|Ann Arbor Dance Works||
The final dress rehearsal and performance process was kind of a rollercoaster for me. My back went out during the last run on Monday night. I’ve never had to work through an injury that quickly in order to perform well. So part of what I learned during this process was efficient self-care. Luckily it worked out, and I was able to really enjoy myself! I loved performing – I felt the energy of the audience on Thursday night, in addition to the final product of the music, really helped me perform better. I had had some trouble figuring out how to perform the movement, in terms of acting and everything else, but I really felt I understood the message and the temper of the piece by the time we finished. I also felt there was a good energy between all the dancers in the cast, especially during the Continental Motors section. I felt that our cooperative energy during that section made it easier for me to be an active watcher during the solos. Maybe it was because I was literally out of my own breath, but I really felt in tune with the breath of my fellow cast-mates for the rest of the piece. The music, especially during the pedestal section at the end, really became rich and dynamic. It was much easier to feel connected (and therefore in unison) with the other dancers, as well as with the message. I even felt more connected to the cloth. All in all, the performance process was a huge learning process for me. I'm also so happy to have worked with this cast! I love you guys!
This season (my first!) with AADW has been quite a windy ride! Having two and a half hour rehearsals every day really gave us the chance to explore our ideas without feeling too bound to any one thing. The most obvious example of this was the What is Wind section of the piece; even the day of the second preview we were playing with it. Personally, I have never had the opportunity to work with such talented dancers that are able to remember these kinds of last minute alterations, so it was a treat for me and also a challenge. I believe that as an artist I have been craving this sort of excitement for a long time. I love when everything feels brand new on the stage; I feel like I have something to discover right in front of the audience. My entry is about my experience/mental process throughout the piece.
From the beginning of the piece, I actually have to remember to stay calm. Although it was choreographed to be sort of a windy chaos, I usually had too much excited energy to get onstage and had to channel it by cooling down (If I didn’t, I usually ran into one of those podiums. Or better yet, a person.). Once set into the clump and traveling back into the time of the factory, I really tried to become that worker. My focus was direct and down-to-business. That is, at least until the factory shut down. I was laid off second to last, and my stepped slowed not necessarily because I was out of a job, but because I was leaving behind a part of me that I knew would never be revived. As I took off my uniform for the last time, I memorized the feeling of the material between my fingertips and the slightly grating pull of the zipper. However, it was time to move on now, and a new energy fills me here. I am grounded yet light as air, and a simple exhale is enough to propel me through the space to pick up every other dancer in the room. Into the Wind is all about feeling the rhythms of my own breathing and connecting it to the others in my trio, Maddie and Nola. I also pay attention to the force coming from my partner, Amy. Coming out of this section, I become entranced by Nola and her sometimes quirky breath movements. I allow my own body to empathize with hers until my breath says it’s time to go. Now my solo begins on the journey of the diagonal, my breath usually suspending me into turns and I soon end up downstage. Honestly, I couldn’t really tell you what I am thinking of here. I suppose I’m not. I am seriously led by the air I am taking in and expelling. Usually it wants to do something crazy that is never premeditated. I just allow. What is Wind is a section I am still trying to understand my focus for; I’ll keep exploring and get back to you in August! The tornado makes me feel broken, but I think that needs some more exploration as well. The new “breath duets” section feels like it needs some kind of initial motivation for me that I haven’t quite found yet, but once Nola and I are dancing in a duet I feel like I have a purpose again. I kind of think we ended up aggressively playing instead of attacking? We could work on it, but I actually like the dynamic as is. The rolling of the platforms is interesting because mostly what’s in my mind at that point is “What count am I on?” but I also have to remember to look like I’m physically struggling, which paradoxically is difficult. The last section on top of the pedestals is all about beauty!...and trying not to get tangled in the fabric...or falling off the thing...or messing up the counts (because alas, I got tangled in my fabric...). In performance I actually did a fair job of not messing up, but all these things were in my head whilst I simultaneously tried to convince the audience that I was a “beautiful vertical in the landscape.”
