Author: Megan

SFCD Choreographic Residency 2017

Eric Garcia and the collaborative team of Sarah Woods-LaDue and Bob Woods-LaDue are the resident artists of SFCD’s 2017 Choreographic Residency. They have been working with the students of SFCD’s year-round program in weekly rehearsals since January. They recently shared some thoughts on their processes so far.

The works created by Eric, Sarah, and Bob will be shown on April 19, 20, and 21 in the April 2017 edition of Work Nights. Work Nights is a regular series of free, informal showings of work being developed at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. You can reserve seats in advance HERE.

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Eric Garcia with SFCD students

Eric Garcia:

I’ve given myself and the SFCD students somewhat of an impossible task. Inspired by recent theatrical roulette-escapades (Shotgun Players’ Hamlet directed by Mark Jackson and the San Francisco Neo Futurists’ Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind), I’ve decided to embark on my own chance-based performance adventure. Our goal is to create a suite of dances where both the roles of the performers and the order of sections are determined at random moments before the start.

The framework feels relevant to the concept we are digging into. We are steeped in (re)constructing dream cities and piecing together nostalgias of San Francisco. As such, we are experimenting with precarious choreographic structures and prompts that test our confidence in memory. For example, the 12 of us created a duet in the span of 1 hour, where the director and performers rotated every 5 minutes. Once the duet was crafted, everyone had to learn both parts knowing that during the final performance, two dancers would be selected at random to perform any given part.

The work parallels the infinite narratives that exist within a city, both told and untold. Each night of this performance — by virtue of in-the-moment decision making — reveals new arcs and through-lines. Part of the richness of this piece is the myriad of configurations and possibilities that will never come to be. One night may feature and highlight a particular character’s journey, while another night conjures a completely different experience and tone. Everything is a constellation of random events that are strung together. The meaning-making happens real time.

I’m excited to use this time as a director/choreographer to create a container for true risk-taking, both for myself and for the SFCD students. Comforts and mental capacities are certainly being stretched. This piece has the very real potential for failure: Never had a chance to rehearse the monologue that you have to now perform? Didn’t quite remember the movement in that highly-nuanced floor pattern? Not feeling super confident in belting a song about the Western frontier? We’ve clearly laid out the problem, now it’s time to figure out a solution. And considering there are nearly 40 million variations on the piece (both in the ordering of sections and the casting), we’ve got some work to do. Onward…

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Sarah Woods-LaDue & Bob Woods-LaDue

Sarah Woods-LaDue & Bob Woods-LaDue:

We are having a blast working with the students at SFCD. We’ve thrown some complex concepts and structures their way and their constant willingness to venture down the rabbit hole with us has been incredibly moving. We’ve experimented with using modular structures that are created in the moment by the actions and decisions of the dancers. Some of these structures require a strict rule-set to be established before relationships can be developed in the space. This process has taken more time than anticipated, but it feels like a fruitful venture and will hopefully be the frame for wherever we end up at the end of this residency. A main component of most everything we’ve been building together, includes an element of music. The dancers have been generating soundscapes as a byproduct of physicality, and more recently, looking at the inverse of that relationship. To say the least, we’re majorly excited.

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Some things don’t fit into a box – Angela Mazziotta

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During SFCD’s fall semester, Angela Mazziotta (a recent alum of SFCD’s Choreographic Residency program) joined the SFCD faculty to work with our year-round students on composition and dance-making. She wrote a brief reflection on her work with the students so far:

Some things don’t fit into a box. Some colors run outside the lines. Some moments cannot be described in words. Over the past few months I have worked with ten dancers (all of whom have names) in a studio (#270, San Francisco Conservatory of Dance) on something which is important work, but feels like play. The fall semester of the Year-Round Program at the Conservatory is nearing its end and I still don’t know what to call this important playtime. Hoping to step outside of myself, I loosely asked the dancers to ponder the class and write about their experience. Much like our time together, the following is a collaboration using their responses as a framework around which I’ve attempted to build a complete thought. [Note: one of the 10 dancers was unable to attend class this day, so Nathaniel’s contribution lives in a more subtle way – between the lines.] –Angela Mazziotta

The class feels like a space to explore “trial with no error” (Natalie) and discover creative avenues for dance composition by trusting a “human process” (Claire). This experimental composition (Isabella) involves digging into “real life” (Jennifer) and imaginary ideas or scenarios and asking “what if” (Morganne). We practice “freedom” (Sydney) and curiosity during tasks that lend easily to shifting perspectives, then recognize and celebrate “serendipity” (Mika) when something happens that is worth of repeating. This class is about “shedding” (Madison) layers of ourselves to get closer to our inner wild and capable “monsters” (Harlie). From this most pure and genuine place, the many facets of dance making and performing are readily at the surface, with plenty of room to try on – and fully embody – layers as they are dealt from various artistic directors, collaborators….or, ya know: life.

