Thursday, April 4, 2013

A note on motherhood from the Director

I am a mother. I am an artist. I am a woman. I wear my baby.
It is a sad assumption that mothers cannot have careers in the professional dance world.
I am doing it.
I have been an artist since birth. In its many incarnations, my art has seen the world of the two-dimensional and the multidimensional. In my mid-twenties, after a lifetime of dance and visual arts training, my life felt rested in the art of dance and choreography. I planned to be a professional dancer, briefly forgetting the root of my passion, which was always choreography. For me, it is creation that fills my soul. I didn't know how true that was until I created a human being. After the traumatic birth of my son, Oliver, my body could no longer perform as it once did. But I could still create dance. There's nothing like giving birth to give life and flow to creative juices. I launched 127th St. Dance Company in 2010, at age 33, when my son was a few months old. I was one hundred percent committed to this new life that I knew came to me, choosing me. And I was one hundred percent committed to following my calling as a choreographer. I knew I could do both and I could do both at the same time. My son attended rehearsals, strapped to me in the Ergobaby as I was steadfast in my attachment parenting philosophy. I did not want to leave my nursling, nor give up my career. I knew I had much to say as an artist and I knew I could do it with my baby in tow. So we danced. I taught choreography, managed a fledgling company's dancers, choreographers, finances, insurance, fees of all kinds. I wore my baby until he had weaned himself to only a few feedings a day.
Rehearsing WEEDS March 2013

Rehearsing WEEDS February 2013
By the time I became pregnant with my second child, 127th St. Dance was a well-established and baby-friendly company. I gave birth seven days after one of our performances and a month and half before another. I knew I had to get back into rehearsals as soon as possible and had little time to recover. With physical therapy and armed with our Ergobaby, I went into my first rehearsal three and half weeks postpartum. I was exhausted, but I did it! A few, short weeks later, 127th St. Dance Company performed Spirito, a piece inspired by the traumatic birth of my son.
Still of Spirito, performed at Bastyr University with Penny Simkin.

For a while, I told myself that I had to do this for my children, that I had to teach them that they could do anything. I thought I was fighting to make sure they knew that they could follow their dreams. As I get older, I am realizing that I've missed the point. They are here to show me that I can do it all. I can have all of my loves in one place. I can create these beautiful children and I don't have to leave them behind to create my life's work. I am humbled by the work these two young people have done for me.
Gratefully theirs, b

3 and half months postpartum
3 and half months postpartum

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Short Reflection from soloist Emily Lubinski

I am a full time teaching artist in Seattle and professional dancer with the dynamic, unique company that is 127th St. Dance.  I direct a high school dance program, teach at a University ballet studio, and instruct a ballet and pointe program at a competitive dance studio.  As a teaching artist, I'm so often alone in the studio with my art and my choreography, and as a dancer I am often challenged so much physically that one can feel very raw when the music ends.  127th St. Dance is a beautiful, hauntingly emotional, daring company of brilliant choreographers and dancers, but it's more than any dance company I've known - it's a home.  We truly are a family.  We not only love our art and our profession, but each other.  127th St. Dance brings that sense of unity and belonging to each of us in the company, and to everyone for whom we perform.  To me, 127th St. Dance means so much more than a company, an art form, or a job - it is truly, at its core, the human experience.

~ Emily Lubinski
127th St. Dance Company, soloist

Friday, July 15, 2011


            Saturday. Bastille Day. Seven days to the show. Studio ‘H’ on the fourth floor of the Center House. For those of you who have never been to the fourth floor of the Center House, it looks like a subway service tunnel. Or a forgotten hallway at Costco, bricked up to keep the ghosts inside. Beautiful things happen here. We open the velvet curtains and Cajun music fills the open windows from the stage outside. Sliding accordions and a gravel voice singing about the good-old-boy-life. No one cares. We joke about it a little then the 127th team goes to work.
Today is the quartet. Dana, Gabrielle, Annie and Kat with Rochelle giving instruction. The company in full will rehearse through the week, taking only one day off to rest. They run it over and over. A beautiful piece where one dancer is surrounded by the three, who move on and off stage like specters haunting her. She dances alternately free then guarded, proportionate to the nearness or distance of the three.
By the third or fourth run through I am crying, hiding my face because the one dancer is me, in the cobwebbed back-halls of the mind. Being hunted by the ghosts of thought and memory. Not the good thoughts, no, nor the happy memories. The good thoughts never come to comfort us of their own free will. The failures, the disappointments, the harsh words spoken unjustly, the hurts given and received out of ignorance or malice. These are the thoughts that come and go as they please. Our daily companions, our ghosts. Sometimes we are good, sometimes we are lights against the coming darkness. Sometimes we are torn down by the weight of our own being.

