Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lament for Solo Computer

It's been awhile, quite awhile since I wrote here about my own work. I write a lot about my work: for grant proposals, for festival applications and calls to artists, in my various and too-many notebooks, but rarely here.

This week I have the most wonderful opportunities to perform a work from Blue Ceiling dance repertoire in two very different places. The first is "Hello World", a concert/performance put together by the TOLOrk (Toronto Laptop Orchestra) at Array Music (tonight, November 19th at 7:30 pm. 155 Walnut Ave, just south of Trinity Bellwoods Park). The second is "After Dark", a fundraiser for Jillian Peever and JD Dance at the Intergalactic Arts Collective space in the Artscape Young Place building on Shaw St. 8:30pm onwards).

I'd like to tell you a little bit about this work.

Lament for Solo Computer.

It is named for the exhausting and gorgeous music by Jascha Narveson.

Sometime in 2008, I think, storyteller/actor Lisa Pijuan-Nomura and I decided we wanted to make a performance work together that would have something to do with ghosts. We asked our friend Jascha Narveson (then a graduate student in music composition at Princeton University) if he had any music that he thought might be relatable to that theme. Jascha sent us a Dropbox full of ideas, one of which was Lament for Solo Computer.

Well, Lisa and I both got pregnant and our co-creation went on the back burner. (Lisa, should we get back on this now?)

But Lament for Solo Computer lingered in my head.

Fast forward to the fall of 2012. While assisting Andrea Nann in the programming and planning of the Whole Shebang, I asked if she would be interested in a collaboration between Jascha and me. She said yes and away I went on the path to finally creating to music Jascha had suggested we use years before.

When I approached Jascha about using the music, he said he'd always hoped I would  want to use it one day. And he graciously shortened his track by 90 seconds to accommodate the strict 10 min time limit for the epic 2012 Whole Shebang. (It was epic for many reasons, not the least of which was live tattooing in performance).

The theme of that year's Whole Shebang was twinning. There were twin performers, duets, a mirror movement choir of performers and audience. My work was a solo, but my starting points were two: the lamenting computer itself (Jascha's score) and Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken". I would become a nasty, nihilistic creature who sees, for 9 min and 30 seconds, both roads at once. How would she change?

I was very angry while I made this piece. Just two weeks before I had premiered another solo, a joyful one called Frankenstein Fragments that embodied musicality and quirks and stole gratuitously from former works for the sake of self-mockery and fun. Right after the performances of Frankenstein Fragments I found out that a dear dear friend of mine who was sick, was not only very ill, but actually now dying.

I was so pissed off, I could not summon the love of performing, the drive to create. I was just mad as hell. And I had less than two weeks to make this new piece for the Whole Shebang.

I couldn't get through tech rehearsal but for the grace and loveliness of Andrea Nann (thank you Andrea), I couldn't find my place in the music, my right hamstring was twanging like a strung ham and I was quite sure the audience would think I totally sucked. Totally.


The first step to remounting Lament for Solo Computer was to watch the video. I was surprised when I watched it at how much is really in there. The choreography actually embodied that anger, rather than just me being angry on stage. The dance and the music transcended the circumstances under which it was made. At the end of the piece the applause is loud, there are whoops and cheers. Something was happening.

Here's another wonderful reason for remounting repertoire and why we as artists should be revisiting our works. When encountering the material removed from the emotional landscape in which it was originally made you get to discover what's really there....

Something was there back then and something is there now.

My friend who was dying died less than two weeks after The Whole Shebang 2012. He's in there. The anger is in there. But they don't drive the dance any more, they lie inside the impulses. They colour the muscles and skeleton in motion.

They leave room for something more.

photos by Omer Yukseker

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

This Dance, This Gal, This Wonderful Gal: Kate Alton

Like a great number of people I've been able to interview in the last year, Kate Alton has been a hero, an inspiration, a beautiful puzzle of an artist. She's about to open her first show in a few years in which she is dancing. If you haven't witnessed Kate performing, go now. If you have...well you know what I'm talking about then.

Kate managed to answer a few questions I sent her way in the flurry of both our worlds -- tours ending, homecoming, children, rehearsals, and the million other occupations that demand our time. I am so grateful Kate's usual candidness and eloquence.

Without further ado....Kate, unedited. This interview.

LUCY: What motivated you to make this production happen?

