"The Games We Play"-a MIX review by: Nadia Oka

I had the opportunity to witness the multiverse of vîv dance collective who are presenting an evening of three different works from choreographers Rosemary Hannon, Katie Faulkner and Ashley Trottier.

Sam Stone (viv member) inside an exposed moment during tech rehearsals  

Sam Stone (viv member) inside an exposed moment during tech rehearsals  

It was hard to contain my glee as I witnessed this group of five women with their wit, charm and energy. Rosemary Hannnon's piece, "Never the Same Twice," opened the show with a trio (Virgina Broyles, Odessa Avianna Perez, Sam Stone) in black glittery Vegas tops and Adidas shorts, all legs and breathy lunges in a largely unison piece that gained in momentum, speed and intensity. Some of the repetition involves a six-count grapevine as they cross themselves (in the Catholic kind of way), interspersed with confrontational strongly weighted turns. They repeat a series of phrases with a mounting ritualistic fervor, as if in search of a pattern that will take them to another plane.

The piece ends with each woman in a spotlight doing her own phrase of eerily elegant dancing, all elbows and far-off gazes, reminisent of a go-go dance without overt sexuality, mesmerizing in its absence of affect.

The next work by Katie Faulkner is a duet called "Stammer," with Alex Crow and Virginia Broyles. The dance begins as the two women create a layering of gestures and sounds: a touch of the cheek, back of the hand banging the forehead, a knee buckling...coupled with sighs, coughs, and toddler-like play noises. They stand at slightly askew angle to one another, suggesting communication by making a shared instrument, rather than talking directly to one another. In a simliar vein to Hannon's piece, the pattern-making repetition continues until we feel like we almost understand their language but not quite; in fact, we are happy to continue to try and decipher the world across which we have stumbled.

Their gestures and utterances become a multi-layered dance, as they dash across the space and repeat and transform into full-bodied exuberance. Virginia glues her forehead to Alex's pitchforked arm, as they run around in a smooth circle. If that sounds funny, it is. Hilarious, in fact. Another funny moment: the two hit a pretty girl pose, about ready to roll again, and Alex haltingly coughs, trying to get a frog out of her throat, as Virgina patiently waits for her to stop. Midway through the dance are quiet utterances of "shit" and "goddam," as they stomp and buckle. The comic timing of these two is spot on, which, when coupled with a sincerely performed modern dance vocabulary is a subtle, highly difficult feat.

There is no other sound but their own voices and gargles, with the exception of the sound of glass shattering at the beginning and end, timed with bright flares of light. We become witnesses to soft destruction, a world that manages to re-erect over and over again with the women skittering back to home base in the upstage left corner, heels and wrists cocked and ready to fire one more time.

The final piece in the program by Ashley Trottier, "Mermaid out of Water," is a duet by Roche Janken and Sam Stone, opening with a slow catwalk to Serge Gainsbourg, each subtly strutting forward with shy glances and slow blinks.

Like the previous pieces, this one is another game, this one slightly more muted, set to Brahms and sounds of the ocean. Much of it takes place with their backs to us, as if they are quietly playing in the sand and don't want anyone else to see. Their voices burble up and begin to fill the air into haunted song, just outside of harmony suggesting an off-kilter unity. The piece evokes for me images of the movie "Heavenly Creatures," in which two young girls create a fantasy world that becomes increasingly real and all-encompassing.

In the end, the two face us and cascade us with a repetition of two phrases, coupled with angular gestures as they scoot upstage on their sides, until the repeated words become disjointed and eventually lose their meaning, or simply become another lanugage.

Connecting the three dances are interludes cut from a previous piece by Bianca Cabrera: all five performers in a haunted land and soundscape of alien crawls and rolling shoulders and dipping heads. The five women become animal, pack-like. In two of the interludes, Alex lays on her back and transports each woman to the ground next to her with her four limbs. In fact, there is a collective tranport system in which the women smoothly flip each other from their heads to their backs to their feet, as if they are transporting one another to the next realm, which become the next dance.

Despite the fact that viv is presenting work from three different choreographers, the show is incredibly cohesive in its depiction of private language, semantically-loaded gesture, sound and movement. The more the phrases repeat, the more we become privy to the increasingly complex layers of meaning and releationship among all of these women. The whole show depicts five women in the same game together, not in competition, but rather, sharing in a whole experiment, chugging along in this foreign terrain in a kind of harmonic synchrony.

viv members Roche Janken (above) and Virginia Broyles (below) 

viv members Roche Janken (above) and Virginia Broyles (below) 

So, what are you doing tonight?

