“I have a girl. She’s more of a modern dancer, but she’s good. Check her out and see if she’ll fit.”
I was getting a good word about Megan Bridge from my friend and colleague Scott Johnston, veteran performer of The Peek-A-Boo Revue neo-burlesque show, during a rehearsal 10 years ago when I was heading up the cabaret show as one of the directors. The troupe was undergoing many changes at the time with its former leader heading off to L.A. for a stint, and many of the members were engaging in other projects. After many heated discussions, I urged the group to start holding auditions for auxiliary members to fill-in on an understudy basis (two of the girls I hired are now directing the troupe). Much to my pleasant surprise, when Megan first stepped onstage at the famous/infamous The Five Spot in Old City, Philadelphia, she bridged the gap that had been missing during my initial inception in mounting the monthly variety show.
While most of my Bob Fosse-isms were satisfied amongst what the breadth of the burlesquers had to offer, I was still craving the opportunity to exhibit my choreographic heritage of modern dance. The girls and boys of The Peek-A-Boo were well versed in jazz, ballet and tap dance, but it was my duty to incorporate some Graham, Horton, Cunningham and Ailey into our contemporary satire tongue-and-cheek stripteases. When Megan offered some modern dance improvisational exercises (including contact improvisation which was in its infantile stages circa 2005), I felt the delicious pangs of her saving graces.
She was my newest muse and we would go on to work together on some of the show’s most controversial numbers including a nun straitjacket striptease danced to “I Can Hardly Wait”, and a crowd favorite involving two naughty French mimes that was performed during our “April in Paris” themed show which we revamped and exhibited at a First Friday art gallery event (my first performance art exhibition).
Though Megan was a semi-regular installment during her time with the burlesque troupe, she ignited the passion in me to pursue modern dance more seriously. Her style was unique, quirky and adept. Not only was she a sponge that could bring any of my artistic visions to life, she doled out a lot of education in the realm of new contemporary dance that was foreign and anathema to me (still is).
It was a sad serendipity when The Five Spot burned down, leaving us without a venue, but leaving me with a proper exit to start producing more dance theater work. But before I separated from The Peek-A-Boo Revue, Megan was the primary canvas for painting my new direction as a director and choreographer when she danced the then apotheosis of my work, “Filter”, during the opening night ceremonial event of Hokum Arts. It was a piece about 9/11 and it was a direct symbiosis of my flowing, acrobatic, convoluted motif and her frantic, succinct, imaginary style. This piece helped to land me a City Paper’s Editor’s Choice Award for Best New Choreographer.
Megan and I went our equal but separate ways, her starting her unorthodox and anti-establishment success that is <fidget>, a hybrid of the talents of her and her longtime muse, collaborator and now husband, artist Peter Price. Together they have erected one of the most notable performance institutions in Philadelphia and continue to produce some of the city’s most engaging works.
I ventured on as an independent director/choreographer producing my work in that chasm between small theaters and seedy bars, trying to feed and feed off of what I would consider the underprivileged in the art world (neither here nor there). As I grew I realized that some of my work was a little too cutting edge as I have honed my ability to mix the academic with the provocative and after I made my first trip to Europe in 2008, I knew I would be making a sojourn there to experience artistic freedom not allowed in the USA.
I’ve been gone for the past three years and much of what I learned from Megan followed me to Berlin. Though the city’s landscape provided artist kids like myself free reign the likes of a candy store, I was not prepared for the lack of real, old-school modern dance in Germany’s capital. Out of all the things they condone, there was no real place for me as a modern choreographer except as a teacher. It was a blessing and a curse in that while my experience with modern dance was a rarity thus allowing me to attract students unfamiliar with the technique, the genre was not readily accepted into dance festivals and performance spaces (most dance studios didn’t even have a mirror). Thus I turned to contemporary dance as a platform (despite my limited training in it) and I took a cue from Megan and used other forms of visual art and multimedia to exhibit my work in new ways. I started making dance films and that was my in. I showed my first dance film at TanzBad 4, a very popular contemporary dance showcase that takes place every spring in Berlin.
When I climbed up The Fringe Arts’ theater stairs I was overcome with that sick feeling in my gut of nervousness, excitement, and envy. I had already reviewed the scope of what I missed in the burlesque scene by attending a few shows scattered amongst the city from my old family (that seems to be far and in between since I left). Now I was back in that precious divide between mainstream and underground where the city’s cultural mavens meet to experience high art or something like it in a space reserved for the who-you-should-know-if-you-don’t-already.
I had been following Megan and her crew’s journey in producing this new work “Dust” and I was more than grateful that an old burlesque buddy of mine afforded me the opportunity to see it by treating me to a ticket – for I am one of those artists who desperately want to become one of the known no matter what it costs, if not only to be able to pay to see the art of others.
