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Amy Wins an Izzie!

We are thrilled to announce that last night Amy won the Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for Back To performed by Amy Seiwert’s Imagery during SKETCH at ODC Theater last summer.

We are delighted to share this honor with Choreographer Robert Moses. A big congratulations to Amy, our Imagery Artists, and all the other winners and nominees of the 30th Isadora Duncan Dance Awards!

The Isadora Duncan Dance Awards, known locally as the “Izzies,” are awarded annually to acknowledge exceptional creative achievements in the performance and presentation of dance. Awards are given in nine categories to honor the dancers, choreographers, designers, composers, dance companies, dance scholars and other individuals who have made important contributions to the San Francisco Bay Area’s thriving dance community.

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    Sarah Griffin on SKETCH 5: Inside Another Skin

    Inside Another Skin: Instinct, Collaboration, and Creation

    Collaboration is the spirit of the SKETCH series. Through the last five years we have collaborated with nine choreographers, five musicians, two composers, and nineteen dancers. Every one of our thirteen world premiere works has been shaped by artistic collaboration and exchange between the artists. So it wasn’t too far fetched to commission a work this year as a joint collaboration between two choreographers. It’s been a fun, challenging, and engrossing project for many reasons, above all the strong creative leadership of Amy Seiwert and KT Nelson.

    The piece, called “Starting Over from the End”, is very much a blend of Amy’s and KT’s voices. Much of a choreographer’s voice is shaped by instinct. Amy has the discerning eye of a ballet dancer, and KT has the human sensibility of a modern dancer. This combination of finely tuned instincts and aesthetics makes for new and unexpected juxtapositions of form, space, and language.

    We began the collaborative process with each choreographer generating a gestural phrase with the upper body. Those gestures were manipulated individually by the dancers, then edited and composed by both choreographers together and separately. The dancers acquired each other’s manipulations, combined into partnered or group interactions, and only then applied musicality. Amy most often works very closely with music from the beginning of a creative process, but KT wanted the dancers to find our physicality before exploring the music. While this was unusual for me, it began to make sense as the choreographers mixed and matched the creative puzzle pieces to form the complete work. There were several rounds of editing, and we are still growing in the work with each rehearsal.

    Challenges abound in this highly collaborative environment, but in the best ways possible. KT challenges Amy to break with her usual processes and methods in the studio. Amy challenges KT to find new and subtle ways to use pointe shoes. Both choreographers challenge the dancers to problem-solve phrases and partnering assignments. Amy tasks the dancers with seven specific ways to inform our creative manipulations, KT pushes us to create movement through sensation. I am fascinated by what attracts each choreographer in the movement created by each dancer, and how they challenge us to shape our material. I find myself making new choices, acquiring a different sensibility in my body, and sometimes spending an hour or two in the corner of the studio just playing around with something. A simple choice in weight shift, range of motion, or dynamic can open entirely new pathways and possibilities for choreographer and dancer alike. We discover new access points and transitions, adding flourishes of gesture that connect to the work’s movement language. Improvisation and happenstance can become part of the choreography. There are no mistakes, only clues to solve a problem.

    This collaborative effort incorporates the instincts of all the dancers as well as the choreographers. SKETCH dancers must possess versatility, openness, and a well-tuned instinct for movement in order to be good collaborators. I am amazed by how unique we all are in our training, experience, body types, and personalities, and how these elements lend themselves to highly individualized personal style and movement instinct. This instinct shows itself in a dancer’s muscular dynamic – some naturally tend to be long and languid, others strong and deep, quick and precise, or soft and airy. Likewise, instinct shows in a dancer’s tendency to use turns, jumps, extensions, or floor work to differing effects. Executing another dancer’s created phrase can therefore feel foreign, like being inside another skin. Touching and experiencing another person’s instinct through movement can reveal and inform creative navigations in shifts of weight, muscular dynamic, and range of motion.

    I have learned more in the SKETCH environment than any other by watching my colleagues work, occasionally inhabiting their skins to become a part of their processes. I’ve experienced the instinctual creations of so many wonderful artists and am happy to call myself a collaborator. I find that dances shaped and manipulated by the artists’ instincts look and feel very personal, which is what I find so special about this collaboration and the spirit of SKETCH.

    Day by day we continue to layer nuances of form and timing, and the piece feels entirely original and alive. SKETCH audiences are in for a real treat, and I look forward to sharing this exciting, diverse program in San Francisco, Walla Walla, Bozeman, and New York.

