UMS Night School: Curious About Dance – Session 5 Recap
This past Monday evening, our last Night School session of the year, we celebrated an enriching, inspiring, and fun-filled five weeks by reflecting on our past lessons and looking toward future engagement opportunities. The time has flown and I cannot believe how quickly Graduation Day arrived, but before we could break out the Pomp and Circumstance, we had a stunning weekend of dance to unpack! We began our session with an exercise and discussion around this past weekend’s Abraham.In.Motion performances, then transitioned to wrapping up the entire semester. Over the course of the evening, we moved from speaking specifically about one company’s work to thinking in general terms about dance we’ve seen this season and will see in the future; once again proving that though there are infinite ways to approach movement exploration and discussion, similar concepts appear and circulate among these seemingly different dance works.
We began our session a bit differently on Monday night. Instead of sharing and repeating gestures, laughing at one another’s creativity or manipulating the movement we perceived; we stood in our circle with closed eyes. Checking in with ourselves and becoming comfortable in the space, we freed our bodies and minds to think about this past weekend’s double bill. When we opened our eyes, we assumed a pose that reflected a particular moment of resonance from either Friday or Saturday night’s performance. Instead of teaching and repeating one another’s poses, we split into groups and created tableaus: placing our individual gestures into a larger, multi-layered, ensemble-based story.
Left: Group 1’s tableau: “Evolution” aka “Static and Moving” aka “The Descent of Man (and Rise of Woman” aka “Past, Present, and Future” Right: Group 2 and Group 3’s tableau: “Gather and Cast Away” aka “Fronts and Backs” aka “Claws”
This exercise proved to be just as much about those observing as it was about those posing the tableaus. As we examined one another’s work, we shared our interpretations by thinking of possible captions or titles for each image. We discovered numerous ways to view and manipulate the tableaus–experimenting with movement and stillness, placing together two figures that were created separately to create one large image, crafting a sound score to accompany the posing bodies–and witnessed the infinite layers of perception we craft as we discover the infinite ways to shape a single idea. (Most importantly, we discovered that Jim has quite a fierce relevé.)
Group 3’s moving tableau: “Motion and Stillness” aka “Offering aka “Centrifugal People” aka “Soup Pot” (…? Thanks for that one, Jim. Go practice your relevé.)
The discussion of The Watershed and When the Wolves Came In that followed our art gallery visit demonstrated how Kyle, as a choreographer, takes a similar approach to develop complexities within his work. We questioned the motion of stillness, layers of rhythm, and pliancy of movement in each work, and recognized the historical and present-day contexts accompanying these more conceptual ideas. Though we might not be able to pinpoint the exact starting point of each specific work, we can see there are multiple ways to enter and navigate his dances, just as there were for the tableaus we created.
During our final post-performance group discussion of the semester, I couldn’t help but smile as I recognized how much we have grown over the past five weeks. With over a month of dance exploration under our belts, we can offer intelligent, informed, and inquisitive thoughts about any movement exercise or performance reflection we engage in. We have also developed a rich collections of dance experiences to pull from as we allow past dances we saw or lessons we learned to inform our perceptions of new works. And from learning labanotation to telling secrets through gesture, from watching a pas de deux of plastic bags to contemplating the historical imagery within a dance work that explores the enigma of freedom, we have certainly experienced more than a taste of everything offered, not only in this diverse UMS dance season but in the dance world as a whole.
We took all of these thoughts with us as we transitioned to the “graduation” component of Monday’s Night School session. The celebration began with some refreshments and prizes! A special congratulations to Fred, Harvey, Rebecca, Carol Rose, and Lisa, who were recognized for their perfect attendance, and to Susan for winning the Door Prize Raffle. Enjoy some pizza for all of us! Or better yet, take us with you! Though the cupcakes were delicious as always, I think the real treat was the peek inside the next UMS dance season, which looks absolutely incredible. The companies that visit us will certainly feed our growing curiosity and reveal even more ways to think about movement. There will be the same engagement opportunities that we know and love: You Can Dance Classes, Post-show Q&As (led by Clare, no doubt), and Sunday post-performance Brunch Tune-Ins. Next year’s Night School will focus on the UMS Renegade Series, which you should definitely attend if you want to know more about the outside-the-box, forward-moving performances that UMS presents.
