Notes on performing

Despite having declared to a few close friends that I was “done with dance” last fall, I’ve performed quite a bit this semester: I showed a new solo called Virginia in OSU’s Winter Concert in January, performed in Ani Javian’s MFA project Elsewhere in early February, and last weekend, me and MFA Tammy Carrasco premiered a new duet in the Columbus Dances Fellowship Concert called Semi-Formal. 

It sounds juvenile, but me and dance have had a tough time over the past few years. Ever since I began dancing professionally after college, I’ve found dance as a profession to be quite the letdown. A letdown in that it didn’t match with what I’d though a professional dancer’s life would be like, and that it was significantly less fulfilling than I’d hoped. When dancing became my job, the stakes were much higher than when I was a student, and I found that I didn’t always respond well to the stress of meeting expectations, which I have to admit were mostly self-imposed. During my last year at Dance Exchange, I came home one day, leaned against my kitchen counter in my tiny apartment and cried and cried. I’d achieved the dream I had as a young dancer to dance professionally, and it was such a disappointment.

Early last fall (this time in my kitchen here in Columbus) I found myself crying again to my sainted housemate, Noelle. I told her I didn’t even know if I liked dancing anymore, and that maybe I just stayed in the field because I happened to keep getting opportunities, and I was too stubborn to leave. As a pretty classic type-A overachiever, I wondered if I was still dancing only because I thought it was what I should be doing after putting in so many years to my training, and investing my money (and my parent’s money) in summer programs, intensives, and dance classes.  She asked me what else I would do if I didn’t dance, and I didn’t know.

During that time, I was enrolled in a comp class taught by our chair, Susan Petry, and visiting choreographer Susan Rethorst. I can’t express the level to which I did not care about dance at this point. I was simply attending classes because I was supposed to attend classes, all the while wishing I had chosen another field in which to invest my heart and years of my life, and wondering what to do next. During Susan Petry’s section of the course, I started developing solo material that was pretty raw, and very physical. I felt unencumbered by worries about how the material would be perceived…for the first time, I didn’t care about what others thought of what I made, or what it would say about me as an artist. Susan Petry asked us to dig deep into the material; Susan Rethorst reminded us to trust our instincts.

I started getting excited about dance again. I looked forward to technique class and teaching.  I started looking forward to spending time in the studio with the material I’d made, and started trusting myself. Not to make great dance, but just to make dance, knowing that I had an opinion and a point of view I could share through my dancing and dance-making.

While working on Virginia, the dance that emerged out of these explorations in my composition course, I hardly ever warmed up. I’m not advocating this, but this was just what happened this semester. I was usually running in to show the dance after teaching my own class, or working on it for 45 minute stretches at a time when I could find studio space. I never prepared to do the dance, I just did it.

And this very long backstory brings me to the point of this post: what I learned about performance this semester. Mostly, I learned that preparation is important, but most of that preparation happens in the months of rehearsals leading up to the show, not in the pre-show warm-up. When it came time to dance Virginia in late January, I arrived two hours before the show and had no idea how to prepare to perform the dance because I never prepared to do it. At dress rehearsal, I warmed up like crazy, attempted to focus myself on the dance, think about the story I was telling blah blah blah, and it didn’t go that well because I was so much in my head. On opening night, I told myself: just do the dance. Don’t perform it, don’t think about how to dance it, just go do the choreography you made and practiced.

It was so much fun. I just did the dance.  And doing the dance did the work–I didn’t have to “express” anything to the audience, just accomplish the movement. It might sound rather cold, but I found this semester that committing to the choreography, with all of its qualities regarding space, weight and time, is enough. Digging into the choreography, interrogating it, and listening to it, told me everything I needed to know about how to perform the dance.

It also revealed to me the incredible depths of dance, and I feel excited about it again. Despite all I know after 24 years of dancing, there is still so much mystery and so many unknowns, and I love that. I’ll never get to the bottom of dance, ever, and I couldn’t be happier.

IMG_4583

Dancing “Virginia.” Photo by Jessica Cavender.

 

 

I’ll perform Virginia again at The OhioDance Festival Evening Performance on April 25 at 6:30pm. 

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