KATE: Honestly it was the unending desire that dancers constantly have, somehow to keep on dancing. My life with two kids is very full. I feel lucky to have had so much time to dance before they came into my world. But I also long to keep that dancing part of myself alive, and for my kids to have a sense of that part of me too. 

There have been several points along the way to making this show when I was tempted to throw in the towel, because I do feel compromised in so many ways- time, money, energy, and ability are all compromised here. I have constantly struggled with the question of whether what I can produce right now is worthy of an audience. But I have tried to make these questions central to the premise and the content of the show. 

Lastly I would say that a lot of the motivation to push forward with it has come form others around me- those who saw my initial showings and the people at hub14 who offered to co-produce, which was such a huge and enormously helpful boost both practically and for my spirit.

LUCY: You have always been a performer unafraid of vulnerability on stage  -- at least in my eyes you are! It feels like this production is even more so….How do you keep this vulnerability and honesty so personal and keep yourself or sense of self safe?

KATE: Hmmm, great question! You are such an insightful person Lucy. I don't know! Yes, I feel more vulnerable than ever. I cannot really rely on my dance technique anymore. I am not strong and versatile. My tools are age, experience, and I hope, artistry. 

At the same time, I never felt a need to protect myself in the experience of dancing or performing. I was pretty much born with my heart on my sleeve and have never been able to shove it back inside my chest. In fact I guess the idea of protecting myself from an audience has never even occurred to me, as I guess it might or must for very famous people.

LUCY: Do you have a pre- or post- performance routine? 
KATE: I have not performed much for a long time now. In the past yes, I tried to maintain a fairly consistent warm-up routine. I found that this was easy whenever I danced in a company situation as a dancer-for-hire, and much more difficult once I was self producing because of all the hats we must wear when we do such multi-tasking work. 

Right now I don't really know how to warm up anymore. Everything that used to be part of my routine is inappropriate to my current condition. Barre work it problematic because I can neither stand in comfort with both legs parallel nor both externally rotated. Floor work doesn't work because my hip won't fold as it used to. And if I force any of these things the hip flares and I lose more mobility. This means that I can't really do class anymore, and I miss that so much. 

I have yet to really sort it out! I do pilates and use the eliptical machine because running is no longer workable. I am also very lucky to have a reformer at home and I use it a lot.

LUCY:  What does it mean to dance with or through your injury?

KATE: I am still trying to figure out how to dance with it. I think that in this piece I am really dancing THROUGH it whereas I hope over time to figure out how to really dance WITH it. To use the body I have now instead of trying to adjust so I can dance as I did with the body I used to live in. It feels like a process of shedding. 

LUCY: What keeps you inspired to create and perform? Do different things apply to the different roles? 
KATE: I have come back to this question several times, trying to answer it. I don't seem to have an answer! It is just in me to do it I guess. I love performance generally. I think I love it as a form with which to communicate. I think the heightened activity of performance, whether as creator, performer or audience member is something I live for, something I love to share with other people, in all the different roles.

​November 6th - 15th at hub14
Fri- Sun Nov. 6th-8th and Wed-Sun Nov11th- 15th at 7:30pm

Tickets: $15, Pay-What-You-Can on Sunday Nov 8th 
more info:

all rehearsal photos of Kate Alton in rehearsal for This Dance by Aria Evans.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

EUNOIA on tour: what we learned....

flying over Canada, headed home

I posed the question "what did you learn on the EUNOIA tour?" to all the collaborators involved in the mounting of this work for touring, thinking the answers would offer amazing insight into the value of getting a chance to revisit a work, tour it....something dance and theatre, especially the indie or small-scale companies, don't get to do very often.

My original thought was about the deepening of artistry, the new audiences in new landscapes that take in and give back from fresh perspectives. 

I did not anticipate the full spectrum of beauty that would come in their responses.....Read them all, you won't be sorry. (Some have not replied yet and will be added in a later post.)

Thanks team for your intelligent, profound thoughts, as if I could expect any less.

getting notes in rehearsal in Halifax

Claudia Moore (performer, freest of spirits, continual source of inspiration, great sharer of chips and wine):
It comes down to LOVE for me- something I'm always learning about and that helped me all along the EUNOIA way.
How love carries me deeper into life, helps me face the hard parts, helps me learn new things and opens the door 
to joy....there was lots of joy.

Also to WORK- so much to work on! Listening, mostly. But the work can't happen without love. My basketball coach
dad talked a lot about desire and that stays with me. I see desire here as love- it's like the motor to get me 
somewhere, to give me energy for learning things and growing.