This performance was especially important to me not only for the aforementioned, but to hopefully breathe life into my dying inspiration. It is hard to go from being a marvel (in Berlin) to being a degenerate (in Philadelphia); I wanted to see the light.
With her abundance of ambition, Megan Bridge received blessings and approval to perform “Dust” in a unique staging by <fidget> from its creator and poetic visionary, Robert Ashley. Following his acceptance of her inquiry, Megan took her group on a journey to reinvent the work while maintaining the artist’s phenomenal intent – and during the beginning stages of production, Ashley died at the age of 83.
It is not wholly necessary to comment on the many ways this could affect the structure and emotion involved with making the work altogether, and the only ones privy to this could be the collaborators themselves (of which there are many – new and old of the <fidget> incubator). The piece itself as presented by <fidget> is a brilliant homage to Robert Ashley but also an perfectly crafted exposition of Price and Bridge’s repertoire.
If you don’t know Megan (already), or post-modern contemporary dance forms, you may have struggled during the opening montages of “Dust”, trying to correlate something to something else. That is the trouble and the beauty of this art form. I describe contemporary dance as such: It’s like going to an art gallery, but instead of looking at the paintings, the paintings are looking at you.
There are lots of mannerisms and lots of words and lots of lighting cues and lots of subtleties and insinuations that to the untrained eye may look like they are trying to make you feel stupid and that you are missing the joke. The seemingly disparate yet rhythmic (but at the same time syncopated) choral injections of speaking amount to a thoughtful thinking-out-loud etched out by Ashley and eventually it all starts to make a sum of its parts as the piece goes on.
One of the first questions that came to mind was, “Would this piece be any different if the artists played different characters?” Funny enough, halfway into “Dust” the performers become this amorphous vehicle of storytelling and it embodies this statement of us all being different but the same.
What Megan does as a dancer and choreographer is cheeky as ever. She figuratively and literally gives a wink to modern dance, almost as a way to heed to her constant inclination to go against the grain. We as dancers love and hate the freedom and restriction of contemporary dance when sometimes there is no dance at all. She takes a moment to deliver the elementary structures of modern dance with her contractions and rise-and-fall exercises, while mixing in the daunting and delicate nuances of contemporary technique. Partnering is reared successfully as well, and the duets and trios all have very special moments to chime in on the theme of “Dust” amply. The dancers were a precious gift to Megan, and it was a thrill to see them all on stage together and delving into the work in that tender, yet intense way. Them along with the juxtaposition of Peter Price’s thoughtful technical work, brought out a magnetic attraction to the performance overall.
Towards the end I found myself kicking myself (or as it were the woman in front of me as The Fringe Arts theater has very steep rows) noting the allusions Megan was making to herself and Peter’s earlier works. There were interjections of baroque music and movements – and I noticed the repetition of the very first gesture/pose I saw Megan perform during her very first <fidget> performance entitled “The Fold” (2006) in which I wrote:
“Megan Bridge takes her space off the easel and allows movement to travel outside of traditional realms.”
To me, Thursday, April 16 was a throw back Thursday if I ever saw one. I was treated to this wonderful memory of all the things that influenced me so long ago to mold myself into the person I am today. “Dust” was an infusion of inspiration and innovation. These are the two most important tools in the artist’s toolbox – without them, we have no Life Force.
I saw the show just a few days after receiving news that one of my friends and biggest inspirations in Berlin, Sascha Weidner, had died. He was another amazing artist that left us too soon and I had some of the best conversations of my life with this man. He was a satirist and did a lot of unique, witty and completely unexpected exhibitions of his work. His death weighed heavy on my heart and sparked this atrocious resurgence of my overactive awareness of my own mortality (is that not the grandest occupational hazard of an artist?). I haven’t been creating much since I returned to Philadelphia and I feel like I could die any minute. Also, is my life worth anything if I’m not producing work? Sascha would spend an entire day or two just working and creating, without sleeping, eating…and never failed to have anything to say about art or his next project or his last.
[From the exhibition: “unveiled” | courtesy http://www.saschaweidner.de]
When I found out he was gone, I craved for that divine inspiration all over again and hoped that I could somehow conjure it up without Berlin, with some type of proverbial incantation by seeing the success of my jilted muse.
It was an extraordinary undertaking for Megan, and I am so proud of her passion, how much she’s grown, and how much she has stayed the same. I feel like a parent sometimes when I think and talk about the artists I’ve been fortunate enough to work with. I feel so privileged to be able to read between the lines that “Dust” offered despite the tragedy that stood as much of the driving force behind it. You must live in order to learn, even if the knowledge comes posthumously.