If you want it done, right?

I’m still decompressing from Friday night’s show, only because it was just a big mental stressor on top of all these other endeavors I have going on right now, primarily the big three we all endure on a daily basis: home, money and love. Some good and bad news erupted in my email since the show, I found out that they didn’t video record it but the director of Dance Advance said he enjoyed the performance “very much”. I kind of want to throw up all over the place because it is of dire import that I have all of my work visually archived. What’s the worth of being an artist if you have nothing to show for it? I got to thinking about how it was nice that the organizers of the show were much calmer and relaxed than I would have expected and they kind of let us do our own thing. As a capricorn, this made me happy because I had complete control over everything under my jurisdiction. I did record the tech rehearsal (grainy, fucked up youtube video coming forthwith) but I really wish I had living proof. How am I to gauge what needs to be fixed or augmented? How? Tell me how.

This is also a disappointment for me because I don’t want to disappoint my audience (whoever you are) and the people who might actually give me that stuff, what do you call it? Oh, money! so I can perform in a more sustainable manner in the future, without having to give up my love of fine dining. Some day. Some day.

I really shouldn’t complain, but that’s not part of my personality.

I’ve been once again thrust into taking the initiative here at my “real job” and I hope there are not too many sore toes on the bound. I keep swaying between the ebb and flow of making things happen and waiting for them to come to me, all the while trying to maintain some sense of ambition no matter what goes on around me. It is beyond me (and others I presume) why it is that I exhaust myself in this way, I guess it’s better than being bored, but what it comes down to is, I really enjoy doing things that I’m good at, and I’m finding more and more of those things everyday. The problem for me is, when I get help or I try to disseminate my responsibilities and objectives, it’s not done the right way (or as other people call it “your way”).

Someone had asked me when I was going to start posting video of my work, since this blog is primarily in place to expose the artistic process, and I answered with the lie “I’m shy”. It is another big step for me. It’s hard enough using my this blog as a sounding board for all the internet to hear. I really do care what people think about me and it never seems to affect me in a negative or positive way, but I am always curious to know. I don’t mind being judged in the least, I think it is something we all do all the time in our heads, so if you are willing and brave enough to put yourself out there, you should expect to take a bullet or two in the crossfire of opinions, whether they be good or bad. I just don’t want to come off as a fame seeking, attention hungry fool, as much as I love being stalked. It really shows you care. Or at least, that I’m interesting enough for you to give a shit (yes, I’m talking to you).

At the risk of getting too personal (although this is good practice for that provocative, autobiographical-ish novel waiting in the wings), I was amused and a little disheartened by something someone said to me recently. I was on the phone with him and I was looking for a box because I was expecting company and I came up with the brilliant plan of throwing all the surface shit scattered around my apartment in said box to deal with it later. I kept saying “God, I wish I could find a box” only for him to add “What? For your emotions?”. It was funny, but not, and what I wanted to say (but of course, didn’t) was, “You should’ve seen me on stage Friday.” I think I expressed more emotions on that stage that I have all year. C’est moi.

I laughed like I always do at this particular person’s astounding ability to stab me with pangs of sarcasm albeit true and thoughtful observations regarding my personality defects. I can always appreciate a good joke from someone who doesn’t take life so seriously.

Speaking of which, I was bombarded with that sick feeling I sometimes get around artistic personalities. I always have to be the token or the outcast, I swear I don’t go through great lengths to do it though. I swear!

We all know about artists. They all have their unique peccadilloes and nuances that define their personalities. Actors are divas, dancers are prissy, musicians think they are rockstars, singers are cocky yet insecure, writers are drunks, filmmakers think they know everything, and painters are flaky and self-absorbed. Being around all those dancers on Friday reminded me how cool I am (is that offensive?).

Okay, I think it’s great that you can put your ankle behind your head and you look just like Swan Lake with your make-up. I too like to stretch and meditate before a show, but what about the fun part? What about jokes and getting personal with each other. I met one or two girls with a lot of personality and they were really amusing, but some of the other dancers were kind of stand-offish and took themselves way too seriously. I wanted to fart in the middle of the dressing room just to break the tension. But I didn’t.

I guess because the arts are so competitive, some people grow a thicker-than-thou skin. And I know some of the girls are shy anyway. Or they get nervous. I guess I’m so used to running my own shows where the people form really strong relationships and we are all there having a good time and we can’t wait to go grab a drink after the show. This, and the fact that most of my venues are a little less serious. Still, I do envy them sometimes, that they take their craft so seriously. I wish and hope the best for them. Really, I do. I just hope that they understand that as serious as it all is, it’s the love that came with that first time you went all the way down to a split or that first perfect pirouette that should be what keeps you going.

Now I’m preparing for the next show to be held at the Etc. Series at the CEC in West Philly on December 5 & 6. This time, I won’t be in the show, and I’m using three capable girls who won’t have a lot of time to learn the choreography. I forced myself to stay on the couch for most of the weekend to kind of dull my creative zealousness (read: mania), because I really don’t have a lot of time or energy to put something outlandish together with costumes and crazy cues and all that. I think I’ll just keep it simple and work on some of the isolation technique I’ve been enhancing in my work. It’ll be nice to sit in the audience and watch it though, and make sure everything is right where I need it to be.

