Sunday, June 22, 2014

Do you know? ...Paulina Derbez

I recently had the immense pleasure of experiencing Paulina Derbez's performance Shika. It was coming full circle for me in a way: a few years ago I heard this incredible woman rehearsing with voice and violin in the studio next door to where I was working with Fujiwara Dance Inventions (on EUNOIA, which recently premiered in Harbourfront's World Stage 2014, and is nominated for 3 Dora awards!). I knew something really different and intriguing was going on in there.

Fast forward a little, my son Pablo began daycare with a fiesty young girl named Isabella whose mother was a violinist. Guess who?  Paulina Derbez of the haunting voice and violin permeating the rehearsal studio walls at Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre. She had been creating Shika.

As a performer who often straddles disciplines not only over my career but within individual performances, I feel compelled to know more about Paulina's process. She moves, vocalizes, plays, shapeshifts and channels simultaneously and continually in Shika. She is singular. Details of her show coming up on June 25th at the Heliconian Club (yet another place Paulina and I have both worked in!) are at the end of this blog. I highly recommend getting out there for an unusual and unforgettable experience.

Here are Paulina's answers to my questions about her creative life which includes and exceptional and compelling book, recently published in English translation, about a new approach to musical training and practice.

How do you prepare your body for your performances, since it is such a physical act, more than the traditional level of physicality for musicians?
Preparing my body is of key importance for my performances. As you mention musicians don’t prepare their bodies as much as actors or dancers. But this is vital to play an instrument since we do play with our whole body. So before a performance I do a routine that includes strength exercises, stretches, breathing exercises and meditation as well. I also do this before any practice. Is like bringing my self into my body, mind and emotions, in a way that let me perform in a deeper and natural level.

Your work is unique, how do you place yourself in the music/performing arts community in Toronto?

I am a classical-avant-garde musician. Both, classical and avant-garde, enrich each other in a profound way. I play with the Ontario Philharmonic, with the Mercury Ensemble and on the avant-garde side I have my solo Shika:out of the silence the sound is born and the duo with the composer Barbara Croall Altri Suoni. The avant-garde work allows me to transform my self into a sonic character on stage and the classical world gives me the right technique to do so. 
Next Wednesday the 25th June at the Heliconian Hall we actually are presenting our CD Altri Suoni among classical pieces from Bach, Mozart, Shubert interacting with the visuals of Jaime Luján and the paintings of Emilio Giossi.  Also I love multidisciplinary works. Part of this is my interactive book Depictions of a Concert, published by Editorial Ink, where my music interacts with the visual arts of Jaime Luján.  We launched this book at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara 2013.

You've written a book "The Conscious Musician". How did the 'conscious musician' come about as an idea/approach/philosophy?

When I was studying in Lugano, Switerland, I realized that I did not know how to practice violin! At some point due to several tensions I had to stop playing for 2 months. One day, thinking about my relationship with my violin, a thought came to my mind. It was… “Everything is in your mind”… it was a breakthrough moment! I close my mind and I saw my self playing tense. 

Since my teacher was telling me that I was tense, I believed this and so my unconscious mind made it a reality. I realized that if I wanted to change my way of playing I had to correct it not in a physical level but in a mental level. Every problem either with technique or musicality has to be solved first at a mental level. This is called visual motor rehearsal and it is used by athletes and NASA( I just found out about this after years of working with this powerful tool). 

My next revelation were my emotions. I remember my teacher telling me that I had to be more expressive, but he did not tell me which emotion I should express or feel. So one day I was walking in the woods of Lugano and started to play a melody but just in my mind, not with the violin. Then I had for the first time a real contact with my emotions and realized that I had unlocked my emotional world! Therefore I found that to be expressive means that you have to feel an exact emotion, like the actors do, before playing. And then, my body started to be relax at last as an answer of the work with my mind and emotions. 

Because we do perform with our minds, emotions and bodies and the balance between them is vital for a musical performance.

How did this develop into a book?

After years of using all this tools, teaching them and applying this new musical vision I realized that if I wanted to bring it to the next level I had to share it in a wider way. So when my husband and I got to Canada in 2006 I felt very strong the impulse of writing all that I have worked during the last years.  After a few years all this became of what today is my book published by Editorial Ink: The Conscious Musician.

In seeing you perform, you radiate an immense pleasure in the moment, is that how you feel inside it?

Yes and thanks! Over the years I’m more and more convinced that the emotional part of music is the most important one since this is what  the audience will take with them after a performance. To be as authentic as possible on the stage and to develop a profound emotional level in a performance I work with nature images and define the characters I want to express through the sonic world. I find that when you place an image in your mind, this will give you an exact emotion and this will take you to a natural and powerful performance.

