Thursday, October 25, 2007

Welcome to the journey...

This November 8 - 10, 8pm at Intermedia Arts! call (612) 871-4444 for tickets or more information--


to the accumulation of 9 months of research, meditation, play, obsession, compulsion, dreaming up, whittling down, focusing in, and putting out this 45 minutes of performance I call The Survival Pages...

Wow. What a journey it's been.

Research: Ishmael, and My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Numerous survival manuals. Collapse by Jared Diamond. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Books and books! (I'll have to update this bibliography later)... Conversations, Interviews, and most importantly, regular dates with the seasons and wilder places, to listen for the messages and dig deeper into my relationship with nature.

Meditation: Pages upon pages of journaling, sketches, scripts and descriptions.

Play: This journey wouldn't have been the same without my excellent travel companions-- Theresa, Monica, Tara, Crystalline, Katie, and Eleanor -- the artists, and the program director who were also part of the Naked Stages '07 crew. (that's the program through which this production was created). A fabulous group of women I'm going to miss once this performance is done...
"Play" includes workshops taken as part of Naked Stages, classes in playwriting, found object puppetry, contact improvisation, butoh, road-trips and hours of footage doing all kinds of strange things in remote locations, and right outside my front door. Hours working with mentors Otto Ramstad and Masanari Kawahara, trying out material and getting direction/suggestions. Writing music and recording it-- playing with layers of sound and text, and weaving portions of the piece around piano improvisation. Hours alone in a black theater-box, (which was at times more like torture than play!) brainstorming and working out ideas of how the heck to convey what's been pressing so heavy on my heart. Trying out this way and that to find the one that felt "right"...

Obsession/Compulsion: I can't stop thinking about how messed up and dire our situation is-- with wars (still!) raging, such widespread and overt exploitation of people and places, ever-dwindling resources, marriage of the media to presidential and corporate propaganda, ice-caps melting, oil and water supplies running out, ... I could go on and on. Creating this piece became, in a way, a healthy obsession. It gave me a place to put my emotions and reactions to this news and information... something I could tangibly DO and not feel so stuck.

Dreaming up: This performance also contains pieces of my dream, or my hope, or my survival strategy ("strategy" or "hope" depending on the my state of optimism or dread) As the development for this show wore on, I found myself growing more and more convinced that my soul and spirit would be much happier in a place with more wildness in it. My resolve has deepened, to build a lifestyle that will allow me to bust a move to the country. I don't talk much about this in the show, but it's a layer running through it.

Whittling Down: I swear I have enough material to do 4 or 5 more shows, without overlap! One thing that's helped me let go of favorite elements which weren't fitting is realizing that there's no reason there can't be 4 or 5 more shows... Why not be like "Rocky" or "Friday the 13th"-- Survival Pages VIII, 2015? Still, it's been very difficult to pick and choose and shape the story, and harder yet to squeeze it into the alloted 45 minutes. Maybe I can put some of the out-takes on the DVD version ;-)

Focusing in: These last 2 weeks of rehearsal, especially, has me immersed up to my eyebrows in this world I've created-- and am now living inside. There have been wisely-spaced crunches throughout this process, which have worked out well for me, the procrastinator. I have to say that Masa, my mentor and co-director, has been a tremendous help in this process. Asking questions, pushing me to define meanings and clarify my message. Helping me see that what I think he'll see is not what comes across, or showing me things that I didn't know were there.

Putting out: You'll have to come to my show, and let me know the outcome -- for you -- from joining me on this part of the Survival Pages journey... I'll be waiting to hear from you.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bones and Moments

(image: Fall Equinox Butoh Exploration, 2007)

It's been awhile since I last posted to this blog... much has happened, most of all that I finally found an overall structure and "arc" to this performance. It's been an intense process... the timing of the Naked Stages program has worked out well, as far as pushing me to work and re-work elements of the show, and to stage 2 complete run-throughs of the piece for an audience. Thanks to those who attended the September 17 pre-show and offered feedback.

The Survival Pages, in this rendition, is very video-oriented. In some ways I think I'm still hesitant about my own abilities as a live performer, and so I've leaned heavier on elements that have been pre-worked and don't depend on my "on"-ness in the moment of presentation. And yet this
is a live performance, so....

One of the more challenging elements has been building my confidence as a moving performer, & a dancer. I presented a short 10 -minute dance at the 9x22 Dance Cabaret at Bryant Lake Bowl on Sept. 26... a wonderful venue for showing works-in-progress, and getting valuable feedback from the audience in a structured conversation following the presentation. I'd love to integrate more of my Butoh training into the show, and work up the bravery to attempt this kind of movement onstage.