Why is this not your typical dance show? So glad you asked!

Each night, join us for a different pre-show event (starting at 7:15) with some amazing groups in the Bay Area. We've connected with organizations that compliment what vîv is all about. To help you decide which night to come join the fun, here's what's happening pre-show each night:

Friday, 10/23: Dr. Sketchy's

Bring your sketchpad! vîv and Dr. Sketchy's have partnered to bring you an evening of dancing & drawing--3 new dances prefaced and punctuated with poses for your art making pleasure. No experience required!


Saturday, 10/24: Impact Hub

Chat with leaders in the arts and other entrepreneurs to share ideas and imaginings at this mix-and-mingle.

Sunday, 10/25: Laughing Lotus Yoga Center SF

Come early to enjoy an embodying, delicious yoga class lead by Jasmine Tarkeshi of Laughing Lotus.

vîv presents MIX at Dance Mission Theater, SF, October 23-25.

Get your tickets here!


MIX Spotlight! Rosemary Hannon

Here's an enlightening session with another of our three choreographers, Rosemary Hannon, also presenting a new work at our home season MIX!

photo by Chani Bockwinkel

photo by Chani Bockwinkel

Q: What makes you excited about this collaboration?

A: I'm inspired by vîv's initiative in changing the power structure for dancers. I'm also excited to work with these experienced, thoughtful dancers. I am always interested in collaborative processes where the work is created by the group together in the room. I love the vîv dancers' openness to inquiry.

Q: If you could MIX two animals together to have as a pet, what would it be and why?

A: It would have to be a dog-ape -- human's best friend with our nearest relative. The communication potential would be fascinating.

vîv presents MIX at Dance Mission Theater, SF, October 23-25.

Get your tickets here!

MIX Spotlight! Ashley Trottier

Here's a quick Q+A with one of our three darling choreographers, Ashley Trottier, who's presenting a new work at our home season MIX.

Q: What inspires you about VIV?

A: What inspires me about viv is that it seems to be a group of rad women that know what they want, and are not afraid to go out and get it. The second part to that is that they do it with humility toward one another.  Artists for artists, women for women -YES!

Q: What makes you excited about this collaboration?

A: It's actually the collaborative nature of this project that excites me.  I am used to working with The Thick Rich Ones, which is also collaborative, but I know the performers pretty well. I have never worked with Roche or Sam, though I have seen them on stage and in class.  I like making pieces with the performer in mind, so for all of us to get to know each other and make a work that ties in each of our personalities, is an appealing challenge.  The beauty of collaboration is the process of making something that wouldn't exist without those involved.  It's always fun to see what emerges from various relationships.

Q: What can you not get enough of right now?

A: I can't get enough of my brand-spankin-new daughter, Alice.  She is the love of my life (next to my husband of course!), and it's all I can do to tear myself away from her to eat or sleep or take care of myself in any basic way.  I'm addicted!

vîv presents MIX at Dance Mission Theater, SF, October 23-25.

Get your tickets here!

heartbreak and the questions after by Roche

You’re absolutely in love.  It’s hard, but it’s worth it.  You give your whole heart and soul to make it work, showing up day after day as your best self, not holding back.  And then….it’s over.  You’re rejected.  You’re told that, in fact, it’s not working.  It could never work.


What do you do with it?

I am a professional dancer.  Anyone in the arts will tell you that being rejected is a frequent experience.  You show up for an audition and get immediately cut.  You work with a company for several years and then are told that it’s no longer working.  On a superficial level, the question “what do you do with rejection” could be answered with “you persevere” or “you give up”.  But in my opinion, that’s only the beginning of the story.

Let’s just assume you persevere--that you love your art enough to continue to practice it.  The next question is

Can you learn from rejection?  

Are you so hurt that, to protect your ravaged heart, you must say to yourself, “Those people who rejected me are fools.  How could they possibly not see that I am in fact perfect for this?”

Or can you ask yourself instead, “Those people who rejected me are wise and knowledgable.  What about this gig is a poor match for me?”

Notice--I am NOT suggesting that you ask yourself “What about me is not good enough for this gig?”  That is likely the default question.  “Why am I not good enough?  What is wrong with me?”  And our brains explode with sadness and self hatred.  My experience with those questions is that they led me to work extremely hard to fit in.  I trained so hard that I injured my back.  I ate so little that I barely remember several years of my life.  I felt so anxious that woke up in the middle of the night again and again.  Perhaps, if I were a less motivated person, I would simply have been miserable, rather than miserable and broken.  Regardless, not a very fruitful path of action.