Last night?

I think it will be a while before I climb on stage again.

The show felt good. It went well. I had a good time. I think I did everything it is I wanted to do.

The stage fright was unbearable but the energy of the lights and the audience was intoxicating. It’s been a while since I got that feeling, and it made the nervousness worthwhile. But it’s time to hang up my dancin’ shoes for another hiatus. I need to focus on painting the big picture.

Tonight’s the Night

“Gonna leave that 9 to 5 up on the shelf…”

Blarg.

I just got back from one of those famous walks where I clear my head, or rather, I fill it up with all the things on my mind and file them away in order within my mental Roladex. I woke up later than I had wanted (after 8am *gasp*) which is normally “sleeping in” but I had so much work to do, it seemed like wasted time. I needed the rest though.

I spent the first two hours post-REM working from home at my “real job”. There are just too many things I can never let fall to the wayside. Once I got that stuff out of the way, I was a whirling dervish costume making fool.

After I packed up my stuff and took notes from the rehearsal last night, I was off to tech rehearsal. I felt MUCH better after the rehearsal last night, it was fun and we seemed to all be on the same page. The costumes fit for the most part and I was generally feeling better about everything. Cut to tech rehearsal.

I knew one of the dancers might not be able to make it and it wasn’t really that big of a deal, I just wanted to have everyone there to mark it on stage and make sure we had spaced everything as close to correctly as possible. We only had 20 minutes for tech, where I tell the (sexy) lighting guy and the sound guy what the technical requirements are. That part went quick and easy and they were both very professional. So professional in fact that they kind of starred blankly at me when I made a joke about black people needing more lighting and that I wanted smoke…”more smoke, more smoke!”. I thought that the (sexy) lighting guy would get it since he was wearing a Chicago the Musical shirt (taken from Bob Fosse’s genius “All That Jazz” biopic). Anyway, the first thing the young woman running the show exclaimed to me when I finally met her (after a bevy of show-related emails) was “Bill from Dance Advance will be here to see your work, so that’s good.” The last thing I wanted to think about was that. My nerves started to tingle.

I didn’t do the combination full out, which is a big no-no, but thoughts kept running through my head like “am I good enough”, “will people like me”, “will anyone get it”, “is this entertaining”. I am in need of a daily affirmation.

I felt inferior and out of place, and of course there was a “mistake” on the program stating that I am not dancing in the number. For a moment I thought that maybe I shouldn’t. I left the theatre mentally exhausted, reminding myself that I should never dance in my own piece ever again, what about the girls? I wasn’t paying attention to them to get/give notes to fix things or change things. It didn’t help that I received a pseudo rejection letter from another performance opportunity stating that they would try to make room if anything falls through. Like tonight’s performance, I wasn’t a big enough name to be included in the first place, so I was basically a fill-in, not negating the fact that my work is interesting.

So I took a walk from Old City to Graduate Hospital only stopping for my sweet precious, cigarettes and coffee. I thought of a lot of other things, how there is such a lack of a support system, or at least, that support system resides in Colorado or New York or D.C. I hate tooting my own horn, but it is rather disheartening when the people who I’ve worked with before don’t come to my shows, especially when I have supported their endeavors in the past. I guess because this is my big coming out party since my long hiatus, I expected or wanted people to make a big deal out of it considering the expressed interest of yesteryear.

I thought of my faithful husband who was my partner in crime who helped carry the bags of costumes and would remind me not to forget this or that and would temper my mood swings with a light and hearty joke. The one that would tell me everything was going to be alright even though I’ll never think it will be. That today kind of blew my mind.

I reminded myself to keep my toes pointed, to jump high, to feel the movement. I couldn’t wait to get home to review the footage I recorded at tech rehearsal.

On the way home, I ran into these awesome boys who are bandmates from Mountain Man, a cool troupe I worked with at one of my fringe shows and I helped them with costumes and choreography for their video. It was a refreshing surprise not only for me but for them. They always had a great respect for me because I gave them one of their first major gigs and told them they were really something else and should never give up. They had just reunited and were catching up. It was great to see them. Must be something in the air.

When I got home, I grimaced at the absolute mess in my apartment. Show-week is always a filthy time for me. Barely eating, barely sleeping, fabric everywhere. I started soaking my feet and watched the footage. I feel much better about it. It looks like me. Like something I would do. Something innovative but not too weird. I incorporated voguing into the piece and it doesn’t look whacky. The music selections are divine. The girls are rocking it. What’s wrong with me? I am so cocky yet I have no confidence. I am a contradiction of myself.

When I was on stage for the first time in so long, the blinding lights were disorienting. I kept thinking of what I must look like. What the air will be like when the theatre is full. I kept losing my focus. Worrying, worrying. Let’s hope I can pull it all together for the main event.

Tomorrow’s The Night

It’s almost time to go back.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been on stage and I’m ambivalent. I’m nervous about my own self-critique; I will never be as good as I want to be. Once again, perfection is never enough. But I’m going to stick it out and deal with it and try to do better than my best.