Monday. Five days to the show. Return to studio ‘H’. Today they will run through the entire rep. It is quiet outside. I sit under the windows, the somewhat summer breeze on my neck and the salt smell of the ocean.
The dancers prepare. Stretch and stow their gear, chatting about body types. Their medium. They start showing off their bruises. Laughing and smiling, they are proud of them: big powder burn bruises. They begin. Five days to the show to do list:
1)      Arch the back
2)      Elevate the head
3)      Keep your chin up
4)      Timing on the jumps
5)      Watch the kicks (Julian almost caught one…)
6)      Maintain center stage
7)      Buoyancy in the last shape of the drum piece
8)      Breathe, eat, sleep like a stone
9)      Rinse and repeat
The dancers know what to do. The choreographers know what they want. Time to tighten the screws. Hit the highs and lift the lows. It takes a village and this work is their baby.
            For all its emotional content and focus on physical expression, much of dance is in the numbers. I saw finger snapping for the first time today, counting the pace of a walk across the stage. One two three four, one two three four. Although they talk about counts often, watching 127th Street rehearse, it is easy to forget the one two three fours. They pick up new moves after one showing. Instruction is taken without hesitation or complaint, integrated and rehearsal moves forward. I wish I could memorize verse so quickly and accurately. Point of fact: every instance where they worked the counts today, the dancers got it the first time through. I never saw them go over the counts on the same sequence twice. It amazes me every time.
There are so many elements to align: the many dancers, their positions, their shapes on the stage. All those arms and legs, each with correct and incorrect positions. The dancers get direction like, “Your reach has to come from a place of resistance, not a place of force.” “I want the feeling like you are going to jump right off the stage. But you won’t.” That gets a laugh. And my favorite, “Drop your heart and pick it up again.” Dana holding a pose on her toes for so long she asks, “Am I still up here?”
            Dinner hour comes and goes. Cocktail hour too. They work straight through. This is what it’s all about, pushing through dinner to get one phrase. Sometimes it helps to feel the hunger. There is joy here. There are few rushes Mountain Dew doesn’t market that match the rush of creation when you are getting it right. When the elements fall into place and there is a sense of the inevitable and the new coming together at once. Crackers, peanuts, bottled water: a dancer’s work-time fare. When they get a moment the dancers grab a bite and come back to the floor chewing. Through it all they smile, they play off one another to maintain focus, balance and synchronicity. It is a beautiful thing to see. One of the few times I regret my craft is a solitary one.
            It is five days to the show. Emotions run high. This is a good thing. Difficult but useful. The dancers must embody each piece. Take experience from their off stage lives and use it to give an ‘intuitive emotional life’ to their art. The choreographers ask, “What is bringing you into this piece?” In the months preceding the show the dancers have endured two deaths, stitches, trouble at home at the day job and this is just what they talk about. There is more (life off stage continues to swirl like autumn leaves in a storm wind) but I don’t pry. They are dancers, it comes through their bodies when they move: those ghosts that haunt the dark hallways of the heart and mind. Universal yet appearing with infinite variation. The ten-thousand little things ancient Chinese poets claimed comprised our lives. It never ends, this battle for sovereignty of the body and soul. The story of the dancer and the three ghosts lives within us all. Stand tall. Turn into it, own it and know that you are loved. Be the dancer and the ghost, the flower and the fist. Say, “Yes, this is the energy I bring with me everyplace. How are you?” Anything less, let’s be honest, would be a bit dull. As Bukowski once wrote,
some people never go crazy
            what truly horrible lives they must lead

Knock em dead ladies and gentlemen of 127th. I believe in you.  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

An Outsider’s Look into Dance: The Language of the Body, Part 2, by Joe Pierangeli

…let it be beautiful as it may, but get
at least a little meaning in,
this not-much for which we always settle.
            -Hayden Carruth

