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Sarah Griffin on SKETCH 4: Dance and language

The Imagery dancers and choreographers have finished up the last full week of rehearsals, and now we prepare ourselves mentally and physically for a week in the theater and a week on tour to Walla Walla. This year’s SKETCH has been a real joy. We have all eight dancers from last year’s project, and that familiarity has brought so much ease, intimacy, cooperation, and laughter to the process. I’m fortunate to have worked with both Adam and Amy in the SKETCH environment in previous years as well, so I’m also familiar with their movement languages and creative processes. In the few days before opening, I focus on adding nuance and thought to my work with the performances in mind. It’s important to find my footing, timing, spacing, and breath, both on my own and with my partners, so that we can develop a cohesive and consistent approach to performance. All of the work continues to evolve on stage, with each performance unfolding in a new way. The greatest joy of performing is the feeling of total presence and immersion in the “now”, the complete trust in the moment and in my body, my partners, and the musicians. It’s a great privilege to have live music in performance, and I’m very excited to begin working with the musicians and to see how my appreciation of the music may change. The energy of an audience also adds an element of communication to the work, particularly in an intimate theater like ODC. 10527325_10152162190551954_7023030529856162662_n The theme of SKETCH 4: Music Mirror is that we are dancing two ballets to the same piece of music. When Amy proposed this idea to the dancers months ago, I was intrigued. I am an attentively musical dancer, and have found few challenges in this process. I’ve been getting to know the music the way I would any piece of music I dance to, and I’ve been learning choreography the same way I would approach any new movement. If anything, dancing (and watching others dance) to the same music in very different ways has made me appreciate a broader idea of what dance and music can be in relation to one another. I feel that I’ve learned the music more instinctively with a depth of perspective informed by two very different approaches. Another way to explain it is with a language analogy. I’m fluent in both English and Spanish. I know that when I speak Spanish, different parts of my brain are working; my thoughts are in Spanish, my inflections and tone of voice change, I use my mouth and tongue differently, and even my body language changes. Movement language is very similar. Both Amy and Adam have very distinct movement languages, and the two ballets they’ve created couldn’t be more different for me. I dance en pointe in Amy’s work, defying gravity and stretching phrases in long, curvy, precise balletic fashion. Her choreography requires a flexible posture and highly articulate feet, and the partnering work is intricately cooperative. Amy relates to the music as a musician (something I’ve always liked about her), carrying around her score and helping the dancers hear the music as it’s written. In Adam’s ballet, I dance in socks, which radically changes my connection to the floor and the way I articulate my feet and legs. His movement feels more weighted, and has a fluid, almost relaxed muscularity, with release and a sense of surrender to gravity underlying moments of tension or stillness. Adam approaches music with the mind and ear of a dancer, so there are some unison sections that we count and others where timing can develop naturally with the movement and may vary slightly with each performance. In these ways, it’s nearly impossible for me to confuse the two ballets simply because they use the same music; my body feels so completely different, and the way I process the music intimately reflects how my body feels. I’m sure a fancy brain scan would show different parts of my brain working for each ballet, much like synaptic patterns with multiple spoken languages. I’m so grateful to have been a part of SKETCH from the beginning, and I look forward to the future. The opportunity to learn and grow in an open and encouraging environment is a blessing that few people enjoy in any career. The creative skills and invaluable lessons I’ve learned from the dancers and choreographers through the past four summers have made me a better, stronger, smarter, more joyful dancer. I’m moving to Portland to join Oregon Ballet Theatre just a few days after we return from Walla Walla, and I feel that SKETCH has given me a great advantage in approaching new work and repertory work in the context of a larger company. Thank you, dancers, choreographers, audiences, and supporters. And thank you, Amy, for taking a chance on me.

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