehicle for healing and transformation. I find myself deeply nourished every time we enter this dream-world in rehearsal. It’s uncomfortable, electrifying, provocative, overwhelming, joyful and very mysterious. I feel honored to be working alongside such courageous and generous artists, and to do so in a venue that creates such a safe space for risky exploration.

Here’s a 3 minute preview of Arthur’s journeys:

Dandelion\’s \”Arthur in Underland\” – 3 minute preview

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Fermented Art
By
Apr 16th, 2011

I’m a big fan of fermented foods and drinks: sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, rejuvelac, kim chee, wine, beer and more. It’s fascinating to me how completely new nutrients and beneficial bacteria develop when we let things settle for awhile. And then how new food and drink is created, not necessarily better than what was originally there, but different and fulfilling other needs.

I’m realizing that I love fermented art too. When a project first appears to complete on closing night, I feel a great sadness at “losing” my connection to something that is immensely nourishing to me. And yes, I am saying goodbye–to a particular lens for experiencing the project, to the material that makes it up and to the magical time with the collaborators.

But as the project ferments–as it sits for awhile–new gifts sprout up from its remains. I’m able to view the piece (through video, memory, reflection) with a greater sense of calm. I’m able to discover new things in it. I’m able to integrate the insights, the shifts and the sheddings that the piece offers up to me.

Today I re-watched one of my excerpt videos from Friend. I was moved in a completely different way than I was moved when performing it, or even than when I first edited the video. But in a way that feels just as important.

Dandelion at CounterPULSE – FRIEND Excerpts #2

I could follow the trajectories of the piece as if listening to a juicy story. I could watch without the same attachments. I could let myself be taken for its rides. My guess is that this will only deepen as the work ferments. When I look at some of my earlier works now, I notice and feel new things in a way that delights me.

Art that is created through intuitive processes always holds more than initially meets the eye. And in order to digest all of its gifts, we must revisit it at different stages of our own life experience. One can’t “get” it all in one viewing, or even one month or one year. There are things hidden in each piece that the creators don’t even know about while creating. There are mysteries waiting to be investigated, and will wait as long as is necessary.

In a recent post I wrote that I am shifting my view to think of the performances of a work as just the midpoint of the project–that the same time that was taken to create it is needed to integrate it. However, in some ways, the performances are not the mid-point, but the “beginning” of a project. And then the project ripens, matures, ferments throughout the rest of our lives. It’s like when a redwood tree first sprouts out of the ground–that is the performance portion. And then the many centuries of growth of the tree is what happens after the performance as the art expands in our hearts.

Often we take trees for granted, like we take art for granted. It’s there, I saw it and I don’t need to pay attention anymore. But we miss so much when we do that. There’s so much to discover every time it crosses our path, and each discovery is fresh and completely new.

(video from this post is my second set of Friend excerpts:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jf-lwL7GgYY)

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As the Light Fades
By
Apr 8th, 2011

Transitioning back to ordinary life after a performance run is difficult for me. And this particular transition out of performances of Dandelion’s Friend has been particularly difficult.

Ram Dass wrote and spoke about how as he began to get in touch with larger and more beautiful spiritual experiences–as he got “higher” each time–the accompanying falls afterwards became increasingly painful. These performances were especially “high” for me.

I made some big breakthroughs artistically: editing more fiercely, trusting my inner feedback over outer feedback, and delving deeply into musical, lighting and visual art elements. And I made some big breakthroughs spiritually: reclaiming performance as a vehicle for healing, trusting my inner feedback over outer feedback, stirring up and riding a storm of emotional energies and letting go of a lot of worry and doubt.

I had a strong sense over the four performances and the week of tech rehearsals that led up to them, of the sacredness of performance. My intellectual understandings of performance as a spiritual practice and even religious gathering place were transformed into direct experience of something quite palpable. I noted many times during the weekend a sense of finally beginning to “get” what going to church is all about. I felt invited in, embraced and empowered.