Reflections on the preview performance of Into the Wind
The Ann Arbor preview performances of Into the Wind have come and gone, but in my mind this was only the beginning. It will be exciting to see how the piece evolves once we arrive in Muskegon in August. Even during the final rehearsals for the preview performance, the work continued to change as the final elements came together. In particular, the music collaboration by David Biedenbender and Robert Alexander, with percussion by Chris Sies, pushed me as a performer to raise the level of my performance to match the energy and liveliness of the sound score. One of my favorite moments in the work and one in which I felt I the most connected to the music was the section in which each of us dancers performed a ‘breath solo.’ The impetus for our movement during the breath solos was the wind we created with our inhales and exhales. During my solo I tried to challenge myself to think of the many ways in which other creatures breathe; sometimes I was the rustle in a tree, a newspaper blown by the wind, or the breath of a horse. Once the set music was added, it was at first difficult to be as free with the movement and the breath. With Professor Jessica Fogel’s direction, however, during one of our rehearsals the musicians began to play off of our movement, and as a result we as dancers could respond back and forth with the sounds the musicians produced. For me the music became an important part of the conversation between my breath and my body.
This solo was only one various sections throughout the work. For each section, the focus and character had to be constantly in flux—which made for an exiting internal narrative. Sometimes the wind propelled me, at other times the wind/breath reacted within and through me, and sometimes I created wind that made the other dancers move. By the end of the work, I felt as if we, the whole ensemble of dancers, became the wind itself.
As a performer and artist, this work was an incredible opportunity to see how science, art, music, dance, and environmental stewardship can live in the same space and inform each other. As an MFA dance candidate, environmental art is at the heart of my interests. The performance and audience dialogue brought me back to my earlier questions: What will the audience learn? What feedback will they provide? What will they question? And what will we (the dancers/artists/collaborators) learn from them? In a dance work that seeks to create dialogue for a particular issue (in this case wind energy and manufacturing in Muskegon), now I see the importance of the audience feedback in the preview performance before the full-scale work premieres on site. Some of the audience members, wanted to see more of the controversy behind the wind turbines debate while others saw the celebration of wind as very effective. As a form of education, the dance performance was informative and inspiring. It tells the story of the site, what used to be and what could be. It also explains the incredible natural forces that make wind happen in our planet. Maybe the controversies behind the wind energy debate were not as explicit in the dance some people would have liked, but I think that the dance accomplished what was intended: to initiate a fruitful and informed dialogue about the issue. Maybe the controversial discussions do not need to live so obviously in the dance. Maybe these discussions will happen no matter what the dance is. What matters is that these discussions happen in a way that is intelligent and productive.
Last week Jessica Fogel took the cast of Into the Wind to see the site for our August performances in Muskegon. This was a really engaging and productive visit for all of us--essential for our creative process and eventual performance. Between the Michigan Alternative & Renewable Energy Center (MAREC) and an old, soon-to-be-closed coal power plant is where our dance will happen. To see the site helped me to more fully understand the land and community, and it also helped me to begin the process of piecing together the ideas we have been exploring in rehearsal. This land has a history. There have been many changes--some wanted and some unexpected. If this land evolves and transitions from one industry (coal) to another (wind/renewable energy), the community of Muskegon will experience another change. Hopefully for the better.
Through the rehearsal process, I have learned so much about the richness and importance of this one strip of land, and I am curious to find out what the audience members will take away from the dance. What will they learn? What will they discover? And what will we (the dancers/artists/collaborators) learn from them?
Can a wind turbine become a beautiful part of a landscape? (Journal entry by Patty Solorzano from trip to Muskegon).
Over the last two years at the University of Michigan as an MFA candidate, I have had many opportunities to interact with Jessica Fogel in the classroom as well as in my own dance making process as she so generously took on the role of my thesis committee chair. Fogel’s tenacity in seeking out relevant information and talented collaborators in order to make educated decisions about how and what to include in the creative process is just one of the many reasons I am thrilled to have the opportunity to dance for her in the Into the Wind project. The hours of research, study and conversation make a fruitful base from which to grow many different ideas. Currently, in the rehearsal process, we have been working with three main topics. First, using our bodies to think through the ways wind moves across the earth and its force on objects in space. Second, we are thinking and dancing out ideas surrounding multiple perspectives about the positive and negative effects (on people and place) of erecting the gigantic wind turbine structures. Finally, we are imagining and re-imagining what the landscape of the performance site has been and what it could be. These are really big ideas to embody. Finding ways to transition between them and create a cohesive dance work is an engaging and challenging experience.