Digging through my notes from my first Butoh trainings in Yamanashi, Japan, at Min Tanaka's BodyWeather Farm, I rediscovered this succinct definition of Butoh from an interview we had with Nario Goda, a dance reviewer in Japan with particular interest in this form:

Q: What is the main different between Butoh and other forms of dance?
A: "Butoh strives to find the body first, then allow the dance to arise.
Other dance has a form, and tries to make the body fit into it.
Butoh strives to know the body in its own way. You learn to know the details-- when you are sick you know all the small changes in your body. Butoh uses all the details of the body, catching every information as material for dance, for inspiration."

Reaching this level of body-awareness-- let alone "allowing the dance to arise" from it, makes Butoh very difficult to perform. Butoh can certainly be spectacular, and is often imitated by performers who paint themselves white, move slowly, and make strange facial expressions. Yet I often find a quality of concentration that's missing. Other performances I've seen, there's a certain magic that can happen-- I can sense the energy in the room shift-- in witnessing Butoh. There's almost something otherworldly or shamanic about it... The dancer, through their complete focus and absorbed captivation in whatever their body is experiencing, draws me in. As a performer, this level of concentration is what I strive for-- and what is the toughest: any glimpse of self-consciousness, a shift of the eyes, a glimmer of thought about "should" passing through my mind, becomes evident in my body, breaking the energy and throwing off the spell.

A reason many Butoh performers paint their faces and bodies white is similar to having a white canvas-- a blank surface which can become anything. In Butoh, the concept of "self" is secondary. Once I'm not "me", I am free to become a leaf, a bone, a breath. Most important is to believe in what you have become-- I am not showing you, like a mime. I am not self-conscious of the ways that my body is interpreting itself as a leaf or bone or breath. This part is also tough. It's hard to let go so completely, to accept whatever my body does, and present myself with such detachment and acceptance. I find that it helps me detach when I'm painted white, or am somehow less "me" when I dance.

A reason Butoh is often slow is to allow intense concentration it takes... to arrive in that state of mind-body fluidity, and keep it connected. If you lose concentration, just keep still until you find it again. Butoh is a strange merging
of the senses with unconscious impulse, channeled through muscle and a body loose enough to really respond to the environment or imagination.

The series of outdoor Butoh explorations I've done throughout the seasons has been grounding and informative.
I've been doing these explorations every Solstice/Equinox and in-between seasonal markers, since February. Some of the footage from these will be in the show-- most has been kept as research or inspiration for the piece. I find it much easier to enter into "Butoh-mind" when I'm alone, and when I am in an environment which speaks to me. Often, magic happens.

Most recently, for the Fall Equinox, I brought a deer skull to the edge of the Minnesota River, at the Bloomington Ferry Wildlife Preserve. I usually decide what I'm going to bring, or where I'm going to go, on the day that I set aside to go out and "do Butoh"... That particular day, the skull seemed to be looking at me, so I brought it with. A set of paper-mache antlers I'd made for a MayDay Parade years ago, and a dress with fall colors also came along. When I arrive in a place, I walk through the area until I find a spot that seems to call to me. I'll set up my camera, and depending on what I see, place myself in the frame, and dance/move/react according to what I find and feel.

It was twillight when I set up the video camera in the marshy bottoms of the fall forest. A suburban couple had crossed me on the path on my way to this place, and the man noticed the skull and antlered headdress I was carrying and joked, "Are you going to call the deer?" I suppose I looked like some kind of scary witch-person on my way to conduct a ceremony. (Perhaps I was...)

Alone, I had barely started my dance when across the marsh I heard a strange sneeze. I looked up to see the white flag of a tail bound forward, then lower down as she held still. A doe was watching me through the trees. I was wearing the antlers, moving strangely for a human, and I think she was (rightly) very confused about what she was seeing. I had painted my face to echo the contours of a deer's face. In my hands were two long sticks, which I used as forelegs. I continued to move, and, watching her, absorbed the careful watchfulness, the curiousity, the grace and quietness with which she moved through the trees. For a moment, I was in an interesting place between human and not-human. I felt that we were simply two beings encountering one another, observing each other, sharing this place & time.

It's the kind of feeling that I would love to bring into performance onstage, and perhaps a more advanced Butoh performer would be able to absorb this feeling to re-create it, even removed from this place, this moment. To do this in performance, in front of an audience, feels a little like throwing myself off a cliff and hoping I'll sprout wings. Will I really be able to concentrate? To be in the moment? Am I really in the moment if I'm attempting to invoke a feeling my body had in the past?

Moments like these
I feel more human, more alive
more spirit, and less "self"

It feels good, to enter
into a place
and encounter it simply
as it is, and as I am

Here, I find
the magic in a place
will show its face...
Here, I find
the magic in me
will rise up to meet it.