Tonight is the last rehearsal for the Philly Dance Collective taking place tomorrow at the Painted Bride. I can’t help but to be nervous with stage fright and because the piece is way under-rehearsed. I kind of like it that way, it is a known fact that most people perform best under pressure. One of my dancers has a busted foot thanks to her sprightly, jovial and carefree nature, always looking for adventure. I could punch her of course, but I won’t. My only worry is that it’ll be a distraction more than anything. She, along with many of my dancers have performed through injuries before, it’s part of the game. Maybe I’ll find a way to work it into the choreography. I’ve done it before.

There is fabric strewn all over my apartment along with the remnants of thread and notions that come from the fervor of making costumes. There is some finishing that needs to be done but I won’t know until after the fitting today that takes place during the short rehearsal I scheduled. They came out pretty well. It was hard to keep them simple because I have the habit of overworking things sometimes, always keeping in mind that someone has to dance in them. It’s all stretch fabric, so it shouldn’t be a problem and I have one or two Plan B’s to work with. I have learned the hard way (from years working with Burlesque) that it is imperative to have that “dress rehearsal” to avoid any potential wardrobe malfunctions on stage during a performance. It can really make or break a show.

Also, a representative from Dance Advance, the grant administrators, will be doing a site visit. I’m really not in the mood for them to be there, my head is already crazy trying to get the gist of my ideas into the choreography for tomorrow, so I really don’t need the distraction or the worry about impressing them. I’m going to just try and zone out and get done what it is I need to get done.

I have another show coming up the first weekend of December. I had an idea that I already scratched. And on top of that, I should just use stuff I’ve been working on, but I have a lot more free reign in this venue and I can do something a little more freakish if I want. Of course one of the dancers I want to use is only available 2 separate days before the performance, so once again I will have to throw something together. The good part is, she has the memory of an elephant, so she will pick up the choreography quickly and will remember it better than I ever could.

A while back I attended the fringe show performance of someone I worked with who put together a really great dance piece. One of her dancers, Kellie, really caught my eye and I went right up to her after the show and told her she was mine. Months later, she was in the studio with me and I immediately thought of Melissa (with the elephant memory) who was one of my burlesque muses a while back. They have the same stature and style in their movements and they are both ridiculously flexible. They are both tall and have dark hair and while they don’t look exactly the same, they have similar features. I got to thinking about doing a freaky twin number where they are dancing the same movements yet struggling to be unique at the same time. I thought that I would make a costume where their legs would be tied together, almost as if they were Siamese twins. Then I got to thinking of vaudeville and circus acts and it all hit me at once that I wanted to do something to that effect: circusy, weird, creepy, entertainment.

I’m now searching through my music to find appropriate pieces and sure enough I had already put aside some music to match. I keep a list of songs on my ipod that I hope to choreograph some day or that inspire me otherwise. So far I have “Freakshow” by Ani Difranco, “Get Your Freak On” by Missy Elliot, “Clown” by The Flock, “Me, Myself, and I” by L7, “Rich Man’s Frug” from Sweet Charity Soundtrack, “Clown Dream” from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure Soundtrack, “Don’t Pass Me By” by The Beatles, “Ending of a Show” by TV on the Radio, “Earth Intruders” by Bjork, “Perpetuate Yourself” by Sufjan Stevens, “Ballade de Melody Nelson” by Portishead, “Little Sister” by Nico, “Little Miss Strange” by Jimi Hendrix, “Street of Dreams” by Esquivel, “A Little Game” by The Doors, “Jeux D’Enfants” from Cirque De Soleil Alegria Soundtrack, “Strange Desire” by The Black Keys, “Good Sister/Bad Sister” by Hole….

The show is going to take place at the CEC in West Philly at the Etc. Series that is a hodgepodge of different media but ends up being mostly dance. I have 20 minutes to work with, so it’s a slippery slope because I can get rather zealous when it comes to expressing my ideas on stage. I already have a million ideas.

So maybe I should get through tonight, with all it’s intricacies and preparation. The finishing costumes, doing a million sit ups so I don’t look fat on stage, contacting people about tickets, burn a couple CDs for the show, packing up everything I’ll need (don’t forget the safety pins!), going to tech, being a total bitch and yelling at the girls about what needs to be fixed, review the choreography a million times, doing make-up & hair & costumes, biting my nails off, getting on stage and moving on to the next big thing…

Kein Deutch (Part One)

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

That was the question I kept asking myself from the time I booked my trip to Germany from the time I got back on the plane to Philly. It was a selfish retreat albeit a necessary culture excursion. I’ve been kind of stagnant in seeking out alternative forms of intellectual and artistic enlightenment.

I have had a pretty unhealthy fascination with the tribulations of WWII for as long as I can remember, which is one of the reasons I chose Berlin. I’ve never really geeked out from a historian’s perspective, but from an aesthetic point of view. I will never understand the fundamentals of persecution and genocide, but I can’t help but wonder what it is psychologically speaking that inspires the catalyst for action and also, the unintentional condoning of such actions that have taken place since the beginning of time.

While it is impossible to accept the heinous activities conducted by Hitler, there is so much obvious speculation and study regarding his life and crimes, which one may or may not admit, were the product of a mad genius. I recently had a short-lived conversation about Hilter amongst a group of intoxicated folk and everyone was scared to broach the issue at hand. How was he so convincing? How did this happen? Could it had been avoided? What tools do you have to have in order to accomplish such dubious feats?

