Saturday, May 16, 2015

Branch Dancing at Temple University's Department of Dance

Kailey McCrudden

Another academic year  is over, bringing individual and group learning processes to an end.  In my teaching, I often use the reflection paper as a tool for arriving at closure.  This semester various students of Corporeal Improvisation chose to write about Branch Dancing.  This year I was  delighted by the students’ articulate descriptions of their experiential discoveries.  With their permission,  I share some below:

“I found that as soon as I stepped into the space with the branches in my hand, my hands became my eyes and my eyes became an extension of the branch. I found this transition and sensation by standing still and feeling the texture and subtle movement within my branch.”  Katie Adkins
Katie Adkins and Leslie Cornish

“I noticed how organic my movement became while dancing with the branch.  I think this is because of the rough and natural shape of the branch. It is almost smooth in spots, but not completely.  This organic quality also resides in the energy the tree produces, even when the branch is broken from it’s roots and seemingly dead, an energy still exists.  This energy, when the practitioner is one hundred percent focused, is transferred naturally through the body.  While dancing I came more in tune with my breath and the steadiness of how I was breathing. I was not labored, even when my movement increased in speed.  I think because I was relying on the branch to initiate my movement, my breath maintained an evenness that stemmed from the intuitiveness of my transitions.”  Blythe Smith

“My first experience with branch dancing was surreal.  I began running my hands up and down the branch, feeling the spiral of the branch, and I felt the spiral in my bones.  Up until that moment, I intellectually understood the spiraling nature of every bone and muscle in my body, but I had never sensed the spiraling in such a fully embodied way.  Each muscle and bone in my body spiraled into the ground, up into the sky, and continued into the spiraling bone of the branch. My newfound awareness of the spirals I possess created a buzzing on every inch of the surface of my body.  This energy on my skin generated an awareness of the ends of my being and the touch of the air around me, but also allowed me to sense my energy radiating past my skin, through every inch of the space.  This juxtaposition of energy up and down, energy in and out of the body, knowing the edges of self and expanding oneself, creates an experience unlike any other.”  Kailey McCrudden

Blythe Smith
 “It felt right to hold onto and give weight to the branches, really allowing them to be a pillar of support.  I was able to drop my weight into pliés without holding back, as I was supported by the branches.  Often I would find myself balancing one branch on my shoulder, back or leg, while the other took residence in my hand, leading a weaving pathway around the balanced branch.  This really centered me and forced me to create a balance in the different directional energy of my body at all times.  Dancing with two branches gave me a 360degree awareness like no other type of practice.”  Blythe Smith

“As I continued about my day after branch dancing I found I maintained a different focus in my technique class and felt more calming spirit for a longer portion of the day. The practice really centered me and let all my unnecessary negative energy leave my body unconsciously.”  Katie Adkins

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Absence and Presence: Elaine Summers and Me

The audience celebrates Elaine Summers' life and work
I spent most of  last Saturday, February 28th at Judson Memorial Church, in NYC, rehearsing for, and then performing, and celebrating in Absence & Presence: Memorial for Elaine Summers. 

Elaine Summers was my teacher.  She had a deep impact on my development as a dancer and artist. My Branch Dance Series has been deeply informed by my training with her and her seminal work with dances in projected environments. 

Elaine Summers

I met Elaine in 1978 when, as a CETA artist with the Cultural Council Foundation, I was assigned to dance in a series of performances she was conducting throughout the city that summer.   The exuberant and loving Tedrian Chizik, a dancer in her company who was to become a close friend and collaborator, urged me to study with her and I joined her next 10 session Kinetic Awareness course in the Fall.  I was hooked. Elaine was enormously knowledgeable, generous, supportive, and patient.  As a teacher, Elaine introduced me to a theory and practice of the lived, improvising, dancing body—detailed, mobile, aware, energized, spirited, connected.  Here, at last was someone who could guide my quest to transform my body and dance.  