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Sense of Time – Erin Malley (SFCD Choreographic Residency Artist 2015)

Katharine Hawthorne and Erin Malley were selected as resident artists for SFCD’s inaugural Choreographic Residency. They have each contributed some thoughts about their experience. Read Erin’s below and Katharine’s HERE.

SENSE OF TIME – Erin Malley

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In my residency, I’ve been developing a new film project about a girl who splits apart / gets copied (still figuring out the semantics here) and what happens to both her internal being(s) and external self(ves) as that continues to happen. At the beginning, I wasn’t totally sure if this was going to be a “dance film” per se. My time at the Conservatory has helped me come much closer to finding out just what this film needs to be.

The dancers must have thought I was insane at several points in the process. Some weeks, I would come in with tools like scooters, and a little statue of Loreley. Other weeks, I would “be a royal bitch” (to quote Elizabeth) to help everyone find how deep they could go in terms of performance. But what remained constant for me was the pursuit of the main character, and what kinds of words or tools I could use as a director to bring her to life.

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Working with the students at SFCD has been interesting and rewarding and challenging. They are open and young, and exhibit a willingness to try lots of things. Their sense of time is long, which doesn’t always work in the medium of film, but we have been meeting each other. Our work together has already influenced my sense of time for this project; it’s stretching longer for me.

The other challenge (and simultaneous pleasure) is that all of the students signed up to work with me on this film that is about one person. Exquisitely ironic. As I’ve been used to working with small casts, at first I didn’t know how to work with larger groups. At times I’ve wanted and needed to focus in on just one or two people, which has served me and the students well. But importantly, I’ve learned how to expand my focus beyond one or two subjects, to perceive more around me as I shoot. Another important thing I’ve learned how to do during my residency is give one simple task for the day and then ride the energy of the room.

Following my residency, I want to continue workshopping more ideas for this film, and expanding my rough cut. I’m not yet ready to write a formal script, but perhaps thanks to the structure of the residency (with rehearsals happening each week) this piece has been coming together more like a dance – through trials and tests and shooting and looking. I’m interested in continuing to work along these lines during the summer and find more physical ideas before I commit the whole thing to paper. It’s asking to be a feature length film. So it looks like I’ve got plenty of work cut out for me!

Erin Malley is an award-winning intermedia artist currently working in the fields of video and performance, with an emphasis on how the two mediums can inspire and influence one another. Malley’s video design and film work has been seen at DOCK 11, Berlin, Germany; Akropoditi Dance Centre, Hermoupolis, Greece; the University of Sussex; Louisiana State University, The Roxie Theater, SOMArts (SF), among others. Her choreography has been performed at venues such as HERE Arts Center (NYC), Joe’s Pub at the DanceNOW Festival (NYC), Dance Place (Washington, D.C.), Columbia University, ODC, and CounterPULSE. She holds a BFA in Dance and French from Western Michigan University – magna cum laude (2001). www.erinmalley.com

Everything Moves – Katharine Hawthorne (SFCD Choreographic Residency Artist 2015)

Katharine Hawthorne and Erin Malley were selected as resident artists for SFCD’s inaugural Choreographic Residency. They have each contributed some thoughts about their experience. Read Katharine’s below and Erin’s HERE.

EVERYTHING MOVES – Katharine Hawthorne

I start from the premise that everything moves (in the words of Jacques Lecoq, “tout bouge”). Motion is a fundamental state shared by atoms, animals, cities, and galaxies. I’m curious about the ways in which the human body can channel different scales of motion to hint at the experience of things much smaller and larger than us. We understand the world around us through our own physical size, using the meter stick of our mind to constantly measure our surroundings. How can we be conduits to experience and understand things at a different scale?

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I treat the dance studio as a laboratory and rehearsal as research. I set initial conditions by giving a movement prompt (such as make a small dance, or move as if you are magnetized towards/against the walls of the room), and define additional parameters over time. Dance helps us wake up to the information that is already all around us – to listen to the vibration of the floor, to feel the air moving across the surface of our skin. It can also help us position ourselves on the continuum of movement from the hum of atoms to the gravitational forces hurtling us through space. Can you imagine that you could become sensitive enough to detect the motion of a single atom? Or that you might be subject to the movement of a far away star? If you could perceive these things, how would it affect how you move?

