Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant Recipient Ellen Smith Ahern - Blog #5

Tuesday, May 18 - "Our work-in-progress showing is this weekend (Sunday, May 23 at 7 pm in FlynnSpace)! We’ve stopped exploring new material at this point so we can really focus on the work we’ve built thus far. It’s a little scary to make that shift, to really commit to what we’ve created and to focus on shaping and honing it. On the other hand, focusing on structure and detail and the quality of movement and voice is so much a part of the creative process that it feels right to reign in the new material and commit to crafting the dancing and text that are there now."

"Having had a work-in-progress showing last month, the guys don’t seem too nervous about Sunday evening. They’ve already had one experience with a live audience, and they’re eager to show how the material has progressed, how it has deepened and evolved (we hope!). As nerve-racking as it is to show work sometimes, I do love this part of the process, too—it is so helpful to step back and take stock of everything we’ve built, to struggle to pin down exactly where the work is, where it might be going, and how we should approach it in this moment, for this showing. Knowing that the piece is not finished and that this showing is informal and designed to help guide the work in the future is comforting and empowering, but I still want to be able to present material that has been carefully considered, that the guys are comfortable with, that they feel they can fully embody."

"One moment in the piece that is relatively new and that we’re still working to define is an awkward “club” scene. The club/dance music blasts in and the guys are initially caught off guard, paralyzed by the change of atmosphere. Gradually they begin moving to the music, eyeing each other and taking cues from one another. They slowly become less inhibited and more enthusiastic and full-bodied with their dancing until they’re just going nuts and dancing with abandon. This progression is really interesting to me because it’s happening constantly in public. We (all of us, not just the men) take our time assessing a situation, watching those around us for movement cues, gradually figuring out what posture or movement we want to commit to, whether it’s in a club or standing on the street corner in conversation. It’s been really fun to try to capture that kind of awkward transition within set, choreographed material, and we’ve settled on a largely improvised structure to keep it as fresh and authentic as possible."

"It feels like the piece is, for now, a bit of journey through many different settings, emotions, and memories that this group of men have and/or still do experience, whether as individuals or as a pack. We’ve got a whole range of movement qualities, of narratives, and of tones—sometimes it’s really very funny and often that humor gets twisted into something bittersweet, lonely, or sad. As choreographer and the outside eye on the work, I feel like I’m both trying to ride this wild range wherever it seems to lead and to shape it, to direct it. It’s an interesting balance to strive for."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Short and Sweet

A review of the African Children's Choir
By Mary S. Landon

Last Friday evening, May 7, a large crowd of many age groups witnessed the spectacular African Children’s Choir on the Flynn MainStage.

The concert, called Journey of Hope, featured three adult performers, 13 girl performers, and 10 boy performers. The choir is now in its 25th year of working with vulnerable, orphaned, or abandoned African children. The African Children’s Choir is a part of the Music of Life organization, a non-profit that helps these young people realize their potential. The choir serves as the voice of the good works that the organization is involved in: raising awareness and providing education and relief for the many disadvantaged children currently from seven African countries.

The show itself was a mix of singing, dancing, drumming, and the telling of stories. I’m sure I speak for most of the audience when I use the words energetic and smiley! The children were absolutely entertaining as they sang their hearts out, moving with such energy to choreographed moves. It was a colorful, musical spectacle that was fun to watch. I can’t say enough about these cheerful children, all of whom smiled throughout the performance, making numerous costume changes and not showing signs of slowing down. Songs performed were from the countries of Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Southern Sudan, and South Africa, as well as several particular tribes.

This was an uplifting evening, full of the feeling of hope that the performers wanted to convey. Certainly it made our world feel a bit smaller.

Mary S. Landon is a native Vermonter and UVM grad who has moved back to the Burlington community after many years in southern Vermont. She works as a freelance writer, fine artist, graphic designer, and landscape gardener. Her two daughters live in Portland, Oregon. Mary is also an avid cyclist and cook.

Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant Recipient Ellen Smith Ahern - Blog #4

Wednesday, May 12 - "We've worked this past week on developing and layering text about the woods. After exploring movement and writings about personal memories, thoughts, and truths that have often highlighted differences between the guys, I felt we should give time to a shared, common truth. A love of the woods and a need to spend time there is something all five of us share, and it's something that frequently brings us together outside of the studio. The woods also feel like a comforting, familiar place for each of us, in contrast to many of the embarrassing, fearful, and aggressive places we're already visiting in the piece."

"The guys’ writings varied greatly in tone and imagery, ranging from a simple list of colors and sounds associated with the woods to a detailed description of favorite wildflowers that thrive in the early spring understory. We've been experimenting with patterns and volume levels while layering the texts together, coming to stillness in a line, speaking at once in a shifting flow of imagery. There's something quite beautiful about the simple shape of a line, the openness of their faces and bodies in that moment, the way you can follow threads of text in and out of the layers."

"It seems to be about shifting as a group into another place where the sonic landscape of their words and the stillness of their bodies transforms the atmosphere of the space. Watching, I felt like I had slowed down, almost like I was standing in the woods with the wind moving leaves overhead, the rustling a language of its own, speaking with many different voices at the same time. I think it has the potential to be a transformative moment in the work, which then leaves the even greater challenges of how to get there and where to go afterwards. How do you frame something like that? How do you allow the momentum and energy of the material to shift without losing either?"

Monday, May 03, 2010

Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant Recipient Ellen Smith Ahern - Blog #3

Monday, May 3 - "In the last few rehearsals the guys have really become more comfortable with physical contact and improvisation as an ensemble. It has been fun and fruitful to spend a couple hours at a time exploring different challenges or puzzles, like giving one person the goal of crossing the entire space as quickly as possible while the rest of the group is responsible for hindering their progress in as many different shapes and forms as they can. These experiments usually begin with a ton of energy until they hit a wall of sorts, a point at which the movement and/or shapes have become too complicated to keep moving forward in the same direction. They get stuck."

"These sticking points, which I usually can't predict or plan, always seem to arise when things are getting too easy and moving too smoothly, and they force all of us to reconsider, to try another route. Sometimes the other route involves breaking down 'rehearsal' into an impromptu cricket or dodgeball match, or some slo-mo kung fu fighting to diffuse the tension. While the instances in which we stay focused and push through the sticking point are valuable in the choreographic process, I'm beginning to feel like the games and silly tension breakers are just as much a part of the structure and energy of our work together. So I'm thinking about how to make space for games and playing in the piece, how to build up other material to the point at which a game or some kind of loosely structured tension-breaker feels absolutely necessary, although not predictable."

"We're also coming to a point at which the narratives the performers wrote and have matched with solo movement are becoming quite clear in pace, voice, etc. The verbal, more literal parts are opening up like little windows here and there, exposing some of the history and emotion of the material through a different medium. Now we're working to develop the pacing and detail in the accompanying movement, so that there is just as much intention and clarity there as there is in the text."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau

Tuesday, April 28 on the MainStage
reviewed by David Beckett

Pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman are both first class listeners, which was clear from the first note of last night’s well received concert, as they began with The Falcon Will Fly Again, a duet from Highway Rider, Brad Mehldau’s new recording.

For jazz musicians—even players as skilled as Mehldau and Redman—playing duets can be a bit unnerving. Without a bassist and drummer, a hundred years of precedent falls away along with the matrix of conventions about form and some of the swing that can make, say, a piano/bass/drums trio cohere and seem to move of its own accord. There’s no “walking” bass line for propulsion, and no drummer delineating the sections and bar lines, adding a sense of texture and color. Two musicians simply rely on their experience playing together, rely on the compositions . . . or listen like mad and trust each other.

And listen they surely did. Both men can create a narrative arc while improvising; no mean feat. Good improvisers are content to insert familiar riffs into a form, which can be very exciting, but superior players like Redman and Mehldau think like composers, seem to hear the whole song, and have more to offer than riffs.

Rather than accompany other players in the way jazz pianists typically do, Mehldau uses both hands, showing his love of romantic composers but sounding like nobody else. This is his way, and it’s surely helped him find a place in the jazz world in recent years. Redman played the theme of this first piece as Mehldau limned the changes this way. Then, rather than play a melodic solo with the right hand while dropping chords in with the left, Mehldau played his solo as he might have playing a piano concerto with an orchestra. Finally, they restated the theme to finish the piece.

They played one of Redman’s next, called Note To Self, and followed it with a Jeff Buckley song called Dream Brother. At this point Redman made remarks from the stage, thanking the audience and joking about the April snow storm. Charlie Parker’s Cheryl, a blues, followed: a return to a particular jazz vernacular, a fascinating contrast with the first three numbers.