Elaine teaching with balls
I continued to study with Elaine for seven years. For about three of the seven years I stayed with her, we moved infinitely slowly, a practice that was both difficult and transformative. Later, I loved her three-hour classes where we would do long, long, warm-ups, meticulously articulating all the parts of the body,  and then, in that heightened state of awareness,  we would go, go, go— exhilarating deliciousness pushing the edges of the possible.  KA practices such Letting the Body Stretch Itself, Bone Hugging, Slow Walk, Slow Rise and Descent, were extraordinarily challenging and thrilling once mastered; they continue to be a source of investigation and great pleasure.

In those years I danced in several of her works— Illuminated Working Man, Chance Dance, Dance for Lots of People, and Solitary Geography. I remember being fascinated with Elaine’s  work with projections.  I was therefore delighted to be invited by Thomas Kortvelyessey to perform in Crows Nest during the memorial.  Although I had never performed the piece, I had seen Dana Reitz perform it several times during a weekend season at Riverside Church in 1978 or 1979.  Nonetheless, as you can see in the video below, the work clearly has impacted my Branch Dance Series. 

I thoroughly enjoyed performing in Crows Nest last Saturday. The energy in the room —300 + celebrating Elaine’s  life and work, Juliette Mapp’s gentle directing,  my fellow dancers— Laura Quattocchi, Alissa Cardone, Gabriella Hiatt, the flickering light of the film on the body, the sounds of the audience performing Pauline Olivero’s Tuning Meditation— lifted the spirit and connected us all to Elaine and each other.     

Thank you Elaine for the many gifts.   Thank you Thomas and Juliette for organizing the event, to Laura, Alissa and Gabriella, for your dance and kindness, Marion Ramirez and Patti Bradshaw for your fierce and gentle friendship.  

Video of Crows Nest performance 2/28/15.  Camera: Long Cheng.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Practice of Peace

 Last week I presented a “new” branch dance piece.   I say “new” because these practices were developed 2 ½ years ago when I was creating SoMoS, and ambitious site specific work in a sprawling North Philadelphia municipal parking lot ( see blog entries from 2012).  

From the first rehearsals of these group dances in Conwell Dance Theater in 2012, I was excited by the shifting landscapes created by the dancers and branches in the clean, contained theatrical space.  

Below is a video of recent rehearsals. The wonderful group of dancers includes  Marion Ramírez, Olive Prince, Melissa Clark, Jung Woong Kim,  Silvana Cardell, Robert Bingham, Colleen Hooper, Elisa Davis,  Katie Jasmin, and Molly Shanahan.   More to come.

                                               The shifting landscape of The Practice of Peace:


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Olive Branches to Monk (Merián Videos)

View from the dance studio at the Liguria Study Center
I have been in residence at the Bogliasco Foundation’s Liguria Study Center in Italy for the past month.  It’s been an enormous privilege to have the time to focus on my creative work.  I’ve been exploring the Ligurian coast, spending a few hours a day in the studio, and I’ve also been making lots of videos. 

The first video project I completed was a videocard for Meredith Monk.   Meredith was my first dance composition teacher at NYU, in 1975.  I loved her and her work and did various intensives with her company over the next few years.  I’ve been singing while dancing in my work ever since that first course.  Pedacito de Cristal, created that year, was the first of many works that incorporated singing.  It was also the first work where I explored drawing from popular Afro-Caribbean dance forms to create concert dance. 

A couple years ago when Meredith was in residence at Bryn Mawr (thank you, Lisa Kraus, for organizing that remarkable week of workshops, film screenings and performances!), I was once again struck by the recognition of how impactful early influences can be.  Even though you move on to other things and forget, they nonetheless become part of you in a very deep, often unconscious, way. While engaging with Meredith's work again after so many years, I recognized the lineage — her work with archetypes, the minimalism, the delicious and superbly satisfying marriage of vocalizing and movement.  I could envision the strong complementarity of her music and the branch dancing. 

Fast forward to last August: Olive Prince and I spent several hours  in  Conwell Dance Theater at Temple University where I teach, exploring branch dancing to Meredith’s music.  In October, at the Liguria Study Center,  I edited the video I took of her performance that day.   Today, I share this with you.

Olive Branch Dances To Monk (Merián Videos)
Because of copyright issues this video is private.  email me if you want to take a look.