9/17/14

DUMBO Dance Festival

Nicole and Nikki will be heading down to Brooklyn next week for the DUMBO Dance Festival.  They will be performing Connexa, a piece choreographed by Sarah Feinberg and Nikki Sao Pedro Welch.  All DUMBO Dance Festival performances are FREE and filled with some incredible artists.  So come check it out!

You can find Monkeyhouse on Saturday, September 27th at 3pm and Sunday, September 28th at 4pm.  All performances are held at the WHITE WAVE John Ryan Theatre, 25 Jay St, Brooklyn, NY.

Did we mention they are FREE!?

9/15/14

Word of the Day: Choreography

by Nicole Harris

In the spring we talked a bit about Musings and where they came from.  Today I thought we'd back up a bit and talk about a word we use here at Monkeyhouse every day in everything we do:

Ululation tech
CHOREOGRAPHY - This may seem like a simple one but there are many ways to look at it.  According to the dictionary choreography can be defined as:  
  
n. the sequence of steps and movements in dance or figure skating, esp. in a ballet or other staged dance.

Recently I have had a number of conversations about Monkeyhouse's definition of this word that is the base of 
our entire organization.  We see choreography as:

Movement with meaning.

Our definition still covers choreography in the traditional sense, in dance concerts, movies, theatres, ice skating rinks and on Broadway.  However, it also covers a much wider range of ways that each of us move every day. Movement is everyone's first language and it helps us create a frame of reference for the verbal language we learn soon after. 

My favorite example of how you (yes, you) use choreography is to think back to your last job interview.  You put a lot of thought into how you dressed and putting your resume together.  Unconsciously, you also thought about sitting up straight, not fidgeting with your pen, making eye contact and the firmness of your handshake.  Each of these movements portrayed a specific message.  You are the right person for this job.  You are confident and self assured.  A people person.  That right there, folks, is choreography. 

9/11/14

Dance Around Boston: Monkey-narium Facebook Campaign

We're going to do something a little different with our Dance Around Boston section this month.  As you've probably noticed, Monkeyhouse and Luminarium are great friends.  We're constantly advocating for each other and working together towards our goal of a more united local dance community.  Both companies have a strong social media presence and we also share the goal of expanding that presence whenever possible.  Recently, Merli from Luminarium and Nicole from Monkeyhouse put their heads together and decided that there has to be a way to work together to increase both companies Facebook "likes" to 1000 each.  Kim (Luminarium) and Karen (Monkeyhouse) joined the conversation (both out of interest and a desire to stop listening to Nicole and Merli obsess about Facebook stats) and we brainstormed ways to push us both towards our goal.

It turns out, we are not the only people who think these two companies are a magical pair.  We were recently approached by an anonymous donor who wants to use our current social media campaign as a way to raise money for both organizations.  How amazing is that!?

Here's how it's going to work.  On January 1st our amazing donor will add up all the total Facebook likes from both companies and donate ONE DOLLAR (fifty cents for each organization) for every like.  So, if Monkeyhouse gets 1007 likes and Luminarium gets 1013, each company will get $1010.  


Here's how you can help!
1.  Take a moment to "Like" BOTH Monkeyhouse AND Luminarium on Facebook.  If you like both companies you'll raise $2 to our cause!
2.  Be an ambassador!  Tell your friends to like both Monkeyhouse and Luminarium to help us make the most of this campaign!
Why is this social media thing so important, you ask?  A fine question!
The easy answer is that the more outlets we can use to disperse our message the more people we can reach.  Facebook is a regular staple in most people's everyday lives in one manner or another.  The same as you use Facebook to share photos, stories and articles with your friends and family, organizations like Monkeyhouse and Luminarium use social media as a way to share what we're up to with you.  More than that, it allows YOU a view into the organization that is virtually impossible in other venues.  You can see what we're working on in real time, interact with company members, leave your insights and comments and ask questions at any time, not just the few times a year you're at an event.  Because of the social aspect of social media we can use it to make sure we are generating programing that you actually have an interest in.  And you can help us spread our mission with the simple click of a button.

