all the difference

Sometimes grad school makes you feel inside out and upside down. Questioning yourself, your experiences, your motivations, your goals, your honesty with yourself. How much you want to do this thing, be on this particular road. But, I mean, do you really have any other options at this point – what else can you do? (Ok, ok the “you” is definitely “me.”)

I’m thinking about that Robert Frost poem. You know the one. I’m sure you read it in high school or have seen quotes emblazoned on glass-is-half-full mugs.

“The Road Not Taken” – Robert Frost

Ok I don’t quite agree with the poem being “America’s most widely misread, literary sensation,” thus attributing meaning-making to Frost’s intent alone. Oh no, not the authorship debate again. But I really enjoy this animation of the poem.

The classic American poem is alternately interpreted as a championing of individualism OR an unsettling reflection on choice-making. That’s because “all the difference” is so… unpindownable. “All the difference” can be delightful or dreary depending upon your intonation, mood, blood sugar.

What’s the difference?

In arithmetic “difference” is the distance between two numbers on a number line. Distance (as opposed to displacement) is mathematically “ignorant of direction.” How appropriate here, as the narrator, (like any person making a choice) at the moment of decision is ignorant of the directions either road will have taken beyond the narrator’s immediate view.  Since these potential roads are abstract, they are quantities like x and y, we don’t know if either is of greater or lesser value, nor in which order to subtract them. Which one is the subtrahend? Which the minuend? We might set up the general equation for difference as |𝑥𝑦|=|𝑦𝑥|, the absolute value, or positive difference, or just distance between two (real) numbers.

 So back to questioning. Every choice you make and have made. Positive? Negative? Potentially negative but you’re making it positive by looking at what you deem the “absolute value” of what you’ve done? Neither?

That’s the point of a graduate program in the arts ( a life in the arts?) maybe, but how easily I feel lost-ish.

I’m encountering questions around whether I am enough of an artist -with a capital A- to be here. And annoyed with the “obnoxiously self-indulgent existential crisis” again. MFA. Master of Fine Arts. But who is ever a Master? (At least while they’re alive). And the few living people touted as “Masters” – are they happy?

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Happiness. 

In Professor Jennifer Schlueter’s Multidisciplinary Seminar I get to talk to MFA students in other departments. People who do other things. People who write novels and short stories. People who sculpt and paint. People who write poems. People who light stages. People who make hard to label time-based-art, animation, and interactive installations.

We’ve been tangentially approaching the loaded “why?” question, while discussing Andrew Simonet’s Making Your Life as An Artist. A zinger from the text:

Distinguish between artistic brilliance and life brilliance. OR: Never talk to a person about happiness who has less of it than you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the model artists, the masters, we discuss in dance history. The “greats,” the “written- abouts.” The capital R Royals, capital M Moderns, Capital P Postmoderns, the purposefully-lowercase-all-the-time postmoderns. Were they people? Were they happy? Were they horrible to work with? We don’t get to that part usually. (Though the scuttlebutt is invariably the latter).

I think about the professionals who I’ve been instantly & keenly aware of my distaste for. (You might know the type. The “big” name who you’ve met at least fifteen times and on the sixteenth they introduce themselves with their schtick and salesman handshake as if it’s your first meeting). And reflecting upon the very different people to whom I gravitate.

I know I’d rather have life-brilliance than art-brilliance.

detour? distraction? exactly the right place?

Right now I’m taking an advanced undergraduate anatomy course as a prerequisite for a graduate course. It “doesn’t count” for me and takes up five full credits. And I’m relishing it in several ways.

O-H-I-O. The cover image for every slide set of Anatomy 3300.

At the start of this term I was very worried (of course didn’t say so here – I was busy keeping up art-appearances) about my excitement differential between non-dance and dance courses, (particularly in regards to Anatomy). Worried that I might be regretting path choices from that point in the yellow wood. (The yellow wood being the state of being nineteen years old and choosing thespian-tinged wonderfully exciting fields of study at the University at Buffalo, and maybe every job “choice” since. And all the other yellow woods.)

