Guest choreographer Nicole Haskins on SKETCH 6

When I started my piece two weeks ago, I had a general outline of how I wanted the piece to progress and a general sense of the mood I wanted to create. I truly wanted to take advantage of Sketch’s mission to foster risk and innovation. Usually I come in with a specific plan, usually I’m working with large groups and music that drives the piece, usually I have thought out the entire structure of a piece, but usually I have thought less as to what the piece means relying on the music to inform where the piece goes. For Sketch, I threw away all of my “usuals.” I showed up a little nervous that I would be standing around for 3 hours with nothing for the dancers to do, but also a little excited to try something entirely new. Having a jumping off point that the piece had to be inspired by or about words, already gave me a new challenge. Finding the quote “life is too short for fake butter” sent me down a rabbit hole of thoughts and ideas about not taking life for granted and not wasting a moment, not just being mindful, but relishing each moment. So instead of coming in with steps and formations, entrances and exits, I came in with a notebook full of scribblings of my thoughts on life, relationships, growing up, feeling alone, feeling a part of something, change, and growth. To my surprise three hours went quickly. The piece came together faster and with fewer bumps than almost anything I had created before. By starting with a single challenge: use your words, and then having the complete freedom to interpret it, Sketch gave me a direction but not a map. I was able to create my own path. Sketch is exactly the environment of challenge all choreographers need, because without challenges, without being taken out of our comfort zones, it is extremely difficult to grow and become more than a one-trick pony. I can only try to express my gratitude to Amy for asking me and trusting me to create for Sketch. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to create a piece using the exceptional dancers of Imagery, and have it performed alongside works by such established and revered choreographers. It has indeed pushed me outside of my comfort zone and into a new place where I simply feel comfortable.

Pictured: Nicole in rehearsal with the Smuin Ballet. Photo by Keith Sutter.

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    Fun fact: Why Sue’s butt says “Vorsicht“

    “Vorsicht“ translates as caution. If you’re watching “Broken Open” and get distracted by Susan Roemer’s costume, thinking “why vorsicht?” when she’s facing upstage, here you go:

    The creation process for Broken Open started with a very clear intention – an exploration of how, sometimes, absolute beauty can be born from a scar. One inspiration was a photo of a woman who had had a severe medical surgery, and turned that scar into a fantastic tattoo. Love or hate tattoos,  this woman took her scarring and turned it into her own personal statement of beauty. Something I applaud.


    Another inspiration came from the city of Berlin, where I had the good fortune to spend a couple of weeks back in 2009. On a warm spring day I stumbled across Kunsthaus Tacheles, a building originally slated for demolition by the GDR. Artists had taken over the site by squatting there after the Berlin Wall came down. I spent hours in the garden reading and writing in my journal, wondering how someone was able to create graffiti murals five stories tall. I was amazed at the large scale beauty created by the artists. It wasn’t pretty, but it was absolutely beautiful. How a place with such a horrid history (the building housed a Nazi prison at one point) became a vibrant hub for beauty and expression. I was amazed at how a wound so deep healed over, and something beautiful came from that scar.

    Early on the process designer Sandra Woodall mentioned graffiti for the costumes. This was totally by coincidence, she didn’t know of the Berlin inspiration. I sent her images of murals I had taken in the city, the  image above, which in my memory is from a stairwell in the Kunsthaus Tacheles, was one of them. In her search for fabric she found a print that must have been inspired by the same wall. She then had them painted over so the scale would read from stage.

    Costumes being painted for the premiere of "Broken Open." Design by Sandra Woodall.

    Costumes being painted for the premiere of “Broken Open.” Design by Sandra Woodall.

    I am sad to say the Kunsthaus Tacheles was closed in September of 2012. I have to wonder if any of the murals were preserved. And I have to thank those artists who inspired me with the beauty they created.

    If you’ve read this far – you were really interested in some background for Broken Open.  So a little bit more. These ideas: the graffiti, surgical scars – they were a spring board. As often happens, the ballet took a left turn and demanded to have a life of its own. 

    “It seemed a straightforward story, and it was only when I came to write it I discovered it was like trying to hold fine sand: every time I thought I’d got hold of it, it would trickle through my fingers and vanish. ”

    -Neil Gaiman on the creative process

    I often find Mr. Gaiman inspiring, both his fiction and his comments on the how and why of creating. Broken Open was a difficult birth as far as ballets go. I had I very clear idea where I wanted the ballet to go before I began, but the ballet had a different agenda. While I encourage the dancers to thrive while being “lost in process,” I know deep down it is a highly uncomfortable place to be. When creating a ballet, I feel I’m watching something unfold that already exists, my job is simply to help it into the world. Broken Open hid from me a little bit, but perhaps I was looking in the wrong direction. Finally, I shifted my perspective and met what this ballet wanted to be.  

    So in viewing, I encourage the audience to not look for the intention with which I began. There’s no right or wrong way to view a ballet, there’s no quiz afterwards.  Experience the work in a way unique to you. Gathering together a community to have a shared yet unique experience is one of the fantastic things about what we, as dance makers, get to do.

    Video teaser for Broken Open.  https://vimeo.com/140251223



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      Ben Needham-Wood on SKETCH 4

      Sketch 4: Music Mirror is underway and I could not be more excited. I have been a part of Imagery’s Sketch series since it’s inception in 2011 and every year it continues to exceed my expectations. The dancers get stronger, the work gets more innovative, and the atmosphere continues to exude confidence and joy in every artist that shares in the collaboration.

      This is the first time where the Sketch dancers have remained the same from one year to the next, and after only one week of work we can already feel that same, magic bond that grew over five weeks last summer. It is rare to find a company where there are no egos or personal agendas that inhibit the overall progress of the work, but Imagery is exactly that; every artist in the company shares a mutual respect and admiration for everyone else in the studio, allowing us to continue bettering ourselves with confidence knowing that our colleagues are supporting us through every step. Looking around the room and absorbing Private’s incredible partnering, Sarah’s long lines, “The Puppy” Wes’s strength, Katherine’s clarity, Annali’s technique, James’s fluid articulation of movement, and Rachel’s flexibility, it leaves me in awe and inspires me to push my own limits and strive for more.

      All eight of us are very different dancers from one another, and it takes an amazing choreographer to successfully highlight those individual strengths within the context of a single, cohesive work. Amy Seiwert and Adam Hougland are two such choreographers. I first worked with both choreographers while I was a Company Artist with Louisville Ballet. I can honestly say that I would not be the dancer I am today without their influence. They are both nurturing and invest completely in their work and their dancers. Each day in the studio with them brings new ideas and insight that helps us dancers to push our boundaries and rediscover our own limitations.

      Amy Seiwert's Imagery, Rachel Furst and Ben Needham Wood copy Photo David DeSilva

      This amazing combination of Amy, Adam, and the eight dancers in the company have become my summer family and I love every opportunity I have to work with them. We are having such a great time already and the work we have accomplished thus far in the process is truly remarkable. I can’t wait to see how this project resolves and I can’t edit to share it with the audience.

      –Ben Needham-Wood

      Pictured – Ben Needham-Wood and Rachel Furst in 2013′s SKETCH 3: Expectations. Photo by David DeSilva. Rehearsal shot of Mr. Needham-Wood by Andrea Basile.



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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.


        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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