Earthdance Residency Reflections


‘I felt that her chest and ribs were in countless interconnected pieces that shuffled and shifted across one another…many many tiny continents…tectonic plates. I would imagine almost a tiny ear in my chest, striving to hear all the little notes and whispers. Maybe just crossed circuits. Something in her hand would resonate in a totally different place of my chest which I would then have to move or stretch. I don’t know what’s all frozen up inside my ribcage or clavicle—this barrier that is resisting being moved or softened.’

-Nola Sporn Smith, 12/11/18

Nola shared these notes with me a little over a month before our days together at Earthdance in mid January. They are in regard to a previously mentioned connecting-ritual we practice at the beginning of our rehearsals that consists of a leader+follower dynamic where the leader’s hand connects to the follower’s chest through direct contact. The follower, or more precisely the feeler, listens for changes in things like pressure, heat, absence, or adding and subtracting of parts of the hand and responds to these more or less intuitively. The practice has over time helped cultivate a mutual understanding of one another’s sensualites, movement logics, vulnerabilities, tendencies, sensitivities and even personalities. On the more immediate hand, it is used to warm up for the sparring sequences, where one another are regarded as distinct forcefields that must be penetrated and neutralized through repeated approach and trespass in order to reach actual, carnal sparring and percussion.


*Preliminary research at the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts regarding the Greek dance ‘Zeibekiko’ or ‘Zeybekiko’. I found that it has become more of a solo, improvised dance to a distinct signature, is traditionally danced by men and has a melancholic, dramatic, meditative tone. Some sources suggest that it originated as a dance-ritual between enemy soldiers before going into battle. It is now considered a contemporary dance and is danced in party or as described above taverna contexts with bravado by both men and women.

The sonic aspect of Make the Brutal Tender has been very slowly cooked between Hanna and I via the phone and internet for the last year. In fact, all of the choreography was designed almost entirely separately from the sound used in the performance. For the most part there was no sound at all besides the beating and smacking of fists and palms and feet on the larger planes of the movers’ bodies. However, I did regularly experiment with buleria, siguriya and zeibekiko compás to challenge structured-improvisational sequences to see how it effected things like decision-making, speed, interpersonal dynamic of myself and a mover, and even the beauty or aesthetic of the dance. I chose these 2 flamenco palos and the Greek dance zeibekiko for their historical and emotional associations. The buleria and zeibekiko were preserved and appear together during the sparring sequence translated by Hanna in her sound design. I feel they pair well together as ‘buleria’ may be derived from the word ‘burlar’, meaning to ‘mock, outwit or escape danger’ (The Art of Flamenco, Donn E. Pohren, 1962, p. 181).

Nola and I were able to move through a narrative constructed of movement sequences generated over the course of the last year by myself accompanied by a recorded track 30 minutes in length made by Hanna with sections aligned to distinct movement sections.


*Example of google drive folder containing sound files designed by Hanna in response to our conversations. The language used to describe the movement sequences was validated, inspired and challenged by the language derived from our dialogue. For instance, I often found myself using different language to describe the soundscape or sonic narrative or quality I envisioned accompanying or ‘housing’ different movement sections. In many cases these disparate conceptions remain in tension and relate to form the ‘scenes’ of  the iteration to be performed next week.

During the residency we focused on performing Make the Brutal Tender ‘chapters’ to the music, in a set sequence. The majority of Make the Brutal Tender development between 2018-2019 was experimental and generative and took place in fragments between cities and different collaborators. I feel it could be described best a practice and a movement language for exploring the thresholds and contours of female-female interpersonal  dynamics. The choreography asks the dancers to burden and confront one another with their touch, prolonged gaze, violence, sensuality, capacity for trust to bear their weight in full or part through different sections and configurations of their body.

In addition to fine-tuning the choreography to a 30-minute work for the purpose of presenting at Power Ouch festival Feb. 14 + 15 at Links Hall in Chicago, we made contact with an entity that resembles a dog but lacks a face:

IMG_1736 copyIMG_1735 copy

A snow and ice storm befell us during our stay and the temperature dropped to -12 degrees. While I regretted not being able to enjoy the rural Massachusetts landscape more surrounding Earthdance I was regularly enchanted by the creeking of the tall, narrow, creeking trees on the property and could take 1 magical trek along a frozen creek:


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