Worried that I might consider re-routing. Worried that if I decide to do so that would mean I’m a sham or a failure.

But at the moment, other than the immense satisfaction of deepening real-life practical content knowledge, I’m finding the way of learning in this class a welcome shift. Read, look, touch, memorize – input input input, from read, watch, analyze, synthesize – output, output, output.

It’s refreshing, like I’m filling an empty well.

(I’m also observing all the disturbing ways teachers can sabotage curiosity in big assessment-based lecture classes. But that’s another post!)

Emotional aside – emotional centering

The first cadaver lab day, hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting. After all, I have seen and worked with prosections of cadaveric material before.  (What a strangely clinical way to talk about human remains).  The night before the first lab I had a discussion with a good friend and colleague from home, who was losing a parent, making them comfortable at home, and dealing with the emotional trauma of caring for the dying.

The fact of the human tissue in front of me, the full cadavers – with gender, age, and cause of death listed on the wall of the lab – in the context of that reverberating conversation, struck directly at the very liminal space, the fine line between “person” and “human tissue.”  I was so moved.  That evening I cried for a good while, sitting at my kitchen table. Not out of fear or sadness, but a fullness of emotion around the whole idea of life and how we live it. And considering the body, as a friend recently put it so eloquently, as “the great equalizer.”

So what I’m getting at…I think

I’m excited to keep digging at the powerful things. Right now making dances for the sake of it just doesn’t do it for me. Cue crisis? Maybe, maybe not.

I’m taking a step at a time, seeing how way leads on to way. Patiently filling my curiosity buckets. Living life creatively. Balloons in my living room, flashcards on the floor.

I’m going to trust that following the things that make life brilliant will make my creative experiences much more satisfying than trying to keep up appearances of being good at art-making.

And way will lead on to interesting way.

Though I sometimes I’m scared and wish I had a definite map. With Numbers. And Directions.

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What you value

Hey you! Did you VOTE? It’s election Day.  Polls are open. Get there.  Vote what you value.

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(My new state of residence state seems to be under a somewhat endearing delusion that it actually resembles a heart – I think it’s closer to the anatomical heart than the Valentine’s one – but we get it…)

On the note of reflecting upon what matters to you…

A short study in Final Cut, a “how to edit” exercise using found dance footage, and seeing Silas Reiner’s and Rashaun Mitchell’s Tesseract in the same day, brought up some interesting aesthetic value questions for me.

Here’s my study, all original choreography is by Thomas Hauert Zoo Company, musical choice and video edits are mine – (totally unauthorized by them.)

I looked at several short clips of movement, and listened to the suggested tracks, but was hearing something else. Then, in that lovely uninhibited beginner fashion, just started juxtaposing things that seemed right. When a class full of students, sharing the same serious source material broke into sly smiles and laughter I loved it.  THAT! An actual connection between the audience and the work. That’s why we (I?) do this art-making thing. Prying open opportunities for connection.

On that same day, Tesseract was on at the Wexner. A Charles Atlas 3-D dance film followed by a live-feed projection enhanced dance performance choreographed by Reiner and Mitchell. I could appreciate the tension between mediated and physical bodies both in overarching structure of the evening, and within each half. Architecture as an overarching theme.  Strong physicality. Intricate patterns. Clear design choices. Beautiful lines. Interesting geometries. Strong technical dancing.  Though I wouldn’t say I enjoyed myself in the audience.

You know when you leave a show and you’re asked “Did you like it?” and your go-to response is “I don’t think it matters”?

I’d like to leave the theatre invigorated occasionally. Sometimes I like to really LIKE dance. I want to say: “ I felt something. I loved it let me buy a ticket to come back tomorrow.” (Not that most dance performances last that long).  And yet I don’t want to reduce dance/ art/theatrical experiences to escapist entertainment only.  That can be frustrating and alienating in a different way.  I’ve done that kind of work too – also not satisfying.