Brad Mehldau’s first five recordings as a leader featured a trio of bass, drums and piano—making the case for his place in jazz history. Redman’s recordings as a leader have been varied, featuring different sorts of ensembles and a lot of marquee players from the jazz, rock, and classical worlds. They’ve played and recorded together often before, but playing duets live seems a particularly brave choice, particularly as the evening continued.

One of Joshua Redman’s followed—Disco Ears—a three pager, sounding more like these two men in particular, rather than any other school or sound. Mehldau took a moment to speak, and mentioned that both he and Redman often listened to music their jazz musician colleagues found puzzling. A gorgeous example followed: Interstate Love Song, by Stone Temple Pilots, played so neatly I might have guessed it to be some lovely little-known mid-century popular song.

Then, one more jazz standard, and finally an encore: My Old Flame, with Mehldau playing very quiet “stride” style piano and Redman whispering the melody. Even when playing something everybody’s heard before, Mehldau and Redman sounded like nobody else, alone together, as it were.

David Beckett is a realtor and a jazz director at WWPV FM. He’s been involved with the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival since 1983.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rokia Traoré

with Mamah Diabate, Naba Traore, Christophe Minck, Laurent Robin, and Eric Lohrer
April 18, 2010, MainStage
Reviewed by Mary S. Landon

Sunday night’s concert featuring Rokia and her band almost defies description. Or rather, it involves multiple adjectives.

With her African roots and cultured European upbringing, Rokia’s style has a refined edge that brings it quite far into the modern and pop modes, while respecting her heritage as a griot, a storyteller.

Rokia is a slight African woman with short-cropped hair and a lovely, grainy voice. The audience is able to hear the nuances in her voice because she takes brief opportunities to sing some lines a capella. At times her voice is piercingly clear, at times more muted and soft. Rokia’s first few songs were quiet, mellow ballads featuring her expressive voice and her electric guitar and not much else. Gradually, through the evening, she and the band heated things up for a spirited two-hour show.

Initially, I was put off by the fog machine and the choreographed light show. I thought the special effects detracted from the essence of the music and Rokia’s message. But I did get used to these stage effects and began to see them as part of the mood and energy that Rokia wanted to convey.

Her songs can be described as a multicultural mélange, a seamless blending of pop, blues, rock, and Malian rhythms with a touch of a meditative quality in the slower songs. However she does it, it works. As she has said herself, “I think I am modern and traditional at the same time. I’m not pop, not jazz, not classical but something contemporary with traditional instruments.”

Rokia was joined onstage by two guitar players, a ngoni player, a drummer, and a back-up singer (who turned out to be a lovely dancer, as well, showcasing her flexibility toward the end of the show). Rokia was able to laugh, smile, sing, dance, and deliver her energy during some surprisingly long songs. All the while, she was, we assume, telling a story in her native language or in French.

Between the band members, the dancing lights, the rich colors, and the eerie fog, there was much to look at while taking in the sounds and beats of the ensemble. I realized how, when I don’t know the words being sung, I focus more on the environment I’m looking at.

Rokia Traoré and her band were greatly enjoyed by the audience, who clapped along in time with the long repetitive pieces. It was hard not to get caught up in the frenzy of the faster pieces, as they built to their crescendo. The later it got in the evening, the longer the songs became; some even took on the feel of a long jam by a rock group. Rokia eventually invited the audience to dance in the aisles, which was met with great enthusiasm by a large crowd.

Mary S. Landon is a native Vermonter and UVM grad who has moved back to the Burlington community after many years in southern Vermont. She works as a freelance writer, fine artist, graphic designer, and landscape gardener. Her two daughters live in Portland, Oregon. Mary is also an avid cyclist and cook.

Friday, April 09, 2010

"Malian Magic"

A review of Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba
by Mary S. Landon

Imagine: a darkened room, an intimate stage waiting in anticipation; then, clear, bluesy notes piercing the air, African clothing in hues of purple and gold, and expressive musicians with an infectious passion for their craft.

This is Bassekou Kouyate and his band, Ngoni Ba. This group of six men and one woman had the entire FlynnSpace moving on Wednesday evening, March 31. An enthusiastic full house appreciated the music, the humor, and the showmanship of this fun group.

This group plays a unique blend of musical styles that contains elements of folk, rock, jazz, and roots music, but is overwhelmingly based in blues traditions. Bassekou comes from a long history of griots, or traditional historians and praise musicians. Four of the men, including Bassekou, play the ngoni, a “spike lute” and an ancestor of the banjo. It has a taut-skinned drum body, with a neck that is round and fretless. Strings are stroked, plucked, and picked in similar fashion to a guitar or banjo. The finger work was truly amazing. These four instruments, of varying sizes, were amplified and most of them seemed to have some duct tape helping to hold wires in place. Joining the four ngoni players were two percussionists. I’ve always felt that drummers are the unsung heroes of a band, until they have their chance to solo. These two were no exception, as they kept up an incredibly fast beat to back up the forceful vocals of Amy, Bassekou’s wife, and the jamming of the four ngonis. Likewise, they could deliver a mere suggestion of beat and rhythm during a quieter blues ballad.

Bassekou, who speaks his native Malian language as well as French, communicated fairly well in English, enough to express his joy of music and his appreciation for the audience support. Occasionally, he and Amy fell into French conversation, which was understood by some of the audience. He and the other musicians took turns swaying in rhythmic steps and circles on stage. It seemed challenging enough to simply play the ngonis, and play them fast. Then they added body movement and soulful singing! At times, Bassekou’s eyes rolled back in his head as he entered the completely focused state of an artist. Such energy! One of the percussionists had the incredibly challenging, hot, focused job of shaking, in repetitive rhythms, a round object (gourd?) covered with beads or shells. This instrument made a shuffling, rapping noise and he kept it going in what seemed to be perfect time. And he kept smiling! During long songs!

Amy Sacko’s deep, smoky voice flowed in and out of the voices of the instruments. She hit the sensual lows and she hit the brilliant highs with clarity, telling a story with each song. One song in particular was a back-and-forth conversation between an impassioned Amy and a more subdued Bassekou.

This was a show not to be missed. I was in awe of this group, not just for their technical abilities, but for their sheer happiness at doing what they obviously love to do. Their energy absolutely spread throughout the crowd, creating many wide smiles.

Mary S. Landon is a native Vermonter and UVM grad who has moved back to the Burlington community after many years in southern Vermont. She works as a freelance writer, fine artist, graphic designer, and landscape gardener. Her two daughters live in Portland, Oregon. Mary is also an avid cyclist and cook.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant Recipient Ellen Smith Ahern - Blog #2

Tuesday, April 6 - "We’ve spent the last few rehearsals working with the relationship of text to movement. For one, it’s fascinating to explore the range of possibilities that arise when you simply layer text over movement you’ve already built. Play-boxing and salsa steps become lonely when layered with text about middle school recess. Pacing the room while reading an ad for yourself as if you are a used car feels sweet, funny and earnest. Twisting on the ground like a pretzel for minutes at a time takes on new poignancy when accompanied by a monologue about fear and paranoia."

"Sometimes the text boxes you in. Putting a verbal story to movement inevitably limits (or at least challenges) what is being communicated non-verbally. It has been fun and thought-provoking to explore these lines with the guys. As they are new to generating dance, the words seem to give them an access point to the abstract movement, making it all a little more comfortable and familiar—the trick is to not rely too much on this, which is also, to be fair, a huge challenge for me."

"We’re also playing with the text and movement from the another angle, isolating movement cues and/or movement-evocative language from writings, taking them right out of their contexts, and stringing them together with other cues to form sequences of choreography. It’s great to give four people the same list of cues (jump, wait, back-of-the-hand, circle, etc.) and see what contrasts arise. Thus far, this has been a good way to cultivate a creative atmosphere in the group, in which everyone feels comfortable sharing their own work and commenting on others’ work."

