Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Holy Spirit Ribbons Dance for Peace

I met Laura and Manuela for the stop the war march yesterday down Michigan Avenue to the Daley Center. I brought my ribbon pole and red Holy Spirit ribbons like I did last year. Unfortunate that this has become an annual event. It's fun because I can extend the pole all 20 feet, which I don't do inside.
People brought and shared their gifts: Drums, Signs, Prayers, Megaphones. We were blessed to be near various groups who had creative syncopated chants. Not just the standard: what do we want? Peace. When do we want it? Now! So, I really danced with the ribbons. The Holy Spirit was there. May she herald in a season of peace.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Reggie Wilson produced some nice moments

I was a bit disappointed in Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel at the MCA.
His last performance there in 2003 Black Burlesque Revisited dealt more directly with ritual which is what interests me. Last time, it was a three-way collaboration between his company and one from Trinidad and one from Senegal. In the discussion after that performance, Reggie talked about the challenges of working in these other cultures. How every rehearsal began with long introductions, asking how are you and how is your family. How even when they were all staying in the same hotel and had been together the night before, the next morning at rehearsal, they still had to go through this elaborate check-in process. It drove him crazy. He said this is going into the dance. So there was, at one point in the dance, an inner and outer circle, and people moved from one person to the next. There was a way in which it was monotonous but it wasn't boring. It was meditative. It kept my interest because just as soon as I thought I knew the pattern, it shifted slightly. Brilliant and beautiful.

This performance was in a disco type setting. It began with a floor duet among a man and woman with the rest of the company rolling toward or away from them diagonally across the floor. I found it quite moving. Then they shifted into a circle dance and Reggie appeared asking the dancers and the audience to identify the various social dance steps the dancers were doing. I found his appearance very abrupt and unnecessary, and his subsequent presence throughout disconcerting and annoying. It brought out the hierarchy that he was the director and the rest were the company.

There was a great sequence in which a man and woman began doing the electric slide. It was really beautiful. How simple and in sync they were. Then the rest of the company gradually came in spread out across the stage. Then slowly came together in a clump. Mesmerizing.

The other highlight that needs mentioning is Michel Kouakou from the Ivory Coast. He is very short, especially for a male dancer and so could probably not be in any other company, but he was the best dancer in the troupe. His movement articulation is phenomenal. They did one sequence when all the dancers had their backs to the audience and wiggled their butts. He was incredible. I have never seen such ass articulation in my life. Amazing.

In the post-show discussion, it came out that the company is made up of dancers and singing performers who move. So, the man that began the electric slide sequence said that he was not a dancer. Well, if he isn't a dancer, then I might as well go hide in a closet, because I certainly am not.

The integration of the onstage singers with the dancers was seamless and quite beautiful. Reggie said that the company is made up of both and when people would say that liked one or the other, it was as if they were favoring one of his children over the other. So, he worked at integrating them together, which worked really well, because I wasn't really aware of it. Now, he has to work at integrating himself in, if he wants to dance.

I do think he is a choreographer to watch. He is doing interesting things, and he's from Milwaukee just like I am!

Looked at the reviews after writing this. I agree with both Sid Smith of the Tribune and Hedy Weiss of the Sun-Times, even though they come to opposite conclusions. Sid: Go; Hedy: Don't bother.

Laura Molzahn's preview in the Reader said, "There's a sense of engagement but not of performance -- it's as if these were people in a distant world unaware of being watched . . ."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Marionettes as the essence of the characters?

I went to "Marionette MacBeth" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier last night with my friend Victoria. There was a quote in the program which I thought was really interesting, but after seeing the performance, I'm not sure I agree:
"An actor on the stage, even the most capable, will imbue the character with his own physical aspect and personality. The marionette underscores the symbolic aspects of each character, as the writer imagined them. The marionette proposes itself as pure interpretation -- not a mediation, but rather the essence of the character." Eugenio Monti Colla

The marionettes are about three feet tall and were made by and manipulated by an Italian troupe. The voices were Chicago Shakespeare actors. It was quite wonderful but I was very aware that I was watching marionettes and that was what made the show so delightful. The audience loved them. When the marionette horses reared their heads or one character sat down and then made a point of crossing his legs, the audience roared with delight. Actors would not have elicited such a response from such an action.

The marionettes were most believable when they were stationery, moving their arms and gesturing. Locomotion was more difficult. Walking seemed more like skipping, leaping, galloping. The only locomotion that really worked was the ghosts floating on by.