What's next for you creatively?

I’m working on my solo performance Shika: out of the silence the sound is born and taking this work to festivals in Canada and other countries. Jaime and I are launching Depictions of a Concert next Tuesday at the artscape of Wychwoodbarns, also a quite unique work, and planning to bring this work to a wider audience with my group Altri Suoni. I’m working with the Italian painter Emilio Giossi on new multidisciplinary works to be presented in Europe. And I’m very happy of working again with Maria Rosales, a great pianist, on a Mexican classical music concert that will be presented on 2015. Regarding The Conscious Musician I’m preparing talks about the book and workshops based on the methodology and vision of the book.

Link to Paulina's book

photos courtesy of Paulina Derbez

Monday, June 9, 2014

10th anniversary Reminiscence -- the mysterious and wonderful Bee Pallomina

Bee Pallomina collaborated with Blue Ceiling dance on "that corpse you planted last year" in 2005,

photo of Bee Pallomina leaving the theatre from "that corpse you planted last year" when a freak fire alarm went off in the midst of the performance. Crazy times.

"Days of Mad Rabbits" in 2005 (see last blog post for lots of photos!) and "11xforgetting" in 2007.

Jennifer Bolt and Bee Pallomina in 11xforgetting photo by Jeremy Brace

She was an outside eye on 2013's "Half Life" and in 2009 Bee and I co-created "watermud/airsmoke" under the moniker Sunnyside Collective. We were both living in apartments in a house at Sunnyside and Constance Ave -- it was a charmed corner, at least name-wise.

photos of Lucy Rupert and Bee Pallomina by John Lauener

Our co-creation was the 2009 commission from Dance Ontario for DanceWeekend and it went on to be performed at Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival and for the Artists Health Alliance at Toronto Western Hospital's Art in the Atrium.
photo of Lucy Rupert and Bee Pallomina at Art in the Atrium

All the way along she has been a thoughtful, witty and enigmatic collaborator. I have found her deft improvisation skills and her subtle and surprising physicality uber-inspirational over these years. I dearly hope we have more collaborations in our future. I think it would be wonderful to remount "watermud/airsmoke" when we're both 65.

Below is a beautiful contribution from Bee about our time working together. As many of you know, she is as skilled and thoughtful a writer as she is a dancer. Interspersed are stills of her notes and thoughts from the making of "watermud/airsmoke".

I have been working with Lucy for about 10 years now. Our work together culiminated in a co-creation, a duet entitled mudwater / airsmoke which premiered in 2009 and is an ongoing project. I always enjoy working with Lucy: she’s an incredible performer and she’s whip smart. She brings thoughtfulness and dynamic velocity into the studio with her.

I’ve been digging around the in the archive of my notes for our duet. I wanted to include the following, as a little window into our process and our dancing together. These notes were answers to questions that were posed by our outside eye, Denise Fujiwara, at the beginning of our process. Included as well are some drawn scores and notes used for a recent performance.

One thing I am curious about is the process of collaboration. How it works, how it works most successfully. How it works without compromise. How it can lift the process of two people to be greater than the sum of its parts rather than just random bits and pieces.

I have thought about this and have come up with a really simple structure to propose, so that we can observe the work of each other and then see how they fuse together. I propose that we each have a solo and then a duet, each approximately equal in length (5 minutes each). Solo 1 water, solo 2 mud, duet 3 air/smoke.

The other thing I have been curious about is the idea of total embodiment and its opposite. The paradox of holding the human form and narrative while embodying something else, another image.

I am interested this idea of no separation, no separate self – that we are all interconnected and that we ourselves are inherently empty. It could be about intimacy: with ourselves, with the universe, with each other. Also about sharing and community: not just the community of people, but the community of all things.

This last paragraph I find sums up where I hope Blue Ceiling dance can go in the future. It is so unwittingly fitting that Bee should put it so succinctly and beautifully for our 10th anniversary blog project. Certainly Blue Ceiling's community will always include Bee.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

HATCH at Harbourfront celebrating 10 years just like Blue Ceiling dance!


Tomorrow evening I will be attending an event gathering together artists who have participated in the last 10 years of the HATCH performance projects program at Harbourfront Centre. This celebration has created a great opportunity to reflect on a past Blue Ceiling dance project, as we participated in the 2005-2006 season of HATCH with Days of Mad Rabbits.

I remember being short-listed and having to go in for a meeting to pitch my project with some Harbourfront staff. I know there were a couple of people there, but I only remember focussing on Tina Rasmussen, trying not to trip on my tongue. I was astounded when I was selected. I figured everyone else who had applied would've been far slicker and articulate than I had been.