The SFCD Choreographic Residency offered me the chance to experiment with different ways of generating and directing dance. Instead of starting with a strong idea of the themes of the project, I entered the studio with a handful of questions and a desire to let something grow and evolve. I started small, asking the dancers to make “microscope” dances inspired by images of everyday objects seen under a microscope. Things grew from there. We built underwater ecosystems, mapped mountains, explored the grid pattern of cities, and telescoped ourselves to distant galaxies. Watching the dancers discover and inhabit new movement worlds has been immensely satisfying. I hope that scala naturae, the piece we’ve made together, offers them a chance to connect, find beauty amidst chaos, and shine brightly.

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Katharine Hawthorne is a San Francisco based dancer and choreographer who likes to watch thinking bodies in motion. She has performed with Liss Fain Dance, Hope Mohr Dance, Sharp & Fine, Ledges & Bones, and James Sewell Ballet, among others. Hawthorne’s body of work is grounded in her passion for the sciences and her interest in integrating technology into performance. She has presented her creative work widely in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as in Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, Brown University in Providence, RI; Greece, Argentina, and Montréal, Canada. Recent performances have been recognized as “fiercely intelligent” and “fearlessly athletic” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Hawthorne holds a B.S. in Physics and Dance, with honors, from Stanford University. www.khawthorne.net

Announcing our 2015 Choreographic Residency artists

We are delighted to announce the two artists who will work with the SFCD year-round students as we launch a new residency aimed at supporting emerging choreographers by providing many of the key resources needed for the exploration of choreographic ideas.

After holding an open application period, we selected two talented, emerging choreographers. Katharine Hawthorne and Erin Malley will be the first choreographers to participate in this program, which ties into SFCD’s continual support of our resident companies–burnsWORK, the Foundry, Project Thrust, and Sharp & Fine–as part of our commitment to seek out and support the creation of excellent, imaginative new performance art.

Katharine and Erin will spend 45 hours developing choreography with SFCD’s advanced students during the spring 2015 semester. They will be mentored by SFCD faculty members Christian Burns and Bobbi Jene Smith, and will share their work at the April 2015 edition of Work Nights.

For more information about the 2015 Choreographic Residency, please visit the SFCD website.

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Katharine Hawthorne is a San Francisco based dancer and choreographer who likes to watch thinking bodies in motion.  She has performed with Liss Fain Dance, Hope Mohr Dance, Sharp & Fine, Ledges & Bones, and James Sewell Ballet, among others. Hawthorne’s body of work is grounded in her passion for the sciences and her interest in integrating technology into performance. She has presented her creative work widely in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as in Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, Brown University in Providence, RI; Greece,  Argentina, and Montréal, Canada.  Recent performances have been recognized as “fiercely intelligent” and “fearlessly athletic” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Hawthorne holds a B.S. in Physics and Dance, with honors, from Stanford University.

Visit Katharine’s website.

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Erin Malley is an award-winning intermedia artist currently working in the fields of video and performance, with an emphasis on how the two mediums can inspire and influence one another. Malley’s video design and film work has been seen at DOCK 11, Berlin, Germany; Akropoditi Dance Centre, Hermoupolis, Greece; the University of Sussex; Louisiana State University, The Roxie Theater, SOMArts (SF), among others. Her choreography has been performed at venues such as HERE Arts Center (NYC), Joe’s Pub at the DanceNOW Festival (NYC), Dance Place (Washington, D.C.), Columbia University, ODC, and CounterPULSE. She holds a BFA in Dance and French from Western Michigan University – magna cum laude (2001).

Visit Erin’s website.

I am also a lot of other things | an update from Carson Stein

Carson Stein relocated to San Francisco from Hockessin, Delaware in 2009 and studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance for two years. She currently dances with SFCD company-in-residence Sharp & Fine and Liss Fain Dance. She has also performed with burnsWORK, Project Thrust, and Raw Dance.

Yes, I am a dancer, and that’s currently what I say when people ask, “What do you do?” But I am also a lot of other things.

Do I wish that at twenty-three I was still blissful and naïve? Yes, sometimes. But I can also acknowledge that I am only twenty-three, and hopefully I have an entire lifetime ahead of me to figure out what else I want. Without these five years I’ve spent in San Francisco, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. It isn’t that three years of freelancing has turned me into a bitter and jaded dancer; it actually has led me to find out a lot more about myself. I’m less afraid for the moment that I stop dancing and more confident in sharing my other interests that I once left buried deep inside; I am more comfortable with who I am.

