by Caitlin Meehan
Last year, I built a piece whose inspiration began as a habit during rehearsals. I had been noodling around with some movement over last summer, specifically arm movement. Having long limbs myself, I was interested in finding all of the different ways that my arms could move, and how they could generate choreography.
Then, I found an opportunity to experiment and to put these ideas into practice. After Nicole had a series of strokes in 2011, she was forced to adhere to strict physical restrictions during recovery. Technically speaking, she was not allowed to "dance." However, choreographers are nothing if not resourceful, and find the loopholes I did. Simply stated, I used Nicole's movement restrictions as a choreographic assignment: each "no" became a rule I had to adhere to.
These restrictions consisted of: no bending past 45 degrees (at first, later it was 90), no tilting the head backward (keep the neck in line with the spine,) no jumping, turning, or jarring movement, and no pressure on the head.
Said my newfound arm-related creativity: "no problem." I realized that I could work within these "rules" if I avoided a lot of traveling movement. I myself once had a surgical procedure that involved a lot of stillness to achieve recovery- but it occurred to me that the entire time, I was able to play various games on the Nintendo Wii. These were played only with the arms, which ignited a lightbulb, and we were off to the races!
I began my movement research lying on the floor, moving my arms around in any way that occurred to me and video recording my findings. Then, I progressed to sitting upright, to see what more my arms could accomplish with 360 degrees of space around my body. Then, naturally I progressed to standing. This was where it was truly necessary to remember the rules and stitch together only movements that passed the checklist.
This movement research led me to the final structure of the piece: it would begin on the floor, progress to sitting, and then to standing. As I worked with Nicole, the progression of movement came to represent her recovery from the largest stroke. In the piece, her arms represent her thoughts during this period of time. Seemingly acting on their own in the beginning, she eventually masters them and gains control of them by the time she has progressed to her feet, and in the end gladly follows them from the space.
I use the 10 positions of Luigi, a jazz dance master, as a vocabulary that repeats and varies itself throughout the piece. These positions have a sequence, which is repeated by the arms as though they are known facts; at other times certain positions appear on their own or out of sequence. This helps to illustrate the concept of repeating facts to oneself to remind or reassure; sometimes they come in single thoughts or as a string of memories or knowledge.
Layered over these concepts is the sound: the first part is a soundscape by Monkeyhouse friend and supporter Aaron Ximm, which helps to evoke confusion. The second part comes from a beautiful recording by Seven's Not Enough, an a cappella group made up of former students of Nicole's from Natick High School. Their rendition of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen supports the movement and ties in with both the mood of the piece and the performer herself.