This is my second season with Ann Arbor Dance Works, but the first as a University of Michigan graduate student, and so far it has been a really exiting and enriching process to have been involved with this project early on. Last fall, Jessica brought me in to help her with this project because of my interest in promoting environmental stewardship through dance. Now that rehearsals are in full swing, it has been a pleasure to work in the studio and see how all the ideas that Jessica has shared with me throughout the year come to life. In addition, it has been great to meet all the collaborators in this project. Their expertise, whether scientific or artistic, will no doubt guide and inform the work we do in the dance studio.
On Friday, May 9th collaborator Sara Mills, Doctoral Student, University of Michigan Urban and Regional Planning, paid us a visit during rehearsals to share some of the research she has been doing throughout Michigan’s communities in relation to wind energy.
Something that really struck me was the fact that while most people are in favor of wind energy, the truth is that a large percentage of people (80%) live in cities where a wind turbine is unlikely to affect their landscape. It is the rural communities that will have to deal with having turbines in their properties. Therefore, it is incredibly important to find out how and why would these communities want or not want to have wind energy developers put up those massive turbines on their land. An understanding of the community and the relationships between neighbors is key because a landscape belongs to the community.
Meanwhile in rehearsals, it’s been interesting to explore various ideas involving wind within the body. What is wind? How is wind created? How can we create wind (breath) with our bodies? How can we figuratively become wind and thereby understand it? Perhaps by understanding the relationship between humans and our ability to harness our breath as a source of movement we can understand the relationship between communities and the ability to harness wind as a source of energy.
Note: For Sara Mills’ bio, please click on the ‘collaborators’ tab under ‘2014 Season: Into the Wind.’
As this is my first season with Ann Arbor Dance Works, I really didn’t know what to expect coming in. I also joined the dance program a semester late, so I didn’t even get to take Composition 1 with Jessica. I really love the calligraphic choreography. It naturally lends to sweeping motions as you picture the huge letters you’re writing in the air, and it makes the choreography very easy to remember – if you know the words you’re writing, you know the choreography! I’ve also been excited to learn more about the controversy surrounding wind energy. Jessica has asked us to read and watch several articles and videos on the topic, and I feel it’s really enriched the rehearsal process. One of my favorite articles that we read is from the New Yorks Times. What I took away most from the article is that while many object to the very development of wind farms because of their threat to birds and bats, the threat can be diminished very simply by raising the speed of wind turbines so that flying animals will be less likely to fly near the turbines (in order to avoid the wind speed). I also especially liked the article in Detroit News that Jessica asked us to read. I wasn’t previously aware that wind turbines caused sound pollution. It also reminded me that the real-world outcomes of these large-scale, moral, and philosophical questions about energy and the environment always come down to policy-making, and more often than not, local policy-making. I’d like to end this post by outlining the individual goals in this project that I’ve set for myself. First, I’d like to work on my partnering – I feel I need to be better at relating physically with those I’m dancing with. Second, I’d like to discover how it feels to embody the imagery and non-physical concepts we’ve been talking in a tangible, real way. I want to really feel the wind inside me as opposed to imagining it there. I’m really excited about how much I’ll learn from Jessica and the other dancers in the project this year!
Last month, Jessica Fogel hosted a collaborators meeting at her lovely home. Much was shared there including plans for the structure of the site-specific dance that will take place in Muskegon in August. In the words of Jessica Fogel: “Central sections of the dance will embody abstract ideas about the invisible forces of wind--how they act upon us and shape us, and alternatively, how we can act upon/with wind to harness its power. The idea of invisible forces as metaphor runs through the performance as well: tugs of war in the community about the development of the site, traces of past inhabitants, political and economic forces acting upon factions in the wind energy debates.” From here many more questions and ideas were discussed, and we learned about the various contributions of the collaborators—music, poetry, art, science and community.
At the meeting, the collaborators were treated to a special preview of a brief solo Fogel choreographed for Robin Wilson that will be a part of the performance. The solo is inspired by a painting by Huey Lee-Smith entitled Après Midi, owned by the Muskegon Museum of Art. Fogel explained that the painting, depicting a female figure in a windy, industrial beach setting, is reminiscent of the performance site along Muskegon Lake.
Now after much musing, thinking and planning, Jessica Fogel and dancers have dived right into rehearsals as of last Tuesday! More updates and posts will come soon from all the dancers. Stay tuned!