So what if you ask instead about why the GIG is not good for YOU?  Then you arrive at a very interesting moment.  How can you create the perfect gig for yourself?  What does the perfect situation look like for you?  The situation where you can truly show up as yourself, bring all of yourself, flourish creatively.  What if the problem is not that they are foolish or that you are not good enough, but that you and your perfect gig have not yet met.

It was these questions that lead me to vîv.  As a dancer who does not like being told what to do, I yearned for a company that was more creatively collaborative and where the dancers had more agency.  It has been a tremendous amount of work, and also a beautiful success.  Yesterday in rehearsal, we finished a dance.  It is a dance that was born out of sweat and laughter and boredom and delight and the creative dreams of 7 brilliant women.  We will perform it next week in a show that we have organized ourselves.  We will share our work with friends a colleagues and family.  The applause as the curtain goes down will be deeply satisfying--perhaps more than it would be after a gig that I struggled to make work.  Instead, we are making ourselves the perfect gig.


And now, just for the fun of it, let’s apply this to relationships.  Even if back at that early crossroads, you chose to give up your art rather than persevere, it’s unlikely that you’re going to choose to be single and fly solo for your whole life.  So--you’ve been rejected.  Your relationship is over.  (Romance, roommates, friendship…)  What now?  Can you step back, hold your broken heart, and ask the hard questions that help you create a better relationship next time?  I hope so...

For more information about vîv's performance, click here.

BottomsUP talk about the BOARD

A couple of weeks ago, vîv was invited to give a talk about our new Board of Protectors at an event produced by the Emerging Arts Professionals about cutting edge arts administration practices.  Here's the speech we gave:

I’m here with vîv, a wonderful new dance company here in San Francisco.  About a year ago, 8 of us got together to reimagine what a life in dance could be...but let me begin with another story.

When I graduated from college in 2007, I decided to live the dancer’s dream--I moved to New York City to see if I could Make It.  I was very lucky--in the 2 years that I lived there, I had the great pleasure of dancing for many of the choreographers that I had always dreamed of working with.  I danced at the Metropolitan Opera, performed nationally and internationally and worked with some of the most talented dancers of our generation.  The companies that I worked with were typical of the “uptown” dance scene--auditions with 500 or more dancers competing for 1 or 2 roles, older choreographers, younger dancers, large theaters, big donors.   What I found in these dance companies was not what I had hoped to find.  Rather than being surrounded by mature dancers bursting with joy and creativity, I found that the company environment was rigid and competitive, and many of the dancers that I worked with were not so happy.  I was really disheartened by this experience and after a couple of years of living in New York, I decided to move back to California and landed here in San Francisco.

The dance scene in San Francisco is really special--very small and intimate, very supportive, lots of opportunities to make work, lots of creative interplay and inspiration.  I probably know 95% of San Francisco modern dancers by face and possibly even by name--we work project to project, dance for our peers and perform several times a year.  Though the scene can be provincial at times, it’s also very fertile.  Most of us patchwork together a very rich and colorful artistic life.

[SIDENOTE: I sent this talk that I had typed out to the whole crew and one of my co-dancers Hallie who is the realist to my optimist had this to say: This paints a great picture - perhaps a little too great, as it leaves me wondering why we would need to reimagine anything here in friendly, fertile SF.  There are so many limitations and frustrations (lack of funding and how that limits artistic opportunities; the difficulty of balancing the need to earn a living with donating your time to passion projects, etc)--talking about them would give context for why viv is necessary.  Thank you, Hallie!  And I’ll also add that our entire field is creatively debilitated by the lack of mature artists and opportunity to work across artistic generations.  As it is now, staying in dance is unsustainable--it is too draining emotionally, physically and financially.]

About a year ago, 8 of us gathered together and began vîv with a revolutionary idea--rather than waiting for our Dream Dance Job, we’d take action and commission the work that we want to perform!  All of my fellow company members are incredible dancers with stories much like mine--veterans of companies who wanted a more healthy experience--a life in dance that doesn’t end in burn-out.  By pooling our energy, we could give a choreographer the opportunity to make a dance for an amazing group of dancers and share bold new work with the city of San Francisco.  Would the work be more rich? More inspired? More full? By empowering ourselves to create abundance, what beauty might emerge?  

