Things I learned At PlayThink 2018
Aaaaaaaaand, we’re back!
This year’s PlayThink proved, without a doubt, to be the best yet for me—the best by leaps and bounds, in fact (pun not originally intended, but retained for effect ;D).
Part of that was simply the result of the stuff I’ve been working on as a human being for the past year: accepting my social difficulties and learning to socialize within my own limits; growing more confident in my basic worth as a human being; listening with presence and patience; and feeling more confident in my body.
Part of it was the result of very conscious choices that I made before and during the event. I’mma talk about those a little now, k? Cool. Here we go:
Good Choices That Worked Out Well
Decide Not To Feel Obligated To Take A Million Classes … Or Any At All.
This may be the smartest thing I’ve done for myself in years. In the past, I selected at least one class each day that I just couldn’t miss, and the more I missed, the more frustrated and cranky I got.
This year, I decided to take a different tack: to take a page from the Burning Man playbook and regard the experience as The Thing, and the classes as optional sprinkles.
In the end, the only class I went to was my own (because obvs). That’s fine: I opted, instead, to spend a lot of time relaxing, hanging out with friends new and old, and dancing my tuchas off in the evenings.
It turns out that that’s a great way to do PlayThink, too. I gained just as much from simply sharing time with my fellow beings as I would from taking classes, without the stress of staying on top of the schedule or forcing myself to be out among the masses when I needed to be alone for a while.
Accept The Whims Of The Universe.
PlayThink is usually the only place where I can realistically expect D to join me in a dance performance.
This year, his rotator cuff surgery meant I wasn’t sure until a few weeks before the event that he’d even be able to participate … but I wanted him in my piece, regardless.
Of course, this year I’m also juggling the busiest schedule I’ve ever seen, and was sick for two of the 3-or-so weeks that I had to rehearse with him.
In short, I got almost no rehearsal time in with D. I wound up teaching him the basics of weight-sharing in a 20-minute window a few hours before we were scheduled to hit the stage, then trusting that the Demiurge of Improvisation would visit us and bless the final 40 seconds or so of our piece.
On top of all this, I forgot my push broom and had to borrow one, which was a fantastic broom, but had a very different balance point than mine and thus handled rather differently.
The end result was that a bunch of the stuff I had intended to include got left out, and some spontaneous bits magically appeared. Oh, and I threw D right into his personal nightmare of being asked to perform dance improv with an audience.
The funny thing is that everyone loved the piece anyway.
For PlayThink, I like to make pieces that tell simple, funny stories, and the story still came through.
I also like to take familiar materials (in this case, rather literally) and do unexpected things with them. PlayThinkers are a uniquely receptive crowd for that kind of thing!
The best part, though, was that D revealed an unexpected facility for character acting. Apparently, he was completely terrified while he was on stage … but he projected such an air of confidence and radiant joy that even I had no idea he was feeling anything else.
When your dance partner who’s also your life partner can’t tell that you’re actually terrified and not having the time of your life, you’re officially Doin’ It Rite.
Do Scary Things, Knowing That Everything Might Go Completely Wrong.
I fully intended to test-drive my workshop before PlayThink.
You know how these things go, of course. The road to hell, &c.
Anyway, I was actually quite nervous about teaching, and quite convinced that I had No Srs Bizness Doin So.
Turns out, though, that the good folks who participated* didn’t feel that way at all. My workshop went well and was well-received, and I think the participants actually felt like they learned some stuff, which is great.
I decided up front that everything might go wrong, and that I was going to have to be okay with that, but it was, in fact not terribly likely that everything would go wrong**.
I also decided that I would frame the workshop as one in which we were there to learn together, instead of one in which I was Thuh Authoritah and my students wouldn’t Respekt Mah Authoritah unless I demonstrated complete mastery of the subject matter.
The best moment for me, by the way, happened much later. The next evening on the dance floor, I saw a couple of the students from my workshop using some of the stuff I taught. They were experimenting together with weight sharing, and they laughing, and clearly having a good time. That was a cool and unexpected outgrowth!
*Did I mention that I was also afraid nobody would come to my weird little workshop? No? Well, I was.
**This is an approach that’s sometimes used in treating anxiety disorders and specific phobias. You learn to have this little conversation with yourself: “What am I afraid will happen if I [don’t go back and check the stove again/leave the house/talk to a stranger at this well-attended festival full of thoughtful people/etc]? I could [burn the house down/die/be abducted by a ring of human traffickers]. Could that really happen? Yes. Of course it could. Will it happen? Probably not. How likely is it to happen? Not very.”
As you can probably tell, this approach has been really helpful for me. By naming the thing you’re afraid of and acknowledging that is, in fact, actually possible, then examining the statistical probability of the thing, you remove some of its power without dehumanizing yourself (or whoever it is that’s struggling with anxiety). Obviously, it’s part of a larger process, but for me it’s a really important part.
Ultimately, PlayThink is about sharing and learning … and even though I didn’t spend a lot of time in the formal learning space this year, I feel like I learned more than I’ve learned at any other PlayThink.
If I had to crystallize the lessons I learned into soundbytes, they’d go something like this:
- Honor your incarnation by respecting your own limits the same way you’d respect someone else’s. It’s okay. Really.
- Of course it could all go terribly awry: gently embrace that possibility, then get out there and Do It Anyway.
- Whenever possible, approach teaching as an opportunity to learn and explore together.
- Sometimes it’s okay to admit that you’re afraid.
That last one is pretty groundbreaking for me. The circumstances of my childhood and adolescence taught me that to reveal vulnerability was to have that vulnerability exploited: to show fear was to be given reason to be even more afraid; to show weakness was to be hurt.
