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Meet the dancers: Sarah Griffin

SKETCH 6 Dancer, Sarah Griffin has been with every Sketch since 2010, and we’re so happy to have her performing with us. At a young age, she was shy but after seeing the Nutcracker when she was three, her mom put her in dance classes. In her own words, she dances because “it’s the one thing that fulfills me on all levels: physically, creatively, intellectually, and spiritually. Dance is my highest form of expression and the medium in which I feel most present and free. There is always something new to learn, so the adventure never ends!” When she’s not dancing, Sarah is reading, writing, swimming, working out, and traveling. See Sarah in SKETCH 6: Use Your Words at the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason, July 8-10!

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    Sarah Griffin on SKETCH 6: Coming back around

    Five years ago, I performed for the first time in San Francisco in Imagery’s SKETCH: New Works program. I was 25 years old and still shedding my bunhead tendencies to embrace a more contemporary movement sensibility. Adam Hougland’s “Cigarettes”, created in just two weeks that summer, proved to be a significant opportunity for me to expand on my classical instincts and employ my natural dramatic qualities. This summer I have the distinct pleasure of revisiting this work that has stuck so poignantly in my body, mind, and heart.

    Adam’s choreography resonated with me then and stays with me now because it is suffused with emotional intent. His movement language evokes powerful physical imagery, bringing meaning and purpose to each step. I have always enjoyed creating character and mood on stage, so choreography feels really good to me when I don’t have to just layer emotion on top of an arbitrary sequence of acrobatics. The intrinsic emotional qualities in the music and movement for “Cigarettes” made it come together so quickly and naturally that I didn’t give much explicit thought to my character. In performance, I remember the steps coming vibrantly alive, as if I were dancing them spontaneously as a deep and natural expression of myself. It was an incredible experience and certainly an important moment in my personal artistic trajectory.

    The living, present nature of dance means that no ballet is ever danced the same way twice. Of course there are choreographic and musical goals to achieve, but the movement’s texture and quality are always alive and new. I strive to shape and sense my body in the moment with each rehearsal and performance, not to recreate an idealized execution of sequential steps. After a few days spent studying the video of “Cigarettes” from 2011, I had to let go of the images I achieved back then in order to take a fresh approach free of assumptions or affectations. I’m not setting out to embody the physical or emotional state of 25-year-old Sarah, because things have changed a lot since then. I’ve grown and matured as an artist and as a person, and let’s face it, my knees are a little creakier too!

    In the restaging process, it’s important to study the physical structure of the piece while leaving room to channel the movement naturally into the body. Ben Needham-Wood and Gabe Williams—both in the original cast—did a great job of interpreting and communicating the work to us in just a few days, and Katherine Wells continues to polish us up with her fresh, intelligent insight. There is always something new to discover in the intricate physical dynamics of dance and partnering, as well as the deeply satisfying minutiae of musicality, and I’m really enjoying the work in the studio this time around.

    I dance with three men throughout “Cigarettes”, and to be perfectly honest, this is quite a dreamy cast. I have history with all of my suitors: James Gilmer from the past three SKETCH seasons, Peter Franc from a season at Oregon Ballet Theatre, and Scott Marlowe from a some wild and crazy projects with Imagery earlier this year. We already feel very connected and comfortable working together because of these valuable shared experiences and friendly rapport. This level of trust allows me to feels the steps in a new way, deepen my exploration of character, and begin a dialogue of relationships with the rest of the cast. Although the feeling and sequence of the movement came back to me naturally, with different partners it’s like a whole new ballet. I can’t go on autopilot or anticipate the same sensations from different bodies, and that’s really keeping me focused and present in the work.

    I’m exploring a few things to deepen this role and expand my character. I want to find individual physical textures to express my relationship to each man and to myself. With one man I feel trapped, combative, and yearning, with another perfunctory and resigned, and with the third I can be tender, honest, and intimate. The brief moments in which I escape the clutches of my partners to dance alone are introspective pleas as I strive to find myself and hold my ground in the face of conflicted emotional chaos. A simple shift of gaze, posture, or muscular tension can speak volumes, and I find myself making new choices with every rehearsal. It’s quite a treat to have the time and perspective to explore “Cigarettes” again as a new woman, and I’m so excited to share this and so much more in SKETCH 6!

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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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