I can think of a lot of causes for this string of experiences:

* I made a conscious choice after my friend Sharon died to direct my art-making more intentionally towards healing, connection, friendship and my own spiritual growth.
* I was working in Friend specifically with powerful emotions and energies surrounding grief, loss and deep love.
* The residency at CounterPULSE provided me with a great deal of logistical and ideological support, allowing me to focus more than I have in a long time on the art-making itself.
* The combination of artists collaborating with me in the Dandelion ensemble brought a maturity, a willingness and a unique collection of personalities and talents all adding up to great artistic chemistry.
* I’ve been working towards many of the realizations I’ve had during this project through many years of experimentation and hard work.
* And then there is the mysterious nature of grace that seems to grant us new levels of insight and integration when we are somehow ready–keeping all of this outside the realm of control and formulas for action.

Because of all this, the energy crash after the performances has felt like finding the “Garden of Eden” and then being cast out. The world that we wove together onstage (and throughout CounterPULSE) was rich, juicy, inspiring, sensitive and beautiful. I felt a great freedom and a great power. I moved up to my edges and beyond them musically, theatrically, visually. I discovered a ritual for “cooling down” after the performance–the playing of live music until I have settled enough to coherently engage with audience members. I felt a sense of clarity and connection to purpose. And then we had to clean up and go home.

I’ve realized that I need at least a week of no plans after performances like this–to decompress, integrate and rejuvenate. As it was, I had a day. And then it was off to errands, meetings, deadlines and the return to teaching.

The week leading up to our performances was the first week of Spring Quarter at Cal State East Bay. This is always a crazy time, but compounded with the stress around this production it feels insane. And adding to this, I have had a leaky tire on my car because of a screw stuck in it for over a week now; The piles of emails, mail, papers, “to-do’s” and miscellaneous stuff on my desk have become daunting; I’m choreographing an opera for the Cal State Spring Dance Production that opens in one month; I have over one hundred students this quarter; I’m directing a major collaborative project with Dandelion and AXIS Dance Company that starts up rehearsals again tomorrow. I can barely find room to walk in my office because of all the props, sets and lighting equipment from Friend that I now have to find spaces for; I need to find time to practice my mandolin to get ready for some upcoming musical gigs; I haven’t had my car washed in a long time; I can’t find my “To Do list;” and to top it off, I need new socks. It’s a lot to pick back up again when I’m feeling this raw, depleted and emotionally spent.

Everything seemed so much clearer last weekend. My job was simply to show up as fully as possible and give myself to the art. I’m grieving the loss of that energetic space, and wishing I had a lot of time to sit with this grief rather than run around trying to get caught up. My colleague Nina Haft remarked at one of our work-in-progress showings that she experiences loss like the tearing off of a scab so that all the past grief-wounds come pouring up once again to mix with the present one. This is the clearest description I’ve found of the grieving process over my friend Sharon’s death, and it is proving true of my grieving over the loss of the Friend project.

I’ve seemed to be fine this week when I’m at home, feeling safe and having time to rest, snuggled up against my partner and/or our dogs. As soon as I have to go out into the world to take care of business, I feel a weight descend on my whole insides. I get tearful over the smallest things and feel a mounting sense of anxiety the farther I get from the house. Everything seems overwhelming. Somewhere inside I know I can handle all the details, especially when I think of them one at a time, but the contrast between this post-show struggle and the immersion in grace during the show is poignant.

I realize that a big part of my suffering this week is rooted in my wishing things were different–wishing I was back in performance mode with my ensemble or at least that I didn’t have to do much of anything as I transition. I seem to be wishing my time away, instead of settling into how things actually are right now, amidst the exhaustion and overwhelm and grief.

There are a few things that seem to help and so I’ve been turning to these as much as possible:
1. Organizing and putting away props, costumes, instruments, lights and other paraphenalia from the performances keeps me connected to the experiences I had while also physically moving me forward into my life.
2. Editing video of the performances reminds me of the experiences, gives me new perspectives on what we created and re-engages my creativity.
3. Cleaning and organizing the non-show items in my life grounds me and seems to refresh my environment. I’m reminded of Jack Kornfield’s teachings from “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.”
4. Writing and talking about what I’m going through with friends, my partner, and this blog cuts down on the alienation and the stagnation of my thinking.

And most importantly, a specific shift in my perspective on all this has been getting me through and reconnecting me to the power of the processes I’ve been engaged in. I’ve heard Buddhist teachers say that it takes about as long to integrate a meditation retreat as it takes to do the retreat. So a two-month retreat will take at least two months to transition back into ordinary life from. A three-year retreat will take at least three-years to transition back from. I have found this to be a very helpful way of looking at performance projects I direct. Friend took four months of pretty intensive rehearsals to create. So I think it will take at least four months of active reflection to integrate its insights, gifts and emotional reverberations into the rest of my life. This means that the closing night of performances is not the end of the project, but the mid-point.

