Sunday, January 20, 2013

the magnificent seven

some reflections  on artists, curators, writers, and producers changing our cultural landscape

 1. Watching parts of “How to Lose a Mountain” Friday night inspired me to think about moments and people who enrich my thinking about art and artists. DC is a tricky place for innovative ideas. Unlike other cities where I have lived and visited recently – New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia -- it doesn’t have hubs for dancers and performers to come together and share ideas. So when I saw this work by Cassie Meador and her incredible cast, and listened to reflections by those who gathered, I was deeply moved.

Meador’s performers --- Matthew Cumbie, Sarah Levitt,  Paloma McGregor, Shula Strassfeld, and Zeke Leonard (who wasn’t present but who has already established a strong role in the production) -- are deeply committed, exhibiting a combination of strength and vulnerability that is captivating. They are individuals who possess a deep sense of dedication to one another. Meador incorporates their movement, thoughts, songs, into a multi-sensory experience: the cast’s words and movement merge and meld with the music and set. The showing took me through a journey of stories and images. Some of these are more tangible than others, but I savored those moments when there was an idea that was suggested rather than stated. At times I was not exactly sure where a person or scene was headed, but the material itself was so rich that there was a sense of excitement and curiosity generated by the interactions.

The staff of Dance Exchange gathered a diverse group of people to see and discuss the work and this discussion was similarly generative. Beautifully moderated by John Borstel, the conversation followed Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process. There was a huge range of ideas and reflections on the showing, and the conversation kept exploring, going deeper and deeper into ideas about the work.

After two hours of seeing and talking I recognized a deep sense of gratitude. I appreciated the honesty of the discussion, the generosity of participants who shared ideas, the willingness of the artists and moderator to relinquish ego or self-promotion in order to bring attention to the work itself.  I looked for 6 other moments – both last week and upcoming – that offer a similar sense of fulfillment and inspiration.

2. Dance Exchange and DIY: Julie Potter wrote a thorough examination of artist-led initiatives for CultureBot last Saturday. Her article called to mind all the reasons why I admire Dance Exchange: it’s an organization that invests deeply in nurturing artists and creative processes. This line in particular resonated: “the artist-created platforms and exchanges ensure vitality on an ongoing local level in areas that do not possess formal festivals and organizations dedicated to experimentation and research. The exchanges are vitamins for rich and progressive contemporary performance communities nationally.” Thank you Julie Potter and DX.

3. Artists committed to making a difference: Christopher Morgan hosts another showing of work by choreographers called “Dance and Dessert” this Wednesday, January 23. The last one I attended was a great glimpse into different approaches to movement and performance and Morgan is thoughtful moderator who has a terrific way of engaging artists and audiences.

4. Writers interested in doing more than reviewing dance: Rita Felciano wrote a preview of the upcoming season at CounterPULSE that highlights this venue's curatorial approach. Perhaps at some point a dance critic in DC will consider doing more than a review or preview of a single production or one choreographer. There are so many other players involved in the dance ecosystem who can be highlighted.

5. Critics willing to open their eyes to changing approaches to dance and choreography: Alastair Macaulay is far from knowledgeable about contemporary performance, but at least he had the honesty to ask Ben Pryor, curator and producer, to explain some of its ideas and concepts. Pryor not only wrote to Macaulay, but the dance critic published sections of Pryor’s response in his review.
6. Artists writing about what it’s like to work with a particular choreographer or creative process. One of the beauties of the Internet is the multiple points of access for reading different perspectives. Jesse Zaritt wrote about his work with Faye Driscoll for an article on CultureBot and one of the great passages includes his linking of dance and identity:

“In movement, I am unfixed, always different.  Paradoxically, I feel most like myself when I am moving.  Dance teaches that the me I think I am is not so stable, not so constant.”

7. Next month two phenomenal artists based in New York are coming to the DC area: Ronald K. Brown will be at Lisner February 1 and Bill T. Jones is presenting a collaboration with Anne Bogart at UMD February 8 and 9.

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