What is that elusive line- the right mix of virtuosities of physicality, intellect, and emotion that make a performance experience satisfying – and not just rigorous intellectual exercise -(or perhaps a combination encompassing both)?

 

They said it man…

 

Dancing the Great Arc

 

( photos: Whitney Browne)

In a tiny corner of west midtown Manhattan, (when they say between 10th and 11th they really mean corner of 11th) is a snug little shoebox, the Donaghy Theatre at the Irish Arts Center,  where I joined a pretty awesome  team of artists last weekend.

On Oct 26 & 27, I had the chance to sneak back to the city and make a cameo appearance in Darrah Carr Dance‘s new work Dancing the Great Arc. 

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Performing “For the Auroch”

Carr’s style “ModERIN,” is a playful combination of American modern dance and Irish dance vocabularies and aesthetics.  This sensibility was well paired with the oeuvre of her collaborators Dana Lyn and Kyle Sana, whose album, The Great Arc, the company illustrated over the course of the evening. Lyn and Sana take “trad” tunes into new sonic environments, punctuating with unusual pauses, condensing and expanding rhythms, and in this case, layering subtle natural references- frogs, crickets, mechanical sounds.  The evening followed their album in two parts, the constellations, dedicated to extinct animals, and the ark dedicated to endangered species. These were represented in the performance by subtle projection design by Dave Hannon, based upon drawings by Dana Lyn.

The pieces subtly referenced natural images, but allowed the movement and music to exist without imposing a narrative or character.

Some standout moments:

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Alexandra Williamson’s strong and elegant homage to the Stegosaurus, with angular jumps and Irish inflected “classic Modern” moments,  – took my breath away.

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Michelle Esch’s and Trent Kowalik’s rhythmic play between tap and Irish rhythms, while sliding through space with a contemporary abandon, winked at the Blue-tailed Skink.

 

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Jonathan Matthews‘ expressionistic “accidental sound” creation, exploring taps on feet hands, and knees – on floor and walls, dedicated to the Sumatran Orangutan.

 

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Melissa Padham Maass, with characteristically masterful lines, poignantly, gracefully, obliquely penned a letter to the Yangtze Finless Porpoise.

 

p-16Trent Kowalik, slowly and methodically enunciates a Jig rhythm with his feet, gradually  building sliding, scraping and multilayered percussion, decelerating and returning to a meditative rhythm, as if contemplating time passing, honoring the Great Auk.

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New Company member Kendal Griffler shines in highly complex foot patterns and elegant partnering in “For the Trilobites.”

 

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In a subtle nod to conservation, four dancers, Matthews, Kowalik, Esch, and Carr seated at the edge of the stage make music out of refuse. They accompany Lyn and Sana with a percussive improvisation using plastic bottles, gravel, junk metal, and plastic bins.

 

Reconnecting with these remarkable individuals again  highlighted the immense effort it takes to maintain an artistic practice ( anywhere, but in NYC specifically).  The catching up elicited remarkable tidbits: how many applications have you completed in the past few weeks? how many colleges are you working at right now?, and you’re balancing how many clients plus teaching gigs,and you manage to take your children to school? Etc.

I feel an overwhelming  sense of gratitude to these individuals and our broader creative community for continued dedication to generous creative practice despite all the reasons not to.

And to all of the individual audience members who came to share in the experience, without whom the work really doesn’t exist.

*Check out our mention in the Irish Echo – highlighting solos by yours truly and Jonathan Matthews!

NY Visit: FAMI 2- Head, Neck and Spine & Darrah Carr Dance visit, and show tonight, and…

 

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Mr. Bones, Kinected

Over last weekend, Oct 20-21, with the support of a Kinected Work-Study Scholarship and the OSU Dance Semester Funding Initiative, I attended FAMI 2: Functional Anatomy for Movement and Injuries 2 at Kinected Pilates Center in New York City.
FAMI 2 is a follow up to FAMI, a four-day anatomy workshop held at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai annually in June. Geared towards movement educators FAMI dives into structure, function, and pathology of major body regions and incorporates a gross anatomy lab component encountering prosections of each region.