When I arrived at the Frankfurt airport, I was on edge. The sheer tension of order and control reigned supreme as soon as I found myself lost amidst the indecipherable words on the signage that led me back to the same place over and over again. The authority figures weren’t hard to spot, and I was abruptly made aware of their presence due to the more fashionable uniforms they adorn themselves with. What’s with that?

In all honesty, I was way too proud, trying to come off as a well-traveled, citizen of the world, so I refused to ask for help. Plus, I never bothered with learning German because I’m kind of an asshole like that. Sure enough, my fears subsided and I received assistance from one of the friendly yet stoic airport employees who exclaimed, “But of course!” when I asked if she spoke any English (in English, but of course).

I was happy in an ironic way to see that there were smoking cabins in the airport, a double-edged luxury that surely Europeans appreciate more than the average denizen. I hesitated to partake in a fag before my flight, but I thought to myself I might as well do as the foreigners do, even though it was me who was the foreigner.

I was happy once I found my way to the terminal. Also, I was so relieved to have gotten off the first flight in which I sat across from a couple who were obviously first time parents, unable to control their unruly toddler. I think they were convinced that you’re supposed to treat a 3 year-old like a 3 month old, because they kept coddling it the more it cried despite the fact that there were several other silent babies on the flight. I felt bad, but at the same time I was annoyed. I almost handed my scotch to them and said, “Here, put this in her bottle.” I digress.

The second flight was quick and easy. The Berlin airport was well organized and clean, the complete antithesis of the Philadelphia airport. I was kind of sad to leave the plane, I was becoming quite accustomed to the courtesies of the Lufthansa staff and their attention to the details of keeping you utterly loaded with fine spirits. Oh the wine I had!

I was greeted by the brisk German air which explained why all of a sudden everyone had thick scarves wrapped around their necks. It wasn’t fashion, it was a necessity. A short(ish) bus ride later and it was time for me to bust out my navigational skills. I was pleased when I learned that there was a bus that took you right downtown to a stop a few blocks away from my apartment. I was confused as to how the ticket system worked, apparently it was way too convenient to understand, coming from the world of SEPTA. I felt like I was a visitor from a time machine and that all the modern technology was astounding and difficult to use, but I got the hang of it. Turns out, you buy an (affordable) all day ticket, get it stamped at your first stop, and you can use it for all modes of transportation throughout the day. How novel!

On the bus ride, the first few miles (or kilometers, I should say) felt a lot like home. There were rundown buildings and old abandoned factories rife with graffiti. Streets interrupted the steady flow of other streets that were parallel to a major highway. The signage was more all-inclusive appropriate, with picture graphics depicting bikes and arrows in an obvious statement of who and what was supposed to go where. The entire ride, there was an older couple staring at me, probably asking themselves the same question I was asking myself, “Who do you think you are?”.

I arrived at my destination that I couldn’t pronounce for shit, but I knew what direction I was going, so I was fine. I doubted myself and stopped by a Postmark (Post Office?) and they told me I was a long way off but going in the right direction. Approximately 4 minutes later, I had arrived. But I realized, I hadn’t contacted the owner of the apartment since my arrival, I was too carried away with being immersed in the culture and architecture of fair Berlin. Whoops.

I went next door to the apartment to eat at a Thai food place and I assumed (being the ignorant American) that I could communicate with the lovely hostess slash owner slash waitress slash cook lady that was running the joint. It didn’t work. I pointed at something on the menu that looked vaguely familiar (I think the words “Pad” and “Thai” were involved) then she asked me something in German and I turned into Bambi. “CHICKEN!?” she yelled at me and I was unjustly offended that she would assume such a thing. I shook my head yes.

After I slowly finished my CHICKEN and unsuccessfully tried to connect to the internet on my laptop to email the apartment owner, I sat outside and had the first of 10,000 cigarettes I was to smoke on my vacation.

Soon enough, as the cold rain sprinkled down on my superfluous layers of clothing (to avoid bag check), my host, Clemens arrived, looking dapper and fabulous with his stylish jacket, couture jeans, bald head and serious smile. He came baring flowers. For me?

He apologized for being late and I explained that nothing bothered me, I was on holiday. He put the lovely flowers in the vase, straightened up the place, collected the remaining balance and told me where the cafes were. He said I could leave the keys on the table in the dining area so we wouldn’t have to see each other and I pouted in spite of myself, hoping that he had other plans for me, including me, with me, you get the gist…

I was officially in Germany. With it’s torrid past and innovative future, I was pleasantly at home there. Despite the cold and the rain, I was ready to be inspired.

Walking down the streets to the cafe, it felt ordinarily European, with its wobbly stoned streets and the remnants of building structures that are hundreds of years old. Everyone had scarves in varying degrees of colors, styles and thicknesses. I immediately noticed how natural looking the females were, with little makeup, but proud, beautiful faces full of prominent features: thick lips, bulbous noses, thick hair. The men were all voluptuous in stature, with strong gaits, plump faces, and a large amount of men had little hair or shaved heads. There was also an abundance of clean shaven faces. Oh well.