"We’ve got a work-in-progress showing of our material this weekend, and it will be exciting to see what new life the guys and their work take on with a live audience and two other dances as bookends. Come check it out at Designhaus Art Gallery, 22 Church Street, 2nd floor. April 9 at 8 pm, April 10 at 4 pm and 8 pm. Reserve tickets at 207.240.7288 ($12/10 students)."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Burlington’s Ellen Smith Ahern Awarded the Flynn’s Spring N.A.S.A. Grant

Ellen Smith Ahern, an Illinois native and graduate of the Middlebury College dance program, is the newest recipient of the Flynn’s N.A.S.A. Grant Award. A recent performer at the Flynn with Tiffany Rhynard’s Big APE dance ensemble, Ellen plans to collaborate with five newcomers to performance art—Chris Ahern, Charlie Bettigole, Alex Fuller, and Spencer Taylor—in an examination of the fear, anger, and exuberance that accompany physicality. Ahern plans to hone the resulting work-in-progress into a finished piece to be included in an evening length performance she is self-producing in Burlington later this year.

Ellen is writing weekly blog entries to give an inside look at the creative process behind her work-in-progress. Here is the first of several entries to come:

Monday, March 15 - "I spent my first hours alone in the Flynn studio last night, moving through ideas, cranking up the stereo, and just plain old enjoying the luxury of space."

"Eager to start playing with ideas together, Chris, Charlie, Alex, Spencer, and I began this creative process before knowing whether we’d received the Flynn grant. We’ve been meeting in my kitchen, in the train station, and once, in a particularly inspired evening, in club Lift to build and explore material. I think that initial energy and motivation has given us a great foundation for the work—we’re invested in it regardless of where we’ve been meeting to create the dance. Now, with the grant’s support, our energy for the project feels grounded in a very healthy, exciting way. Knowing that we have 10 weeks of studio space ahead of us is thrilling! It feels like our fledgling writings and movement now have room to grow (although I wouldn’t knock any of our previous dance spaces)."

"We began our process with some writing assignments. I felt that exploring personal experiences, memories, and feelings first through text might offer us imagery and movement evocative language through which ‘dancing’ might be more accessible later. I’ve also found it helpful in the past to give myself, as dancer and choreographer, a collection of words and images from which to start building movement. As much as dance communicates non-verbally, I have to be open to the information that verbal language can bring to the process of making dance. And, working with four men who had little to no experience as performing artists, it seemed like we should try to access abstract movement from as many points as possible."

"Our first writings were about memories of short fights on the playground, fantasies of ‘teaching someone a lesson’, instances in which we’d unknowingly taken play too far and accidentally hurt someone, and lists of what we did and didn’t fear. From these words came a series of movement cues, and the cues, interpreted differently by each man, have given us four phrases of movement to play with. "

"As we continue exploring and shaping this movement, allowing it to take on different qualities, I’d like to work in solos, duets, trios, and as a quartet—my hope is for everyone to try dancing with each other in as many arrangements as possible. And who knows if or how the texts will work themselves back into the material. Can’t wait to see what this first week in the Flynn brings us . . ."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant Recipient Hanna Satterlee - Blog #9

Monday, December 14 - "We have had a successful weekend, finally putting all ideas into one. The show will be Wednesday, December 16, at 7:30 pm in FlynnSpace. We would love for you to come! With any questions, I can be reached at Thanks for tuning in . . . until next time . . ."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hanna Satterlee, Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant Recipient - Blog #8

Wednesday, December 8 - "Coming back after a break was refreshing, uplifting, and terribly intimidating. I spent my Thanksgiving weekend in Missouri visiting my dad and stepmother, and thus was completely away from the VT scene, giving me the time and space I needed to process what we have done during this project and what we are about to do. While in Middle America, I went on several long runs, fueled by my thoughts about this work, coming up with doubts and questions I didn't realize I needed to process."

"Thus, when I came back to the studio with my dancers, I had a greater sense about what was and wasn't going to make me happy. Of course, seeing my dancers again brought great relief—they are a delightful group of human beings that are equally concerned and excited about presenting our 10 week process to the public."

"Starting on Thursday night Mike, Lucille, Julie, and I spent the usual after-break time reviewing steps and counts. Lucille put in great effort towards her solo; I have appreciated her insight and meaning towards the piece. Her solo vaguely resembles my inner struggle of whether to stay in Vermont or move back to the city . . . whether to establish myself in a small community, or retreat to a larger scene where I can be under someone else’s direction. Seeing her put these ideas into movement (improvised every time) has really made me question my struggle in the first place. There really is no wrong answer; I have a lifetime to try both."

"On Friday, since Andrea was still away, our group piece felt awful. Since it is still not 'completed,' we were left fumbling to get a greater sense of this work, its placement in the showing, and its (many hidden) meanings. There was concern that because of the massive amount of different moves and steps, it tends to look like improvisation, or a sloppy mess of not-well-thought-up steps. Unsure of whether or not Andrea’s absence was to blame, we left the group piece alone and began brainstorming ways to introduce the phrase work to the audience before they see this group piece, as a way for them to later reference the movement."

"Mike and I also got to spend a chunk of time on our lifts in our duet. He has been patient to lift a lot of us girls . . . while teaching us to not grip on to him! He is remarkably strong, and this shows in many moments in the work. So, after our duet session I sent him to work on his solo, and it seemed that strength was the main character. I asked him to try a new 'trick' (balance, inversion, flip, etc) in the same place on the floor, five times in a row. During his solo we can see an internal mental struggle that often comes with making or completing dance, and can read how physical strength both helps and hinders a person."

"Saturday evening was a late night with my group of ladies, who come each time with such wide eyes. We got to work right away, reviewing what we had quickly set last week. The middle section was clarified, and the piece as a whole began to make sense. I am using similar music (by the same musician, Albert Mathias) for this group piece, as the other group piece. It is electronic in sound, with a steady pulse and melody that lasts for nine and 16 minutes respectively. Albert’s music spoke to me in an amazing way the first time I was able to dance with him, and has remained some of my favorite music to make work to since. It sends me into a trance-like state, and gives me space to move without getting stuck on thoughts or verbal reminders. I wanted to use it to suggest that state of making art, the long drawn out days when you can only focus on one thing for hours, the steady pulse of our ability to keep coming back to work, and the familiar melody representing our personal style that is consistent in all work that we make. As performers though, it is important to find moments of stillness and quiet if using such demanding sound. That is one last thing I hope to include for their group piece."

"During our dinner break we began the customary conversation about being a dancer in Vermont. I had randomly met and talked to several established dancers in Vermont over the past week, who presented their side in my argument, opening my eyes to the notion that yes, Vermont is small, but many good dance artists do make a happy, healthy living here. Though my project has never meant to downplay anyone else’s VT dance experience, I was getting information that my tone of voice may be coming across the wrong way. I brought up this idea to the ladies, and Lida (an established Vermont dance teacher, solo artist, and group performer) also felt strongly about me needing to be careful that what I write to the public is what I have been saying and presenting in the studio. I was glad to be confronted, because I certainly only meant to talk about these thoughts from a personal standpoint. It made me realize how clouded my head was during the beginning of this grant. I was full of doubt and really did not believe that I was going to be able to create interesting work."

"After the rehearsal I was eager to write my program over, to be sure all of my words were words that I really wanted to say. It took me way too many hours, but I finally deleted it all to be simple and blunt about the purpose of this project to me. With all of the activity and focus around the show, my excitement is growing. With it, I have been given extra supportive energy from fellow dancers and friends, which is just what I need to follow through with this last, most challenging yet fun part of putting all the work into one big evening. We have five rehearsals left as a group, dedicated not to fine tuning or polishing the material, but to giving the evening more imagery, consistency, excitement, and breadth."

Open rehearsals are still open!

Thursday, December 10 from 5-9 pm, Hoehl Studio
Friday, December 11 from 10:30 am-3 pm, Chase Studio
Saturday, December 12 from 2-9 pm, Chase Studio

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hanna Satterlee, Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant Recipient - Blog #7

Saturday, November 21 - "Things come together. With time, they always do!"

"I set up this past weekend with lots of time for us to rehearse. It was a relief to have room to think, rather than be pushed ahead by hands on a clock. The bigger picture is becoming clearer to me, and who should do what is almost screamingly obvious. I was able to set several sections that had before just been ideas. We cut unnecessary sections with relief, and pieced other small lost sections together rather beautifully. Dancers seem less cross-eyed by my directions; we are all gaining a sense of clarity. Finally."

"I am thankful for the efforts from this group. Feedback has been honest, corrections have been remembered, and freedom to make decisions has been granted."

"We have a few weeks left; the show will be December 16, so less than a month from today. With some leaving for Thanksgiving break, I can only hope they remember the material for when we all return once the December calendar page is flipped."

"For now, I am struck with the task of publicity, programs, and making a musical score. There is a lot of work to be done outside of the studio, and it always seems to present itself when dancing becomes the most fun."