Love for everyone in the EUNOIA family. You are all divine and I am so happy to be with you in this adventure.

Love for Christian and his book for the beginning, to Denise for making the way with skill, fun and artistry.

Love when I need to let go- again and again and again. Love for this frustrating challenge.

Love for my addiction to dance and my refusal to get help. I've made peace with that, though may have to find a
way out at some point...? So happy it's possible to still tour and all at 62.

Love for those strangers in a dark room who come to see what will happen. Love for connecting with them,
for my ongoing fascination with "the magic of theatre".

Love for trying to do the impossible tasks- becoming invisible is one of my favs. I could do that all day long.

hanging out with Tedd Robinson in St. John's airport

Gerry Trentham (performer, voice coach, writer of beautiful poetry, eternally my big brother):

That Phil and Laurel are great travelers - thanks for all the adventures 

That Denise is full of surprises - she is much more in many directions than I ever though possible in one person. She is an inspiration and I am so fortunate to know her 

That I think I married Ron (lighting designer) -- he sounds exactly like my partner -lol

That creating and performing Eunoia with each of you is a gift from some very generous gods

that the performance of Eunoia - the depth, textures, community, leadership, collaboration, all demanding presence is a whole body/mind active meditation - an journey of transformation that can always be more refined - a lesson and practice for life.

it reassured me in my belief 

that you can never know what another is thinking -especially an audience

that performance can take a lifetime to master 

that every world is complex - there is no us and them 

that I am a detail 

that I am very truly thankful to thoughtful presenters, dedicated board members, bright administrators and those who support us to perform

that the voice in spoken text can offer a breadth of interpretation not unlike dance -  speech is a danced choreography of sound

some of the company at Cape Spear, NFLD

Hope Terry (performer, survivor, provider of kale and constant surprises):
The conclusion that there is nothing to grasp onto, that security is fleeting:  sickness, health, happiness, sadness, success and failure  come and go, so is humbling. Sometimes wishing it wasn't so.
Reminiscing for a time when life seemed more secure and perhaps viewing the confines of this sureness through rose-coloured glasses or at least enjoying the moments that it feels so. 
If it were not for my beautiful artist family holding me and each other up in these fleeting states, life would seem rather grim, but with this support in each other's messiness, I find joy, and glee and silliness and power.
A power that is kind of sweet in its own weird way. Maybe this power that we cannot own, still gets to pass through us, rush through us in a way so we get to experience, as one gets to experience the mountains outside of Calgary, or the wind of St. Johns's or the rushing Yukon river, and maybe we happily wave at it as it passes through and reminds us that we are nothing, yet part of everything?
Maybe a reminder that we don't own anything, but are part of a larger 'sharing program', which includes EUNOIA.

some of the company at Nose Hill, Calgary

Jillian Peever (understudy who was called upon suddenly and who filled in with more grace and sheer will than we could have imagined):

​I don't know how to follow all these beautiful responses, but I definitely​ learned something during this process. 

About Eunoia... I learned that it is complex, but at the same time simple. I learned that the perspectives from within the piece and from within the group of amazing artists in it are all unique--and that is necessary and beautiful. I learned that there is time to live in the work. I learned that being part of it also means watching it, watching each performer add their piece to the story. I learned that poetry can be some serious shit! Seriously detailed and thorough. That reciting poetry, like performing dance movements, takes mental and physical practice, skill, concentration, and presence. 

I learned that we are all ageless and beautiful and unique! 

Thank you everyone. I learned so much from each one of you. What a perfect team! I'm so honoured to have been able to share the experience. 

Fish and chips at the Duke on Duckworth in St. John's

Miko Sobreira (performer, soon-to-be-new-dad, a most patient and creative collaborator, warmer-upper of the audience)
What I learned from Eunoia, is that I can witness my journey through the joy of others, that there is no better social work than ART, and that it is for others but not for our selfs, otherwise it is not truly art. 

the intrepid Nick Andison, technical director 

Kevin Ormsby (understudy, overachiever, all around nice guy)
What have I learnt.

That integrative artistic practices is important to the future of Canadian Dance. The detail, work and subtle nuances of being in the process enlivened the reason I Dance but also provided a grounding where physical practice / embodiment met and ‎was integral to the Creative practice / presentation. 