Days of Mad Rabbits was created during a period of fascination with literature and residue of comparative cultural studies stemming from the completion of my Masters degree at U of T. I was trying to draw together Alice in Wonderland, including Tom Waits' reinterpretation of it, film noir, T.S. Eliot's volume "Inventions of the March hare" and the chance to throw everything but the kitchen sink into a show.

We had green glasses and a piano, antique chairs with no seats, a Judy in a glamorous evening gown, smoke machines, clockwork gobos, a sing-a-long, and probably some other stuff I've forgotten about.

Oh right....the puppet (made by Noah Kenneally of course). 

Usually my pieces have no props or sets, or very minimalist scenic design outside of lighting. Days of Mad Rabbits was mad.

I had three performers -- Caroline Niklas-Gordon, Bee Pallomina and the incomparable mover (but not exactly a dancer) Noah Kenneally -- who dove in with great faith and play. Looking back, I am amazed they never told me they were confused or confounded by what I was doing. They never said no. Even when I said "ok, it's the end of a non-stop 50 min show so let's spend the last 3 minutes running and jumping while the smoke machine is on."

Visual artist Monika Berenyi helped me with sets and props and Robin Dutt did lighting.  They too came along for running-jumping-in-the-smoke ride. I was lucky to have such a game group of collaborators. I am sure I thanked them then, but I thank them again here, with more perspective on some of the ridiculousness I asked of them. Thank you Caroline, Bee, Noah, Monika, Robin!

We used most of our time (one week) in the HATCH residency to play and rehearse on stage what had been loosely created in the studio before our time at Harbourfront. I can't believe we made a 50 minute show happen with almost nothing, banking on the gifts of space and crew and the promise of box office receipts. Mad.

The premise was that Alice (me) and the Mad Hatter (Noah) were doomed but in love. The White Rabbit was a double agent (Bee Pallomina) in the guise of working for the plights of both Alice and the Queen of Hearts (Caroline Niklas-Gordon).

The Mad Hatter was an obnoxious drunk.

The Queen a twitching unhappy soul.

Alice a tortured angsty teenager.

The White Rabbit a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Oh yeah, and Alice sang.

This was still in my days of clinging to my musical career, which to be honest I had long abandoned at heart but could not admit. I sang two songs I had written. They weren't bad songs. They were actually really pretty good, but they were definitely not yet confident in themselves, as new songs often are.

Paula Citron reviewed it. She said I was "a choreographer who is unafraid of making her audiences think, which is a good thing". And that was lovely to hear. She also said I sang a little off-key. Not so thrilling to read. But as anyone who has performed at the Studio Theatre at York Quay Terminal knows, the space is sonically dead...without a microphone, there was no way for me to hear myself. I am sure I was off-key, but no one wants to read that about themselves in the Globe and Mail.

Music career: over.
(I'm a better singer now that I've admitted that).

I remember the crew working on our show were particularly mystified by us. What the hell were we doing? Youngsters, playing with too many gobos and scatological music.

What the hell were we doing?

My favourite moments of the production were assorted mistakes and jokes in rehearsal that remained in the piece.

  • Noah and Bee becoming opium smoking caterpillars, literally doing belly-down caterpillar crawls and racing each other to the edge of the stage on their bellies, laughing 
  • Bee jumping down the rabbit hole by doing a dramatic knee-fall through a seatless chair.
  • Caroline's jacket seams tearing and the Queen of Hearts had her Incredible Hulk moment
  • Melanie Gordon running in to shoot dress rehearsal with no idea of what the piece was about or what it would look like or who was in it and then running out again because she had somewhere else to be immediately (thus all the lovely shots here are by Melanie!)
  • using the lid of a hatbox as a tray for glasses
  • forcing everyone to sing Tom Waits' song "Time" with me. 
  • Bee and me gossiping at centre stage while Noah and Caroline raced around us

Days of Mad Rabbits remains my most absurd and incoherent work and I love it for that.  It was made with such a sense of
desperate play, a need to break away from trying so hard. HATCH was a perfect incubator for releasing a more rebellious part of my spirit, a part that doesn't care what people think or if they 'get' what I'm doing. Heed the muse! Chances are someone else is hearing her too.

My involvement in HATCH catapulted me into a new phase of my dance-creating and performing. The next step was to strip it all back into solo works.  A whole and different kind of madness.

 Bloody hell. We all look so young.

Bee Pallomina, Noah Kenneally, Lucy Rupert, Caroline Niklas-Gordon

all photos Blue Ceiling dance 2005  copyright Melanie Gordon
thanks Melanie!