"A guest artist came to rehearsal this Saturday: Sherief Campell, a hip-hop artist who is trying to develop a Vermont company for performances. We have different styles of course, but it was fun to be a dancer for somebody else. The two roles (choreographer vs. dancer) each have their pros and cons, and since I have been stuck in director mode it felt fantastic to MOVE."

"We are using the holiday to take a break from the project, and will begin again in December."

Feel free to join us (feedback would be very helpful at this time):

Thursday, December 3 from 2 to 6 pm, Hoehl Studio
Friday, December 4 from 10:30 to 2 pm, Chase Studio
Saturday, December 5 from 5:30 to 9 pm, Chase Studio

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hanna Satterlee, Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant Recipient - Blog #6

Friday & Saturday, November 13 & 14 - "Each week I find we have been coming back to the same not-so-unison unison dances. For the past few weeks, I was grinding myself into the ground going over counts and details, becoming frustrated and visually confused with the project. Mike has been an incredible companion to have in the studio, as he is able to speak clearly when my brain is not thinking realistically. Perhaps unison is not the answer for this group."

"Mike helped me to realize that with our limited time frame, it is not a good idea to try to create an evening of unison movement with a group that right now is nowhere near unison in style and rhythm. Mike helped to direct the ladies trio (Andrea, Julie, and Lucille) using known choreographic tools, to give the movement some meaning and the dancers more of a relationship to each other. Breaking up the unison was something none of us really wanted to do, so thank goodness Mike stepped in to help direct."

"We all agreed that getting phrase work into a ‘dance piece’ form is often the hardest part of choreographing. Since right now there is little to resemble a skeleton behind the bits of work, meaning there is no notable theme or idea that ties all the bits together, it has been near to impossible for me to get excited over creating a piece of ‘work.’ I have been struggling to feel an urge to direct my movement into ‘dances,’ wanting rather to keep creating movement for movement’s sake. I am starting to realize though that the tidbits can be intriguing if they have a clear connector. Now is the time to figure out that missing link, and start piecing together what already exists."

"I started on Saturday with new ladies Bridget, Erin, Lida and Caroline. It had been about a month and a half since I had seen them dance at the audition. On the drive up to rehearsal my brain clicked into reality, and told me to play easy. We started the rehearsal by plugging into our calendars, which (scheduling) has unfortunately played an enormous role in this project. I began creating phrase work using a five-meter, and asked the dancers to follow my rhythm, direction and level in space, but encouraged them to make up their own details. I think this was a successful way to introduce the group to each other, and a good way to create unison movement that encouraged personal style."

"We then spent a full hour, from 10:25 am till 11:25 am each creating a solo. We had the music, floor and space for our similar inspiration, but I gave free reign for creation. I imagined seeing all five solos set to the same song. It was crazy to see how different five minds and bodies work. Perhaps these solos can act as the missing link to connect the other phrase work into one stream of an idea."

"I am eager for more solid time together, when people don’t have to leave in the middle of rehearsal for class, when I am not exhausted, when other things aren’t dominating all of our minds. I imagine the final push before the showing is about to occur, when dancers know they are going to present themselves, a new work ethic seems to arrive. I am less interested in standing as the lead director, and more interested in seeing how we as a group can pull it all together."

Next rehearsals:

Thursday, November 19 from 6 to 9pm (Hoehl Studio, 3rd floor)

Friday, November 20 from 10 am to 2:30 pm (Chase Studio, 1st floor)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hanna Satterlee, Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant Recipient - Blog #5

Thursday & Friday, November 5 & 6 - "Coming back to this blog after rehearsing is never an easy thing. The stream of consciousness is a friend of writing, but they are not the same."

"Nevertheless, I can recap the highlights . . ."

"Thursday’s rehearsal gave me a chance to see the three women alone: Lucille, Andrea, and Julie. They are three extraordinarily different movers, so unison movement for them was a hard thing to watch. The movement seemed disorganized and spastic for the sole reason that their executions were so extremely different. Not a bad thing, at all, just again another project to fix and form differently. Too bad that list just keeps growing."

"I was very thankful for the relaxed time we had on Thursday, for I got to hear both Julie and Lucille’s relationship to dance in Vermont. I was finding myself very disappointed with the dance scene here (due to trying to take my first ‘professional’ dance class here in VT, but only got to sit on the floor and listen to the ‘professional' talk about himself). Trying to stay positive about it, but am feeling a bit under-inspired (and to be honest angry too). I told Lucille and Julie about my frustration, read to them my original project proposal, and asked them bluntly, how they can feel satisfied with the dance scene here in Vermont. Both stories were shocking in their own way, and helped me to see the bigger picture of whom I was working with. At the same time however, it helped me to realize that I still want (and need) a bigger, more challenging, more diverse, more mature, and more happening dance scene to feel happy. At the beginning of the project I asked, can I live happily in Vermont as a dancer? Lately, the answer to this question is ‘No.’"

"Although I have been wishing to get in my car and drive back to San Francisco, this grant will not allow me to stop researching this question, as I am only about halfway through the project. I instead have been trying to focus on where I am, and who and what surrounds me here in Vermont. It is not as full of dance as I had wished, but it is full of other things. The challenge is finding reason and interest to bring the outside world into the studio."

"Friday was a good refresher for the group, as everyone met together (Mike, Julie, Andrea, Lucille, and I). We were able to review all of the segments we have created, and clarify directions and spacing. A lot of the unison work needs more clarity in the group, and I have to challenge myself to break away from using only unison phrasework. The dancers are so patient with me, it is truly a gift. I would like to highlight each one individually, as they are so unique. Next week I am starting a new chapter to this project, by starting with an entirely new group of dancers. Bridget, Erin, Lida and Caroline. They are all very pleasing to the eye and shape, with symmetry, flexibility, and range. It will be fun."

Rehearsals for next week:

Friday, November 13: 11 am to 3 pm; Mike, Lucille, Julie, Andrea (Chase studio, floor 1)

Saturday, November 14: 9 am to 1 pm; Erin, Bridget, Lida, Caroline (Hoehl studio, floor 3)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Hanna Satterlee, Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant Recipient - Blog #4

Sunday, November 1 - "I am happy it is November, for nothing more than false hope of a new beginning. October as a whole felt like WORK; I am hoping November will prove a time to put the pieces together and see some results."

"The October 30 rehearsal took a lot of energy, and by the end left me feeling overwhelmed. Luckily, the beginning was a blast. Mike and I started rocking out to Ron Jeremy (background music used during his years as a porn star) and I just kept adding new movement material, unsure where it was coming from. Mike sets a good pace for me, as he requests detailed instructions to movement that I, if left alone, would just assume I would remember later. Yet he is also completely willing to keep going without a slight pause."

"Julie came early to give feedback for Mike and I. She recommended we find a way to connect physically sooner in the phrase work, so that the lift mid-dance wouldn’t seem so out of place. (Yes, he literally flings me on his shoulder and carries me from one side of the room to the other in the middle of a bunch of unison dancing . . . I knew we would have to work on it.) Feedback from others almost always challenges your own ideas in an arduous way—as good as it was to have, I bit my lip at the thought of actually creating it. Mike and I had been doing a ton of unison, so incorporating a more obvious connection is a definite need-to-do."

"When in the studio, I find that I want to just keep making material, whether or not it makes sense, just to have a bulk of work to prove the style of this group. I am wondering, which will ultimately feel more satisfying: a bulk of work? Or short, clarified, sensible phrases? For this project, I am leaning toward the bulk of work goal, since the grant is geared toward helping the beginning of an artist’s project."

"Julie, Andrea, Mike, and I continued into the second hour reworking the diagonal improvisation pass we had set last week, although it wasn’t as easy to come back to as I had assumed. The individual movement assignments were present, but a bit foggy. I wonder what is a good way to keep the ideas fresh? Assign movement homework?"

"We also reviewed in depth some group phrase work, thanks to Julie speaking up. My brain gets awfully full in the studio, so it was nice to have her voice of reason."

"The third hour arrived with Lucille, proving that I was a bit ‘behind’ my intended goals for the rehearsal. When considering Lucille, I must admit, I was unsure of how to bring her into a group that had already worked for weeks together. My mind fluttered to ideas of a solo for her? Drop everything and start fresh with the four of them? I couldn’t do either, since Mike, Julie, Andrea, and I had already gotten pretty far into our previous creations. I had to keep going with what we were already in the middle of. Lucille was totally up to just join in, so I tried to be up for it too, although I could barely wrap my head around it. She was brave and joined upon cue, but I left feeling unsatisfied."