I’ll tell you the truth...now that we’ve started down this path of taking charge of our own professional lives, it feels rather strange that we didn’t start sooner.  We ran a successful Kickstarter, raised $8K, commissioned OUROBOROS from San Francisco dance icon La ALTERNATIVA, premiered the piece in January of 2014 and were very well received.  Next week, we’re heading to Southern California to teach, perform and share our work with friends and family there.  When we return, we’ll start our next project and launch our next fundraising campaign!  

ALL OF THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING...and now after all that exposition, I’ll present our next experiment: Our goal is to create a Board of Protectors--200 people knit into our community who will agree to donate $10 per month to support our work.

vîv is about re-creation.  We seek new ways of operating that are more suited to this remarkable moment in time.  We want to know--can we create our Board from within our community?  A Board of Protectors.

Who’s on this Board?   People who are good at what they do.   People who want to live in a world that is fair and full of life.  People who know things that we don’t know.  People who have thoughts about art that they don’t always share.  People who are creative in thousands of ways each day.  A good place to start is in this room….if you’re picking up up what we’re laying down, if what we’re doing resonates with you, we want You to be on our Board.

What would it be like to be on our Board?  We’d ask you out for coffee or a picnic and sit and chat about anything and everything.  We’d occasionally ask you for advice and opinions.  You’d get free tickets to all of our performances and invitations to all of our parties.  You’d commit to giving vîv $10 each month.  We’d send you a token of our thanks--a hip Tshirt or a box of artsy notecards.  Most importantly, we’d inspire one another.

We choose a financial commitment of $10 per month because it’s an amount that everyone I know on a first-name basis could agree to contribute, if they choose to.  It’s a fancy cocktail or a buritto--or a Netflix membership (and there’s isn’t much on Watch-Instantly these days anyways…)  It’s an hour of studio space to make art in.  It’s an hour of a professional dancer’s time.  It’s significant and also infinitely possible.

Our reasons for choosing a recurring donation are twofold--one is that we believe it is more respectful--we don’t want to harass our supporters with more and more asks, we don't want more money or more 'donate here' links on endless mass emails. We all desire simplicity.  Also, it gives us a more clear idea of our cashflow situation so we can budget responsibly.

This way of fundraising is exciting for several reasons.

Dance is never supported by ticket sales.  A friend of mine, Charles Slender, once calculated that if tickets were going to pay for production costs, they’d be $262 each, rather than $20.  So in the world of dance, we’re always looking for other ways to support the work.  Usually, that means asking for money from wealthy (and therefore powerful) folks--foundations, friends and family.

But what happens to art when it’s made to garner support from those in power?  What small compromises need to be made to appeal to them?  We’ve noticed that kind of art is often more athletic than intimate, more clean than chaotic, dancers are younger and skinnier, and choreographers are white men as often as not.  Ick.  We want to cut that cord and make work that reflects who’s in the field and who’s in the room, art that is empowering and beautiful and rich.

At the same time, what happens to art when a larger community of folks are invested in it?  We want to invite ALL kinds of thinkers to be involved in our creation process.  Dancers, musicians, waiters, techies, nurses, doctors, artists, parents.  Yes yes and yes!  What can we make together?  There’s nothing more refreshing than going to see art with my friends who are not enmeshed in the art world...they have clear eyes and sharp minds to bring new perspective to the work.

Another really positive thing about this fundraising model is that it frees up our time to do the dancing--rather than continually launching new fundraising campaigns, more Kickstarters and writing more grants.  Even though we have the incredible privilege of spreading out the administrative load among all 7 of us, it’s still a ton of work...and we’ll have plenty to do even when this fundraising campaign takes off!

Our plan is to roll out our campaign in 2 phases--we’ll have a silent phase where we ask friends and family to join our Board.  Then we’ll have a public launch--using social media to spread the word, contacting local businesses and more distant acquaintances and likely getting some press coverage as well.

So--this evening...we’d love for you to vote for our project.  If we win this grant, we’ll use the funds as the foundation of the public phase of our campaign.  We’ll have the resources to make an excellent and professional, clever and sincere video inspiring folks to join our Board of Protectors--something that will go VIRAL ; )  And we’ll be able to invest in some genuinely appealing Board sign-up thank you gifts.  But honestly, as much as we’d appreciate your vote this evening, what we’d like is for you to join our Board.  If you’re inspired by what we’re doing, if you’re excited about art made by all of us and for all of us, powerful and exciting and mature and joyful, then join us!  Re-create dance with vîv!