Don't forget, we only have until the end of the year!
Get your "like" buttons going today!

9/8/14

Performing Outside the Box

by Janine Harrington


As we head into our Misplaced/Displaced season we've been talking to artists who work in what could be considered "outside the box". We want to start conversations about how work can be created outside of traditional environments. We are thrilled to introduce you to Janine Harrington, a brilliant artist working in and around London. Here are her thoughts on Performing Outside the Box.

Monkeyhouse has invited me to write something about my experiences of “performing outside the box” and so to think about the question of when a theatre space may not be the best place for a performance… In this piece I will talk mainly about my own large-scale choreographies (The Performing Book and The Bridge), and how I have come to think about the relationship between what I make and the contexts they are performed in. This isn’t going to be an in-depth exploration of all the conventions of staging a dance work, but a retrospective tracing of some of my decisions to make works for spaces other than the theatre, with a particular focus on the relationship between the audience and the performer in contexts that you might call “out of the box”.

What’s (in) the box?
Before getting to performance outside the box, I am inclined to first spend a moment thinking about what the “box” is and does. Andre Lepecki talks about this as a ‘space that hosts the vanished dance, and that produces the yet to be danced’. The theatrical space par excellence is an uncharted space ‘not belonging to the realm of representation, but that allows representation’. In other words these spaces are frames for actions, and not speaking in and of themselves. In one sense the “box” of one space could be interchangeable for the “box” of another space through the shared function. In that sense particular spaces almost disappear, or merge into a potential space into which ideas of the thing to be staged can be projected. The un-eventfulness of the box itself makes it possible to stage something; it also makes it possible to stage several different somethings in the same space on consecutive nights, or stage the same something in various different boxes.

Choreographic Objects
I think I have always enjoyed the moment in the theatre before it all starts to happen, and have written about it before as an extended moment in which there is such possibility.

the moment when the theatre goes dark and everything is just beyond, at the moment of becoming...I’d like to continually stage that moment.

I think that for me- as an audience member- an important part of that moment is that I am engaged in the expectation and have not (perhaps yet) switched into a more passive mode of receivership. There is lots of interesting research into kinaesthetic empathy and the audience’s experience of watching dance, and I am aware of not going into any detail about that here. What I want to draw attention to is that the experience of watching dancing is often correlated with less movement on the part of the audience.

Attention to how, why, where, by who and for what end we are moved were concerns of the 2010 Hayward Gallery (London) exhibition MOVE: Choreographing You. Here choreography is aligned with manipulation, though not necessarily with a negative connotation. Curator Stephanie Rosenthal emphasised the focus on ‘visual artists, dancers and choreographers who create sculptures and installations that directly affect the movement of exhibition goers, turning spectators into active participants’. Some of these exhibited works were described as “choreographic objects”.

In a panel discussion in 2010 William Forsythe described a choreographic object as an environment that affects perception and sometimes induces a behaviour. The artist’s gymnastic-type hoops The Fact of Matter (2009) shown during the MOVE exhibition are one example of what a choreographic object, or environment might be. Interaction with the hoops animates the body in a certain way and draws attention to our physicalities- through bodily engagement with the work rather than watching the work. The hoops hung at different heights across a stretch of the gallery, and attendants invited the visitors to engage with the hoops by trying to cross a section of the space by climbing/ swinging on them. In this structure each person is a soloist, dealing with their unique mass and weight, strength and flexibility, co-ordination, stamina, determination and perhaps even stage fright. Entering the environment is to enter a conversation with the object, with the object proposing a score for that encounter. Forsythe talked about this as an improvisation, a physical practice that is produced in the immediate encounter- through the body- with a certain situations. He described a new situation as revealing something otherwise unexposed as an ‘unconscious competence’ apparent in physical situations where one has to be physically adaptive. In staged dance work (choreographies) we see the physical competence of the dancers and might think that we are experiencing the choreography, but Forsythe has argued that we are actually watching the dancers’ experience of the choreography. In this respect the interaction with choreographic information through objects and novel physical situations has the potential to bring the experience of dancing closer. I think of the experience described in relation to Forsythe’s hoops as an experience of a physical “state” rather than as a “steps” approach to choreography. In this respect we might say the encounter is a ‘first hand choreographic experience’, and that in terms of transmitting a physical idea the choreographic object is immediate and unmediated (Forsythe, 2010).