"I had spent too much time on counts, not enough on the new dynamic of the group. What is a good way to start once you add in a new member?"

"Before the hours ended, the five of us put all of the phrases together (in the order they were created), and ran through all the different sections of movement as if they were one long drawn out idea. It took ten minutes. Ten minutes for over a month’s amount of work! The ratio of work to product is always so amazing."

"I decided for next week to try a rehearsal with just women, as a way to more smoothly incorporate Lucille, and will work on a trio with Julie, Lucille and Andrea. I have a few Saturdays coming up with a trio of different women, so I think I am going to give out my same ideas twice, to the two different groups, and see how drastically (or not) they compare at the end."

Slow down.
Small projects with the goal of creating lots of new phrase work for a bulk of material.

Please feel free to watch, comment, join, and enjoy the rehearsals!

Thursday, November 5 from 11 to 3 pm
and Friday, November 6 from 11 to 2 pm

Chase Studio, Flynn Center, 153 Main St., Burlington

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Hanna Satterlee, Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant Recipient - Blog #3

Friday, October 23 - "I am beginning to clarify my purpose of this project. I was recently reminded by the Flynn directors that my time in the studio is not 'rehearsal' time. We are not supposed to think of the final result, nor should we be preparing for a big show. The grant is intended to provide time to answer questions through movement, to process creative ideas and themes, to mix talent, and experiment. I am used to treating studio time as work time, as I enjoy drilling phrases until they are crisp and clear, leaving with a satisfying sense of completion in some form."

"This grant is a challenge for me, asking me to focus on subtler details, honing in on creating a comprehensive 'style' that we as a group have created. Even though we will ultimately present our work in a showing, my purpose of this project is to create movement experiments without attachment to the results."

"To keep myself entertained, I have been focusing on details of joint rotation, placement of limbs, and articulation of fingers and toes. Small concepts, but when they’re paid attention to, it creates a big difference in clarity and style of a group."

"I started this rehearsal with Mike, wondering if we could be a set of movement twins. We are both large movers, tall and with a demanding presence. We cut and pasted the phrase from the audition, and it felt good to do it standing side by side. Since I am moving not watching, I am interested to hear what details we can focus on to bring our styles closer together."

"Andrea and Julie then arrived, and we began as a group by referring back to the diagonal pass theme we had worked on last week. This week instead of setting all steps and counts, we sourced their old phrases in an improvisational score. I gave different directions to each dancer—Andrea focusing on horizontal movement in arms; Julie focusing in spine initiation to move through space; Mike growing from the floor up to a stand, elbows helping the lift. All three instructions were layered on top of a general movement image—inwardly-rotated shoulders, sickled feet, with the two sides of the body wrapping around the core line."

"When you have smart movers, random ideas like this can turn into beautiful images. All three wowed me, again, with their willingness to try, and mix of contemplative mind-work with ease in body movement."

"After a show I saw this summer, created largely on the theme of improvising with initiations of the spine, I spoke with one of the dancers about the process and learned that they repeated the same idea every time they met (almost without any discussion) until it became more comfortable for each dancer and they were able to define their understanding of the concept. I think the score we created at this rehearsal would be an interesting one to come back to every week."

"Mike, Julie, and I continued into the rehearsal after Andrea left, reviewing the floor phrase we created together last week. It took most of our attention to remember the nuances, leaving little time to add on. We moved into the standing phrase between Mike and Julie, which is when I began to feel stuck. I tried repeating the phrases four times, making a minimal sequence change for every directional shift (front, left, back, right). I am unsure of my interest in this standing phrase, though I don't feel ready to throw it out. My dancers, so far, always comply, though I should have made more time to hear their feedback."

"I will be adding Lucille next week, the oldest dancer from the audition, who came with stunning poise but reluctance toward pop music and fast floor work. I plan to weave her into Julie and Mike’s standing phrase, and will try to focus on who they are as people for movement."

"Personality is important, perhaps something I should further study in all of my dancers."

"Also, what more can I tell them about what I am thinking? I've always hated feeling like an uniformed dancer, so in my switch to choreographer role I must remember their side of the experiment."

Please feel free to watch, comment, join, and enjoy the rehearsals!

The next open rehearsal is Friday, October 30 from 11 am to 2 pm in Chase Studio at the Flynn Center.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant Recipient Hanna Satterlee - Blog Entry #2

Friday, October 16 - "I started last week with three technically strong dancers: Mike, an ex-Jazzercise instructor; Andrea, a UVM dance student; and Julie, a yoga teacher and dancer in Burlington. They brought me a great sense of relief and excitement. I sensed that they were as hungry for the work as I was, which, as a choreographer, is a very privileged feeling."

"Andrea, Mike, and I started with a directional focus: a diagonal pass, which is a proven strong line of direction on a stage. We used fists to confirm a straight wrist aesthetic, and each developed unimportant counts of eight—unimportant because I want to focus on timing and overlapping, rather than cool movement. We need to even out the awkward space between Andrea’s height and Mike’s. I would like them to weave in and out of each other more fluidly. Of course it was the first day, but they are opposite sizes, so it could be a challenge."

"Mike, Julie, and I created a short standing phrase focusing on rhythm and dropping movements into the next. Mike is much more staccato and firm; Julie, smooth and circular. An interesting contrast, but it needs attention. We ended with a floor phrase, increasing our heart rates and shifting horizontally through space. We also did a lot of splicing movement phrases together, which we need to do more of—small pieces, repetition, breaks in between watchable dancing."

"I work by making small pieces and putting them together. Usually, what happens in the moment stays unless our gut instinct immediately throws an idea out. I have warned my group that we will create based on what happens when it happens, and whose body remembers what. The speed at which we worked was phenomenal; I was able to give movement assignments, and piece each person’s version together within minutes. All three dancers seemed comfortable with starting right in. I’m glad not to waste time."

"I am also intrigued by the idea of twin dancing: similar looking people, not relatives."

"Characteristics, attributes, style, stamina, and stance. And I am slightly obsessed with back-up dancer movement (think of a glorified step-touch). I’m hoping these ideas will be how I bring in the other chosen dancers. I envision creating a medley of music and dances, the challenge being what thread can tie it all together."

"I also need to find a proficient music editor/maker/DJ?"

"I have to keep reminding myself to stay put. Don’t focus so hard that I can’t see straight, but just STAY PUT."

Next open rehearsal is Friday, October 23 from 11am to 2 pm in Chase Studio at the Flynn Center. Please come!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Montpelier Dancer Hanna Satterlee Receives Flynn N.A.S.A. Grant

Montpelier native and dancer Hanna Satterlee is the newest recipient of the Flynn’s N.A.S.A. Grant Award. The San Francisco resident is an accomplished dancer and choreographer (as well as yoga teacher) whose previous experience includes work with Kelly Kemp, Laura Arrington Dance Company, and the All Purpose Dance Company. Satterlee’s recent return to Vermont has prompted her to explore her roots and connect with dancers in the region. The N.A.S.A Grant will create an atmosphere of collaboration between established Vermont dancers and Satterlee, who will investigate how the culture of the Green Mountain State people, nature, speed, liberalism, health, sound, trade, and effort influences movement.

Hanna is contributing weekly blog entries to provide a look into how her work is progessing.

Tuesday, October 13 - "I suppose it has been a month now, since the initial meeting about the content and expectations that come with the Flynn’s N.A.S.A. grant. A month seems like a lengthy enough time to prove I have a solid start, but I can only confess to having started an experiment."

"When I was given my keys to the Flynn, I spent the first two weeks eager and happy to lock myself in the studio and create dances for myself. Not thinking of a larger picture, I simply used the time to familiarize myself with the space, my feet with the floor, and my movement with sound. Music, I quickly realized, would be a key companion."

"Two weeks after this free-form (perhaps self-indulgent) solo dancing, it was time to host an audition. I had tried my hardest to get the word out about it—I emailed friends of friends, searched Vermont University dance programs for contacts, posted fliers, sent news blasts, and posted on craigslist, all hoping to have a large number of prospects to meet."

"I had said I wanted 10 people for the project, originally liking the idea of starting with one, and adding a dancer per week for the ten week duration. Exactly 10 people came to the audition."

"I left that evening happy for the experience, but secretly devastated that at least 30 people hadn’t shown up. In a city, I figured, the room would be crowded. Friends reminded me that one audition is not enough to see the scope of who is in the state. But after so many publicity efforts, I was drained at the thought of finding more options. I immediately wondered what I was doing, and how it was going to work."

