Training Week 5

I think I got ahead of myself but I feel totally behind. I’ve started putting together the movement composition (or less pretentiously: the choreography) for the piece I am performing next Monday. My original idea has of course morphed into a billion others whelming me with anxiety.

I went through a bout of procrastination sparked by a heinous blend of cabin fever and spring fever. March is that time of year when the east coast is teased with the portent of spring weather yet there is still the possibility of being plagued by the last frost, a wretched reminder to wait before you start planting those seeds you’ve been saving for the special moment.

The work is always ongoing in my head. Because I take the train so frequently, I’ve been obsessed with observation and honing in on what I want to do with the choreography. This first piece will be an exploration of the environments of the actual train stations with little references to actually being on a train. Since I haven’t done the photo study of commuters on trains, I don’t want to delve too much into that arena.

I did make a call for other dancers but time ran out and came too fast all at once, so I will be flying solo for this one. Dancing has always been a challenge for me, I have wretched stage fright and I am always afraid of the little voice in my head telling me how horrible of a dancer I am. I try to muffle the voice by introducing it to my good friend Jack Daniel’s right around curtain time, but I know that is not always the best way, the self-criticism haunts me constantly.

I’ve chosen the music and even shuffled a few steps here and there during my commutes while waiting for the train, trying to make the movements as small as possible in order to avoid silent peripheral ridicule from the other passengers. The first song, “Extraordinary Machine” quite frankly popped in my head as a good song to use. I was scanning through my favorite artists that I listen to on a regular basis but haven’t gotten the balls to use in a live performance (or it just didn’t feel right) and before I got to Fiona Apple, it came to me.

The song is very bittersweet and it reminds me a lot of the social climate in Philadelphia particularly. The pith is evident in the title of the song, describing oneself as a machine on a persistent journey. Though I love the imagery, what strikes me most (besides the sweet composition of the music a la 40s jazz singer) is the arrangement of music with the lyrics that inhibits a sense of a traveling motion. “If there was a better way to go then it would find me” parallels a repeated introduction to each chorus. There is a correlation to two separate people’s journey going the same way but ending up in different places.

I sometimes wonder where other people are going when they are traveling by train. If someone is wearing a suit, you think they are probably going to or are coming from work. If a woman has a stroller and shopping bags, it’s presumed she is doing her domestic duties for the day. If you see a group of casual clad young people, you wonder if they are bar hoping. If you see a couple holding hands, dressed in their best Sunday best, perhaps they are going on a date.

So the first song was a no-brainer. I never like doing dance without music unless it is saying some obnoxious statement about something. I think dance without music is kind of self-indulgent and unnecessary, they go hand-and-foot. Music moves the dance and dance moves the music, if done properly. Though with this piece, I am trying to move out of my musicality zone, not appropriating certain movements to certain songs but rather creating a story of how the movement structure came into place and then exploit it with an entertaining motif.

I listened to the first song on my iPhone while I took the train home. When I got back to my computer I typed some words into my iTunes (no Apple isn’t sponsoring this project) that related to the project. “Subway” was my first choice that prompted no results and then I typed in “Train” and got more finds. My eyes led me directly to Jimi Hendrix though I listened to and didn’t rule out songs from Bettye LaVette, Tom Waits and TV on the Radio. Hendrix’s song proved to be the best choice – it creates a certain silent, amorphous and lonely atmosphere that I think prevails much of the feelings that come to mind when waiting for a train. I’ve used his music before in my work, and I love it.

(c) Ben Riley

I sketched out some movements earlier today. I will be using a chair to represent a bench, and I love using a prop in my work. Now I am struggling with which song to end and begin with though there will be some movements without music at the beginning of the piece.

I was very inspired by two films I watched last night. The first was “I Love You Man” with my unknowing husband, Paul Rudd. It touched on a lot of issues that have been on my mind lately about relationships and the maintenance of them in American culture, but I won’t go into that right now.

The second was “Jennifer’s Body” (though I don’t usually enjoy watching horror films alone; they are just more fun with someone else). It was fantastic. There was everything I like about horror in this film though it was far from too horrific and gore-y though there was a good amount of macabre, pleasantly disguised in the witty dialogue and plot design which made for hilarious spectacle. This film too touched on some very specific American satire that always gives me an art boner, so after I woke up from several nightmares, I was ready to get this show on the road.

This is a small step for the rest of this project and I feel kind of ill about dancing again, but it is what I have to do and I am starting to get the performance bug again, so it’s okay.

I finished a fellowship application last week regarding my other project about Blacks in Berlin from 1920s-1950s. I found more compelling articles about the subject and really rounded out the proposal to make it more cohesive and grant worthy. Wish me luck.


Training – Week 2

The second day of shooting for the subway movement project was a little more haphazard than the first. Many new outcomes and inspirations came from this event that was complete with confusion, guerrilla photography and a few run-ins with the cops.