Experiencing contemporary practice rooted in traditional Asian concepts could and can be abstracted to support one's artistic inspiration and inquiry. 

In fact how we think of physical communication in dance should not be separated from the breath, vocal sensibilities or the relationships between internal and external being. 

Innate‎ connection to ones artistic practice will never appall but will create gusts, leaving a hush where murmurs or in fact chants, are a stamp that marks overall ingenuity between all collaborators. 

Phil's-eye view of set up at Theatre Junction Grand in Calgary

Phil Strong (composer, problem-solver and wittiest person you will ever know):
Noel Coward claimed, "there is no fun like work". 
He was a smart cookie, but I think it would be more accurate to say "there is no fun like GOOD work" or, as in this particular case,  
"there is no fun like good, challenging, rewarding, artistic work - in a dedicated team of amazingly talented and profoundly decent people ". 

Not only "fun", but a blessed state. 

I continue to be blissed out by Canada's geographies, landscapes and the preponderance of awesome people - and food!

The necessity to adapt the show to each environment and the freedom and opportunity to continue to experiment and learn on this level is completely exhilarating. And so was the experience of all of us together and individually dealing with and overcoming adversity.

Speaking of which, flu is humbling and a good teacher, not to mention equipment failure .. and and and and…. I forget. What was I saying? Hey, where are my keys? Oh yeah, I need to be more mindful and carry extra ID in a safe place. or maybe get an government-issued tattoo.

warming up somewhere....could be anywhere....

Sylvie Bouchard (performer, best roommate (she was mine!) giver of many remedies for mucus and grant panic):
I knew already but learned again, and more deeply, how incredible this group of people is. So generous, loving, funny, and supportive of one another... it's a real gift, and I feel so lucky to be part of this beautiful team. 

I knew already, but continued to learn that the work is bottomless. It changes me, and then it changes as I change. The work with Denise never ceases to teach me and makes me discover new ways to approach / delve into rehearsal and performance. Softer ways... 

I learned how amazing it is to be able to focus on my tasks as a dancer a tour, without having to take care of other production issues...  What a gift!

I learned how to go to bed earlier, I was inspired by my roommate Lucy!

I learned that there are ways to still eat your vegetables on tour! :-)

I experienced amazing communities, stunning festivals and series, and met such beautiful people in all the places we went to: Halifax, St-John's, Calgary and Whitehorse. Thank you immensely for all these beautiful and earnest connections. 

I learned that when you come out of the Hot Springs, your legs feel like lead for a few moments... such a weird sensation....

our most patient and wonderful stage manager Marianna Rosato

Eunoia team at the Takhini Hot Springs near Whitehorse, Yukon

Laurel MacDonald (video operator, multi-talented multi-disciplinary artist, one whose hair is never mussed by the wild Cape Spear winds):

What did I learn about EUNOIA? (so far ; )

The all-encompassingness of it, in process and in fruition. The complexity of the many layers wide and deep, the dizzying detail within each layer, the multiplicity of interaction between them.

The ongoing subtle morphing that occurs as we learn more and more about the piece and how we influence it, and as we adapt to the constant changes in physical and psychological context.

How we are continually challenged to be more fleet of foot, tongue, brain than we thought we could be... then, just when we have risen to the challenge and gained a new sense of accomplishment, it reminds us, once again, that: no, no, we have still not learned everything yet - there is always another lesson in store.

Laurel at work

Denise Fujiwara (choreographer, mastermind, force-with-which-to-be-reckoned):
What I learned about EUNOIA:

- that beautiful thinking is the only way to go.  Christian Bök is a remarkably positive, curious, creative thinker and somehow, those qualities have infiltrated our work.  Those qualities have made a difficult project rich with exploration, learning, creativity, delight and friendship.  Aristotle used the term eunoia to refer to the feelings of goodwill one must have in order to cultivate a relationship and to form the "ethical foundation of human life".    I am grateful for the friendships that have deepened through the generous extensions of trust, commitment and kindness of all involved with this project.  EUNOIA, the performance work blossomed because of that generosity.

that "In rhetoric, eunoia is the goodwill a speaker cultivates between himself and his audience, a condition of receptivity."   Thanks to Gerry for stepping up as Voice Director and teaching me how this is possible.  

Denise Fujiwara, classic, during strike in Whitehorse

all photos used by the generosity and photographic power of Phil Strong

in Toronto
November 3-7 at 8pm
November 8 at 3pm
Harbourfront Centre Theatre