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There was a time five or six years ago, when all that consumed my mind was getting my first professional dance job. Looking back I realize that was a waste of valuable brain space. It ate away at me day after day, until the day actually came and I was offered real paid dance work. A giant weight was lifted from my shoulders, and then it occurred to me that it wouldn’t last forever. I soon would be in the place of hoping to find another job, then another, and another, that repetition of waiting and hoping is endless. Sure, along the way I have found consistent work; but deep down I know it’s not going to last forever because I don’t want it to. For a long time I did want it to last forever; I was inspired and hungry for more experience and understanding.

I’m fortunate to participate in creating work that allows me to be myself, but it only lasts for a few moments. And those moments can be some of the best moments you will ever have, but the initial wonderment fades away and things become mundane, like brushing your teeth and locking the front door when you leave. I have gone through this set of feelings years ago: it seems to come in cycles. There’s the beginning excitement, intrigue, and desire next comes hard work, sweat and occasionally tears, which lead into resentment, disappointment and frustration. This cycle happened to me as a high school student (dance and academically related), more than once during the two years I was a student in the year round program at SFCD, and now its sweeping it’s way through me again as a professional contemporary dancer. It isn’t easy, nor has it ever been. Summer once told me, “Carson, it would be easier for you to become a doctor.” At the time I laughed it off and didn’t believe her. A few years later, I realize how right she was. I could be finished my undergraduate degree and on my way to graduate school now, but I am not. I am here.

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It’s taken me quite some time to figure out that I can identify myself as something more than a dancer if I want to. It’s completely in my control what I want to share about myself. The bulk of my life has been defined by my dancing, and I was always nervous for that moment to disappear. I’m not scared for the time when I am not dancing anymore; it’s become a little exhilarating to think about the future. But for now, letting the next few months unfold is all I am looking forward to.

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All that Glitters | an update from Kelvin Vu

Kelvin Vu began studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance in 2011 after graduating from Yale University. After performing with Project Thrust and Sharp & Fine in San Francisco, he joined the Batsheva Ensemble in Tel Aviv in August 2013.

Kelvin Vu

Kelvin Vu

I started writing and sketching in a journal in my freshman year in college, when Moleskine notebooks were trendy, and I thought I was going to become an architect. Despite intentions to start a daily practice, I’ve only written intermittently and drawn seldomly. Even so, I’ve managed to fill a few notebooks, and thinking that there might be something worthwhile in each, I’ve kept them all. I recently looked through the ones I wrote in since leaving college and came across some surprisingly prescient entries.

In May 2012, at the beginning of my first summer intensive at the Conservatory, I wrote this:

“The fantasy–the dream of what I want–is not to be a dancer. It’s the pursuit of dance that I dream about. The kind of pursuit that leads to the brilliant display of information and the blaze of intelligence and consideration. Is it pretentious or somehow disingenuous to want to be fiercely intelligent? Perhaps this is the problem–the desire to be something in lieu of the pursuit itself. On that note, a thought from Christian’s class–the unknown and its importance. What is the point of pursuing something you already know–what could be more worthwhile or more engaging than the exploration of the unknown?”

And a couple weeks later, at the end of Session 1:

“Thinking about the ‘why’ of dance…and what makes the Conservatory so special. The odds are not comforting–how many of us will stick with dance and end up being able to survive off of it? Probably very few. But that’s not the point, or at least not mine. A group coming together, working, learning, exploring, growing together…there’s something that’s so magnificently youthful about it. The ephemeral quality of hunger and discovery and love in concert–nothing is more inspiring. I hope to never lose that hunger or love…”

After another year and another full summer at the Conservatory, I moved to Tel Aviv to start working with the Batsheva Ensemble, the junior counterpart to Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company. I moved blindly, having only been to Tel Aviv for the two-day cattle-call audition the previous spring. The move marked a lot of firsts for me: my first time living outside the US, my first company contract, and my first full-time job of any kind after a lifetime in school. Despite my best efforts, I found myself indulging in the notion that then, my life as a professional artist would begin, that this new chapter would be filled with gravity and momentousness and perhaps, admittedly, a bit of glamor.

In many ways, these feelings were not inaccurate. I felt an added sense of responsibility to research and perform Batsheva’s repertory and to invest in Gaga as my primary philosophy and toolbox. I felt the pressure to drink the institution’s Kool-Aid and to immerse myself in Ohad’s ideas and the universe he’s created. I had a contract and official duties to fulfill as an employee.

