Ok, so this one's a collaboration: I made the mistake of suggesting to fellow LEIMAYer Savina that we sort of work together this month, asking her to supply a question to which I'd respond in writing. She agreed, and offered this: "Do you think that the piece we are working on will be a good one? Do you believe in it?" My blood ran cold. But here goes:
This question can loom pretty large when working on a piece for someone else, a common occurrence in dance work. It can definitely get in the way of a dancer fully immersing himself in the work and is a challenge for the director/choreographer to overcome. It comes up a lot. It's nervous-making. Of course, it's always the best to have a group of people who are completely ALL IN for the project, but this state of affairs seems to me either really rare or totally unreasonable. Speaking from my own process, doubt is as much a part of the game as anything else. It's always there, and I don't see why it should be different when I'm working for someone else. And creative work can be so exceedingly personal that to try and take on someone else's vision will have to involve some stuff that feels ill-fitting. And that's just between the director and the dancers. There's also the fact that each of us dancers has different taste, different style, different strengths, and different desires for the work. This is especially true of LEIMAY. We're coming from sometimes wildly different backgrounds--a strength in some ways for sure--but also a tricky thing.
So what is that question aimed at? Seems to usually be leveled at the the directors. There are times in rehearsal when each of us feels embarrassed or frustrated to be doing whatever it is we are doing. Then the question is there. When we think about inviting other people to come and see it, the question is there. In the end, it doesn't really get resolved. The piece is presented as it has come to be, the directors are the directors, we're the dancers, and we'll each like some parts more than others. It seems to be a matter of degree that translates into how the question influences the process. If there is too much of a divide between the vision behind the piece and the folks carrying it out, those folks will disengage. Like workers in a bad factory, we'll do just enough to avoid getting fired. I've been in this position, and it feels bad. But, if the gap is smaller, it can push the performers to work hard and attempt to influence the piece in the ways each wants it to go, ending up as something closer to a collaboration that has been pushed to some measure of greatness by the energy applied.
Luckily, in our particular situation (and maybe this is the difference maker), there is an acknowledgment of the question, and our opinions are considered. We also get a fair number of chances to come up with things on our own, to offer contributions that are curated by Ximena and Shige. And on my end, I guess what I find fundamental is that I've committed to being a part of the piece for a year, and unless I quit, which at this point seems like a pretty bad thing to do for myself, I'm going to be spending a lot of time working on the thing. And the people involved, the people running the show, are engaged and active and excited and have a weird vision that comes from some place that I approve of in some basic way. I do not expect the directors' vision to match right up with my own. So, unless I want to waste a ton of time, I might as well try and show up and work at making it good in the ways I can, speaking up when I really don't like something, learning from things that feel strange to me. I am of the opinion that working through conflict is generally better than distancing, even to the point of having some fights. (Although keep in mind here that I'm from the Midwest. Ohio, to be exact. We're hard-working, keep-your-head-down-and-follow-the-rules people for sure. Not a lot of revolt in the heartland. I generally avoid conflict and do what I'm told. In fact, I think my last post was also advocating submission...)
And I'm having fun a good amount of the time.
Ummmmmm, so do I think the piece we are working on will be a good one. Yeah. And I do believe in it, pretty deeply, in this way: I am totally interested in everyone involved. The crew is tight. And we're trying to make something that takes a great amount of work. I believe in the worth of what each dancer and Ximena and Shige have to express. I'm excited to see it. There are going to be parts in the piece that I would never in a million years have chosen to put in, but that doesn't even seem like a bad thing, really. One of the most valuable parts of working on a group show is being made to do a number of things that I wouldn't do otherwise.
Well now I did the labor, so I'm taking Savina's recommendation slot. An Ohio-themed twofer:
A song from Jason Molina's Magnolia Electric Co.:
He's from Loraine, Ohio, and he died about a week ago.
The book Madness, Rack, and Honey, by Mary Ruefle ,who is not from Ohio, but who wrote this bit on an Ohio native in a chapter on the moon:
Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11: There are no comments by Mr. Armstrong. He lives reclusively in Ohio and does not attend conferences, reunions, celebrations, parades, anniversaries, press events. He does not answer mail from strangers, answer the telephone, open the door. He was however, many years ago, asked how he felt knowing his footprints might remain undisturbed on the lunar surface for centuries. 'I hope somebody goes up there some day,' he said, 'and cleans them up.'