As darkness steals the world from the window frames and the rain continues to fall and the cold refuses to let go, rehearsal enters its third hour. These are the moments no one gets to see. The sweat and the agony. Skin makes a much sharper squeak against the hardwood than socks do. After three hours you begin to empathize. Rehearsal is slated to run four hours tonight.
Hemingway was once challenged to write a short story in only six words. This is what he wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” The point was to see how much content he could squeeze into a space too small to contain it. Every medium has its physical and conceptual limitations. These must be overcome. Artistic creativity is capped only by the scope of the artist’s imagination. This must be contained. Here are the parameters. I am your audience. Reach me. Make me feel.
The body’s relationship to space is defined by movement. The stage is inherently a limited space. I watch the choreographers pace the boards, hand on hip, pencils twisting up their hair. They lead the dance then watch. Stop the music, give direction, start the music, lead the dance and watch again. They run through the same pieces over and over and over. Measuring space. Pacing the movements. There is no magic formula. No epiphanic moments. Just hard work, dedication and love for the craft and for the form.
 Watching a dance rehearsal is like watching a sculptor work. Only the body is far more fluid than stone or metal. The choreographer shapes it, finds the angles, the posture, the motions that unite them, and the dancers make it breathe. A collaboration the old masters must have envied. Imagine Rodin telling ‘The Thinker’ to change hands. Just to see how it looks. Then change back.
Would it matter if ‘The Thinker’ rested his chin on the left hand versus the right? Rodin thought so. They say 90% of communication is body language. Dancers just throw out the leftover ten. I suppose it’s up to the individual. But the next time you are introduced to someone, try to shake their left hand.
There is an essential disconnect in the artist/audience relationship. Actually there are two. The first is in the transposition of content from the artist’s mind to their medium, be it dance, literature, painting, sculpture. The second exists between the medium and the audience. It is in these disconnects that the challenge, the trick, the terror and the joy of art dwell. They are the birthplace of symbolism. They are why critics have jobs. They are why no love poem now or ever has said ‘I love you’ twelve lines in a row then ended. To tell your sweetheart how you feel, one must talk about everything except love. Only then will your feelings translate. Don’t say I love you, rather say, “…I, being poor, have only my dreams. I have laid my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.”
This is all the more true in the case of dance. How would one communicate the frenetic air of a wedding party? The sadness of a funeral, using only the body? Try it. Write a love poem. Choreograph a dance. Then ask again whether or not the right hand versus the left matters.
At one point during Barbara’s piece a dancer asked, “Where are the arms on this?” She held them out, one to each side and I thought, why is she asking? There they are, right there, what’s the problem? She was asking: are the elbows straight or bent? Held firmly or soft?
Each audience member brings their own imagery, their own back story. This is one of the great gifts and challenges of art. Enter essential disconnect #2.
For me, when her arms were bent I saw a tree branch, something soft, pliable, something that sways with the wind. When they were straight I saw a steel beam, rib of the skyscraper, post and lintel, something strong upon which lesser objects stand. Barbara answered that she wanted the elbows bent and relaxed. But what I remember most is that the wrists were to be bent also, held softly and when she showed Barbara her interpretation of this, the dancer held her hand just so, and the wrist was there, at such an angle, that it looked just like the hand of Michelangelo’s Adam, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, reaching for the hand of the creator. Amen.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

An Outsider’s Look into Dance: The Language of the Body, Part 1 by: Joe Pierangeli

We flipped on the light and opened the curtains. The windows looked out on the clouds and the moving trees. We swept the floor while the dancers filed in. They began their warm up. Fascinating, the movements of a dancer. Not just in the act of their art, but in mundane every day things. Walking across the room. That last sip of water. Changing a pair of socks. There is a vitality, an awareness of motion lacking in the average man, the average woman. It is more than the interplay of muscle and bone and the angle of the sidewalk. There is intention. There is grace.
            Dancers talk with their bodies. In plain conversation. Telling, perhaps, a story from the work week, or where they ate dinner last night, the toe will tap this way or that to emphasize specific points. A flourish of the hand. A sudden change of stance. It comes naturally to them, like fingers touching the chin of a poet in thought. Or an astrophysicist walking past his front door. This was my introduction to the language of dance.

            Rehearsal started when the iPod dock came out. This particular dock cycles through the colors of the rainbow while playing. Music and the body are the only tools a dancer needs to create their art. And sometimes they don’t need the music.
            “How do they remember all that?” I asked Barbara Caioli, choreographer and artistic director, in reference to a staccato list of instructions from resident choreographer Rochelle Rapaszky to her dancers as the music blared.
            “Your body remembers.” She said. “You use your brain until the body takes over.”
            It must hurt to slam your feet and knees and elbows on the hard stage over and over. One dancer wore a wrist brace and I thought about that until they started dancing. As a writer, I couldn’t help but try to quantify how many words are contained within a single movement. Take for example, hands clutching the throat that certain way, or falling prone to the floor. The body is more than a means of conveyance from birth to death, a biological system that once wound down can never be started up again. The body is a tool of expression, a voice, common to all cultures, all languages, yet owing to none. As their movements flowed from one to the next like rhyme, the choreographers spoke about projecting emotion to inform the movements and determining focus to bring the steps to life. This is the content of dance. The language of the body.

Monday, January 24, 2011

it's not brave if you're not scared

Choosing to move space, to shape it according to a specific vision is no simple task.  Beyond the choreographer's vision, there needs to be a willingness of spirit and vulnerability from the dancers. 

A rehearsal room is filled with creativity, sweat, some blood, hormones, and a breath of anticipation and exhaustion like in no other place.  A synchronic rise and fall of breath is key to a successful rehearsal and, ultimately, to a successful show. 

Choreographer and dancers need to work collectively and begin each moment with a renewed sense of curiosity for what will next occur in the process.

Love to all creators of movement.