(Seeing and touching the iliopsoas is much more effective than visualizing it – or trying to spell it.)

FAMI 2 focuses on a specific body region, topics rotating each year, with a deeper focus on assessment and programming for common dysfunctions of that region. This workshop’s focus was the head and neck.

Dr. Jeffrey Laitman, with typical candor and humor described important overall anatomical and evolutionary characteristics of the head and neck region, with specific attention to importance of vocal  chords in maintaining intra-abdominal pressure and function of the inner ear in relation to balance and coordination. You know, listen to how your clients/students/patients are speaking before working their glutes.  Funny. And important. A Dr. Laitman mantra : “the body never forgets and it never forgives.” That doesn’t mean to lament once injury occurs, but to choose wisely how to treat your body to cultivate longevity and optimal function – we only have one body after all.

(Seeing and touching the iliopsoas is much more effective than visualizing it – or trying to spell it.)

Dr. Jeffrey Laitman, with typical candor and humor described important overall anatomical and evolutionary characteristics of the head and neck region, with specific attention to importance of vocal  chords in maintaining intra-abdominal pressure and function of the inner ear in relation to balance and coordination. You know, listen to how your clients/students/patients are speaking before working their glutes.  Funny. And important. A Dr. Laitman mantra : “the body never forgets and it never forgives.” That doesn’t mean to lament once injury occurs, but to choose wisely how to treat your body to cultivate longevity and optimal function – we only have one body after all.

Some activities with questionable musculoskeletal impact, according to Dr. Laitman and most human bodies…

Eliot Fishbein, FMPT discussed rehabilitative perspectives for the region, Dr. Amanda Walsh, orthopedic resident at Icahn,  gave clinical insight into injuries such as concussion and whiplash, and Kinected Director Matt McCullogh demonstrated several practical exercises geared toward balancing stability and mobility of cervical spine: many can be done on the go or at the office, others were variations on classic Pilates equipment exercises. Foci of exercises were balancing thoracic  and lumbar mobility and stability in conversation with the cervical spine, activation of posterior spinal muscle chains, oblique strengthening, and building strength in deep stabilizing endurance muscles like Longus Colli, to counter the tension and pull of superficial muscles like SCM.

Matt McCullogh and amazing client Jim demonstrating lateral flexion, thoracic flexion with posterior chain activation, and a reformer knee flexion exercise with theraband for maintaining posterior chain activation. Notice how  in the center photo by gently maintaining pressure into the theraband while nodding and curling , Jim can avoid leading with his head and achieve deeper flexion in his thoracic spine.

Some consistent takeways – respect healing time, proximalize symptoms, restore balanced functional movement, and consider the whole body in conversation.  Also, you never know the impact you have on others. Keep learning; keep sharing.

Bonus Rehearsal Snippet:

Enroute to the airport post workshop last Sunday I had the privilege to drop in to rehearsal with Darrah Carr Dance and musicians Dana Lyn and Kyle Sana in advance of our performance “Dancing the Great Arc”  10/26 & 10/27 (today and tomorrow!) at the NYC Irish Arts Center. I’ve worked with Carr since 2011,  and walking into the space, I immediately felt the warmth of this particular dance family.

Jonathan Matthews and Melissa Padham Maass, in rehearsal.

By the Way… We made the NY TIMES Dance Picks for this Weekend!

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A note from 14th street.

I do not miss the atmosphere of the subway at 8 am, 5 pm, or it seems the 1 train at any time of day…

 

T.A.N.G.O.