Each time I view my present experiences from this perspective I relax and feel great relief. I’m still doing the necessary work of the project as best I can. I plan to continue sharing post-show reflections as they come to me as part of this next stage of Friend.

Here is my first draft of video edits from Friend, taken from footage shot by friends throughout the weekend. I love watching this for new perspectives on the work, especially since up til now I’ve only seen it from inside:

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Audience Reactions to Kegan Marling and Dandelion Dancetheater
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Apr 1st, 2011

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Impermanence Made Visible
By
Mar 31st, 2011

My current favorite definition of the word “dance” is:

“Impermanence made visible.”

That seems to cover the immensity and the minutia of this slippery form.

I’m particularly in touch with impermanence as Dandelion moves into our premiere of Friend tonight. It strikes me as odd how performance is what I pour my most extreme efforts and longings and strivings into–and then it’s gone so quickly after it arises. This is particularly true in the experimental dance world wherein we often work for many months, seasons and/or years on a particular project and then perform it for one weekend (or if we’re lucky, two.)

Where does the work go? Where do our efforts live after we’ve made them? How does something that feels so important to me pass away before my eyes? I can feel it leaving even before we begin our opening night.

I do believe that the impermanence of live performance is the key ingredient that gives it power. We have to show up completely to make it work, and we ask the audiences to show up completely to share it.

All performances–but especially Friend which feels intensely personal–get me really excited as we move closer to the moment when “it’s time” to head to our starting places; and also stir up great sadness the closer we move to the final moments of closing night. Performance for me is like a blender that shakes, swirls, crushes, blends, releases and renews our insides. And depending on the level of vulnerability required to birth each piece, it’s a blender set on high, medium or low power.

Today as I start to get ready to head to the theater I feel great anticipation, joy, gratitude, sadness, fear, queasiness, and a sense of adventure. I’m reflecting on the many profound moments of impermanence I’ve experienced with the Dandelion ensemble over the last number of years and am looking forward to adding this one to our swirling artistic field of visions.

Bringing a new work onstage is always scary to me. It helps somehow to remember that I’ve done it before so many times, and to “huddle” with my team by rewatching some of those instances.

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Entering the Temple of Tech Week
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Mar 30th, 2011

I’ve come to love tech week–the week leading up to a performance run in which we have tech (technical) rehearsals, dress rehearsals and last minute scramblings to finish.

I notice that during this time I am highly energized with a mix of anxiety, anticipation and joy. And I notice that the main thing that keeps me grounded is spending as much time as possible at the theater.

I like to get to the place we’re performing hours before each event, taking time to set up, putter about and sometimes work on a project like the lobby installation that is continuing to evolve for our shows this week at CounterPULSE. I start to feel a very strong connection with the theater and experience this connection as the closest thing to church that I’ve known.

The theater becomes sacred space–the hours and hours of labor that goes into getting it ready for performance generates a palpable sense of presence. I feel “extra-alive.” Every nook and cranny is illuminated with the wonder of creativity. And in the midst of all the work to be done, many windows of just “hanging out” arise as we’re waiting for a tool or finishing up a task or taking a break.

While I’m always also exhausted and stressed during these times, I’m also rejuvenated and in touch with profound gratitude for the artistic path I’ve found myself on, the ensemble that travels this path with me and the ever expanding community we are a part of.

Here’s a few moments from our load-in at CounterPULSE on Monday night:

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Showings, Feedback and Protecting Clarity
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Mar 29th, 2011

The showings that Dandelion has been doing as part of our residency at CounterPULSE have taught me a lot. Here’s an incomplete list of insights, reminders, clarifying moments that I’ve gathered so far from the three monthly public showings of our Friend project:

1. Public showings are crucial to the development of the kind of experimental performance we create. They force us to get things together on a deadline, to try them out and then to retreat and re-tool. There are so many great ideas in experimental creation processes, but it takes showings to clarify which are the ones worth developing.