It is interesting to think about embodying the "symbolic aspects, the essence, of a character." It reminds me of being a conduit for the Holy Spirit in liturgical movement. Can we ever present a blank slate? Still mulling the quote in my mind: "The marionette proposes itself as pure interpretation -- not a mediation . . ." Allows the viewer to bring his/her own interpretation? A blank slate for the viewer? Yet, at the same time it proposes itself as "the essence of the character." I guess it's not contradictory. I like the concept, but I'm not sure it works in reality.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ribbon Cutting @ 1st Pres Wilmette

I always learn so much each time I dance. On Sunday, I helped with the ribbon cutting dedication of the newly renovated fellowship hall for the First Presbyterian Church in Wilmette where the wonderful Reverend Sarah Butter is pastor. It's a great place full of friendly, helpful people. Sarah had envisioned me dancing around blessing the space and then a ribbon cutting across the little stage at the back. In the end, we combined the dance and the ribbon cutting. But, it was a process getting there.
Before meeting with her, I looked at the readings for the day. I saw that the reading for cycle A that day was the woman at the well and was thinking we could do something with that, bringing a water jug from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall (which is the church basement magnificently transformed).
Then I went to meet with Sarah. After batting some ideas around in her office, she said, "Let's go down and see the space." And, of course, as usual, that changed everything. The hall is really magnificent, and the defining feature -- what defines it as a gathering space -- is a huge oval in the ceiling. (Hard to describe. You'll just have to see it.) As soon as I saw it, I knew I needed to dance directly under the edge of the oval.
I thought of the crepe paper streamers I had used a long time ago for the family reunion connecting the graves in the cemetery in Pine Bluff, Wisconsin. I could use streamers to define the space.
So, to make a long story short, I went up with the young children during the Time with Young Disciples during the worship service. Pastor Victoria Millar talked to the children about ribbons and presents and the fact that the present everyone was receiving today was really big. It was a room. I unfurled the ribbon down the main aisle as Victoria held the other end. Then, she released it and I gathered it up.
I then rehearsed with the children downstairs. After the rehearsal, the older ones put cray paper on the banisters and elevator leading everyone down to the fellowship hall. The ribbons were blue, which is the Presbyterian color.
I had originally envisioned an unbroken ribbon from the sanctuary, leading way down the stairs into the fellowship hall. It's interesting how the original artistic vision gets compromised for reasons of safety and practicality but the concept and idea remain and it actually works better.
Before the worshipers came downstairs, the 3,4,5 year olds with the 7&8th graders were in their places. They formed a circle around the table of food in the center of the room and within the oval, facing out. Pastor Butter knocked on the door and the campaign committee opened the doors. Sarah led the people around the circle. The children welcomed them with big smiles.
When everyone was in, the choir began to sing, and the children turned around and faced in. I went in the circle and unfurled the ribbons for the children to catch, then danced around the circle twice more for the magic three.
Pastor Butter announced the ribbon cutting. The major donor made the first cut and then the campaign committee made cuts between each of the children. Each child ended up with ribbons. The festivities and food began.
It all seemed so simple in the end, but as always took simplifying and whittling down to get at the essence, the basic message. And, the dancing itself was minimal really. It was the choreography that took the effort, figuring out where to place the movement so that it underscored the meaning and message of the day.
Sarah was delighted. She said the choreography changed the focus from the stage to the community where it should be.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Reggie Wilson; my letter in the Times!

I'm excited that Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group will be coming to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago this week. I saw them a number of years ago and thought what he was doing in his explorations of ritual were incredibly powerful.

Rich and intricate rhythms -- voices shouting and singing harmonies, feet stepping and hands clapping -- connect the secular and the sacred in the MCA-commissioned The Tale: Npinpee Nckutchie and the Tail of the Golden Dek.

Check it out. I will, and I'll let you know what I think.

On another note, My letter on liturgical dance in many Christian denominations did get published in the New York Times, and below mine, a letter about dance in Hasidic Jewish practices. Yeah!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

New York Times on Praise Dance!

The New York Times published a good article on praise dance along with a video clip! It will only be available for viewing for free for a couple more days. You may have to register to get onto the New York Times website, but registration is free.
I wrote the letter to the editor about the article, which is below, and was told that if space allowed it would be published. Hope so!
Thanks to Sally Polasek for nudging me to write it, and to Wade Thrall for doing such a great job designing my website. I'm sure that having it down below my signature helped assure my creditability. I thought it was a coup when I had a letter to the Editor published in the Chicago Tribune (on the Farmers' markets carrying vegetables and fruits not grown by local farmers). I thought the New York Times was out of reach . . . Don't want to count my chickens before they're hatched, but I didn't even think I'd get this far.

To the Editor:
I applaud Julie Bloom's excellent article as well as the multimedia presentation on your Web site. It's not just Pentecostals who are experiencing a blossoming in liturgical dance. I and many others have ministered through movement in the churches of many mainline Christian denominations including Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational and Roman Catholic.
Michele Marie Beaulieux

ARTS / DANCE | March 4, 2007
Dance: Moved by the Spirit to Dance With the Lord
After being unwelcome for centuries, dance has become an increasingly popular part of Christian church services.

Getting DVD of Different Drummers program

I haven't yet ordered my DVD of the program, but if you'd like a get a DVD or VHS by sending a check for $20 to Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries, 112 E. Chestnut, Chicago, IL 60611
Specify that you want the Different Drummers broadcast featuring liturgical dance that aired on February 18, 2007
In the audience, you can see liturgical dancers Glorianne Jackson of Living Word Christian Center and Venetia Halsell and Regina Evans of Apostolic Church of God in Christ.