"My original quest for this project was to find the hidden pocket of dancers in Vermont, take them in as they are, with how they have trained, and what they can creatively produce, and see what type of work we could make together. After letting the audition experience settle for a few days, I eventually felt satisfied to realize that even if the pocket here is small, there is experience and effort and range to choose from."

"Because of chaotic scheduling, I decided to forget about the number 10 and start with the strongest dancers to create a bulk of movement. I have several dancers from the audition who have agreed to join in November and December, and a few artistic friends intrigued and curious about collaborating in some form later in the process as well."

The next rehearsal is Friday, October 16 from 11:30 am to 2 pm. The public is welcome to attend any portion of my process.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Flynn Garden Tour in the Islands Breaks All Records

by Gina Haddock, Development Director

The number 13 must be our lucky number. The Flynn’s 13th annual garden tour took place in the Champlain Islands on Sunday, July 19, on one of the few sunny days this summer. Over 450 people traveled from around the state and update New York to attend our tour. The gorgeous array of gardens coupled with the lake views made for an enchanting day.

Seven Island gardeners opened their spectacular gardens to an appreciative crowd. A special thank you goes to Laurie Fleming and Tom Wilson, Troy and Janet Wert, Barbara and David Capen, Sally Coppersmith and Jack Sartore, Dave and Jan DeSarno, Ann Baldau Teah and Ingrid Rich. In addition, Pamela Laurence and Barry Dimson from Colchester presented the stunning “gateway to the islands” garden.

At day’s end hundreds of tour goers gathered at Snow Farm Vineyard for a lovely tea catered and served by our friends at Gardener’s Supply Company. Snow Farm owner, Harrison Lebowitz, provided a wonderful gathering site as well as an informative tour of the Vineyard.

The Flynn Garden Tour is a benefit to support our work with school children. This year’s tour raised over $23,000 and was generously sponsored by Gardener’s Supply Company and Enman and Associates.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Margot Lasher on "Attunement"

David Klein and Naomi Flanders
Newton Baker, Soren Pfeffer, David Klein, and Naomi Flanders

Monday, August 10 - "This is the week before the performance, and I actually think we are going to pull this together.

"These photos are from the dog trainer scene which we worked on endlessly. In one photo Dog meets Attack Dog (Soren Pfeffer) and the Trainer (Newton Baker) is screaming at Human to put her dog on a leash. But the two dogs know that they are fine together – it’s just the humans who don’t know what is happening. So, in the other photo, Dog turns to Human and tells her—non-verbally—that everything is ok. You can imagine the difficulties in this scene: a lot of action and a lot of non-verbal communication. The blue dog on David’s t-shirt is Beanie. David does wonderful sculptures of this blue dog, which you can see at

"I’ve learned a huge amount about performance and directing from Irene Facciolo, David Klein, and Naomi Flanders. I understand much more about how a play gets onto the stage. They’ve been great in many ways. And Newton, Soren, and Kristin (who plays an old woman in one scene), who are not actors, have given insights that have been really important in the development of the whole.

"Our work reaffirmed something I already knew, that the quality of energy among the cast is crucial, and that is the most important element in this play too. At the foundation is the close, deep connection between dog and human. Without that, the play is dead.

"In the play, the human is a human and the dog is a dog, and the tension between their world views goes throughout the play: the dramatic tension is based upon their difference. But the amazing thing, for the play and for our real lives with our dogs, is the flow of energy between them, the attunement to each other that connects them. In the sense that they are tuned into each other, and want to understand each other, they are connected and they are the same.

"Without the N.A.S.A. grant and the support of everyone at Flynn Center, I would not have learned any of this stuff about the process of performance. And I think Irene and the actors have learned a lot too. I have my own blog about the relationship between dogs and humans, and I’d love to have any comments, positive and negative, about the play. You can find my blog at"

Monday, July 20, 2009

N.A.S.A Grant Awardee Margot Lasher on "Calming Energy"

Naomi Flanders and Shiro

Monday, July 20 - "We have taken a short break because everyone in the cast (except me, and maybe Newton) is intensely directing/performing. Naomi Flanders is directing Pirates of Penzance which opens in Plainfield this weekend, and Irene is in the Pirates cast. David Klein is performing in A Little Hotel on the Side at Unadilla. I went last weekend and, for those of you who know old comedians, he reminded me of Sid Caesar on the early television program Your Show of Shows. Hotel is a farce, and David has the same amazing frantic energy, at the boundary between funny and frightening. Or laughter and hysteria. In one scene, in which he almost has a heart attack, I forgot it was a play and started worrying about him.

"There is good research that now shows that dogs are very healthy for people. Being with a calm dog lowers one’s blood pressure. In stressful situations, being with a dog is more beneficial than being with another person. In the photo above, I love the look on Naomi’s face as she relaxes with Shiro."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

N.A.S.A. Grant Awardee Margot Lasher: "Ghost in the Window"

David Klein & Shiro

Tuesday, July 7 - "This is one of my favorite photos, taken by Irene Facciolo. David Klein (Dog) is saying some line, and Shiro is at the window looking in. It is as if Shiro is feeding David his lines, or at another level, David is getting his understanding of ‘dogness’ from Shiro.

"Dogs are always going in and out of the house. Outside are the deer, the coyotes, the birds, and the living food. Inside are the humans, the pack, and the dead food. Dogs live in two realities, and the window is the boundary.

"When working we use only a small part of the space, the size of the raised platform in FlynnSpace. Charlie and Shiro wander around the rest of the space freely. Now that they’re used to the human sounds and motions, they ignore us and sleep a lot. In the play, David often gets down on the floor, sometimes sitting and sometimes lying down. When he sits Charlie ignores him, but the instant he lies down Charlie goes over to make sure he is okay.

"There is a scene is which Naomi Flanders (the Human) loses sight of David, and she calls loudly ‘Dog, Dog’ (everyone knows the content of this scene, in which your dog wanders off and you are afraid she is lost, stolen, or run over). In this scene Charlie and Shiro, no matter where they are, come running to see why she is calling them, and more importantly, why she is projecting fear.

"In this next photo, Naomi has picked up Shiro’s leash for the dogtrainer scene, and Shiro ties to grab it. This is unusual—Shiro doesn’t normally interrupt the rehearsal. Charlie was not with us that day and I think Shiro was nervous being in the studio without him. When Naomi got his leash, Shiro decided it was time to leave and go home."

David Klein, Naomi Flanders, Shiro

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

N.A.S.A Grant Awardee Margot Lasher on "The Stranger"

Newton Baker, David Klein & Naomi Flanders

Newton Baker, Naomi Flanders & David Klein

Monday, June 22 - "In Act III, a Stranger enters the play. In the first photo you can see the Human looking at the Stranger anxiously. In the next, Dog cowers at the Stranger’s feet. We had an interesting discussion—is the dog, who is brave and wise until now, suddenly neurotic in his fear of the stranger? Or is the stranger a real danger? Is that rhyme symbolic? The interpretation is up to you.

"Those of us who live with dogs know that sometimes they have humorous fears. We have a dairy farm near us, and for the first time in years the farmer has brought the cows to the pasture right next to the house. In the middle of the night Shiro, forgetting that they are cows, wakes up and barks at them. On summer evenings, before he gets used to them, he barks at the fireflies who look suspiciously like blinking animal eyes.

"However, dogs often sense real danger way ahead of us and save us from disaster. They smell and otherwise sense the menacing presence of a predator, human and non-human. They do not hide from their fear. In this situation, they are brave and wise."

Friday, June 12, 2009

N.A.S.A. Grant Awardee Margot Lasher on "Timing"

Friday, June 12 - "Today we worked on the scene with the dog trainer and a second dog. This is a weird scene and not easy. Two humans acting like dogs (pulling on their leashes), two humans acting like humans (one yelling at the other)—the scene toward the end is serious, yet just seeing the two ‘dogs’ glaring at each other has to be funny. After several times when the timing was off, Naomi and Irene suggested that the dogs spend time sniffing each other the way real dogs do, and it worked. It slowed the scene down, allowing the humorous part to develop, so that when the serious part comes the audience is ready for it. It was the first time that we were working with more than just Dog and Human but oddly, the addition of Newton (dog trainer) and Soren (dog) happened quite naturally. I wonder if they shouldn’t have been in more scenes."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Margot Lasher on "Moving from Within"

Above: Shiro & Brigit dancing
Wednesday, June 3 - "Naomi, who is a musician, says that when she is doing a play, at some point she absorbs her lines as she would music and they become part of her body, part of her whole self.