I think there’s still a lot of the world that operates on those principles, so I’m not going to say that it’s always safe to say, “This scares the #$%! out of me.” Sometimes it’s really, really not.
But it’s good to know that sometimes, it really, really is.
shows and stuff and things
On Saturday, a bunch of us from only weeds will rise in winter descended upon Churchill Downs’ opening night Fund for the Arts gala to perform excerpts from the show in pop-up form.
It went well (though I was a complete disaster on Sunday because I got dehydrated :P). We were a tad awkward at first, but as the night went on we got things nailed down and started tacking on a long-form improv after the set choreography. That just got better and better: the last round was awesome, even if almost no one was left to see it!
Anyway, I’m feeling more and more confident about weeds, even if I was a complete PITA to our choreographer-director on Sunday (sorry, AMS!).
- I was having an exceptionally difficult time with receptive language processing, but didn’t realize it ’til after rehearsal was over, so I was constantly screwing things up and being mad at AMS about it. Ugh.
In other news, I’ve started working on choreography for my PlayThink piece, and I think it’s going to be quite cool indeed. A friend of mine might be joining me, which would be even cooler. There are parts of it I can’t do very effectively in my house (too many obstacles!!!), but the performance takes place at an outdoor venue that doesn’t have a fancy floor, so now that it’s warm I can practice it in my back yard.
I’m hoping to have settled a group of dancers for shadowlands or whatever I’m calling it soon, because SUDDENLY IT IS ABOUT TO BE MAY WTF.
I am so not good at recruiting people, and really really not good at recruiting people when I have no idea where I’m going to take them to rehearse. Blargh.
On the other hand, L and I have come up with some really solid choreography for the CL/UofL collabo show, so that’s going quite well.
We also just launched rehearsals for the SPA show, which is going to be amazing.
Obviously, my schedule is completely wack right now, and I’m trying to learn how to eat and sleep in the midst of it. What works best food-wise, of course, is simply to cook a couple of huge batches of whatever when I happen to have time. Sleep-wise, on the other hand … eek, who knows?
So that’s it for the moment. Class notes later probably?
A few years ago I wrestled with composing a solo piece about grief set to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”
At nearly 8 minutes, it’s quite long for a solo, and I don’t think I had the choreographic wherewithal to make it work back then. I’m still not sure I do. I set it on the back burner, figuring maybe I’d come return it sooner or later.
I’m not sure, at this point, that I ever will. Instead, I’m setting a piece for seven dancers about being alone and unseen amidst the bustle of humanity to the “Adagio.”
The title of the original piece was “Shadowlands”–a reference to the film about C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, which is itself an exploration of grief, but also in reference to Lewis’ phemonenal book, A Grief Observed.
I might retain the original title. The new piece as it has evolved comprises seven dancers: the Four Sisters, the Lovers, and the Outsider.
The Outsider is consigned to the shadows at the edge of human connection, and often shadows the others.
That said, I’m leery of using that title, as it’s too close to Pilobolus’ Shadowland, which I hadn’t even heard of at the time I created the original solo piece.
The first draft of this piece will be shown at the June 1st meeting of Louisville Movement Exchange, a nascent choreographers’ workshop and dance-community connector. I won’t have a heck of a lot of time to set and rehearse the piece, but it doesn’t need to be polished (or even finished).
I’m trying to do as much development as I can beforehand, though I will very likely have to modify things based on the set of dancers I’m working with. I think I’m much better at imagining choreography than I was a few years ago—not least in terms of envisioning how to use the stage.
Given the exceedingly-limited rehearsal time at hand, I’m debating whether to concentrate on setting the first half and taking things from there, or just dive straight into the second half.
The advantage of beginning with the first half, of course, is that if we miraculously bash through it, we might get to the second half anyway … and, to be honest, it’s the part I feel less sure about.
The advantage of beginning with the second half is that I have a really strong, clear vision of it, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be quite good.
I suppose, ultimately, my dancers will determine how I approach the piece: the whole thing builds to a group overhead press-lift, and I plan to try to set that first, since it’s the thing that’s most likely to be uncomfortable for them. Most of them will never have done that sort of thing before. It’s not actually very hard (it’s literally six people doing the lifting, and they’re lifting one person), but it can be daunting.
I also kind of need to decide if I want to be in this piece if I have enough dancers that I don’t need to be. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I would, in fact, love to perform this piece, but setting a piece and learning it at the same time can be problematic, since it’s harder to adjust things on the fly when you can’t see what’s happening until you watch the video.
I’m also back to slowly sorting out problems with Simon Crane.
I think I might set the “Bolero” for a later meeting of the Movement Exchange. I’m not 100% sure it’ll make the final version of the ballet, but I really, really want to set it, and it can stand on its own.
I’m also fiddling with the score still: I’m now fairly certain that the third act will be set to Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony (E minor).
I’m still not entirely sure what to do with the first act.
I would, however, like to finish this ballet before I die (not that I plan on doing that any time soon), so at some point I’m going to just force myself to make a decision about Act I. So I guess it’s back to listening to Romantic/Impressionist music and seeing what fits the story arc.
As regards Act III, I am deeply fond of Rachmaninov’s “Isle of the Dead,” but by itself it’s a bit on the short side, and it doesn’t afford quite enough range to really develop the story. I’d love to use it for something someday—maybe something that doesn’t even have an underlying story or concept—but trying to force-fit that with some other piece of music for the third act of Simon Crane isn’t going to work.
Saint-Saëns’ cello concerto will continue to anchor the second act; indeed, if I leave out the “Bolero,” it will be the entire second act.
So that—and the little piece I’m building for PlayThink, which is rather a lot of fun—does it for choreography projects for now.
More on the PlayThink piece later, of course.