Inspiration from a Dear Friend: Conquer Choreographic Fears

Those you surround yourself with have such an impact on your actions and thoughts.  My dear friend Kate Griffler serves as a constant motivating force.  In between gigs and rehearsal processes, I need to keep close with friends who will plow through the disconnected feeling these NYC summer months create right alongside me.  The summer months are notoriously slow for dance here – a tell-tale sign is always the lack of significant auditions.  “Oh great they’re looking for dancers!  Oh, there’s only three rehearsals…  Oh, no pay.  Lunch and video provided! How accommodating….”  Sigh.  A career in dance can readily feel like a hobby with someone’s mother packing your lunch box and your youthful studio video taping your culminating recital.  All wonderful moments; just not when you’re trying to pay rent.   For a positive spin, the slower dance months are a great opportunity to hone other aspect of your craft, otherwise neglected.

So these challenges aside and this positive spin in full force, Kate works so doggedly at her passion of dancing and choreographing.  She never relinquishes when the harshness of the industry (measly paychecks, attempting to produce your own work with limited funds, advertising creatively in an over-saturated world to name a few more, with no intentions of dampening your spirit of course!) get the best of her.

Last week I had the privilege of finally seeing “Un Duet Noir,” a piece she has been working on throughout these past few months taking on various final versions throughout its development.  Kate’s work displayed the dark emotions underlying an intimate relationship and the progression of emotions over time.  She had a set consisting of a black cloak, a mailbox, and about one hundred letters.   Kate’s props advanced and morphed with the development of the piece, taking on new meaning as the relationship between her and fellow dancer McCay Montz shifted and intensified; the cloak once something revered and cherished later masked and blinded her from reality, and the letters once scattered about the space later were packed into the mailbox.

© Paolo Ferraris

Although Kate’s props were rather basic for our overly visual society to accept, I view sets as another layer of choreography added to an already challenging creative environment and generally react pitifully tame and steer clear despite audiences’ ready capacity for visual stimulation.  Yes, now acknowledging this small fear, I will have to push myself to explore this with my next creative endeavor!  (This blog is going to be the death of me, holding me accountable in writing!)

Why this reaction from myself?  Props and video instantly add 1) an additional financial burden – even if its slight, 2) a physical burden – carrying them around town to various spaces and setting them up for each rehearsal, and 3) an artistic challenge – this being the most significant deterring factor for me because the prop/video needs to be integral to the piece and be used creatively throughout for it to be an enhancement.  Instead of smelling fear, Kate finds it easier to create once a tangible scene has been set on the stage.  Automatically now, the characters/dancers have objects to relate and respond to based on their own isms.  It serves as an aid to generate movement rather than an additional burden.  (One potential solution to conquering my hesitation!)

In similar vein to weaving sets compellingly into work, Kate also exemplified the intermingling between technically oriented movement and more theatrical/pedestrian gestures within her piece.  This is also a direction I am interested in heading choreographically.  My previous works in college and there after have been primarily movement based.  The theatrical moments Kate utilized throughout “Un Duet Noir” were dispersed within dance-oriented sections so it never felt uncharacteristically jolting.  How did she successfully strike this balance?  My deductive reasoning after chatting and engaging in the work is her character development.  The letters in the work are letters she wrote to those she had a complicated relationship with in her life.  However, she not only wrote them but mailed them to herself and reread them as they were delivered back to her apartment.  She wrote multiple letters to one person in varying tones and improvised different scenarios to question the reactions and motives of those she was investigating.  When she was creating, she knew her characters inside and out.  When solidifying the vocabulary she wasn’t setting choreography on dancers; she was embodying the gestures and body language of these depicted characters.  This allowed for the dance movement to be an extension of the pedestrian language and exist in this fluid cohesion.

© Paolo Ferraris

Anyone can string together a series of interesting (or not so interesting!) movement. A valid choreographer is capable of stringing these thoughts together and sculpting a scene in an inventive and intelligible pathway.  This brings a weight to the work elevating it from moving limbs to moving art.  One sign of a well-crafted piece is when you can sense the audience is with you.  (How I hate the shuffling and coughing of an audience as a struggling performer!) At the very end of the work, there is a playful moment between Kate and McCay where he jabs a note on her chest and she just peers back at him, a glimmer of a smirk on her lips, holding the heir of utter understanding only two people with a deep history can share.  There was a collective chuckle released from the audience who finally exhaled after traveling committedly through the dark drama prior.

© Paolo Ferraris

“Un Duet Noir” is a deeply personal expression of a relationship in Kate’s life.  (Ironically with this last performance, the relationship in actuality has somewhat withered away.)  She plans on leaving the personal to dive into the play of random objects, imposing a connection externally rather than from a deeply internal origin for her next work.

“Un Duet Noir” was presented at The Rover on 41 Wooster Street: A new venue launching various dance artists.  It also holds affordable rehearsal space ($10/hr) and classes – check it out!

Here’s Kate’s company website, 121 Dance Project, if your further interested in her work.

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