"I had this same thought about dance while I was watching the development of the young dancers at a performance of Contemporary Dance in Montpelier. There were differences of course in technical skills, but the striking difference for me was that some of the dancers moved from an internal place—from their whole body/self. For whatever reason, some had reached the point where the movement came from within.

"As ridiculous as this might sound, you can even see this with dogs. Along with my friends Peggy and Alan, and their dogs Amy (who died last winter) and Danny, I studied freestyle (dog-human dancing) with Shiro. But in spite of all my efforts, Shiro never really moved from within. In the woods, when he senses a prey, Shiro trots toward the scent with his head high, his neck stretched, his legs prancing. He never once had that beautiful look when he trotted beside me in the dance. Peggy with Amy and Alan with Danny went on to wonderful performances without us. I decided to let Shiro focus on his passion, hunting. However, when Shiro dances with another dog, especially with Brigit, he does move from within."

Friday, May 29, 2009

N.A.S.A. Grant Awardee Margot Lasher on "The Mind of the Dog"

Friday, May 29 - "When Other Minds was done in Key West as a staged reading, the director Earl Halbe used two actors, a silent Dog (Tom Robinson) and a Voice of Dog (Elizabeth Halbe). It worked well and my first plan was to follow this structure. But Earl didn’t have time to work much on movement, which is my focus: I want to develop the motions of the dog and the non-verbal closeness between dog and human. So thinking of movement, I decided to get a dancer as the silent dog. But when I thought about that, I realized that any good dancer would have his or her own style, and it would not necessarily fit this play or my concept of the dog. So then I thought I would get an actor as the silent Dog, but if the actor was good, why would I want to take his lines away? So after a lot of back and forth, I decided to have one actor who would both speak and move as the dog.

"Now it occurs to me that when there are two distinct dogs (verbal and non-verbal), and the voice of the dog is coming from offstage or above, there is more ambiguity about whether the human is hallucinating the talking or the dog is really talking. And that ambiguity is fine; plays have different levels and potentially different interpretations. But for me, the dog is really talking. For some unknown reason, the dog starts talking and I am listening to the mind of the dog. So I am happy that there is a single actor as Dog."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

N.A.S.A. Grant Awardee Margot Lasher on Endings

In her second blog entry, Margot Lasher—the recipient of the Flynn’s Winter/Spring N.A.S.A. Grant Award—discusses the difficulty of bringing a theater work to a satisfactory close.

Tuesday, May 26 - "Have you ever been to a new play, and it ends, and you don’t realize it was the end? There is no curtain, and after an uncomfortable silence someone in the audience gets it and starts applauding.

"Endings are difficult. In classical theater, tragedies ended in death and comedies in marriage, and the end wasn’t so unexpected.

"I was listening to the actors reading Act III—Newton had finished his part and David and Naomi went into a rhythmic passage that had a sense of togetherness, of being settled, and I knew that those lines should be 'The End.' But the script dragged on for two more scenes. I was cursing the playwright when I realized that it was me.

"I would never have seen this ending without hearing it read by experienced actors, tuned into the rhythm of the piece. I rewrote."

The next N.A.S.A. application deadline will be Monday, August 24. Visit the Flynn website at for more information and an application.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Margot Lasher is the Flynn Center Winter/Spring N.A.S.A. Grant Awardee

Margot Lasher, writer and licensed psychologist specializing in the human-dog relationship, is the recipient of the Flynn’s Winter/Spring N.A.S.A. Grant Award. Lasher draws on her background as an experimental theater writer, actor, and dog lover to create and develop Other Minds—a play exploring the close connection shared between humans and canines. Her work-in-progress will be presented on Sunday, August 9 at 7 pm in FlynnSpace.

As part of her work, Margot will contribute weekly blog entries discussing the process of creating Other Minds. Here is the first in her series of posts about her ongoing creative process.

Cast of Other Minds:
From left to right: Shiro, dog; Irene Facciolo, Director; David Klein, Dog; Naomi Flanders, Human; Newton Baker, Stranger and dog trainer. Not pictured: Charlie, David’s dog; Soren Pfeffer, a second dog

Wednesday, May 13 - "The presence of the dogs is crucial. If you think about dogs and cats in the theater, they are almost always cute and stupid. I want to show them as they are for us in our lives—wise, noble, perceptive, and maybe sometimes cute and stupid. In our private lives, which is what modern theater is about, dogs are deeply important. We are exploring the human-dog relationship."

The next N.A.S.A. application deadline will be Monday, August 24. Visit the Flynn website at for more information and an application.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Flynn Names A Winner of the 2008-2009 Season Ticket Raffle!

Photo: Frederic Silberman

Barbara Lande Bronfman of South Burlington is the winner of the Flynn Center's 2008-2009 Great Big Whole Kit N' Kaboodle Season Ticket Raffle. For $100, Barbara entered to win two tickets to every show the Flynn presents this season. Congratulations, Barbara!

Barbara was kind enough to share how she felt after receiving the good news:

Wow! I never win raffle prizes (not for lack of trying) and now I feel like I hit the jackpot. What an incredible prize—two tickets to every Flynn production for a whole season!

I didn’t hear anything the day of the drawing, so I assumed the $100 I spent on the raffle ticket was just money well-spent in support of the Flynn. The next day, I called home to check on my sick daughter and said, “I have a surprise for you. Do you want to know now or later?” Being young at heart and still trying to acquire a taste for delayed gratification, I said, “Now!” What a wonderful surprise it was.

The Flynn has so much to offer and I am looking forward to a variety of performances. I am also planning to use some of the tickets as gifts for friends and family, and to donate tickets to some of my favorite charities for them to use as raffle prizes.

What a great opportunity!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fair to Midway

by A.J. Fucile
Flynn Box Office Manager

The arrival of Labor Day marks many things: the end of summer, the start of school, and the culmination of another Champlain Valley Fair. Each year, the fair offers a choice of six different concerts plus three or four motorsport events which are staffed by the FlynnTix Box Office. Some years, the shows seem to blend into each other, and other years certain shows stand out. This year was a little different, in that just about every event seemed to have something that made it special.

Day one of the fair is always exciting, partially due to the natural nervousness from taking on a big event (never mind 10 of them!). The 10,000-plus seats at the exposition are certainly a change from our approximately 1,500 seat theater. This year started with Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, which brought a crowd that is probably more familiar with events held at the Shelburne Museum. One telling sign was the traffic pattern. For a typical fair event, people will arrive a few hours early to walk the grounds, eat some fried dough (or other fair food), and generally just take in the sights. On this Saturday night, folks arrived closer to show time, which slowed the entry onto the grounds and into the event as things start to back up. Once the show started, I couldn’t help but notice how quiet the grandstand was. Normally, when there are about 3,000 sitting up there, it’s hard to miss them. But as I walked out of the box office that night, I had to turn around and look up to confirm that people actually had taken their seats. I think it was the quietest crowd I have noticed in years.

Sunday and Monday featured two more concerts: American Idol’s Daughtry and Danity Kane. Both were fairly low key, bringing out loyal fans on two beautiful days. The whole week was blessed with good weather, a relief after such a rainy summer. After that, the next couple of evenings featured two motor sport events, starting with the Extreme Motorcycles show. I first caught a glimpse of this a year ago while riding the Ferris wheel as the act warmed up during the day. I wasn’t really sure what the event was like, but seeing these riders jump off ramps a couple of stories high, doing flips in the air, and then landing as if they had never left the ground was amazing. If you haven’t seen this event, it’s well worth checking out.

But I must admit that my favorite event of the week was Wednesday’s “Demolition Derby.” I also must confess that when I first heard of it, I couldn’t understand what it was that drew thousands of people to witness it. And then I attended one. The rules are fairly simple—avoid the driver’s side door, and make contact with another vehicle at least every 60 seconds. There are approximately four different rounds where eight to twelve cars line up on the track, and then proceed to ram into each other until only one car is left that can move of its own accord. There is then a runner-up round consisting of any non-winning car that can still move, and then a final championship round consisting of each winner. One of the contestants, car number 77, just refused to stop moving. It was smaller than most of the other cars, and quickly became a crowd favorite. It looked like a pancake, with its back trunk and back seat directly behind the driver. It then lost its front left wheel, and then it’s back right wheel. Its right front wheel lay in the wheel well horizontally. And it kept running, and smashing into other cars. The back left door fell off. Then the back bumper. And this car kept delivering hits! The car we had picked as the winner at the start of the match looked like a sturdy Lincoln, and even it couldn’t seem to stop this car’s momentum. Each time car 77 either gave or took a hit, and then continued to drive, the howls of laughter and approval just roared from the stands. It was the little engine that could—but shouldn’t. In the end it didn't win the match, but it was by far one of the highlights of the evening.