I first went looking for an Apokethe (Pharmacy?) so I could buy all of those things I couldn’t put in my one bag that I was traveling with. Before long I realized that not a lot of places accept credit cards or any bill over 50 Euro, so I had to double back a couple of times. But soon enough I was in business. There were so many different cuisines represented amongst the plethora of fast food and dining restaurants, all scattered amongst the cafes and clothing shops and residential buildings. I was in Schöneberg, which is on the West side, in the preDOMinantly gay area. There were rainbow flags and stickers everywhere, fetish shops here and there, and a lot of bars. We gays love the sex and booze I suppose.
Considering the amount of stuff there was in the 10 block radius of the apartment where I was staying, it was still relatively quiet.

One of the first places I went to hang out (that I can’t spell, let alone pronounce) was a big pub-like bar slash cafe that had free wireless. A godsend. I was fortunate enough to not have an internet connection in the apartment, it would have really robbed me of a lot of time to explore, so having a limited amount of time at the cafe bar proved to be the best solution to satiate my workaholic needs. The bartender was uber friendly and spoke several languages and once again I was plagued with the dilemma of to-tip-or-not-to tip, a hotly contested issue in some European cities. I’ve heard so many different versions that I just go with my gut and throw out a Euro or two to thank them for their hospitality.

As aforementioned, there was a certain air of comfort and home, and certainly a fair amount of order and respect for authority. There were no turnstiles, no police walking around, dogs followed their owners without leashes, there were trans cans on every block and their bus stops had GPS schedules letting you know what time the next one was coming. People got on the train with their open cans of beer and there was no sense of chaos anywhere I went. People walked up to me and asked to listen to my headphones to see what I was listening to. Whenever someone overheard me speaking English, they jumped at the opportunity to practice the language (sans that bitch who yelled “CHICKEN!?” at me).

Still, there was this overpowering amount of sadness in my brain thinking about all the people who were murdered there or close to there. The monuments, the rebuilding, it is all quite noticeable the amount of strife that town has had to endure. I really enjoyed feeling like I was in a modern and hip town, but I couldn’t help but think about what it used to be.

I tried to assimilate the treacherous demands the Nazi regime made on Germany and other countries. Many times I stood still and held my breath, remembering how people must have suffered, so innocent, so unfairly. It was emotionally trying for me, and of course, quite inspirational. The town has really tried to shed that abominable reputation while going out of their way to remember what they have survived. I thought of home. I thought of the struggle of my people. I thought of all the people currently suffering at the hands of callous politicians and militant extremists.

And of course with all of this came the wine and dine and romance that Europe is so well known for. I was seduced by their food and their sweetly aggressive men. I was wooed, bothered, bewildered. It is just plain weird to think of yourself as a “sexy American”, but it becomes quite clear when you are thrust into a world of purebreds and transients.

I thought a lot about love, listening to the cooing of the Berliners. It was so nice to sit in a crowded place and not know what anyone was saying. I got to zone out and smile to myself, enjoying the inability to communicate. It was divine, really. The greatest escape. Also, it gave me a lot of ideas for movement pieces as I witnessed how people communicated with their bodies, because I couldn’t understand a word they were saying.

Sadly, I didn’t make it to the museums. I was lucky enough to meet a fine gentleman to tour me around to some of the historical sites downtown in the center city where East meets West. I also did not venture to the East side, but I have to say that my short time was well spent. All I really wanted to do was live like the locals do, feasting on foods, shopping, drinking, walking around, smoking lots of cigarettes. It was just what I needed and I came back with a lot more than I expected. Not that I had expectations at all, but I know that I did find a part of myself that I never knew, so now I am one step closer to answering that elusive question.

A Separate Piece

I have creative diarrhea.

There comes a few points in every artist’s life where they feel as though they are about to uncover the mysteries of what is sure to be the apotheosis of anything they have ever created. The hiatuses in between are of course known as development periods or writer’s block or a myriad of other dubious monikers to describe the artistic process that isn’t necessary stunted, but lacks the qualities and characteristics worthy of a true eureka.

I have spent the past several days confounded with my own ideas, trying to assimilate what they mean and what it is that I’m going to do with them. I was dubiously blessed with a weekend void of any plans, commitments or work that allowed me to indulge in the adage of the idle mind- that wonderful, wretched workshop.

This is not to say that I don’t have about a million things going through my head all at once. Ever watch the beginning of Moulin Rouge? Sometimes that it is what it feels like for me, not necessarily in a vivid, ADHD kind of way, but more in a focused kind of delirium. The sheer magnitude of environmental factors weigh upon me in abundance, luckily it does not deprive me of sleep. There is the ever important, first in line aspect of my life which is my day job. Ever hear of Sisyphus? I am in love with that fucking rock, no matter how stubborn it is, and every time I start the challenge over again, it has changed in someway, which keeps me interested and ambitious.