Boom.  Thank you.

magic - we've got it

OUROBOROS(8) premiered last weekend!  It was wonderful to finally share the dance we’ve worked so hard on, and the piece itself felt very different from other work I’ve done.  This dance, born out of vîv’s collective desire, financed through the generosity of our friends and supporters, and made by one of my bucket-list choreographers has some magic in it.


My brilliant, non-dancer friend Lieva had this to say about it, “I’ve never before seen more than two people feel like one organism.  Even as I was experiencing it, I had no idea how it was being done.  It felt like you were propriocepting each other--all your interactions were more like a body interacting with itself than another body.”


How did we create that collective consciousness?  OUROBOROS(8) sources imagery of the snake eating its own tail--how did we as a group become that snake so fully?


The structure of our process is a huge factor.  For those of you who are new to vîv, the short story is that rather than waiting for our dream dance job, vîv decide to take action and commission the work that we want to perform.  That simple shift of power changed so much!  


I personally feel so much love and admiration for all of the other dancers in vîv.  My heart bursts when I see them onstage, powerful and complicated and beautiful.  Without the need to prove myself to a choreographer, without the fear of getting laid off if I’m not the best, I can truly admire the people I’m in the room without reservation.  That admiration and love turns into a really extraordinary way of dancing WITH each other--of seeing each other and making space for each other rather than competing with one another.  It created a noticeably more magical dance.

And of course, working with Kathleen was exceptional.  As we were heading onstage, she said to us “there is no perfection that you’re missing--you are perfection.”  In all my years as a performer, I have never been sent onstage without a few last corrections...until now.  The full hearted sureness was transformative.  As vîv dancer Hallie noted, “What makes Kathleen so exceptional is that she is so fiercely herself.”  And that’s what she wanted from us--ourselves onstage, performing this ritual of transformation, this dance of constant change and the shedding of old ways of being and doing.

time off?

Although we’re on a short break from rehearsals while our choreographer and composer, Kathleen and Albert, are touring on the east coast, we’re still seeing each other regularly in PEER Practices, the dance class that we host!  Last week Julia came and taught MWF--and in the last 30mins of class she taught us this 45 second chunk of movement.

So much dance!  But still so rough and raw.  A lot happens before a piece of movement like that is stageworthy…

EB PEER Practices!!!

EB Peer Practice is happening!Tuesdays 6-7:30 at the WEB 355 12th St. Starting October 8th. Raha! Chani! Arletta! Dasha!

KATHARINE speaks...Profitraining - Practice & Collaboration in Minneapolis

I love that travel permits brief interactions with lasting impact, similar to the way that experiences within a dance studio create immediate and enduring connections.  While in Minneapolis for the Fringe this August, I participated in Emily Gastineau’s Profitraining and spoke with her about dance class in Minneapolis, the performing arts scene, and practice broadly defined.   Emily’s work with Profitraining shares similar aims with PEER Practices, but diverges notably in several areas.  


Emily began developing Profitraining with an extended research and interview phase designed to uncover the various practices of dance practitioners in the Twin Cities.  These practices vary from public dance class to meditation, improvisational scores, and personal routines.  Minneapolis/St. Paul hosts a rich and layered dance scene, especially for a metropolis of its size (I encourage you to check out this recent Dance Magazine article which contextualizes past and current work).  Opportunities to train and take class are available but limited, one of the realities of a smaller community.  Often dancers interested in contemporary performance feel there isn’t a class or mode of training that serves them, and thus they develop personal practices to meet their wants and needs.  I have noticed similar trends in the Bay Area, where a contingent of folks make a choice to not take class.  The small community in Minneapolis heightens this impulse.


In phase one of her development of Profitraining, Emily interviewed many people in the dance community to research their practices and create a record of the activities people do on their own outside of dance class.  As part of this research phase, Emily began developing a “directory” of practices in the form of short prompts (movement, text based, conceptual, etc.) written on notecards.  Although Profitraining was developed in conversation with the structure of a traditional dance class, it explicitly eschews an anatomical or somatic focus, instead exploring a range of practices beyond “what is good for you.”


Phase two of Emily’s process involved prototyping Profitraining with a small group of collaborators, at first through private invitational sessions with some of the interview participants and then through an open call to the broader dance community.  I attended an open session in August held at Studio 206 in the Ivy Arts Building in Minneapolis.  The session began with participants contributing a few practices to Emily’s master collection of index cards, and then collectively selecting a number of cards and determining an order through a consensus-like process.  This order formed the basis for an improvisational score, which participants navigated individually.  Because each person contributed some of the practices, there may be some prompts in which he/she is well experienced and others with which he/she may never have experimented.  