An observation on convention and access
When I work as a performer it is mainly in works that are sited outdoors, in gallery and museum contexts, and in studio-based works that overtly explore how spaces can be constituted or evoked through lighting, voice and texts. Aside from the different conventions and histories that are engaged by working in and with spaces other than theatres, the space issue is one that interests me particularly in terms of the scale of encounter between performers and audience: a solo performed to 300 people seated in an auditorium/ a duet performed in a gallery whilst a thousand visitors pass through over the course of a day/ 45 performers spread across a bridge in a large-scale interactive work for the public… There are so many different imaginations and manifestations of performance and the spaces in which that can happen (and if this was a different piece we could also go into much more detail about the differences between actual “box” spaces).

When I work with young people and we talk about outdoor work I am often struck by their desire to erect some sort of stage in an outdoor site, and so replicate some of the conditions of the conventional theatre-space. Whilst these sorts of stagings- on top of an outdoor site -can increase the number of people it is possible to perform to (thinking of music festivals etc), they rarely come with the range of technical possibilities supported by indoor theatre spaces, and the sites themselves invite a different engagement to that of the indoor conventional theatre.

My own choreographic works have mainly been performed at outdoor sites, or been commissions for particular sites (site-specific) that happen to be outdoors, but much of my work could be installed quite well indoors in the right space. The key feature of my works is the movement of the audience through the space of the performance. I’ll describe the work via The Performing Book (2011-12) and then talk about the audience’s movement in more detail.

Structures of relating
The Performing Book took a starting point from the relationship a reader has to a book- how they can choose not to pick it up, skim through, turn back the pages, start at the end etc. I transposed the structure of this relationship to dance performance, creating a situation where the audience could alter the movement according to parameters tied to their own positions in space, their speed and direction.

As the work begins, the line of dancers stands poised. The audience move past them and a ripple of movement follows. If the audience stop, the dancers hover between moments, in an extended moment of possibility. If the audience walk in the opposite direction to their first, the movement being danced in front of them reverses. As the audience move closer the movement gets smaller, as they move further away it expands. If people move quickly then the dancers speed up to a blur. If people move slowly the dancers are able to reveal subtlety and detail embedded in their phrases. As members of the audience start to understand the rules of the work they are able to play in more complex ways, and this in turn reveals details “programmed” into the choreography.

It is not an accident that some of the language I have used to describe The Performing Book is similar to that used in other technologies. As I have continued to work I have become more and more interested in where the body is in relation to not only books, but in the use of tablet media and smartphones. Starting by thinking about the journey of writing from a fully embodied task, to gradually becoming more distal (travelling from use of the whole arm in calligraphy, to the hand, to the fingers in typing and to the use of the tip of the finger in tablet media), I am curious about the sense of this process leaving the body altogether. And then I wonder if that could happen. The bodily experience has necessarily (always?) defined ways of thinking and understanding; ten digits on the hands and feet have given our counting systems a preference for working and thinking in terms of 10s and multiples of 10. Our languages are suffused with sayings which overtly reveal how movement and the body has helped to structure ways of thinking, and with gestures which map out ideas (e.g. the past is often indicated physically by a pointing a thumb backwards, whereas the future indicated by a index finger pointing forward). In Laban’s work spatiality is associated with rationality.

