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."