The final phase of Emily’s work concluded this past weekend at Impetus, a contemporary dance festival at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis.  Emily held open physical practice sessions of Profitraining as well as public dialogues.  Even though Impetus is a performing arts festival, it focuses on unpacking the creative process.  Since Profitraining is practice-based, I was curious about the transition to performance.   We explored performativity in the session I attended, and I concluded  that while Profitraining is not inherently performative, certain aspects of it (such as delivering text) can be.


I offer this amount of detail on the development of Profitraining because I admire the rigor of Emily’s process and find  the evolution of the project fascinating.  Profitraining evolved in response to a similar impulse as PEER Practices (what we want is at our fingertips, let’s make it happen), but has taken a different form and trajectory.  Profitraining intentionally works outside the structure of a conventional dance class and avoids anatomical or technical approaches to movement, while PEER Practices upsets hierarchies and creates space for change within existing modes of dance training.  And while Profitraining collaboratively determines a structure for practices drawn from a collective pot, it is fundamentally about an individual’s experience of this structure, whereas PEER Practices more explicitly seeks to create and support a community of collaborators in all aspects of the experience.  While taking different forms, both practices emphasize colliding expert and amateur modes, or states of knowing and unknowing.  Working in this space has the potential to affect change both in one’s individual practice and in the context of one’s community.


Katharine Hawthorne is a San Francisco based dancer and choreographer who likes to watch thinking bodies in motion.  www.khawthorne.net


PP where?

blog has slowed down, as blogs do, but it feels like an excellent moment to take stock.

where are with, with this peer practicing?

well--i'm learning.  i'm  still learning so much.  it's incredible.  went to take Rachael Lincolcn's wonderful class today and I could feel how much I have changed as a result of this practice this summer.

last month was the month of habits.  sloooowing down.  talking a lot.  too much?  getting in deep.  and i learned things about my dancing and changed things about my dancing.  saw a few places that my perception is limited and took some action.  specific things, like twisting my twists to their twistiest and feeling the up-space as well as the out space.  dance nerd things.

and where does the leave me?  more skilled, perhaps.

but also hungry.  hungry to return to that other side of dancing, the wild side, if you will.  

and we're going there.  yesterday was awesome.  we ROCKED it, by the end of our time together. 

is there anything more healing or necessary than a class where you can truly rock out?  the class was small (but I promised myself in my terror at the beginning of this summer that as long as folks were there, I'd be there and I'd save the darkness for after class.  and I've done okay with that, I think) and yesterday that was an asset--because I felt like I was ripping up the space.  I was changing the space, I was changing my world just by dancing.  

a rare feeling for many reasons:
in most classes, i don't have space to go that wild.  
in most classes, i feel a bit shy--I haven't been setup from start to finish to trust myself and not worry and take on my own texture.


and NEW TOOL ALERT singing!  singing while dancing.  it all started with Lisa--she had us making conversation while  improvising and while doing set material.  and i wasn't sure if my dancing was more awesome or less awesome, but i DID notice that when i started to talk about crying and sadness, I experienced a shift that i recognized--a shift from feeling like my movement was pleasurable but arbitrary architecture to that heartfull feeling (that is best described with poetry).  new tools.  new dancing.

YES to continuing to learn and feel curious.
YES to these last few weeks of summer being just as rich as the first ones.

Katharine Speaks: Class is Glue: PEER Practices & Mobile Collective Laboratory"

[Many thanks to Katharine for this fantastic essay!]

When I was an impressionable young thing on a camping trip up Mt Tam, I remember a fellow camper sharing wisdom over the collective fire:  “Sex is glue,” he said, hugging his sweetheart to close to his side, before launching into an exposition of the merits of suburban agriculture.  In the same way that sex can hold together a relationship, binding us to our loved one, so is class the adhesive fiber of the dance community.  For me, class is the glue that holds together my identity as a dancer.  I need to feel my body in motion to feel like myself, and often I re-make myself through training and class.


A number of us have been rethinking how we practice and train together, and in connection, how this builds community.  This summer, with the support and mentorship of the Alternative Conservatory, we are developing a new group practice during the M/W/F class times.  Instigated by Roche Janken and Sam Stone, PEER Practices reexamines the structure of dance class, specifically aiming to dismantle the hierarchy of the conventional teacher/student relationship.  Roche and Sam lead class on Mondays and Wednesdays and invite wildcards to take the reigns on Fridays.  The information gleaned on the Friday detours is then reintegrated into the Monday/Wednesday sessions.  Although grounded in a physical training practice, PEER Practices works to embrace the mental aspects of dancing, asking participants to witness each other, offer feedback, and dialog throughout class.  The goal is to create an environment that invites dancers to interact and train in a way that is fully committed without traditional motivating factors such as the respect and approval of an elder or teacher.  It’s a wildly ambitious and messy project, using class - the glue that holds us together - to disrupt hierarchies and rewire our motivations.