    Sarah Cecilia Griffin

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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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        Gazing into the Music Mirror

        Guest blog by SKETCH 4 composer Kevin Keller

        “How should we get started?” was the question that Amy Seiwert and I both pondered on the day that we found out about our New Music USA grant. The project was titled “Sketch 4 | Music Mirror”, and the idea was to see how two different choreographers (Amy Seiwert and Adam Hougland) would react to the same piece of music.

        I suggested that, since there was no narrative concept or “story” that we were trying to tell, perhaps we should start with photographic images. My most recent project had been a collection of piano pieces (“Nocturnes”) inspired by photographs, and it had gone very well. Since this new work was to be about 30 minutes in length, I thought 6 images would be enough. They should be images that inspired Amy and Adam, and that could be seen as “challenging” to interpret.

        Riffing off this idea, Amy suggested that she and Adam could each choose 3 images, and send them to me without showing them to each other. This way, only I would know what the images were. To make things even more fun, we decided that I wouldn’t tell Amy and Adam which musical piece corresponded with which image, nor would I tell them what the titles of the pieces were. This way, they could react to the 6 sections of music without being influenced by me, nor by each other.

        With this plan in place, off we went!

        A couple days later, I received e-mails from Amy and Adam with images attached. What I found most interesting was that the 6 images had a similar aesthetic when viewed as a set, which I would describe as “spooky”. Each photograph was visually compelling, and definitely inspiring. In fact, I could almost immediately “hear” the music coming from each one.

        The music, scored for piano and cello (my favorite combination), was composed in about 5 weeks. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but the project felt easy. Each time I started on a new image, the music just flowed effortlessly. I think this is because the images that Amy and Adam gave to me were so inspiring.

        I can’t wait to show the images to Amy and Adam, and tell them how each one inspired the music. But until the premier in July, that’s my secret!

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          The making of…”But now I must rest”

          “Today will be the day I finish my ballet.”

          That’s what I woke up with in my head this morning. Same thing happened yesterday, which was a day when I definitely did not finish my ballet. Today, finally, it’s fully sketched out. I hesitate to say it’s been born, but it’s…so…close…

          But now I must rest

          Some music really insists on being made into ballets. The music of Cesaria Evora started tugging at my subconscious last spring. By the summer I was mildly obsessed, I could see the ballet. Celia Fushille, the Artistic Director of Smuin Ballet, had originally asked me to look to classical music for my 2014 premiere. I am incredibly grateful she let me change course and follow this music.

          Sandra_Woodall_sketch_But_now_I_must_rest

          Costume sketch by Sandra Woodall.

          Preview image: Susan Roemer in rehearsal for “But now I must rest.” Photo by Keith Sutter.

           

          Researching this piece has been a joy. Watching video clips of The Barefoot Diva on youtube, you see an artist so intensely still that the air seems to resonate around her. When friends would recount seeing her perform at Zellerbach in 2008, I could see them travel back to that moment in their minds, temporarily lost in the memory of her performance.  The New York Times described her as “a yoda of melancholy.” As I looked at image after image of this woman, the lines of her face whispered a story to me. My challenge was how to capture that nuance and depth, the color and richness of her sound.
          From Cape Verde, Ms. Evora always performed barefoot as a show of solidarity with the poor women of the world. The depth of her voice captures the history, pain, and hope of these islands, a place with more ex-pats scattered across the globe than current residents. When asked, after two strokes and a heart attack, why she was retiring, she told the French newspaper Le Monde: “I have no strength, no energy. I’m sorry, but now I must rest.” When Ms. Evora passed in 2011 the government in Cape Verde declared two days of national mourning in her honor.
          In creating, I kept coming back to the translation of São Tomé Na Equador as the heart of work:

          São Tomé, you have many of us, you are part of our history and our pain.

          In your nectar you have Bantu, Creole and Angolan.

          São Tomé, in your veins run only one blood.

          You were a place of suffering, but you can give happiness.

          If you behold all your children, São Tomé, you have richness.

          But the biggest treasure is the value and love of all your children, and their will of living together, in a small land where the grass is greener.

          São Tomé, São Tomé, don’t forget who you fight for.

          São Tomé, São Tomé, in the equator of our pain.

          São Tomé, São Tomé, the long road is already coming closer, much closer of your future.

          The past is only weight.

          Resentment doesn’t build anything.

          Reality is forgiveness, and forgiveness can be the union of all your children.

          São Tomé.

          Smuin Ballet will premiere this work May 2, 2014, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

          For ticket info, click here.

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