In The Performing Book and The Bridge, it is the centre of the individual audience member’s body which acts like the finger would act on a table screen. As the audience move their centres around they are revealing and modulating the dance in a live processing encounter with the audience. Like in the example from Forsythe, the experience of the choreography happens at the level of the individual person’s body as they navigate the work according to their own curiosity. Unlike the Forsythe example there is a distinction between the dancers and the audience in terms of material performed: each dancer has a rigorously known phrase. The most important aspect is probably that the audience have the agency to access the content of the work, but must do so using their bodies. I see this as being quite different from the set-up in a theatre where the audience are usually sitting as a group on one side and the performers are on the other. I would actually describe my work as being an installation which seeks to harness the energetic presence of potential audience members in a given space, producing a feed-back loop through recognised cause and effect changes to the danced material, leading to a more complex meeting of the resource of the dancers and the curiosity of the audience.

Working in this way brings it’s own set of issues that a show following a conventional theatre code might not need to address. One issue is about limiting the space of the work, but I have found the question about how to manage time in such a performance to be the more pressing issue. It is not clear how and when the work has begun and when it should end. The movements can be danced in many different ways; forwards and backwards is actually a loop. Audience do not have to arrive at a particular time, and can stay as long as they want to. It is also entirely possible that no one will stop to interact with the work, though their movement will have a residual affect nonetheless.

I am not against working with conventional theatre spaces, and it is something that I can imagine doing at some point in the future, but for me the agency of the audience is an important consideration, along with the space, the performers, their movement and the sound environment.

No ending
I will pause there for now. This discussion could go a lot further into the politics of access and learning but I am not certain that you as readers are still scrolling down! If you would like to see some small clips of my work you can find them here.

Janine Harrington, London, 2014.

8/18/14

August Birthdays


HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OUR AUGUST BIRTHDAYS! 

Bril Barrett, Derek Roland, Kelly Long, Laurie Sales, Ed Ryan, Drew Jameson, Jilly Richcrick, Joshua Legg, Jeremy Wechsler, Zoe Wechsler, Jordan Rosin, Joseph Maimone, Felipe Galganni, Jillian Grunnah, James Gant, Madonna, Denise Sao Pedro, Dorothy Christian, Laurie Sales, Jessica Muise, Alexandra Caporale, Enid Beaton, Michael Jackson, Lisa La Touche, Courtney Blanche, and Emma Foley.

8/15/14

Getting to Know Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Photo Credit: D. Feller

by Daniel Foner

I recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions to Eva Yaa Asantewaa, an acclaimed dance writer based in New York City. If you’d like to learn more about her, I encourage you to visit her blog, InfiniteBody. For now, however, I’ll leave you with our conversation, which speaks for itself better than any introduction could.

DF: What first interested you in writing about dance?
EYA: I was always a writer, from childhood, writing poetry and satire and creative versions of the television shows I loved (what today might be called fan fiction). I read a lot and wrote a lot, training myself to write, and I was always very good at it. I was one of those introverted kids who expressed herself best in writing--and perhaps I still am!
I have also loved dancing since I was a kid--at family parties with lots of Afro-Caribbean and Black American music and, later, rock and soul and the like. It's only now that I realize that not only was I a talented dancer at that time, I was a choreographer! I'd had limited exposure to ballet classes when I was young but, in the coming years, I would pick up folkdance, modern (Graham, Ailey, even Isadora Duncan), jazz dance and Middle Eastern dance classes but never with a serious thought of becoming a professional. I didn't really have a role model for that, and I had absolutely zero family support for that as a career option!
When I graduated from college, I needed something to relieve the depression that I'd fallen into, and I remembered how good and healing it had always felt to take dance classes. So, I went back--to jazz dance, to Afro-Caribbean--and took up bellydance, which is probably the dance form that I studied for the longest. And it was great feeling to get my authentic energy and my body back. That same summer, I discovered two courses in dance criticism were being offered, and it just made sense for me to put these two interests together. I wanted to share my observations and thoughts and feelings about an art that had meant so much to me as a student and a fan.
At first, it was a complicated task to write about dance performances. As a newbie, I think I overcompensated, struggling to capture too many details, not sure of my authority--especially in a field dominated by white writers, as it still is. A friend said, "You are working way too hard." That stuck with me, and I eventually trained myself to relax, to be discerning about what information was significant and sufficient to tell the necessary story, and to allow the keen observer and the poet in me to come through. Writing for non-conventional outlets like The Village Voice and Gay City News was also incredibly freeing. As I went along, I felt more and more permission to be exactly who I was and to express myself on the page. In fact, I think I caught that kind of courage from the art that I was seeing, and I still do.