Another major distraction is boys. Oh boys. If only I had a stick large enough. Or pepper spray. The more I shed my modesty, the more repellent I require. I guess that is the nature of the beast and why nice guys do indeed finish last. But since the beginning of time love has been the greatest muse. Whether feigned, unrequited, psychotic or serendipitous. It takes a hold of you and doesn’t let go. It is the apparition that guides the wrist as you paint the canvas, the spirit that carries the tune, the entity that helps you leap and turn…

The problem is, I haven’t been in the studio in (weeks?). The arduous task (no, I’m not using a thesaurus) of coming up with a schedule suitable for everyone is wearing on my nerves. It’s always been this job that should be perfunctory; I doubt that it won’t be easy until I have my own company.

The good news is, I have a show coming up. The bad news is, I’m dancing in it. I’ve expressed many times that there is no better Narcissistic thrill than to be able to see your work live on stage, from an audience’s point of view or backstage. This time, I’m putting myself in front of the firing squad, all of my insecurities out there, in the hopes that I will make the piece stronger and not deter the audience from appreciating the other dancers (I kind of stick out like a sore, but sexy thumb).

So once again I have the egg before the chicken. I hate this. The whole point of me working in the studio was to have a piece ready to present for when the time comes. Now I have a limited amount of time to put together something just short of beautiful, and I am worried. I have faith in my collaborators and that they will do better than perfect, but if you know me, that is never enough.

Luckily technology is kind of my deus ex machina. Youtube has proven to be a good “homework” tool for the dancers to watch the rehearsal footage and get acclimated with the music. Also, I just started using Joogle to upload music samples for them to listen to at home. Since I’m one of those choreographers that doesn’t use counts, it is of the highest import that they memorize the music. There are two kinds of dance makers, the 5-6-7-8 kind and the Bah-dah-dah-and… kind. I’m the second one.

The biggest struggle for me (dare I call it that) is deciding what music I’m going to use. I have already submitted the composers names for the program but I still have 2-3 pieces that I am really ambivalent about. The first half of the piece has already been choreographed. I’m using a light and fluid piece by Erik Satie. It is quite the adagio, and I wonder if I should pick up the tempo for the latter half of the work. It’s like I have my own demons inside, two separate desires, the personifications of Gene and Finny, one striving to be intellectual and hooked on accolades and praise, the other athletic and virile, totally immersed in hedonism. Part of me wants to put something out there that satisfies the audience, the other me wants to stay true to myself and do what it is that makes me happy.

As of last week, I was convinced (or at least I convinced one of my many selves) that I was going to re-use a piece of music that I already used by Daniel Bernard Roumain, a composer that I have used more than any other. His works are so modern and innovative in rhythm and structure but stay true to the more traditional elements of classical training, a lot of which resembles the compositions in my work. Then I got to thinking about how blasphemous it would be to try to come up with a new piece using the same music, the song I intended to use was an inspiration for what I feel has been one of my more auspicious works. And then I thought, well, there’s nothing wrong with reinventing myself and my inspiration, if it is a successful venture, but still, I can’t decide. It was hard enough getting over the fact that I’m using a Satie piece that I know a lot of choreographers have used before. And now this. And furthermore, I’m freaking out wondering if I’m going to have to change the music at the last minute because another choreographer is using it in the same show. I’ve seen it happen. Ah!

I described the piece I’m presenting to a fellow dance maker:

I was really inspired by this fashion designer, Thomas Browne. I also make wearable art and design my own costumes, so I thought that I would take some of my burlesque background and add that to the piece. I found this wonderful piece of music by Erik Satie (who I love, no matter how overused he is) and I started playing around in the studio. The collections of Thomas Browne stuck in my head because he makes a lot of utilitarian menswear, with a lot of pockets. I thought that I would choreograph simple movements using the pockets as a motif, having the dancers reaching in the pockets and going from there…it worked out very well.

So now I am taking everything I’ve been working on for the past few months and creating a new piece altogether that involves the simple yet intricate focus on the sports jacket and I am designing “high fashion” clothes for the dancers to wear underneath. The first part is solely based on the jacket and then they will strip down to the flashier clothes and it’s kind of symbolic of the current socioeconomic state of the nation. We are all kind of melding into this working class society, no matter what class we are in. There is more of an appreciation (and longing) for looking and acting expensive, but we have to cut corners. So the jacket represents the hard work we have to do to stay on ground or keep our heads above water, all in an effort to create this demeanor of social status. I can’t wait to work it out with movement. Another aspect of this piece that is a challenge is that I will be dancing in it. I am NOT a dancer. I really consider myself a dance maker and I hope I don’t restrict the possibilities of the piece with my limited abilities. Luckily, I like to mesh different compositions together in one piece, so I will certainly use the dancers to their fullest, exploiting their individual skills in the hopes of making something dynamic, cohesive and entertaining.

I’m already looking ahead to potential shows for the rest of the season. I think it’s going to be a busy next couple of months. If the convoluted nature of this blog post isn’t any indication of how all over the place I am artistically, then the fact that I totally got locked out of my house this weekend might be. I went for a walk, one of my favorite clear-my-head affectations (that is usually the opposite), and ended up leaving my keys at home. I sat on my stoop and listened to my music choices over and over again. More and more ideas came to mind. Serenity FAIL!

