DanceWEB 2008 Conversation on Critical Correspondence

photo by Otto Ramstad Here is an interview with DanceWEB 2008 participants Nohemí Montzerrat Contreras, Sarah Beth Percival, Will Rawls, Otto Ramstad, and myself on Movement Research's Critical Correpondence. Please feel free to comment on this interview at Critical Correspondence. You can read it here.

Charles Linehan

My first week at PARTS I took an afternoon workshop with British choreographer Charles Linehan. It primarily consisted of us participating as dancers in his choreographic methods. We first learned a few short phrases – the movement was simple with many small gestures.  From there we had the freedom to cut up the material and improvise with it.  We soon constructed our own material with specific guidance from Linehan. He had a strong emphasis on partnering, with or without contact, particularly with one person bending and folding another body and it's parts. One person can direct and the other follows, but at times the passive partner can become more active. He slowly layers, builds, and splices movement fragments to create a rich palette of action. His vocabulary is clear and mostly develops through his direction and guidance, rather than teaching material. It feels literal and abstract at the same time.

PARTS Introduction

Through my artist residency at Movement Research, I have the unique opportunity to be a guest student at PARTS in Brussels for one month. From what I know, I don't think there has been any guest who has taken class longer than 2 weeks. So this is something new not only for me, but for the school as well. I will be taking classes and workshops with the 4th year students and I have the option to rehearse my own work in the PARTS studios. PARTS has a highly competitive audition process. It is clear they seek diversity - there are rarely more than two people from the same country in a class. For instance, there is only one American in the entire school at the moment (this has not always been the case). It creates a really beautiful community, where different cultures meet on a common ground. It may also be a major reason why the school is so unique.

PARTS is a 2 or 4 year program and only accepts students every other year. So at the moment there are only 2nd year students and 4th year students, which totals about 50 people (around thirty 2nd years and twenty 4th years). The first two years make up the 1st cycle and are for students recently out of high school or with minimal professional experience. The 3rd and 4th years make up the 2nd cycle, which is for selected students from the 1st cycle, as well as outside applicants with a college degree or sufficient professional experience. The 2nd cycle dedicates more time to personal work and research, mainly choreographic. Most of the current 4th year students have been at PARTS all 4 years, in fact, only one student has been at the school for the 2nd cycle. From what I've been told, this is not always the case – In the past there have been more outside applicants accepted into the 2nd cycle.

The days mainly consist of an early morning yoga class, 2 technique classes, and an afternoon workshop. My first week, the technique classes are with Salva Sanchis, a former Rosas dancer, and Diane Madden. Then there is a macrobiotic lunch (which I like, some don't, and others say you just get used to it – it's free for the students). The workshops in the afternoons are either led by an artist about their choreographic practice, or a theory course led by various theoreticians (for the next 4 weeks focusing on Gilles Deleuze). The first week I am taking a workshop with British choreographer Charles Linehan.

It soon hits me that I'm in school – again. In a recent conversation in New York, I was discussing how I'm trying to de-educate myself, meaning filtering and distilling what I have learned in order to shape and develop my own interests. I had gone to university and received my MFA by the age of 24. This left little time for me to really focus on my work outside of an academic context. Nearly 2 and 1/2 years later, I will spend a month educating myself again in this intense context at PARTS.

Yes, it is intense and maybe this is more obvious to me coming from a different country and a different lifestyle. The school is small, occupies a lot of time and is in the outskirts of Brussels. I'm staying near the school and there is really nothing else to do. As a result, the students spend most of their time at the school and with each other. I wonder how isolated they must feel. But in someway it is very special. Since there is nothing else to do, one can really focus on their work. Coming from the over stimulated environment of NYC, this was a shock to my system at first, but I'm now growing to love it.

For a clear history and more information on PARTS please visit

Vincent Dunoyer - Sister

I was recommended to see Sister at the Kaaitheater, choreographed by Vincent Dunoyer, particularly because he will teach a workshop that I will take at PARTS. I went to see the performance on Saturday, November 17th - my first day in Brussels. The Kaaitheater is a beautiful art deco building, with a large yet intimate space (maybe a third or half the size larger than Dance Theater Workshop). As you enter the space there is a small projection, in the lower right hand corner of the upstage wall, of photos of a female dancer in various poses. In the first half of the piece, Dunoyer performs a series of phrases, each connecting to the other. Some actions are large, gestural, or simply small actions in the face. At times his breath is very audible and specific to the movement – this reminds me of how the dancers in Rosas often perform.

Eventually Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (ATDK) comes on to perform, what seems like the same solo, wearing a dress with chunky high heels (I think she likes high heels. I've seen some of her works where the dancers wear high heels. Unless it was Dunoyer's choice, which I highly doubt). ATDK's dancing is clear – her presence dynamic and changes with different phrase material. At certain points ATDK seems to forget the material and asks Dunoyer for help (who sits off to the side of the stage watching). He gestures what comes next or gets up and shows ATDK. I wonder how real or staged her forgetting is.

The entire work is interspersed with blackouts, whiteouts, quick bursts of music, and video clips projected upstage. This first video clip of the piece is of a man repeating a phrase over and over on a small stage. He stops the phrase again and again because it seems like he is forgetting it or is trying to perfect it. The clip that ends the piece is of John Jasperse at Eden's Expressway (or maybe it was Cathy Weiss's studio) teaching and performing a phrase. He eventually waves goodbye to the camera and then Dunoyer gets up and waves goodbye to the audience.

I could not read the program because I happened to grab a Flemish program, but after the performance I found a brochure, which describes the piece:

"For Sister [Dunoyer] asked Fumiyo Ikeda to recall and show poses and movements from past Rosas productions, which the photographer Mirjam Devriendt then captured. He then asked about thirty Rosas dancers (and ex-dancers) to take two photos each and link them by means of a new choreographic phrase. In Sister Dunoyer then thread them all together to make a new choreographic piece which he himself dances first, and then Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. This puts her at both the beginning and the end of this 'dance chain.' "

When Dunoyer puts these phrases together they become a new entity, to the point were I could not tell that the material came from various people. He streamlines the movement, making it very smooth and gracefully executed. Not having read the program notes before, I did not know how the work was made. I'm not sure if it mattered. In some way the process seems more interesting than the work itself – It lead to create a cyclical work, where the original source material came from ATDK, then expanded upon by her dancers and then brought back to ATDK to perform. Is it some sort of ode to ATDK? Or something else?

On writing blurbs

It is difficult to articulate complex choreographic ideas in "80 words or less" or in words period. I have the unattainable desire to encapsulate all that I'm thinking in "80 words or less" – I need to if I want my work marketed properly. Or do I? I want to think of blurbs as a unique challenge, as a way to distill my choreographic ideas and as a way to frame my work. (The ideas of "distilling" and "framing" came up a lot during the Form & Practice Workshop I attended this past summer at the Kitchen, led by Dean Moss & Levi Gonzalez.)

I have trouble finding succinct language to describe by work, but more and more I am becoming drawn to language as a way to clarify my ideas.

Maybe part of my desire to have this blog is to use it as a platform to talk about artistic ideas – not only my own, but ideas in general.

Below is the latest blurb I wrote. I took some risks, including posting it here. I'm interested in feedback, really:

The Shape of Things to Come is a pseudo social commentary that explores the space between sanctioned and unsanctioned performance. Different types of physicality are composited in an attempt to generate unorthodox arrangements of action. Time is used elastically, allowing perception of the dance to shift and evolve. Performers exist as people, architecture, objects & vehicles.

It's funny, you never really know what the dance is going to look like from reading a blurb, or do you?