Blogs by Ian Thal
An artist at work
8/5/2003 11:55:10 AM
A Sunday afternoon. A brief glimpse into my creative process as I transform some poetry into a performance piece, and then bring it in for a critique at Open Floor, a monthly workshop for dancers and other "movers" where works in progress are presented. I also comment on some of my friends' work. Note, there is one compund vulgarity used, those easily offended, should skip this entry. The term in question means something quite different in the mouth of a jazz musician than in the usual context.
Sunday, August 3, 2003:
I'm caught in the cafe of the Harvest Food Coop. Almost immediately after pouring a coffee and ordering a poppy seed bagel, toasted, with cream cheese, there is a massive downpour and I am prevented from walking to the practice space. I take a seat at the bar, face the mirror and practice my facial expressions for a few minutes, and pull out my notebook. I've decided to create a travelogue performance based on a series of poems I've written about traveling through Connecticut. I commit the poems to memory over coffee. Despite my post modernist sensibilities, I find my poetry tending to rhyme, meter, and other devices that make memorization easy-- though I rarely use traditional form. Movement motifs come to mind as I study these words I have written. I look out the window, and see people loiter outside under the grey skies-- the rain has stopped and I can now continue on to the practice space.
I peal off my humidity soaked t-shirt and jeans and change into my sweatpants. seated with pelvis spread and soles placed together, I sink into a stretch, until my forehead rests on the plexiglass top of the table upon which I sit and rest there for a few minutes. After a few more stretches, I pace about the linoleum floor and recite the two poems I am currently working upon: "View from a Train: Bridgeport, Connecticut and "River Crossing at New London."
Then I start working on the movement. With "View from a Train" I begin with a very formal Decroux like form of a passenger watching a landscape pass by and transform into the demolished industrial infrastructure by the tracks and then to the gases that the factories issue into the air. I stay roughly center stage throughout.
Next comes "River Crossing at New London" the movement motifs are far more complicated. I find myself relying greatly on mime illusions both at the beginning and at the end, using rotations from my hip joints, I glide across the floor as if standing the deck of one of the ferries that dock in New London, and contrast that at the end with the walking in place illusion at the end as I speculate on the persistence of identity problem that has puzzled thinkers from Heraclitus to contemporary physicists. In between taking the forms of the general dynamics shipyard and the bridge that spans the river.
Once satisfied, I change back to my street clothes and head to Green Street Studios and change again to my sweats. I stretch in the hallway, as Kelley is using Studio 1 at the moment, and she probably rents the space. Walter shows up with his traveling video work station and John follows a minute later with his bass. John and I share some Barnum anecdotes. We have had similar amusing experiences with this common collaborator. Heather arrives moments later, and Kelley pokes her head out of the studio and asks "are you waiting to come in?" adding, "I'm done..."
We put the mats on the floor and talk about the performance that Walter, John and Heather did the night before at Zeitgeist. A few more people arrive, it's been a small crowd at the Open Floor all summer ever since the showcase back in May. Carey is there, and Kelley elects to stick around and show work. Nicole comes in just as we begin.
Kelley presents first. She is experimenting with slower movements, which I appreciate. Her movements are always very fluid, but she is usually very very fast and I'm so often unable to process her solo work beyond recognizing her technical prowess. In the past, I've had better luck understanding work that she choreographs for her ensemble which is always very well composed and exciting, but today I see what she is doing as a dancer.
I'm on next and I do the two pieces that I had been working on in the practice space. The critique I receive is very helpful. NIcole tells me that she enjoyed the poetry but that it is complex and recommends longer immobilities to allow the audience to process. John talks about "energy projection" and states that I seemed to have been presenting in the round instead of projecting energy straight at the audience. He then dismisses his comments as ignorant; I joke that his only ignorance is calling his comment ignorant (I respect him as an artist) which elicits some laughter as I do so in a very melodramatic manner. Heather notes that she doesn't always follow text but was pleased that I was extending into and playing with the space above my head more than she had ever seen me.
Nicole is next. She presents an improvisation to a moody contemporary pop tune, but as per her usual stage persona, she creates a complex character for whom such a tune is extraordinarily meaningful. I see her do a figure that I'd never seen her do before and note it-- she extends upwards with this elegant curve and then suddenly drops her pelvis a few inches causing the curve to break. Given the sort of characters she performs, I think it is the most wonderful bit of body language. John describes the pieces as "a motherf***er, an improvisational tour de force." That's how jazz musicians talk.
Heather, John and Walter go on next. They are preparing a structured improv for a performance on SCAT on Tuesday. Walter is live editing footage of a swarm of bees at the entrance to their hive, while John is creating bee like drones by bowing his bass and running it through a wah wah pedal. Heather dances about him-- as always projecting a joy of being in motion and her ability to sculpt space and time. Everyone agrees that Heather and John have a great interaction but it is unclear the relationship of her movement to the video. Walter explains the video set up that will be used during the SCAT performance and that clarifies things, but I want to see Heather move in a more bee like manner. I mention that there is a moment where she rises onto the balls of her feet and her torso leans forward and liken it to the hovering stance of a bee. I suggest she do more of that-- imagining herself suspended by the buzzing wings that would emerge from her scapulae. When I show her the illusion, she smiles in recognition. It's the first time I think I ever had anything to teach her or any of my dancer friends-- but that way of thinking is why I'm a natural mime while somebody else might be more inclined to some other art form.
The community of Open Floor is perhaps the most supportive art scene with which I've connected. Heather and Carey are working on some changes in the format, which sound promising-- bringing in established guest choreographers who might lead the discussion sessions on a rotating basis. Everyone asks about my injured arm. Something about mending bones that binds us.
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