The More you Know OR The Odd Things I’ve Learned so Far
By Josy Jones
Starting in the beginning of March, the National Center for Choreography at the University of Akron (NCCA) invited a diverse group to the University to participate in a learning experience to cultivate dance audiences. NCCA calls it Dance Club. It sounds complicated. Simply put, it is a gathering of individuals to watch dance, learn about its many forms and develop the tools to become dance audience members. In my last installment, “Welcome to Dance Club,” I talked a little about our first class. On to class two and three:
April 13 – Meet Christopher K. Morgan
Our assignment for this class was to read a few excerpts from “Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer” by Liz Lerman. Although we didn’t spend a ton of time on the book, I highly recommend it for artists across disciplines. Lerman covers the relationship between theatre and public space, residencies and accessibility of dance for mature dancers. She documents so much that is valuable to all who create. The artist we met during this gathering got to work with Liz Lerman. His name is Christopher K. Morgan.
NCCA was “developed to provide resources for dance makers to think, create and be inspired.” As part of their mission, they invite artists from all over the country for residencies to explore and create. Lucky for Dance Club members, that means we sometimes get to meet artists who have come to Akron to work on their craft and create new pieces. Today, we met Christopher K. Morgan, a dancer and choreographer (among other roles) out of Washington, D.C. Christopher’s group of collaborators, including dancers and a musician, spent a week exploring the relationship between Christopher’s native Hawaiian ancestry and his American influenced identities. Or, as he put it “How does a native live in a contemporary world?”
The team invited Dance Club attendees to a showing of their work and I felt a cacophony of poetic adjectives. It was entrancing, interactive, intimate, inspiring; I want more dance experiences like it; an experience where the audience gets to sit in the rehearsal studio with the artists and experience their work stripped down to the beauty of their movement and the simplicity of their environment. It’s like the difference between watching a play on a large, proscenium stage and getting the opportunity to watch the same show in a black box. It’s a completely different experience.
Afterward, we got the opportunity to ask questions and express our feelings. I learned that dancers don’t actually want you to see how hard they are breathing. That’s an odd thing to learn, but when your audience is at a distance, everything’s meant to seem effortless. However, being able to see them breathing meant a lot to me. The close proximity made me appreciate their hard work and the beauty of their work so much more.
Afterward, Christopher’s picture was hung in the NCCA offices to commemorate his residency. The Dance Club members got to interact with one another a bit more at the reception. I actually made a connection with a woman, a dancer, from the group and her husband who is a ceramicist. The woman invited me out to her belly dance class. Obviously, I accepted.
April 27 – Inlet Dance Theatre & Verb Ballets
More guests! Today, we got to meet Joshua Brown and Kevin Parker of Inlet Dance Theatre. At the start of class, they introduced the piece they will be showing, called “Doppelganger (2001).” They explain that the choreographer who created this piece was inspired by identical twin dancers who had a habit of moving in the same way, even when they were on separate sides of the room. The piece has evolved since then and is now performed by two very different men, one black and one white. The artists then left the room, and allowed us to watch it in their absence and then again in their presence.
The piece involves a lot of synchronicity, balance and fluidity. For the duration of the piece, both performers are mirroring one another, lifting one another and ultimately trusting one another with their safety. For me, the piece embodies images of water, repetition, acrobatics, turmoil and security. However, in the absence of the identical twins that this piece was originally for, the dance holds different connotations. Many of us interpreted the piece as a dialogue on race relations.
Fast forward to later in the evening, we all, including the Inlet Dance Theatre artists, attended the Verb Ballets’ Spring Series performance at EJ Thomas Hall. Don’t let the word “ballet” fool you. Verb Ballets performance utilized 1940s dance, ballet, stage lighting, props and so much more to provide a unique and diverse edge-of-your-seat show. There was something for all age groups to enjoy. It was a hit amongst Dance Club attendees. Both Verb Ballets and Inlet Dance Theatre are based out of Cleveland and they are amazing examples of the talent that Northeast Ohio has to offer. We breed greatness!
As always, I learned two new bits of information to share. One, you can make noise during a dance performance. You can cheer, you can clap, you can even “oooo” with excitement. If you’re like me, you probably thought dance was too serious for audience interaction. I was mistaken. Two, I learned that dancers take headshots that make them look like everyone is topless. It took me and a few of the other Dance Club members by surprise when we looked at the headshots for the Verb Ballets’ ensemble and saw that everyone appeared to be naked. Executive/Artistic Director of NCCA, Christy Bolingbroke, who is always there to answer our questions informed us that it is so they can show off the definition of the dancers’ collarbones. They’re not naked. It’s tradition. The more you know, right?