The artist usually strives to be innovative. New New New. Something they’ve never seen before. A feast for the senses. What does that mean? How does that affect how we work? I have such enmity towards those works of art that are obvious displays of avant garde in a desperate attempt to be new and different. But I’ve already gone through this a million times. I digress. Again.

I wonder who will win out in the end, Gene or Finny. My hyper-ambitious self is trying to figure out how they can cross the finish line at the same exact time. It’s hard, but remarkably fulfilling. I know that a lot of it will depend on my dancers. My muses. No matter what I do, it is them who makes it happen. I can’t fucking wait to get in the studio.

Mr. Cellophane

The process has begun again but every time I start something, I feel as though it will never be finished. Perhaps that has a lot to do with my codependency regarding art and in my personal relationships; I do not hone the ability to let things go so easily.

A few weeks ago I met with a member of the Dance/USA Philadelphia organization who pretty much champions the dance community at large. It was a very informal, formal meeting regarding my proposal and application for a Dance Advance grant. I have some audacity applying for money from such a prestigious and competitive forum, but my idea is pretty spectacular and I have the tools to build a really special, unique and auspicious project.

Lois, the program director of Dance/USA Philadelphia, was nothing like I expected her to be. The big dogs of the dance world face the same stigma that many librarians face: that stoic, emotionless demeanor accompanied by a conservative, dowdy appearance. She was nothing of the sort. Her smile was vivid, her hair just as wild as her affable personality. I was immediately comforted by her presence and soon I would learn that she too has a love for $.50 words.

When I told her about my project she was genuinely impressed and very excited about its potential. I told her that I have the woeful affectation of over-achievement and I was hoping that she would help with streamlining my project. I gave her my background and described myself as “The guy who makes shows for people who can actually afford it”. I told her about my background in burlesque and festivals and my limited amount of training and how I really never was a dancer but always had the natural ability to compose choreography. We agreed on so many things including that wretched feeling that no piece of work will ever be complete and that we wish we could go back and correct dances that could’ve been perfect had we just added a move here and took away something there…

And then it hit us.

I was so focused on the performance of performance that I kind of put the project into the perspective that it would be a performance piece. There is always some research involved with my work, one of my most recent works of performance was based on the “legend” of Sappho the poet. I started working on a piece about sensationalism in the media (a common theme for me) and I was rummaging through old stories since the dawn of the infamous and famous “Man Bites Dog” story that graced the headlines a few years back. I always like my work to be smart and even academic in nature, especially as I mature more and more as an artist. I don’t like the work that’s overwrought with avant garde-isms and an affinity towards unorthodox philosophical statements that elude the mind and cause artistic headaches. Yes art is subjective, objective, but now that innovation is pretty much dead (hasn’t everything been done already?) I think we should all get back to the basics of entertaining an audience and making things that are visually and emotionally appealing.

Lois convinced me to rid myself of further convolution of what it is I am trying to achieve by recommending that I focus my idea and spearhead a research and development project. Spending all of my days with librarians and the motley denizens of academia, the concept was the antithesis of foreign to me and actually kind of gave me an artistic boner. There we have it.

Sometimes it is nice to sit down and hash out your ideas with someone who is just as creative as you are and faces the same issues with expressing what it is they want to say. I have had some tremendous experiences working with really fucking talented people, but I was always in charge so there was never a Cassandra in the room that would announce any imminent danger regarding the potential of my ideas. Even when I worked with the Peekaboo Revue, while we did argue here and there, I always felt as though I had the last word because we had so little time to put shows together that I had to insist that we get the work done, reminding them that we only had 4-5 rehearsals every month to put on a 2-Act show. With music. And costumes. And special guests. And so on and so on and so on….

So now my goal is to do as much ethnographic research as possible in order to build a new lexicon of dance based on the foundations of the voguing style. The title of the project goes a little something like “Artistic Investigation of Voguing for the Development of new Dance Idioms.” I am going to work with a project adviser who will assist me in getting in contact with the aficionados of the underground voguing scene in order to interview them to talk about the style and the cultural background that has inspired the dance form. Busch, the adviser, has oodles of footage from live performances (called “balls”) that I will use to examine the intricacies of this complicated, spectacular and improvisational dance form. It is a hard thing to do, coming up with a technique that stems from a virtually amorphous style, but that is the challenge that I’m looking forward to.

If I don’t get the funding, I will keep applying for monies elsewhere. My time has been so limited that I have barely had time to really sit down and go over my application. Plus, there is always the plight of getting artists on the same page, something I’ve been doing for years and it never gets any easier. I’ve been pretty much stalking yet another male dancer I met on the dance floor (voguing, no less) who gave me his contact information but has yet to return my calls. Boy dancers, can’t live with ’em, so we have to live without ’em. So sad, he’s really talented too.

I left the meeting with Lois feeling refreshed. We talked about a lot of other stuff. She recommended some books, we talked about some pretty candid stuff regarding our careers. It was nice. I love making connections, especially work-related ones.

