Tuesday, May 14, 2013

exploring a range of choreographic ideas

Prentice Whitlow, Ashleigh Gurtler, and Maya Orchin

On May 2 I was in Brooklyn to see “Spring Movement.” One of the choreographers selected for this showing of choreography and performance was Maya Orchin, a student I met at George Mason in 2009 who moved to Europe after graduating from GMU in 2010. She shared some of these adventures abroad here and here.

I was particularly excited to see her recent work because she was a wonderfully inventive choreographer as a student at GMU and I imagined that her exposure to other ways of performing had enriched her singular approach to dance-making. Her trio – performed by Maya with fellow Mason alumni Ashleigh Gurtler and Prentice Whitlow was fantastic. Now, 10 days later, it remains one of those pieces that I keep thinking about each day and enjoying all over again.

It began with a charge of energy, Maya and Prentice tumbling and rolling, and even though there were fluctuations in this energy as the piece evolved, there was never a dropped moment. My focus and interest were steadfast.

All of the creations on the program (there were 4 pieces) were creative and distinct. All were exploring different approaches and textures, but Maya’s used music in a more intentional way. When I asked her about the development of this work and her influences from her college years, she shared some answers that I think are worth passing on.

Maya: When I think about GMU and what prepared me to choreograph, I remember Dan Joyce's words of 'movement invention' and creating unique phrase work that could have only been created by me.  I felt really supported by my professors that weird and funny was okay. I didn't have to make an intense dramatic piece that copied someone else.  My individuality was celebrated.

Also, learning and talking in Susan [Shields]’s Senior Synthesis class about being forward with our work, and being proactive in the dance world gave me the confidence to apply for the different festivals. Why not? With each application there is a writing component as well, explaining your intention for the work; setting yourself a part and why they should produce your work.  Honestly, your [Kate’s] dance history class gave me crucial important writing skills: being clear and concise, and having a unique point of view.

While George Mason was great for many things--it gave me strong technique and made me a well-rounded dancer--I missed the exposure to strange, abnormal, dance performance.  At our galas it was always David Parsons, Paul Taylor, Mark Morris, and I didn't really fit that aesthetic and it was always painful not getting chosen.  But after college and seeing the whole world of Sarah Michelson, Ishmael Houston Jones, Xavier Le Roy, Meg Stuart: this gave me a refreshing realization about the limitless possibilities.  I think I am really interested in combining the two worlds - a highly physical piece of work combined with more of a downtown theatrical aspect. 

The combination of technique and musicality that was emphasized when I was at Mason plus the theatricality and absurdity of other types of dance is what interests me now. One of the nicest comments I got from my shows at CPR and the 92nd St Y was that my movement looked different, and presented rhythmic patterns and energy usage that people had not really seen before.

Do you think exposure is important for artists who want to choreograph and perform?

When I was exposed to other kinds of dance once I was out of college I got really inspired to create my own stuff. Seeing dance in Europe from Maguy Marin, to DD Dorvillier, to Les Slovaks, Ultima Vez, David Zambrano, Peeping Tom, and many others. My inspiration comes from educating myself in the real world: seeing museums in Vienna and Amsterdam, taking classes in Butoh, special Indian Folk Dances, wild partnering classes. All of this helped me realize the type of work I'm interested in creating. 

Watching the trio created by Maya made me realize what I like so much about contemporary performance: there are no rules about what can or cannot be done. Music can be incorporated as more than some vague atmosphere and technique can be celebrated. In Maya’s performance her dancers’ bodies were incredibly articulate, with joints and limbs moving in different and unpredictable directions, while the energy, force, and release of the choreography mixed together to create a gorgeous and captivating rhythm. It was wonderful to see what these three graduates from GMU had accomplished with the tool kit they developed as students and how they have deepened and expanded their kinetic explorations. University programs can present a rich fabric of techniques and choreographic approaches without one style needing to dominate or diminish the others. And it is wonderful to reflect on the generosity and integrity of GMU teachers like Dan Joyce and Susan Shields – artists and professors who performed with choreographers very different from Maya – and who can be so influential and inspiring for this emerging dance-maker. 

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