And of course, our community is not alone in thinking about class, collaboration, and hierarchies.  This past Friday, the wildcard slot was filled by Milka Djordjevich and Tomislav Feller, two out of four parts of the Mobile Collective Laboratory.  They are developing a set of collaborative practices as a way to share their creative research and intersect with artistic communities in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.  The class consisted of a series of guided improvisational scores, each designed to access a different way of initiating action, either through physical input or through the imagination.  After class, some of the PEER Practicers stuck around for additional dialog and exchange, the highlights of which I have copied below in a highly condensed/edited form:


PP = PEER Practices (which this day included Roche Janken, Sam Stone, Hallie Dalsimer, Virginia Broyles, Elizabeth Cooper, Chani Bockwinkel, and yours truly)


MCL = Mobile Collective Lab (in person: Milka Djordjevich & Tomislav Feller, in spirit: Aleksandar Georgiev & Francisco Maldonado)


PP:  When did your dance practice transform from “dance class” into what you do now?  How do you think about what you do now?  Can you trace your training/background and the influences that led to your current collective practice?


MCL:  We have different training backgrounds and trajectories up to this point, but we met in 2010 in Vienna at ImPulsTanz.  Class is the fabric of ImPulsTanz and provides the primary mode of interacting with each other.  Some of our common interests at the time were:  Feldenkrais, Parkour, vogue, and classes taught by Jennifer Monson, Benoit Lachambre, and Jennifer Lacey.  Jennifer Lacey’s workshops classclass and Fake Art Therapy treated class as an object or constructed experience.  As we began developing our teaching practice, we worked with class as an active creative process, instead of a passive experience, and were interested in blurring the line between practice and performance.


We were drawn to working collaboratively very simply because we like each other and wanted to continue working together.  We share a similar sensibility and sense of humor, drawn from our shared Eastern European cultural background.  ImPulsTanz is strongly influenced by Western European aesthetics, and being from America or Eastern Europe can make one feel peripheral to the artistic conversation.  There is also something in Eastern European humor about subverting systems, structures, and hierarchies.  Dance class has traditionally acted as a process by which white female bodies are made anonymous (Milka acknowledges that this is her point of view, perhaps more so than the other MCL members - many of the PP also agree with her).  Our practices involve a great deal of individual agency to undo this process.


PP:  What did you offer us today in class and how did it engage with the issues and techniques you are exploring?


MCL:  Today was a beginning!  It was the first class we have taught and our first opportunity to share aspects of the material we have been exploring.  Given that this was a beginning for us, we were much more directorial than we would eventually hope to be.  We are interested in confusion, disrupting expectations, playfulness, imagination, challenging symmetry, and moving away from codified knowledge.  This work intentionally overlaps creative research with performative action.  If there was a theme for today, it was the use of imagination [Aside from KH:  One of the most striking exercises involved imagining doing a sequence of movement and then actualizing it].  We are interested in how people commit to the tasks proposed and how to find one’s own interest and persist in exploring it.  This is a practice of giving people agency within a new environment, which serves to subvert the hierarchical structures we talked about earlier.  Broadly speaking, this work is about accessing different ways of initiating action.


In conclusion, I’d like to offer a few remarks about the overlap of interests between PEER Practices and the Mobile Collective Lab, as well as our divergences.  Both groups are concerned with challenging hierarchical structures and creating a space that acknowledges the needs of individuals.  PEER Practices operates within a more traditional class structure and use of dance forms, while our brief experience of the Mobile Collective Lab demonstrated their desire to confuse expectations about the structure of class, relying primarily on improvisational structures to do so.  For me, this approach led to a sense of individuation geared towards performance, as opposed to a physical practice that gave me information about the functional capacities of my dancing body.  Both practices put me in touch with my choice-making, my desire to dance, and the community of movers around me:  class is glue.