Further, life as a dancer in a major rep company certainly felt different. The numbers paint a specific picture: one company, seventeen colleagues, more than 120 performances, five programs, four tours to six different countries, 45 weeks of work. The benefits of the job paint another: a salary, health insurance, paid vacation, physio treatments, good studios, per diem on tours, receptions. During the first months, I remember feeling like Dorothy, plucked from Kansas by some mysterious whirlwind and dropped in new territory. I found the novelty and sheen a bit intoxicating, but I also felt wary that maybe my ruby slippers didn’t fit so well or that someone had spiked my glass of Kool-Aid.

I recalled words that Yale’s then-Dean-now-President Peter Salovey offered during the opening days of my freshman year in college. He told us to look around and to remember two important things: that Yale could replace us with an entirely different class of students who were just as capable and deserving and that also every single one of us would feel that at some point, Yale had made a mistake and admitted us by accident. At the beginning of my season with the Ensemble, I felt both of these things–that there were many other dancers who could have taken my spot and that I was embarrassingly underqualified.

I wrote home to Summer, who simply suggested to work but not worry because, as she explained, worry erodes trust. Per usual, she was absolutely right. Of course, there are many worthy dancers in the world, some of whom I replaced when I joined the Ensemble, and others who will eventually replace me when I leave. And as a new member of a junior company, it’s natural to feel underqualified. That’s partly why I came to Batsheva–to feel that I was the worst in the room again and to subsequently feel that I had the most to gain. But remembering and trusting why I auditioned for Batsheva in the first place–Gaga, Ohad’s ideas, the repertory itself–brought me back to a place from which I could work and grow.

Now with only a few weeks left in the season and with the benefit of hindsight, perspective feels easier to find. While the composite experience of my first year in the Ensemble is necessarily nuanced and layered, the most important takeaways now seem refreshingly simple. Despite all of the newness around me, I found that I could depend on the reasons why I went to Yale, why I chose to dance, why I enrolled at the Conservatory, and why I ultimately moved to Tel Aviv. What seems like a constant uprooting or change of path has been anything but. When I remember that the everyday work and my own curiosity are at the center, the progression of new environments makes so much sense.

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photo by Kelvin

That said, the journey hasn’t been free of potential distractions, of tourist traps, of fields of deadly poppies on the way to the Emerald City. Something I realized early on is how easy life could be, like how easy it could be to go to bed late or to eat junk food. How easy it could be to not stretch, to not stay in great shape. How easy it could be to rest on the fact that I have a contract with a salary and health insurance. How easy it could be to stop working and feel entitled to be complacent. But at the same time, I also realized how hard and bland it would be to live the life that resulted from such easy choices and that such a life is simply not worth it.

I also realized the true responsibilities–and privileges–of being a professional artist. There are the most straightforward ones. To stay in shape, to stretch, to grow, to develop–these goals are supposed to be built into the system of professionalism. There are, however, the more existential ones, which often take more effort to identify and prioritize. Right now, I love where I am because the philosophies of Gaga and the work at Batsheva interest me the most, but my explorations in dance and my commitment to art have to extend beyond this company. For me, being a professional artist includes realizing that this will hopefully be a very long journey and that it’s up to me to continue the conversation and research. Of course, the present is important and, for now, highly convenient, but it would be vastly premature to consider these years the peak of my career.

I recently read an article detailing a study published about a year ago that analyzes our perceptions of our own change and potential to change. Researchers in this study found that we tend to underestimate how much we can and will change in the future as compared to how much we’ve changed in our past. They call this the “end of history illusion.” This misperception is intuitive, but the danger comes in how it affects our decisions and how we make them because thinking that our steepest growth curve is behind us cuts short our personal timeline and openness for radical transformation. I’ve been toying with this concept for a while, and it seems appropriate at this point in my dance journey. It’s tempting to think that I’ve left behind my gawkiest days and that this latest version of me is somehow closer to the ultimate one. But, when I really think about, that would be selling myself short and it would prevent me from seeing all of the potential forks in the road where the most interesting lessons lie.

I have no idea how my time in Batsheva will end or where I will go after, but for now, I’ll keep in mind something Summer once told us during my year at the Conservatory, that the pursuit of the thing is the thing. And I’ll also keep in mind a more recent journal entry, in which I wrote, “Keep building. Aim for many, many dirty first drafts. Keep the glory days at bay.”

–Kelvin Vu, May 2014