“T-A-N-G-O”

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photo: Selasy Atty, Tango OSU

I remember saying the letters aloud as we moved through: “step step step side together” in Tom Ralabate’s Social Dance course at SUNY Buffalo (not so very long ago was it?) I was leading my partner -women were mostly partnered up, as  dance dept. demographics dictate.  We performed a routine for class and that was the end of my tango life – until a few weeks ago!

During my first week at OSU, at one of the every-organization-on-campus-has-a-table- and-free-stuff  events -after finding out how to go to the dentist – I saw two couples tango dancing by a table across the way.  Immediately I went over and introduced myself.

  OSU Argentine Tango Club meets every Friday for lessons and practica and once a month hosts a milonga party. Friday was my third tango event, a milonga with live music by Resaca Duo de Tango. It had been a few weeks since I’d practiced – I felt rusty at first- but before I knew it I was (attempting to) glide around the floor.

Etiquette: 

Although the environment for practica and milongas here is relatively informal, we do learn traditional etiquette.

Cabeceó

It is rude for a lead, traditionally a man, to walk directly up to a potential follower, traditionally a woman, and put them on the spot :“Yo Babe. Wanna dance?” (It’s equally rude for a follower to do so.)

It can either put the ask-ee an awkward spot, feeling obligated to dance even if they don’t want to, or can create public embarrassment for the ask-er.

To avoid either disagreeable outcome, proper etiquette is to make clear eye contact with a potential dance partner across the floor and nod your head discreetly: cabeceó. You know, the nod. If the other person wants to dance, they will meet eye contact and nod back.  If a potential partner doesn’t want to dance they can simply pretend not to notice – saving face for all involved. Or perhaps they didn’t notice and you might want to try again. If they keep not noticing, some inference skills might be needed.

To think, a cool cabeceó might have saved many a middle school blunder…

Traffic and Tandas

           The dancing space and music are also very structured. Dancing happens in concentric circles, traveling counterclockwise around the floor. Movement is continuous, if you’re slow or stationary you’ll want to be in the center (Slow traffic out of the way). When meeting a partner it’s improper to walk across the floor, rather you should walk around the perimeter.  Entering the dance floor can resemble the intricate dance of merging onto the highway at rush hour.

Tangos are generally played in sets of three called “tandas,” followed by a short “cortina,” closing the “curtain” on the dancing encounter. It is proper to dance all three songs of the tanda.  During the cortina, signaled by a non tango rhythm, you thank your partner and can leave the floor and socialize.  It’s a good time to pick up that conversation you were having before – since traditional etiquette frowns upon talking while dancing.  It’s also not traditionally kosher to dance multiple tandas with the same partner (unless they are your Partner.)

Thankfully we relax rules enough to communicate as needed while dancing- especially when learning new steps  (“LEFT foot,”  “oh! sorry I stepped on your toe,” etc.)- and to practice dancing with whomever you feel comfortable.

Learning: 

This time around I’ve been mostly practicing as a follower. Learning to listen is freeing and, to borrow the word of the semester, awesome.  It’s also quite satisfying to be a beginner, to be learning a dance skill for enjoyment purposes only.  No pressure to acquire any specific skill by a deadline, no gig, no evaluations, no mandatory attendance.  Movement to music for the joy of it, in the company of friends.

video: Bita Bell

Vocabulary

Tango, like most social dance where the steps aren’t explicit in the lyrics, is improvised.  The vocabulary is based on walking together to music, a concept both egregiously simple and profound. Tango requires a precision of articulation (leader) and acute awareness of and attention to shifts of weight (follower). On Friday instructor Alejandro Pinzon reminded us to maintain our own vertical axes, and not try to also hold up a partner. “Your responsibility is to clearly communicate and listen, but you are each responsible for your own balance.” There seems to be a metaphor for life in there.

Listening

Like contact improvisation, you (ideally) continually sense your own weight and partner’s weight. You listen through the body to feel whether their weight has settled on two feet, or have they shifted to one foot, sensing shifts of axes and frame for cues whether to advance, retire, twist, or stay put for a flourish.