On Thursday night there was a free event with the Marine Corps Marching Band, which gave the box office a bit of a breather. I didn’t hear much about the event, other than the next morning when I went to the bank and the teller told me how much she had enjoyed watching “those cute Marines.” The feedback was very good, and kept the positive energy at the fair in motion.

The final weekend of the fair started with a shot. On Friday, I had walked up to the will call booth at the Red Gate to check on someone’s tickets, when another customer slammed his arms down at the window and barked at us, “I ordered four tickets, and there are only three here, and I ordered these a LONG time ago!” The man’s arms were larger than my legs, and he wore a white tank top that showed his strength. I looked at him and asked, “If you ordered these a long time ago, why didn’t you check the order when it arrived?” His response caught me off guard for a moment, “Check them? I threw them in my gun safe as soon as they got here!” Right. We were, after all, dealing with a show that featured a very outspoken NRA supporter, Ted Nugent. I assured the man that I would rectify any error that had been made (luckily, I had four seats returned from the act that came in very handy at that moment). Once he realized that things would work out, he was very appreciative, and gave me a thank you-handshake that almost took me off my feet. I think we both left smiling though, and I certainly understood where he was coming from. This event meant a lot to him, and he had planned for it for months. Sometimes, we just get lucky; others, there isn’t much that you can do other than to accept the situation and to make the most of it. I was glad that I didn’t have to try to convince this gentleman of the latter!

Toby Keith brought the usual crowd and excitement that I have come to expect from country stars. This is perhaps his fourth time performing at the fair since I have been here, and he and his group seem right at home from the moment they arrive. I appreciate a good performer who can (literally and figuratively) rally the troops. I didn’t see the show, but I read in the Burlington Free Press review that Toby brought three members of the armed services up on stage at the end of his encore, and then left them there in front of nearly ten thousand people who erupted in applause. THAT was something that I wish I had seen.

And then what seemed to be the show of the fair arrived: The Jonas Brothers. I knew when the show went on sale that this would be big, as we had lines around the building that morning. The show featured a stage extension that reached into the seating on the track, allowing the Brothers to walk deep among the fans. We had done our best to guesstimate which seats might be affected by the extension, but of course we were conservative in our estimate, which meant that once the extension was actually set up, we had a few choice seats to sell. I arrived at the venue early to sort out which locations might be released, figuring that after that I might be able to run an errand or two before returning for the event that evening. I had greatly underestimated the size of the crowd. By a little after 11 am the parking on the grounds was already close to full, and at 2 pm we started to shift to off-site parking. I cannot remember a time when this has happened this early—often it does not occur until one or two hours before the show, and the Jonas Brothers were not due on stage for another five hours! Needless to say I didn’t go anywhere during the day, as we worked through sales, “meet and greet” passes, and other show details. Finally, show time arrived. When the show started, I walked into the venue to see what it was all about. The stage was fantastic. It had hydraulic lifts raising certain parts of the stage, ramps around the stage and into the crowd, dazzling lights and a section of background singers in risers that were also leading cheers, holding up signs, and generally just looking like they were having a ball. The three brothers were pros, striking rock poses and running around creating all kinds of excitement. And then I turned around and looked up at the grandstand. I felt this wave of excitement nearly knock me over; the energy was contagious. You couldn’t avoid it.

And then finally, Labor Day, which to those of us that work the fair means only one thing—the Tractor/Truck Pull. We open at 10 am that day and for the most part sell tickets right until around 3 pm or so. It’s another event that has a devoted following, and consists of vehicles trying to see who can pull a tractor the furthest distance without blowing an engine. It’s quite amazing if you have never seen it.

To top it all off, on Monday, the Flynn’s Assistant Box Office Manager, Leeeza Robbins, was presented with the "Star of the Day" award. This award is given each day to a person involved with the Fair for service above and beyond the call of duty. A Champlain Valley Expo department superintendent nominates someone that they see doing something exceptional. The winner is announced on one of the stages and they are presented with a prize pack and certificate of appreciation. In Leeeza's case, she was nominated for her exceptional patience and courtesy in dealing with several unhappy customers at one of the shows. Not only was this witnessed by the nominating person, but they also apparently witnessed her being complimented by another customer further down the line. Thank you Leeeza!

Thanks to all of you that came out during the week plus of the Champlain Valley Fair. I enjoy it more and more each year, and look forward to seeing you next year!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Local Artist Shares War Veterans' Stories

Sound Off: Combat Stories Revealed, a new creative performance and documentary theater work developed by Flynn Center New Art Space Assistance (N.A.S.A.) Grant recipient Jen Berger, explores the stories of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Berger, who runs a campaign at Burlington’s Peace & Justice Center that provides truth in military recruitment/enlistment education to high school students and community members statewide, incorporates her experiences working with veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in this work-in-progress showing. “Their powerful stories have angered, saddened, and inspired me in my work and life,” remarks Berger. “I have carried these stories with me and share them in my work to highlight the differences in what the media portrays what is going on overseas and what is happening from a soldier’s perspective.”

During the emotional process of producing this work, Berger kept a journal of her experiences collaborating with actors and war veterans, which she was kind enough to share here on the Flynn Center blog.

It’s getting a little easier and the intensity is releasing. The first few meetings we had were so emotionally intense. We started with a really difficult story about issues surrounding suicide in the military. Everyone had a strong reaction to the story. How can you not? This isn’t an easy subject matter to work with, and there is no way to lighten it up. I don’t think we should either—it’s about as real as life gets. I kept thinking about ways to keep everyone motivated—not despairing—and wanted everyone to experience the stories fully. Motivation comes in different ways. One of my motivations for this piece, and to share these stories, is to bring the info to a larger audience. The information is catalytic, I believe, and it was for the actors as well. We all share the belief that this occupation is wrong on so many levels, and we want to make an impact. This performance will provide the info to whomever comes to see it and will have some impact. I love this work. I love seeing people’s minds at work, and their thought processes. I love the dialogue that happens within the group, whether about the exercises, the material, the script, or the politics and history. Everyone is so engaged.

I received an email today with a headline that read: “Suicide hot line got calls from 22,000 soldiers.” I couldn’t read it. I printed it out, but I haven’t read it yet. I scanned it, but I already knew what it said. I couldn’t wait for rehearsal.

Tonight’s dialogue was interesting. We are planning on doing a story that touches on issues that women face in the military. There are four actors in the group, two male and two female. We wondered about the men playing women, especially on a topic so sensitive and central to women’s lives. Both the men in the group were willing to play another gender, but we wondered if it would be confusing for the audience, or diminish its impact. We did some improv exercises with the characters that will be portrayed. Once the jokes subsided, everyone understood and connected with their character on a human level. At one point, Jeremy’s improv about “not being able to tell” moved me so deeply that I got goose bumps and almost teary. It helped me decide that if the characters are introduced early as women, then, while it might be slightly distracting at first to identify the men as females, once the dialogue begins, the stories speak for themselves. Robert said it’s a good exercise for people to connect with each other without the lens of gender. I agree.

Last night, Drew and Jon (my veteran friends) came to teach us drill and ceremony/roll call/formation. It looks a lot easier than it is. The guys were serious, and they knew the drill like it was part of them. Jon did an excellent job walking us through it. Drew’s creative streak helped block the pieces to use in the performance. They went through each piece individually, and then had us "fall out." We mingled amongst ourselves, anticipating what came next. Knowing that something was going to happen kept me on my toes. All of a sudden, a strong, deep and very loud “Fall in!” was heard. We all literally ran into our places with a strong fear of not getting it right. We all felt it. Over the last few years I have mentally, and sometimes emotionally, tried to put myself in the position of the vets. I have tried to imagine their experience as my own. Last night, I felt it more deeply. I can’t imagine living in that state for four or more years. When we were “at attention” we had to clench our fists and keep our arms tight. They said that sometimes they stayed like that for half an hour. I felt my body’s muscles tense and my anxiety rise. Without all of the other trauma these guys have encountered, just the physiological response to the formation can create harm to the mind. We went through a few drills many times. It got easier as we went.

Jen Berger will share a work-in-progress performance of Sound Off: Combat Stories Revealed on Sunday, August 24 at 7 pm in FlynnSpace.