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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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    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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