Contributor Note:  Katharine Hawthorne is a San Francisco based dancer & choreographer who likes to watch thinking bodies in motion.

what Mark said

" I loved watching you both work together. I was the most natural thing in the world! you worked as a seamless and wonderful unit. It seemed so obvious while I was watching. It was a big "why has this not already been happening for a long time?" moment for me. And the dancers were so open and responsive and curious and down to be there doing that unique work which I think is leading to some big and really neat."

this makes me smile.

new tools

we added a couple of new tools to our toolbox today.
hands on!  in our exploration of slowing down and speeding up, we did an adagio (only one high leg) and that gave us some time to touch one another.  up to this point, much of our duo work has been through verbal exchange,  we've done lots of talking about what we're working on and dancing next to one another, but touch hasn't been explicitly involved.  now that i've experienced it, it's hard to understand why we've waited til the third week to try it!  having a chitty and colin's hands on me helped me FEEL where it is that I set myself arbitrary limitations and where my "blind spots" are.
eye contact!  we've worked with it a little bit, but it was totally magnificent in our across-the-floor jumping.  almost everyone looks down while they're jumping--such a strange habit--and that tendency is even more exaggerated when we speed up the tempo.  we posted a person at the edge of the space who basically acted as the eye-contact monitor--calling folks' names when they were looking at the floor.  i felt lighter when I was dancing with them, rather than letting my heavy head keep me low to the ground.
[also--today was the first day that I was really able to relax.  hallelujah!  i've been organizing and teaching and otherwise trying to manage everything--but today I felt a little bit more settled and enjoyed the experience thoroughly.]

I'm in love with AW!

PEER Practices Day #6

I had a revelation this morning!

It was about 11:45--the time in dance class when my energy usually hits the floor.  If it were ballet class I might just skip the jumping and go home. Alison “hot-legs” Williams was wildcarding, and she had us reversing the phrase--not my favorite.  Subconsciously, I’m debating how to engage, whether I’m going to give my all or take it easy, and the thought arises:

Of course I’m gonna stay and do this thing as well as I can--of course I am--I love Alison.

WOW!  That’s not usually what motivates me to dance.  

In class, sometimes i’m motivated by

Lust - I want to be the best dancer and the only way to do that is practice so I’ll stay

Greed - I paid for this class and I’d better get the most out of it

Pride - I’m here in front of everyone and I need to show them that I’m a fierce dancer

Sloth - Well, I’m already here so I may as well just finish the damn thing

Just missing envy and gluttony from our deadly sins list.  ; )

But LOVE?!?  What a new experience.  There are times when curiosity and love for dance can no longer carry me through, and if love can get me the rest of the way, I’m a happy woman.  I think I dance better when I’m in love with my time dancing and in love with all the people around me. 

sslllooOOOWww down

PEER Practice #4

i want to dance more fully
i want to create a space where my peers can learn to dance more fully
i am arguing with my own agenda--clarify clarify clarify is my passion and what I desire to do for the peeps around me--more awareness, more choice, less happenstance.  but is that necessarily everyone’s goal?  

my inclination is that we need to simplify--we’re missing those simple movements that help me get into my body--my love of plies has not much to do with the plies themselves--it’s the simplicity as a way of entering--we need to start so slow to get into our bodies--practically sneak up on ourselves.  that’s where the habits are revealed.

so when i look at the structure that sam and i are working with, i wonder--if we’re trying to dance better, would we be better served to slow down at the beginning of our class and use some simple set material (like laban or dowd’s work) to get inside?  i love improvisation and it's a wonderful way to get warm, but it does little to help me change my habits at this point in my life as an improvisor.

and there’s just so little time!  i wish we had 3 hours, rather than just 2!  i think my solution will have to be showing up early to do the things that my body needs and desires, just like so many other dancers.


Wildcard! Disorienteering with Virginia

PP #3

Virginia destroyed our phrase.  Hallelujah!

Sam and I made such a lovely, clear movement chunk for last week's class.  Every step and shape considered, down to the details.  And then Virginia just went in there and turned it upside down--literally.  Every shapely move was blown into a full body, off center force--and it was awesome.  Not only was it incredibly fun to do, but it also revealed a lot about my habits in making and learning movement.  I tend to analyze movement, see line and shape and feel weight and then bring it into my body methodically.  Virginia barely gave us any time with her version and just tossed us out into the space to do it, but she was so welcoming that I didn’t feel afraid to just get out there and try it.  REALLY--it’s not that I had to conquer my feer of looking like fool--I actually did not feel that fear--way to be, Virginia!  How freeing!  Left me space to actually experience the chaos, and it was pleasurable.  In fact, I wished I could have done it a couple more times--wild and free and confused.  But no doubt each time I returned to it I would have formalized and calculated more.  Mystery is so elusive!  Something for further inquiry.