Since I was working with another dancer I concentrated more on doing things organically and trying more abstract movements than natural ones. I knew that I wanted to add some shots with the both of us to correspond with my interest in interactivity among commuters.

We scheduled a time in the afternoon on a Thursday, a much busier time than was on the first shoot that we did over the weekend. The photog and model were waiting on the subway platform which I didn’t realize until about a half hour after our meeting time (I had given what I thought wasn’t vague instructions as to our meeting place).

We went right to work and I had the model do natural movements in the area around the platform and the architectural bench at 8th and Market Street station. Since there were so many people around (most of them curiously gawking at our actions) I felt rushed in order to get as many shots as possible at each location. Not too long after we started shooting, 3 police officers approached us.

I had mentioned to the photog at the onset of the project that we might have an issue with permits. After working with film in the city I knew that this was a big issue, mostly for logistical purposes. I thought that we would get by if we were mindful of our surroundings and got the photos taken rapidly and took them in remote areas where there weren’t a lot of commuters.

One of the officers was inexplicably aggressive in his questioning and we explained that we were just artists taking pictures, nothing more, nothing less. The photog explained that he had read all the rules and regulations on the SEPTA website and that there was nothing regarding permits as we were not doing any commercial work. Still, they were curious to know why we were there and the lead officer went as far to interrogate me about why I was handling SEPTA property (I had moved a “Caution Wet Floor” sign out of the way for about a minute to get it out of the shot). Luckily I had a couple of glasses of wine before we got there so I was in a jovial mood and made jokes; I even offered to put the police in the shoot. They took down my information and said it was okay for us to continue but in the future we have to let a SEPTA official know that we will be taking photos. I laughed it off and we continued on to the next stop.

We shot at 11th and Market, in a spot that we did not shoot the last time. The photog had scouted the location during the last shoot, mentioning that the color combination was interesting there and we might get some good shots there.

I had the model do natural movements and then I added a jumping process. Some of my favorite shots from the first shoot were the shots were the person in the image is midair, it really creates a sense of surrealism and emotional distance between the model and the environment, and it bodes well for the implications of this research. Again, I felt more rushed and much more on edge. There were so many people around and again, more police officers were around, so we rushed through the second shot.

We then went to the 13th Street Station. First we had to backtrack and go to 2nd Street because we needed to be on the other side of the platform and there was no crossover there. When we got to the 2nd Street Station it was pretty desolate so we took a few shots while we waited for the next train.

When we got to 13th Street I was trying to think of what to do next and totally forgot to go downstairs to where the subway lines connect with the trolleys, one of the more visually appealing places we shot on the first day, complete with vintage orange and green tiles that made for some great images.

We did more running and jumping shots and then continued on to the open space below Broad Street and did more shooting there.

We played with the natural running movement shots and also did some work on natural elements of interactivity, i.e. walking towards each other and moving out of the way. After these shots I experimented with more abstract movement, focusing on the parts of the body that correlated to the aforementioned actions.

We then walked over to a spot that caught my eye the last time that was next to a ticket booth. It had back-lit glass block tiles and I loved the way there were so many geometric structures that were picturesque in their own right. As soon as we started shooting, again, the police came and rained on our parade. We explained again what we were doing and they were not satisfied with what we had to say so we called it a wrap and went our separate ways.

While we were below Broad Street I ran into two of my friends. In hindsight, I wish that the photog would have taken some pictures of us. I am pleased with the abstract shots we’ve been taking but I am losing focus on capturing the natural elements that will form the basis of the movement idioms I plan to put into place with the dance work.

Most of the other models that I will be working with are non-dancers, so it is imperative that I stick to the scenarios I mapped out initially for the photoshoots. We decided that it would be best to do all the subway station shots first and then work on photos of models on the actual trains. It will be difficult to schedule this and to get the timing right, also, the photog and I agreed that we will go through the proper channels next time to avoid any hangups with the police.

The police were a big part of the mood of the shoot. While we were pretty much unfazed, there was still this nervousness in the air that made us want to get through the shoot as fast as possible. We got about 800 shots total, and I think I directed pretty well, but there are some things we will have to revisit later. The model was great, she will do pretty much anything without any qualms, I hope to continue this trend in the future.

I will be debuting the first elements of the dance performance piece in a work-in-progress form at the Hybrid Arts Collective, Monday, March 28th at 7PM at Broad Street Ministry, 315 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA.

I am so happy to have been chosen for this evening of art productions, it has been way too long since I’ve worked on some choreography. It will be a duet piece with me and one of the models, Meagan, and I will be incorporating some of the elements I’ve extracted so far into this work. It will be a good platform for me to test the pith of what I have researched so far and to further the development of this work in the future.

*Photos ©