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 . . ."

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