Yesterday I wrote a blog post based on the process of creating a fugue. Original post can be found here. As part of my grad/MFA work, I've been discussing process through correspondence with my advisor who suggested I might give the dancers a chance to respond if I blogged about a process that so directly involved each of them. Exciting! Many thanks to Merli V. Guerra, Brittany Lombardi and Amy Mastrangelo once again, who are integral to the piece I'm creating and the spirit inside it!
Historically, I like Kim's movement. Kim is a sweeping, swooping, jumping choreographer. Her phrases are big and wide. They stretch to all corners of the studio, to all seats in the house. They travel, they move you, they take you places. Long lines of energy shooting past the physical limits of our extremities.
This is the kind of dance that I especially like to dance.
So, suffice it to say, I was a bit concerned when in our first rehearsal for the "Fugue," Kim presented us with paper, sheets of music, dotted incessantly with teeny tiny black notes all over the scales. They were everywhere and abundant. They were frantically scattered about the page in no seemingly logical order, as if a clumsy waiter had spilled fresh ground pepper all over someone's beautiful song.
We're gonna Kim-move to this?
Well, as it turns out, yes we are.
The "Fugue" is turning into a top favorite Kim piece for me, and that's not just because it's topical in this piece of writing. It's making me think in a way that I've never had to dance before. It's forcing, forcibly forcing me to listen and hear music in an entirely new and active way...and also dance while I'm doing that. As we work along in this piece and things become more and more ingrained and natural to our bodies, I'm noticing that I've started to hear the choreography in the music. While I truly know nothing of notes and the letters assigned to them, I can hear where my arms are supposed to be, or the jump that I'm already late for (oops.)
Even tonight I had to remind myself, in rehearsal, that I really ought to count the music, use the tools that I've been using as a dancer for the past one thousand years. But then again, this is an entirely new experience of dancing to music, or rather, dancing WITH the music, and maybe even, dancing BECAUSE THE MUSIC SAID SO. I remember once performing as a high schooler in my studio's dance recital, and I caught myself, on stage, realizing that I wasn't counting at all. I was just doing the routine that had been drilled into my body after hours and hours of rehearsal. It was exhilarating. I felt like a real dancer, to move so seamlessly with the music, quite literally without even thinking about it.
This is a similar, and yet slightly more enlightening experience. While I look forward to further drilling of this routine (my muscles need to make some memories, if you know what I mean) it's fascinating that, from the very very beginning, it wasn't about the counts, but it was very much about the music. While that seems like it should be an inherent concept in dance...it really isn't. The counts always go to the music; you can always find the 5, 6, 7, 8, somewhere in the song you're listening to. This time around, we're listening for our parts, we're listening for our movement, and oh, by the way, maybe there are numbers in there, somewhere, but don't worry about them just yet.
So truthfully, when I come to rehearsal, I don't come ready to dance as I do come ready to think. And listen. And hear. And that's not entirely appropriate, because even though I need to think, and listen, and hear, Kim-movement is still Kim-movement, and even though the Fugue is fugue-ing at a thousand black dots a minute, my arms still need to stretch, my legs still need to swoop, and unless I'm instructed otherwise, my toes still need to point.
Oh and also, there are two other dancing humans on stage, who are occasionally tethered to me.
It's active, physically and mentally. It's hard, physically and mentally. It's slightly absurd, but all the best things are, aren't they?
Despite our beloved Kim's calm, cool, and eternally relaxed and easy-going demeanor, this piece is not easy. But when has a bit of a challenge ever detracted from our love of dance? When has it ever stopped us? Um, I'll tell you; it hasn't, and it certainly won't now.
The other night when Kim first approached me about writing a response to her post on creating the fugue, she phrased it as "My adviser would love me to gather your take on the challenges of this work, from the dancer's perspective." Only one tiny problem… What challenges?
For me, this piece has been a delightfully intuitive break from the typical Kim Holman rehearsal process (and believe me when I say that I love the typical KH process!). Allow me to give you a little tour of the typical work flow when Kim creates—having been in many of her works over the years. We, as dancers, enter the studio with only a vague understanding of the work as a whole. Gradually, through experimentation, and the additions of phrasing and sense of purpose, a piece unfolds—with the final step being the ultimate layering of a finely-tuned sound score that magically fits our own internal timing of each moment, movement, and phrase.
Let me boil that down: Typically, the musical timing is taken off of us, and appears at the very end of the process!
Now, welcome to the fugue: A piece dictated by the rigorous timing of a musical genius long since departed. Yes, the first rehearsal was without a doubt daunting, with Kim showing us a color-coded sheet music nightmare of notes, while the end result of a perfectly coordinated fugue seemed distant. Yet within the first two rehearsals, it became apparent to this musically-driven performer that this would be one of the simplest, most straightforward Kim Holman pieces I've performed to date!
The beauty of the fugue from the dancer's perspective is that not only am I always easily aware of my own timing and choreographic phrasing (as Kim's done a wonderful job of carefully linking each movement phrase to fit the musical phrasing naturally), but I'm also constantly aware of my fellow performers' movements as well. The three lines of the fugue provide me with an auditory reminder of what Amy's up to as I perform phrase E and what Brittany's up to as I perform phrase B, as if an audible cheat sheet.
And thus, the very reason this piece is incredibly challenging for the choreographer is the same reason the piece is so simple for the performers. Through Bach's complex structuring, Kim's work has been multiplied, while ours has been simplified. Yet I would be remiss if I did not in part credit this ease to Kim's planning behind the scenes. Without that careful planning, I'm sure all four of us would be sitting there scratching our heads week after week, as Bach giggles with glee from the grave.
During the first few moments of our first rehearsal, I have to admit I was a bit confused; how was I supposed to interpret the notes within this piece of music without losing complete self control? The rhythm was complex, bubbly and somewhat hard to follow count-wise. Unfortunately I never had interest in learning an instrument growing up, needless to say I am kicking myself for it now!
Within the first few weeks of rehearsals, after looking at Mardi Gras color coded sheets of music, a trippy YouTube illustration of notes in the composition and observing the movement quality on video, I discovered that I can learn how to follow music like a pianist. Tonight's rehearsal focused on the beginning stages of the prelude, a six minute integration of speedy pitches and mind boggling rhythmic obstacles. Each time I went through the motions of the choreography, my body slowly became one with the music; so much so that I forgot to count! For the next six weeks my goal is to be as invested in remembering accents within the different sections of the music as I am with becoming comfortable with sequences of steps.