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.”