Sunday, December 1, 2013

Stagedive redux

During my time at the training center at iO West, I felt the need to dig in to the physical aspect of my improvisational work. Of course the training center at iO didn’t include any physical work as part of its core curriculum. There were the occasional workshops offered, but not often enough to scratch the itch I was feeling.

I remember one day, the morning of the Del Close Awards in 2012, that I had a dream that I had stage dived from the main stage at the theatre. That night, after getting done with my intern shift there was a dance and it was incredible. By that I mean that I couldn’t believe that so many folks had so much dancing freedom! There were dozens more (maybe most of the attendees) who would rather schmooze in the bar, but the groove on the dance floor was deep and everyone was in the pocket. From a Harold nerd’s perspective, what was happening was essentially a giant group game, moved by the flow of the DJ.

Then there came the stage dives, and I got to live the dream I’d woken with that morning.

At the time I’d imagined working with dancers on an improv comedy form. I’d seen so many talking heads scenes over the previous few years that I was eager to break new ground. At Camp Hollywood, an annual swing dance competition that I’ve attended for over a decade, I’d imagined a way to do a completely improvised swing dance routine to music that we generated from singing of the audience. To say that was an ambitious notion would be an understatement, but I knew that the ideas revolving around improvised dance would need to be realized.

I’ve taught improvisation for dancers in the Lindy Hop world since the turn of the century. Most of my exercises were inspired by things I learned in my earlier days of improvisation. So when I started my level 7 class at iO, during which our class would workshop an entirely new form, the notions that had been swelling in my head for months or years were ready to be born. I’d have to save those ideas for later since our class worked on a great form called The Quark, but that meant I’d have time to recruit players and a coach and find space for us all to play!

I called the form The Stagedive. We rehearsed with coach Stacy Rumaker (and once with George Caleodis) until I was pulled away from Southern California for family reasons. We got a good couple of months of practice and what I think were some good shows under our belts. I was sorry to leave the group behind, but I was needed in Kansas City.

The following are the email correspondences I sent to the Stagedive group. I’m finding it valuable to revisit these ideas because they’re still boiling for me.

Email 1

Here are some new clips to check out. This week I was interested in the heightened world of dance:

Black Coffee

This metaphor is pretty much on the nose.

Step Up 3 - Red Hook
Another video of two tribes. Seems like a common theme in dance movies.

Adriano Celentano - Prisencolen...

I can't even explain this one. I find it infectious.

I've got tons more clips, but just three for now. Thanks a ton for your time!

Email 2

Hey y'all,

There's a lot to say about what music means for a dancer. I've got some links here which you may interesting or may seem pretty heady. If you find your brain pounding then I advise you to put the reading down. We'll explore musicality more in rehearsal this week.
In the follow-up email, I'll have an exercise for you to try and more videos for that "ooh, pretty" feeling.
So, musicality... In the sense that I'm bringing up here, let's consider the word a few ways.  How does a dancer feel music? How then can the dancer use those feelings to find movement? And eventually how does this work with a group? How do a group of surfers ride the same wave?
The first link is from my dance blog. These are all the links that specifically relate to musicality.

The next link is from Swungover. It's an interview with a deaf dancer named Tim Vail. There's a lot about how music moves a person who can't use their ears to hear it.

I followed the included links yesterday. One of those that hits me really hard is the link to "Whip My Hands," video by Adrean Clark.

When I first watched this I wanted to hear the music she danced to. Then I thought "oh..."
This could get pretty deep. If you have any questions I welcome them! Thanks for your time.

Email 3

One of the things I've been considering lately is the way I listen to music. We talked about lyrics in rehearsal last weekend and I remember that for me lyrics are usually the last thing that hit. Usually I don't hear lyrics until the second or third time through and usually only remember them if they're exceptionally clever or bold enough to stick in my head. For me music is usually what's underneath the words. For me a singer's voice is one instrument among many.
Maybe it wasn't always that way for me. I remember in a dance class at the Edge years back, when the instructor stopped us cold. He told us to stop counting (bear in mind I haven't asked us to start counting) and listen to the music. He asked us to pick out one instrument and dance to that. That minute's worth of work was a crucial one for me! So I'd like for you to have a similar experience.

Here's a song from Lake Street Dive:
Clear a Space

Here's the exercise:
1) Listen to the song. Please don't read parts 2 forward until after you've heard the song once.

2) Listen to the song again. This time pick out the BASS - It's fairly prominent in the song.
3) Once you've found the bass, hum along with it. Try to make the same sounds you hear. If you're sensitive to which parts of your body vibrates when you sing then make note but there's no pressure to think on that much. If you don't notice anything them just hum along for now.
4) Dance to the bass-line. It might just be a simple foot tapping. A head bop counts as dancing in my book! Whatever feels like moving, let it move.
5) Listen to the song again picking out a different instrument. There are only four instruments total including the singer. Sing along and dance with that instrument.
6) Try the exercise again with a song of your choice!

Questions: Where in your body does music turn into dancing? How is listening in this way similar or different from the kind of listening you use in the world or onstage?

The exercise above is a musical exploration of sensitivity to tone. Later we'll explore how structure works in songs and how we can become more sensitive to that as dancers and as players.
I promised videos. Here are some videos!
*Jammin' the Blues
This is one of my favorite jazz clips, shot by one of my favorite photographers, Gjon Mili. It's a good transition in the discussion of music and dancing.

*Amelia - Lalala Human Steps
I've lost count how many times I've watched this. I find it completely hypnotic. This is the first section of a longer feature film from Lalala Human Steps.

*Weightless - Erika Janunger
Man, I don't know what this is but it's gorgeous.

Okay, that's plenty of stuff. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for your time!

Email 4

Great rehearsal last weekend! Aw man, I have to give it up to Kelsey McCowan for coming in to teach for the first hour! I've been working on that tap section. And I have to thank you all for just playing your asses off!

This week I'll be teaching a Lindy Hop lesson. We're going to learn the roles of lead and follow and build some ideas about what that means in partnership. Since we're a little gender-uneven I'll be inviting some extra ladies to join us for that first hour. If you know anyone who'd like a free lesson please send me a line!

We'll be guest coached this weekend by George Caleodis, alumnus of the Second City mainstage and a man who performs with at least 12 Harold teams each week. I'm excited for him to work with us!

Some related READING -
USS Rock 'n Roll - Dance Lessons part 1 & 2

RockStepTriple - Lindy Hop vs. Improv Comedy

A slew of VIDEOS -
Groovie Movie
Fifteen years ago this movie changed my life. Most of my basic philosophy of life can be found here.

This is one of the most memorable scenes from an ahead of its time sketch comedy film.

I Love Lucy - from Lucy Gets an Eye Exam (*unfortunately now removed from YouTube*)
Lucy danced with one of my heroes from the Groovie Movie, Arthur Walsh

Living it Up - Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin
Jerry Lewis backed up by some of southern Californias legendary swing dancers.

The Retro Kids Show - Everybody Eats When They Come to My House
Hey, I'm in this one!

Okay, that's plenty for now. Send a line if you have any questions. Thanks for your time!

Email 5

Just one video today - Bobby McFerrin 
I'd love to play an audience like he does.