Monday, May 4, 2015

Embracing Your Past

It has taken me a long time to really understand that my past is just a tool at my disposal. I have felt, and often still feel, that it defines and confines me to a specific genre - a genre that I was never perfect for, and I later tried to move away from.

But every time you move away from something, you realize what parts of the thing you left really are you. You can change in many ways, and learn new things....but they are only adding to the platter. It is actually quite difficult to loose such strongly imprinted patterns, such as years and years of ballet. This may hold you back from learning new techniques at first, with their different coordination and sense of gravity, but over time you will become immersed in new worlds. The cool part is when you start to mix them - the old and the new. Not superficially, but on a fast-switching mechanical level that makes it seem like one seamless style.

I speak here of ballet / gaga vs. floorwork / breakdance. I am not a master of the second form, but my understanding of it has grown greatly over the past three years. Years I spent training POST University, mind you. That's right: I couldn't find what I was looking for in any of my long years of education in the USA...which might be the home of break dance?...(irony intended...)

A pitch to bring schools up-to-date:   Stepping into the Present

I often critique schools for being too narrow, "old-school," or stylized in their specific way. In many ways, this is inevitable and unavoidable. But as one Finnish critic wrote when critiquing that Finnish dance education has become too conceptual, he made point that conceptual is fine, but you should have the OPTION to do other things. And then it is even more powerful when you choose NOT to do them.

This is the point that I would like to make. That approaches to movement in different techniques are very, very different. No one is better than the next. But in this increasingly competitive field, one is expected to be able to do almost anything. And: most of us want to, don't we? Its just fun! Therefore, in any education system, or personal training, it is necessary to find these different technical worlds in a deep understanding, so that later your body has a wider range of possibilities to draw from.

Education systems are often behind the demands of the current professional field. So if you are a dance school director, I would look outside of your walls, and see what your students truly need. The job market you left no longer exists, except as a few preserved, fossilized companies who were lucky to maintain their funding. The style has changed, and the demands on the body and spirit have changed. A "traditional technical foundation" is no longer enough. New traditions have been and are being created right under your very nose.

This is a strong sting to end this post with, but it will be a common theme in articles to come, and is one I strongly believe in.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Blog Re-Start 2015

Its time to re-invigorate this blog.

Since the post-university European travel that started the blog four years ago, I freelanced with very talented and diverse artists in Seattle. As of September 2014, I entered a postgraduate program called SEAD Bodhi Project in Salzburg, Austria. I have been here for the past eight months, creating work with international emerging choreographers. Through the program I have a year visa to study in Europe, tour the works we create, and go to auditions when I can. And most importantly: be surrounded by an international cast of characters that teach and challenge me daily.

I have long had many thoughts about contemporary dance, and dance education. They are constantly shifting, but they remain gathered around a central pulse that always brings me back to Europe. I don't think all the answers are here. But I do think there is a wealth of knowledge and differing perspectives on life and performance that should have a more fluid discourse with their American counterparts. There are many cultural, political, and historical reasons that I'm sure contribute to what I call this "Atlantic Divide." But I am not an ethnographer or anthropologist, and in this blog I will not attempt to be. I will simply offer my experiences, and what they made me think and feel as an American dancer living and working overseas.

In the end, there is no one style, context, or education system that is perfect. Was it not Martha Graham that said being and artist is actually that divine dissatisfaction that drives us forward?

I am led by this dissatisfaction. And I am led to write about it.

I think its about time I start.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hamburg, Sweden, Home....A 2011 Throw-Back from 2015

The last blog post from the trip, which I drafted likely in June/July of 2011...

"I have been back in Seattle for a month now. Hopefully I will remember all the details of the last leg of my trip as they fade. The trip feels almost like a dream, and yet I would not find it strange to wake up in Berlin or Amsterdam or Sweden the next morning. Strange how time is.

"In Hamburg I stayed with my exchange student Jasmin's friend Lea and her family. Lea was incredibly gracious and took very good care of me, despite the cutting into her homework and sleep schedule. They live literally in a village (I did not believe Jasmin when she told me she was from a village). Nutsen (u with two dots) was the name of Lea's village, Jasmin lives in another, and their other friend Laura lives in yet another! The set up is somewhat like our suburbs, but without the centralized, "self sufficient" aspect and more scattered about the countryside. Each village is mostly just houses, with a few horse/cow barns and maybe a pub (yes, that's in on the business end: a pub). Lea's village central store had gone out of business and the had to drive to the slightly large village for all their shopping needs. All the villages are about the size of our small neighborhoods, each house having a decent sized yard but still close to its nrighbors. They are surrounded by farmland, or perhaps I should say the farmland is dotted with villages connected by the train and roadways. If you're not in a hurry (or you're under 17), you can take the train, but for shopping or hanging out the car is preferred. All the young people there seem to long for the city life, but the city isn't too far away (30 min drive, 45-hr train) and I liked the country get away. My exchange student Jasmin agrees with me.

