Part of Momentum choreographers’ participation in the series is to answer a creative questionnaire mid-process that helps them verbalize their unique creativity. By removing the questions, their answers open up to new meanings.
I grew up in the Los Angeles Unified School District. I am lucky I can read. I am still deeply resentful at how ill prepared I still feel for the world at large. My education prepared me for forty hours of mind numbing work a week spent daydreaming about a dance I’m making that nobody wants to see. Since stumbling into a dance class after school at the Echo Park Recreation Center early on in the first grade, I have spent every waking hour not dancing tuning out whatever was going on to think about what I was going to do the next time I got to dance. The dance class at Echo Park was the first refuge. Where I became a believer. There was no explanation, just following (the tall, pretty, older girls) and listening to stories. Barbara, the teacher, was from “back before TV, kids, there was this thing called Vaudeville.” She drilled us into a variety of routines: a bullfighting dance, Puttin’ on the Ritz, a boxing pantomime, traditional gypsy folk dances, various ballet send-ups and step touch routines. She’s the first person I remember telling me I was funny. She taught me how to do a double take, how to pause for laughter, and wait for applause. We performed regularly at parties in the Gym/Auditorium at the Recreation Center for the Christmas, Easter, Cinco De Mayo, and the Fourth of July. Every year for the Marathon, we would perform on a flatbed truck in the Pioneer Market parking lot on Echo Park Blvd. It was real “Mickey & Judy put on a show” all the time. This is the part of my education/life experience that I’ve been reflecting on while making this piece.
It is personal because of what it means to arrange one’s life around this. I feel like I come from a school concerned with personal invention and attempting to do something no one’s ever seen before. So I really try to consider each moment, where it comes from and what it means to me. It may not be unique in the world, but it is something that came from me.
The fabric of the universe, for the infinite possibilities of interconnectivity. Pyramids, because they cause you to wonder how they were made. Parachutists, because I’m feeling the pressure of deadlines and pushing how long I can wait before I have to pull the cord.
The piece is structured around how I’ve known my dad: Before Alzheimer’s, during the beginning stages of it, and now- when he’s pretty much been taken over by the disease. From that I’ve injected my own personal thoughts and experiences, and it’s become a piece about support structures as well.
Right now, my favorite moment is the slowing down part at the end of the second section. It came out of a rhythm I had in my head, and trying to figure a transition from one point to another rhythmically. After seeing it in action, I realized it was perfect to represent the unraveling of my dad that was happening at the time.
More sections, more detailed, more filled out. It’s become more personal, more varied. More people, more color, more music. Was much simpler when it was an idea marinating in my head!
I’ve learned to trust myself during the process of making this piece. To follow through with my initial instinct, and then edit… instead of editing or saying no before anything is even tried or experimented with.
Favorite moment: we haven’t practiced this yet but I have it so clearly in my mind – Koko comes out with a barada kass (tea set) after Backa and I have this argument. Muse and Rich are sitting around kind of tapping on some instruments but they start making attaya (tea) – like somebody goes to get sugar, somebody passes the warga (green tea) to Muse so he can start. The tea is getting poured and I’m still pouting. Muse offers tea to Koko – she takes it and gives it to Rich he slurps half and gives the rest back to her, she finishes it and gives the kass back, Muse gives to other kass to Backa who calls me and holds it out toward me. I come drink. We all sit and stand around kind of tapping on some instruments and commenting on the tea. I go to work on the next round, the second.
This moment just arrived in my mind. I wrote it down to make sure I wouldn’t forget but while I have forgotten other things about the piece this moment has never left me. I love it because this is the crystal moment of sharing that I’m talking about when I say “shared language” old guys in Senegal sit around making attaya all day, passing around little cups and just breezing. It’s the way we pass the bottle outside at the BBQ, pour a splash of liquor for the dead homies, the ancestors. We do it with food – gimme a bite, lemme taste that, I just want a piece of the toast and some sauce, naw I’m good. We do it with our movements – oohhhh that’s a STEP I’m about the FREAK THAT! aw naw that ain’t the step, issanwayye!
Some artist friend told me about writing as performance so I tried writing as rehearsal. As if it’s the same thing as dancing in the rehearsal room. I let the writing be enough sometimes. But this was hard because I don’t actually think writing is enough. I don’t want to see a dancer’s writing, I don’t think anybody wants to see mine. They want to see me dance. I want to see me dance, but I had to let this piece have some words because the words are pushing to come out. Griot style.
The whole of Shared Language is going to be direct and literal. I’ve given myself permission to be literal in this work because always I have been going for “abstraction,” as if that is inherently deeper or more meaningful. So I wrote a bunch of words and I am going to make a piece of dance performance that is more or less a literal interpretation of those words. It is confrontational, in your face, in each others’ face. I hope the tone allows for crowd participation.
I’ve learned to go with that picture in my mind’s eye. Whatever concept I’m seeing clearly, or whichever bodies I am seeing clearly in the work – I have learned to honor that and make it work. Like I see Koko and Rich in the piece even though it’s a pain in the ass to work with out of town artists and more expensive. I’ve learned to keep pushing toward that vision in my mind’s eye, and stay true to this advice that was once given to me “Don’t listen to people, don’t listen to nobody. If you listen to people, they gonna spoil the group, oh my ga.” What this means to me is to keep pushing for my vision and not listen to other people’s vision on my vision’s time. Let them do their own vision their way.
Mad King Thomas:
We are always inspired by a few broad-reaching themes- one could even say obsessions: hegemony and feminism. Gender, power, the fucked up world we live in, and how much we love it and how we make sense of it. We are always inspired by our personal experience as well as what we read, see, hear and study.
This particular work found its seed in a Vegas Revue that Tara saw several years ago. She came back to MN and was telling us about this parade of topless ladies, beauty through the ages, and when they announced the suffragettes were going to be next, she was like, NO WAY, they are going to make the suffragettes go TOPLESS? And then they didn’t. But we were entranced by the hilarity and irony of WHAT IF THEY DID?
So we’ve been inspired by Vegas spectacle, the curious power in being objectified, questions of power and liberation, bicycles and suffragettes, feminism through the ages, fame, glamor, spectacle, sacrifice, the making of icons, the replacing of icons, blond celebrities through the ages, the making of gods, the placement of power, distraction, mediated life, Guy DuBord’s writings on spectacle, and our own questions about how we can live our lives to the fullest, in the most liberated way, and share that with others.
The Bicycle is a powerful symbol in this piece- it represents both the sacrificial bull with which the virgin is carried to the ritual (a platform for sacrifice and a sacrifice itself) and the means of liberation, the suffragette’s independence and our own independence now, as it is our main transportational tool. It is both a means of practical power and a vehicle for spectacle- a woman on a bicycle cannot escape the cat-calls and looks, but a woman on a bicycle has so much freedom and power, and a power that is vested in her own physical power and embodiment. The bicycle in some ways represents the perfect freedom, but is by no means perfect, and lives within the complicated and broken system.
We like dance for a lot of reasons, but in terms of our work we especially value the fact that it is based on our bodies. We make pieces about life and living, and what better form to express life and living than the very vehicle of those things. Our existence is mediated through our bodies, our bodies serve as the agents of everything we do, mundane, transcendent, revolutionary. Dance recognizes the power of the body and put them on stage. Our dances recognize the body’s power in life, in shaping the world. We want our audiences to leave our performances empowered in their bodies, to go out and live the lives they want, to go out and make the world more awesome.