First Questions

Our first venture in The Making Room was a small gathering in Philadelphia: choreographer Susan Rethorst, myself, dancers Angie Hauser and Christal Brown, Lily Skove on video, and Lila Hurwitz as documenter and organizer. Lila offered these questions as a way to begin:

What does the “creative process” feel like—that moment when something clicks? Physical synapses fire when you’re in the zone, in the flow of creation. How do you experience it?

And so, I started with answering.

Bebe and Michelle, rehearsing at Jacob’s Pillow, November 2017 | video still: Lily Skove

The other morning, I woke up and realized I was choreographing.

Still half asleep I was pondering moving a group of dancers here and there. It was dreamy, in every way. The space needed balancing somehow so I shifted folks around, considered the outcomes (but then they’ll be ________ so maybe it’s better if ________). The dreamy dancers and I, we were all pretty cooperative. It was a friendly sorting of possibilities. I often wake up this way. During the times I’m going to an actual rehearsal there’s a bit more urgency, tied to whatever happened the day before. Other times, most times, it feels like I’m holding onto the remnants of a dream in a large room, always indoors, never alone, where there is light and ease. Maybe the dreaming is the processing, making use of available time to sort, stitch, weave, decide.

I recently finished a commission for a MADCO, a repertory company in St. Louis, MO. I worked with dancers I didn’t know, but got to know, just a bit. We had worked together for less than a week before they showed their all to an invited audience. If I’d gotten to know them better I might have seen their all a little earlier, had fun figuring out how to shift it sideways (with their knowledge, I would hope). That sideways shift is sometimes just that, literally: move your intention further in/out of line with its resolution. I get a glimpse of a reference point they might have—or one I make up—and I’m judging distance, interest, aptitude, amplitude, looking to do to it, do with it. In this I feel moved to catalyze, to shift the ground enough to change what’s there.

Hmm… when to change what’s there? Why change what’s there? Ooh! Ooh! Dream Move! I’m reading weight in action, anticipating surge, redirection, a sweet kitten pounce that softens, rolls over and gets distracted by a shiny object. I’m also taking the temperature of the room, the group, me, looking to flutter resolution. The context of a particular moment is a holographic partner to the movement, that’s how I see it. Not a thematic decision, rather a taking into account the circumstances we’ve been building, the resistance to and/or flow toward and/or tangential relation to the way we’ve decided to be.

I watch, a lot. I watch the vectors of actions on their way towards encounter. I feel the phrasing of related perspectives on the move. Intentions radiate and I look to bend them; this is on the body level as well as person-to-person, relating to space and time. I set up a kinetic situation, try it out, watch, move, try, watch. It’s clear I cannot do this by myself. Improvising with others is where I start.

OK: sitting here typing, my hands leave the keyboard and draw apart like the graphics for cell division, while my eyes focus straight ahead: I’m reading the pull between left and right while scanning my body—up, limb toward center, figuring out the tensile involvement (Alwin Nikolais’ title, which I have returned to again and again) of related parts along with WHAT AM I LOOKING AT? HOW MIGHT I TORQUE FOCUS AS WELL AS THOSE HANDS? WHA’… WHAT IF? That’s what happens, and then I’m referencing physicalities, movies, characters, timings, other dances, other dancers, figuring out what I’m reminded of even as I’m figuring out what my hands want to do/what I want my hands to do. I love this.

There’s more. I feel like I’m simultaneously reading peripherally and internally, matching what I’m imagining (situation? tone?) with the pleasure of moving, arresting, part-by-body-part, by breath, by slice-through-space, by shrinkage, by dull-eyed heroine, by landscape, by sea, by coddled memory, by touch. And then, because I cannot not do this, I acknowledge who’s in the room (what color? how’d they get here? what’s driving them? do they like this like I like this?), sometimes just lightly, just enough to acknowledge that I got here somehow too.


Rehearsing at Smith College, January 2017 | video still: Lily Skove


First Questions Copyright © 2018 by Bebe Miller Company. All Rights Reserved.

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