Wexner residency: july 2017
We’ve set up a two-week rehearsal and production residency in Columbus, OH with production support (staff, theater and funds) from the Wexner Center for the Arts and NPN’s Forth Fund, and rehearsal space in the Ohio State Department of Dance. Honestly, there is no way we could do what we’re doing without them. The opportunity to see what we’re doing in studio range as well as theater perspective is a tremendous boost. The plan is to spend the first week in the studio reacquainting ourselves with the winter/spring materials and working with our dramaturg Talvin Wilks, costumer Liz Prince, and fitting in a photo shoot with Julieta Cervantes.
For the second week, we’ll be working in the Wexner’s Black Box theater space, our premiere site. We’ll have our phenomenal production team with us: lighting and production designer Stan Pressner, stage manager Val Oliveiro and production manager Elby Brosch.
Several points of focus emerge. At Speed, the defining of the group improvisation score from January; continued work on Donny (Hathaway) Duets to his live version of “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know;” discovering and defining signature moments that will populate the work. I’m sure it’s partly because of the size of Studio 390/the July Midwestern heat-humidity/the reuniting of our group, but the release into the January materials is revitalizing.
A review of At Speed info from January:
How do we amp the relativity?
“At speed” is not about fast; it doesn’t have to hurry
It is at the speed of what it is, what it takes to accomplish the task
Transition between matter of fact-ness to confusion and the immediacy of seeing people process
Cueing = “cut to the chase”
“Knee jerk” and bypassing compositional finding
What are these cues? What is their format?
At Speed in July:
What I’m looking for is the weight at risk, in proximity, responsive cueing of action in a heightened-and-available state of readiness, improvised and clearly scored. The repeat of detailed articulation is less of interest than the repeat of sequence of interaction.
The At Speed score is what we share in a Work/Play session with local dancers. In dancing together we ‘amped up the relativity,’ but ultimately I think it was more experiential for the dancers, less so for an audience. The trick: dynamic clarity and clear choices. Fast. Harder to do than I thought. But we end up with the version that pretty much will happen in the premiere. Check!
A word about Donny and David:
The first time I brought Donny Hathaway into the studio was during the building of A History (2012). Angie, Darrell, Talvin, Lily Skove and I spent 10 days working in an old wood grange hall on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, WA. We danced to his songs but I couldn’t seem to make the leap to performance. I think he has been part of every process for the last five years, and this time seems to be the time. When he sings his passion is overwhelming, it overwhelms me, his throat is full, it’s such a gift. This time, if not now, when? Time to go forward.
It’s September 2016, I’m driving a rental car from SeaTac airport to Port Townsend, WA. I turn on an audio book, The Complete Works of David Foster Wallace and start from the beginning. I’m hooked right away—the actor is really good, really sharp, he draws me in with his pacing of information, ideas set next to each other, some deep interior minute by minute self-reporting of pretty strange stuff. And of course, it’s the writing that’s doing that. Wallace is making those decisions about how things unfold, what the circumstances are. The rhythm of someone’s irregularity, told straight at you. This listening stint follows a reading from a few months earlier but it is in hearing the text that I’m struck by his syntax, his ear for how people speak and think, and the force of how he gets who these people are in these particular times. In short, syntax as a dynamic act makes its first appearance in my notebook.
While we’re working on the Donny Duets this week, Talvin remarks on how both Donny and David committed suicide, both soon after a creative stint of some magnitude. Their joint passion is overwhelming, their throats are full, such a gift. If not now, when?
Tré and Bronwen’s Donny, with a tag of Bronwen’s solo. This pairing and sequence reflects the Hero and Attendant duet that Bronwen and Angie had started in January. Tré and Bronwen over the course of the few months of working together have developed a lovely partnership that serves both of them well.
What is a section? What makes a section? Why are there sections? What logic am I assuming about the flow of time being crafted here? I fall in and out of interest in story-ness, which has been a go-to strategy (/reality?) of my process for the last twenty years. Here is a group that is new to each other as well as to me, with no common assumptions about past practice. Who’s to say what this means, what is meant. It’s’ liberating to move forward and stay in the present. Again, the ‘No to demonstration’ mantra gets amplified and deepened in unexpected ways, way beyond theme or reference. I hear Sue in my head, “it’s just…this.”
Putting together the sequence for the evening: this is the task at hand. In the front of my brain is the knowledge that we will have only one more week after this, at Jacob’s Pillow four months from now, to settle into what we’re making THIS WEEK. This group of artists is amazing, though. They’re avid and interested and chill.
This is also about triage. The Bells section [video on right] never made it past this week. We happened on this in January, to music by Jane Siberry, but couldn’t find a place for it in the current work. I love the rocking attention that Darrell and Angie bring to it. The other dancers are waiting it out, seeing what makes the cut from the material we started last January.
The first few runs of “stuff” in an order of some kind feel stilted and, well, sectional. Boy, am I tired of myself. Toward the end of the week one of the dancers suggests a Dancer’s Run: use their sense of the loose structure, see what comes up, one moment after another. It’s a much more spontaneous and compelling event (of course). They have been in it from the start.
Here are my notes after watching the Wexner showing, with an invited audience, at the end of the residency. Still thinking about order and content, I don’t know what “it” is yet.
0:00: Is there another way for soft-start besides "dancers stretching? Dancers warming up?" What if this is subtly directed, the start of the inner logic of events? Waves of soft-start?
6:30: "so we’re starting now"
8:25: Sarah the Librarian on felt. GO. All wander off….
Angie & Bebe enter with TalkingTalking. How long does Sarah stay?
10:00 Bronwen solo
11:40 S moves upstage L
12:00 by now A&M enter. (Bebe does talk)
13:00 too evenly peopled. Make sure relationship are distinct, already in action rather than discovered. Everyone’s Librarian.
(Pamela Z’s Badagada: odd and sad, mournful. Not a good sound score for first extended musical choice.)
15:56 Verbal cueing behind Michelle’s leg. Entry into pre-At Speed, sharper, distinctly new.
(Bebe voice over background sound?)
19:45 Into No Moves, beautiful.
21:00 No Moves!!! Tré & Bronwen, re-use this. Beautiful.
23:21 Match arms: Sarah, Angie, Tré
25:00 More back-and-forth arms before Darrell & Tré depart. Let Angie & Michelle pass, hurry to catch up. Sarah & Tré duet wanders, fix this.
30:00 Love Women’s Quartet! Angie’s quick entrance.
31:26 Tré & Christal quickly get felt under Sarah for alligator! (Like the Pamela Z audio here!)
32:30 set up for Tré/Darrell (Christal) duet too ordinary, much better on Dancers Choice run.
34:00 T/D/C duet: decide on rhythm of interview w/ Country Grammar (Nelly)
39:00 Nice set-up of women, finish of duet!
39:40 love teeny Angie & Michelle
42:00 like PZ’s You with 3 couples, after start with Angie/Michelle
43:00 Br & D repeat
46:00 Bebe & Angie—Toni/Charlie interview. Organize the path across the stage:
A ---→, ←---
B ---→, ←---
50:00 All in for Bronwen’s Hero/Attendant hold
53:00 Donny: Brothers, set & repeat
54:00 Darrell on knees, others…? Flock?
55:40 Up against wall, everyone.
Somewhere in here a return to At Speed, @58:00, end of song?
57:00 No Moves foot hold, a return.
1:02 Bebe at back wall for talking
1:03 Darrell & Sarah on floor.