2. It helps my anxiety level to have other things being shown next to my work. I’ve loved sharing the showings with Kegan Marling as he develops his new work. It’s easy to feel very alone in the midst of the extreme vulnerability that arises when showing a piece in progress. Having someone else going through something similar at the same time makes it much more bearable. And it takes the attention off of me and my work long enough for me to re-ground myself.

3. My relationship to feedback is shifting. I’ve found at these showings that it’s been more difficult than usual to listen to a bunch of feedback about my work. I’m a big believer in getting outside feedback on what I create, and I’ve found it to be crucial for much of my art-making. However something is changing. Perhaps it’s the personally vulnerable material I’m investigating with Friend, or maybe it’s a new phase in my artistic development. I’m finding that a little bit of feedback is helpful, but that during the big public feedback sessions I easily lose touch with my creative center and get wrapped up in other people’s ideas, desires, aesthetics, etc.

I’ve been reflecting on the different needs we have as artists at different stages of our path. I find myself more and more drawn towards doing whatever I can to discover my deeper inner feedback–and doing whatever I can to not get hooked by other people’s views on my work. I feel that I’m on the verge of discovering some important new piece of my inner artistic truth and more than ever I don’t want to be swayed by things closer to the surface.

4. I was able to feel more clarity when I didn’t take notes at the last feedback session. Sometimes taking notes is helpful. But sometimes trying to write everything down keeps me in an analytical state. At the most recent showing I decided to try just letting feedback flow over me without trying to hold onto or remember any of it. I trusted that what was important would stick and the rest I could let go of. And then about an hour after the showing, I had many powerful insights about the piece and wrote them down then.

5. I have trouble setting boundaries when receiving feedback. I tend to think that it’s very important to hear whatever people have to say. I see so many works that I believe could have been made much stronger if the director/choreographer had listened to more honest feedback from colleagues. I fear that my work will suffer if I don’t let everyone tell me every single thing they want to in response to my piece.

In the feedback structure that CounterPULSE uses at these showings, there is a time when responders can say that they have an opinion about something, and ask me whether I want to hear it. And then I can say yes or no. But it turned out that most people would just say they had an opinion and then they’d roll right through saying it. I didn’t feel I had a choice.

But I do have a choice, and could have said I wasn’t interested in opinions. That would have been more honest. I knew that I could ask for the opinions of my close collaborators and trusted advisers later, but instead let the opinions of a large group of people keep coming until I was completely overwhelmed. And once I’m overwhelmed, there’s not much that gets through.

I want to work on noticing sooner when I’ve had enough feedback and letting people know that. Along with that I want to work on trusting the process enough to know that the piece will reveal itself to me even if I don’t hear what everyone has to say about it.

6. Showings seem to always fuel an explosion in my work, even when they’re uncomfortable. Sometimes these explosions turn everything upside down. And sometimes they gently peel away an unnecessary layer so that more of the work’s truth can come out.

Here’s some images from the rehearsal we had the day after our most recent showing. Ideas were flying and the ensemble was riding them beautifully. We created a new section that night in which I gave a series of action words and everyone made a phrase from those. We are playing here with unison movement that doesn’t necessarily look the same, but that has synchronicity in the energy patterns:

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Art vs. Fundamentalism
By
Mar 27th, 2011

For Dance Anywhere Day this year we performed a minimalist movement structure in Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland. Ensemble Member David Ryther led us in an improvised piece based on a street performer he had witnessed many times in Santa Cruz.

We traveled slowly around the plaza, waving and looking back and forth with a highly exaggerated and slow motion smile.

There happened to be someone shouting what sounded like Fundamentalist Christian doctrines on the plaza for a good half hour before we started. We decided to pass by him with our movement. I thought it would be an interesting balance of energies for a performance piece. I was looking forward to moving in slow motion behind him as he continued ferociously and with great shouting speed.

As he noticed us approaching, he closed up shop and left. We couldn’t even get near him. We must have scared him somehow. While I was disappointed that we didn’t get to “collaborate” for that moment, I also felt elated. It was a victory for Art over Fundamentalism. And we won because of our inclusivity. His material worked great for our piece. It added dynamic tension. We embraced what he was doing. But he didn’t have room for our expression in his, and so he go pushed out of the space.

A reminder of the power of inclusion and openness.

Art versus Fundamentalism

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