"Over the three lovely days I stayed with Lea's family, I experienced Hamburg on my own, visited Jasmin's family, went to a German disco (in which I witnessed my first glass box "smoking area"...of death), and did some more sight-seeing with Lea and her friend. In my time alone in Hamburg, I walked around the shopping part of Hamburg on my own, and bought a German copy of Rainer Maria Rilke's "letters to a Young Poet" in German, its original language. (This is very advanced, though, so I doubt I'll learn much German from in - I just LOVE the book, any artist MUST read it! (: ) Talked to an old German man in the antique shop about politics, his view on the world etc. 
*note: I later gave this book to my German-speaking American friend at the gym in 2013 as a present. (; Brian, I think you can do more with this than I...and I was happy to give it.

"Visiting Jasmin's parents felt really nice. Lea, Laura and I went to their family house for lunch. Her dad is Italian and we managed to speak to each other in Spanish (I couldn't understand any Italian, but his Spanish is quite good). Her mom I spoke less to because of the language barrier, but her English is better than she lets on. Jasmin looks so much like her! (: We had pizza and posed for some nice group pictures for Jasmin to have later. That evening we went to a new German disco, which was just like any disco, lots of German music etc. Only one room, though - they said normally there are more, and they weren't super excited by the venue. The next day was my tour of Hamburg and I honestly can't remember any of the names of places we went!!! (: Saw lots of Bachelorette parties, though, in this one district with many sex shows/shops etc. Pretty funny, the bride always obvious among the themed groups being the craziest dressed of them all. But they are ALL crazily dressed, and all making lots of noise. Haven't seen anything like it in Seattle! (:

Then it was off to Sweden. I don't remember much about my trip there...except the surprise that the train actually gets on the ferry! For fourty minutes I got to relax and stretch in the open air. Their ferries are like shopping malls, though, and since the dividing lines between countries are in the middle of the water, some things are cheaper depending on if you buy them at the beginning or end of your trip. Pretty silly. Johan (my mom's coworker) met me at the station in Lund, a town just outside Malmo, Sweden. His single-bedroom apartment is very spacious for a thirty year old! Or so I told him. He's all set up to be a professor, which he finds strange. We had a great time together, cooking meals and walking around the town. The university there is spread among the town so you don't know what's what. We got stuck in a hale storm on the tour - ouch! Golf ball sized, or so it seemed. He even put up with my skype-break-up emotions very well (the boyfriend and I are fine now, though, if you are wondering). It was somewhat of an emotion-driven weekend, with lots of eating good Swedish food and candy (I was eating Daimes pretty much constantly). We even had Swedish meatballs the last night I was there! yum...

I stopped in Lund to dance with a company "Skanes Dance Theatre" (an "o" over the a, pronounced "sconya") located in Malmo. Its only about a twenty minute bus ride there. Malmo is a lovely city also, but I will talk mostly about my dancing experience. Skanes was the most pampered company I'd seen so far. They have a massage room and masseuse, weight room, full kitchen, separate dressing rooms and delux showers, two full studios, and even a small theatre. MY dressing room (the one for guest groups) was gigantic, and there were two of them (male, female) located up a spiral staircase. That being said, the company was pretty good with a mix of different training, some more ballet some more "contemporary" (i.e. release and contact stuff). They ranged somewhat in level...."


And that's where I stopped writing this entry, just under four years ago. I thought I might as well publish it, just to have this portion of the blog "complete." What I didn't get to was that after Skänes, I went on to Gothenburg Ballet (GöteborgsOperans Danskompani), took one ballet class with the amazing group of dancers, which I felt very competent and happy inside of. One of of them really inspired me, as he clearly had what I might have called at that time, the "magical European element" of smooth floorwork/breaking technique that he mixed with his ballet, unlike the other clearly classically trained dancers. (This says something about the direction I later took with my work in Seattle). After class, I proceeded to receive false hope that I had potential for this kind of work. The rehearsal director told me I had "very nice musicality and technique," which was encouraging, but in retrospect he did not offer a private audition, only advised me to attend their general audition when I could. It was exciting because the first complement in two months I had received from a high level administrator at any company class....but no matter what people say to you, it doesn't mean it is your destiny. You have to know what you want, and what you are (and are not) meant to do, inside of yourself. I was immediately cut at their audition two years later. And in a similar vein, I was recently told I was "clearly not a classical dancer, but we like how you move" at a German agency audition. So, I guess I've made I big transition in my style and technique since this first European Adventure, which I embarked on just about four years ago. I hope to continue writing about my experiences here, of which I've had many in the last years, and are now continuing in the form of Postgraduate Company at a School in Salzbrug called SEAD (Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance).

In family news, I should mention I went to Stockholm after Göteboge and enjoyed dinners, walks, and coffee with members of my Swedish family there. I dont think I did much but explore the city there...I was a bit depressed and ready do go home. But I have very fond memories of Linnea (my Swedish Grandmother), eating out with her and my first time sleeping at her beautiful old flat; walking the little dog in the woods with Elin; and eating delicious but way too expensive salads/coffee with Agnes. We recently went for Christmas, and two summers before on a family trip, so I feel like I've seen a lot of this city. More on that later. For now: publish!!