The tango embrace is intimate, intimidating, exciting.  In tango you don’t turn your back on your partner as you might in spins and passes in Swing or Cha-cha. You don’t sever the connection, even in an open arm position. At some fundamental sense it’s like zooming in on the weight of your bones, and a gravity between the anterior surfaces of your spinal columns, propelling you through space.

(Underneath of course the “ahh I don’t know what to do,” “whoops,” and “sorry I bumped your knees.”)

The thought of not looking at your partner’s face but rather just past them, might seem distant, but it makes the encounter, in some ways, more personal.  You have to rely on more than vision. As volume decreases on vision, it increases on touch, your sense of form and weight, the sound of the music, the smell of the person. That classic tango posture is also a traffic control measure – you’re both monitoring your surroundings- not just for affect.

It’s invigorating to follow – when I actually relax, and stop glancing down at my feet, and fix my “tango focus,” I see the room with a soft focus and sense more clearly with everything else.  I’ve only been able to find that sensation in spurts so far.

I’ve a strong tendency to reverse-lead, a not surprising, but potentially rude habit. It’s challenging to calm the need to control the dance and to tune in to the way the lead is “speaking.” Then we both learn to “pronounce” and “hear” better. Again – a metaphor for life in there.

It’s also a great way to make friends!

 

grad school words and nonwords

Simulacrum problematize

Chicago-Author-Date defamiliarize

No Manifesto should/want self/other tag-cloud theorize

semimembranosus phenomenology

Cage ostinato postmodernity

we problematize

all that’s normalized

with words like aboutness, whatness, and other words plus -ness, -ity, and -ize

(also with student health insurance you can go check your eyes)

 

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improvised nonwords

6 weeks in

I’m 6 weeks into a new adventure.

A thought from ballet class:

Once something is required it feels different.

I get to take dance class everyday! This is awesome.  Ah. But now I have to.  

Why does its being required squeeze something out of enjoyment? Like that book you  would have loved had you found it on your own but your teacher made you read it. . . (Or rather I tried to share with students… and they were very unenthused…)

Everyone’s uptight. We’re being evaluated. There’s no dog sitting next to Janet Panetta.  I feel like I can’t be free to just “take class” like I would.  I feel the urge to perform a knowledge of ballet.  To perform that I belong here.  To demonstrate that yes I did my time in technique classes and did Ms. Beth’s Vaganova “and-1s” developpe exercises in a past life and did bad Nutcrackers and wore leotards . . . I’m a professional dammit.

I feel unsatisfied, wobbly. I push everything. I push myself to jump on a day when my knee isn’t feeling up to it. I pay for it with swelling, pain, and the ensuing frenzy  of am I getting too old, did I not do enough, have I missed a magical moment that was never there to begin with? blahblahblah.

And then I chat with the Amazing Karen Eliot, ( there’s something about the name Karen and amazing ballet teachers – but that’s another post ) and answer my own problem with a run-on sentence.  “This mal-alignment issue has been going on for a long time, sometimes it’s painful but I can force my body to just do the thing-  when there’s a gig you just have to do it – but here I don’t. . .”

“You don’t have that pressure.”

“No, I don’t. ”

Right.

This particular graduate experience at this particular personal professional juncture-  even and especially in the simplest of moments – the mundane practice of how to take technique class- (let alone literature, theory, new media, meeting new people in new contexts etc.) facilitates space & time to reflect broadly on my practices as an artist, as a woman, as a person.  Habits. Shoulds. Wants. Needs. Desires.

I’m shocked and so appreciative at the amount of time available for diving deeply into a project or reading, for a personal workout at the pilates studio or the pool, for taking a walk and seeing what I see. For thinking about how I think about things. For noticing the sunset.

It’s like I haven’t breathed in seven years. I’m almost afraid I’ll use up all the oxygen.

Ohio Sunset
they make the sky bigger out here