I’ve been working in the studio. There’s two pieces that just kind of happened that I am totally in love with. The challenge for me is that my style is so sharp and based mostly upon my aesthetic training in gymnastics and athletics, so form is very important to me but I always allow my dancers to show who they are without having to adhere to a strict regiment of my choreography. I have sprightly Meagan, graceful Gillian and versatile Kellie. They all have their little nuances that I try to play off of. It’s rare that I will correct their movement, at least for now, but once there is a show, it’s back to hardcore bitch DeVo. The problem is, a lot of my work is very slow tempo-wise and I always just want to speed it up unless it’s an intentional adagio (like one of the aforementioned compositions I want to marry). I worry about boring my audience because I know I get bored if a dance is too slow or repetitive. And then I have to remind myself that it’s my personal style and I shouldn’t try to be something that I’m not. But it is nice to try new things. I am really starting to feel like I have characteristics of my style that distinguish me and automagically say “DeVo” when you look at my choreography. Is that not the goal of most modern choreographers, to develop their own style?

A dancer that I worked with at fringe a couple years ago contacted me out of the blue recently. I was so happy to hear from her, especially since I am now back in the studio after my brief (albeit emotionally necessary) hiatus from choreographing. Toni has an altogether different style than the rest of the girls. She’s jazzy and athletic and has a strong gait. She’s well-suited for some of the style that I do, but when there is something that she needs to learn, she works much harder than the other girls to get it just perfect, a quality I really admire in her being that I can empathize. I was thrown into an advanced level ballet class in college and basically learned how to do ballet from a book.

I also just heard from another dancer, Tammy, who I hope will be joining me in the studio again soon. I still have yet to figure out what to do with her, but she always falls right into the perfect place. While she has a strong background in modern dance, I feel as though she shines the most utilizing my more contemporary acrobatic stuff. She has a great personality on stage and can do any emotion well with her face and body, so I try to take advantage of that as much as I can.

I wanted to have the egg before the chicken but it looks like I’m going to have another show in a few weeks as part of a dance collective festival. I know two dancers are available and I’m thinking of expanding the two pieces I’m in love with and I’m even considering being in the piece I present *gasp*. I really do not like being in my performances, partially because of stage fright and also because of Narcissism. I would much rather see my work presented because I am my best and worst critic, so it is definitely an important part of my artistic and professional development to be able to see the finished work. I am so hard on myself, besides. And while I truly believe that I am a great performer and I actually enjoy being on stage (after the nausea wears off), I still would rather much be behind the scenes. Plus, my limited flexibility and abilities in other areas kind of hinder the dances sometimes and I really would rather exploit what the girls can do because spectacle is always exciting for an audience to watch. I know that the most entertaining dance to watch is the stuff that looks hard or impossible. And there are somethings that are hard and impossible for me to do that I can always get the girls to try.

I can’t wait to have all these materials together in order to present my proposal and move on to the next project. Right now I feel as though my success is on the tippy tip of the tongue of the beast of show business. I keep thinking about the failure that I will have to persevere through (past and future) and how I am really just trying to make a name for myself. I refuse to disappoint myself and others and I really care what other people think.

I have been thinking about two of my idols a lot lately, Courtney Love and Oscar Wilde. They were/are both larger-than-life personalities who had a way with words and psychotropic substances (the latter of which I do not aspire to). They have always been rogues in their respective artistic communities, and this is what I admire most about them. While there is no doubt of their talent, there has always been a doubt of their morality and character in the realm of societal standards. I have to keep thinking about how I have kind of used the back door to get where I am, but I have worked really hard to get here. Really, really hard. These two characters inspire me because throughout the hardships (self-inflicted or not), they have never stopped creating or re-creating the one thing that is important to them: art.

I am lucky. I have been using technology to help my art along. I record all of my rehearsals now and post them on youtube so my dancers can “rehearse” at home. I feel bad sometimes because I usually have to pick the footage where I make the fewest mistakes because I want them to focus on how I’m doing the choreography, not the entire piece in general. Because I have so many ideas in my head and I have to remember the individual choreography of each dancer (a lot of my pieces involve a kind of polyphony wherein each dancer is doing different choreography at the same time), I make a lot of mistakes and changes as I review the dances over and over again. So the girls make a lot less mistakes than I do. I used to work with a girl that had an impeccable memory and no matter how much I changed the choreography, she would always remember it. We once got into a fight about 15 minutes before a show because I changed something at the 11th hours and she missed the dress rehearsal. I expected her to immediately adapt to the change but she had somehow stored the information in her mental Rolodex in her own way and was pissed that she had to do some editing. I felt bad.

Another benefit, for me at least, to have all of this digital footage is that I get to see the process first hand and make corrections as needed. Plus, it is documentation of my development as a choreographer. While some of it is embarrassing (I recently tried out dancing while playing an instrument, a lot harder than it sounds!) I know that practice makes perfect (which can always be better). I am glad to be working on making dances with no real focus on a particular show. It means that I can just come up with ideas, try it out on the girls and move forward based on the expressions on their faces and the way they do the dance. If they do it full out, I know it’s good, or at least it’s worthy of developing, if they look sad and bored, I know it’s time to change it up.

I am still struggling for the future to happen sooner than later. I know I have a little of a long way to go, but I know I am worthy of artistic praise. I guess I’ve been out of the loop for so long that I feel like I’m starting over from scratch. My reputation is of the highest import to me and one of my biggest fears is that people will walk right by me and never know my name. Like Oscar says, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”