DF: Dance is heavily dependent on visual and audio aspects. To face this challenge, what's your process for translating these into prose?
EYA: I don't really see a distinction between perceiving, processing and documenting movement and doing the same for visual and audio aspects of a production. I've been "raised," if you will, on interdisciplinary approaches in the performing arts and feel not only able to process and express the intersection and interaction of multiple elements in a performance but excited by that challenge. I have to weigh the relative impact of each element in the overall context and effectiveness of the piece, but I also have to keep all of my senses open for whatever's incoming. I also do something else, on a professional basis, that's similarly complex--divination using imagery from Tarot and other card oracles, the kind of thing that can be intimidating in its complexity, because there's just so much going on in and around these visual images and symbols--and yet I relish this challenge, too!

DF: What are your favorite styles of dance to write about, and why?
EYA: When I got into this field, I was seeing a wide variety of work--from Ailey and other Black American choreographers to ballet to Graham and various forms of dance from other cultures. Also lots of postmodern dance. So my head was opened up to a lot. I never got stuck in one mindset about what dance could and should be or who the sacred cows were. My first review editor--Tobi Tobias at Dance Magazine--insisted that I stay open to covering many kinds of dance. That was exciting and empowering, and I'm grateful for Tobi's insistence.
I'd say my range was bigger than than it has been in more recent years, since I don't really cover ballet anymore. I consider New York's rich slate of progressive, contemporary dance to be my beat. That world, in itself, is pretty big and diverse. But I also love opportunities to see and cover traditional dance forms from a variety of world cultures because that most often speaks to my spiritual values as well as my love of travel and a broad range of music from around the globe.

DF: You've been writing on dance since 1976. In your view, how has the art and the community changed through the years?
EYA: There are so many valid answers to that question, but the one that most haunts me concerns the impact of money--or, rather, lack of money--on the field. When I started out, there was much more funding available. It was a great time to be in love with dance. I think, in this society, you always have to have noble courage to stand up for dance and dancers, but things were a little easier then. Since the funding has dropped off, I think it's just harder for the individual dance artist or small dance organization--and even some big ones--to stick their heads up and take big risks that could impact their careers and opportunities for funding and presentation. Certainly, it's hard to be the kind of artist who speaks truth to power--and I don't just mean political power, although I do mean that, too. I also mean the power of all those who hold control--the funders, the presenters, certainly the critics and journalists, even arts administrators and individual teachers. There's too much fear of consequences for saying what you're thinking.

I have a triple heritage--Black, feminist, lesbian--from kickass communities with solid histories of not only speaking truth to power but also banding together, hanging tough and building our own resources for the common good. (I should add that the women in my immediate family were all union women in the garment industry.) I especially saw that and participated in that kind of activism in the lesbian community in the 1980s, and I kind of miss that communal energy and determination and get a little impatient when I don't see it around me with the people I care about. But I have to remind myself that a dancer is usually working overtime not only to make excellent work but also to just plain survive on the daily as a human being, especially in an expensive city like New York, to have a viable life. And dance artists give us their very best, for which I remain respectful and grateful every single day.

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