So get ready to buy your tickets, which will go on sale after the official UMS Season Launch party, taking place on April 24th (right before the opening performance of Lyon Opera Ballet’s Cinderella) on the fourth floor of Rackham. It’s free and open to the public, so grab a friend, head to Rackham, and then go enjoy our last dance performance of the season! Though we won’t be convening in the Alumni Center to discuss, hopefully you will be able to share your impressions over coffee, dinner, or gestural movement after the show.
And that’s all, folks! Now that this semester of Night School is complete, please don’t be a stranger–to UMS, the Department of Dance, or movement in general (definitely not to movement in general…moving is important). There are plenty of opportunities to watch and engage in performance left this year: in addition to the UMS performance of Lyon Opera Ballet, the Department of Dance has a number of upcoming shows (including my senior BFA concert and Charles’s graduate choreography work!), that we would love for you to attend. In the meantime, tell your friends about all of the wonderful dance you’ve experienced, and hopefully we will see you in the Alumni Center next season! Thank you all for your wonderful questions, insights, and energy over the past five weeks!
Left: Much love from your Department of Dance Night School reps! Right: Our crazy, kooky, intelligent band of Night School folks. Performing gestures, of course.
UMS Night School: Curious About Dance – Session 4 Recap
Anything You Do Will Be Perfect
Welcome back, Night Schoolers! I hope everyone enjoyed their time off! The sun has been shining all week and it was certainly shining in the Alumni Center on Monday night. We were joined by Kyle Abraham, Founder/Artistic Director of Abraham.In.Motion (AIM): the company that will grace the Power Center stage this coming Friday and Saturday. Also with us was Matthew Baker, AIM choreographic associate/dancer, graduate of Western Michigan University, and Ann Arbor native. These two incredible artists invited us into the world of Abraham.In.Motion by demonstrating and talking about the company’s work, as well as allowing us to embody a bit of their choreographic process. Kyle, a MacArthur Award recipient and fascinating thinker/speaker/mover, confirmed an idea we have returned to each Night School session: dance is a thoughtful, collaborative and process-driven art form.
Kyle kicked off our session by showing us video clips of some of his work: Live! The Realest MC, Pavement, and the two works that his company will perform on Friday and Saturday: The Watershed and When the Wolves Came In. As we watched these intersections between stunning movement and innovative stage design, Kyle described the thought, research and collaboration behind the dances. We were then able to make informed, conceptual observations about each work while enjoying some incredible aesthetics. No wonder this man won a genius grant!
Kyle Abraham talks about his process before showing us clips of some of his dances.
After giving us a chance to see and hear about his dances, Kyle introduced us to the way he works with his company and let us experience his choreographic process with our own bodies. He led us through a few creative activities he uses to establish movement and choreography in collaboration with his dancers. Kyle is not one to simply enter a rehearsal with set material for his company to learn and replicate; his process-driven approach to choreography pays careful attention to the potential contributions of each individual body and mind in the room.
Kyle explains some of the intentions behind his process to a curious Night School cohort.
With these ideas in mind, we plunged into some AIM-motivated movement invention and exploration. First, we learned and practiced a simple arm gesture phrase (from The Quiet Dance, another work in his company’s repertoire).We executed this upper body sequence as we learned it, while letting our legs do whatever they wanted. We also explored a way to compose our own phrases by responding to “Action Words.” As Kyle (and fellow Night School Student Fred) prompted us to slice, jump, slide, squish, wiggle, and dive, we travelled across the room with our own sequences of movements and rhythms.
Night School students experience Kyle’s choreographic process: creating our own leg movements to accompany a set of arm gestures and travelling across the room in response to Action Words.
Kyle explained that the movement he and his dancers generate out of such tasks often becomes the starting point for phrases in his repertory works. In a third exercise dubbed “Catch What You Can,” he and Matthew demonstrated how one seed idea can blossom into a longer, lasting sequence. Kyle grooved to some music while Matthew followed behind him, trying to grasp as much movement as he could. Then Kyle instructed Matthew with prompts such as “left arm and leg chug back,” and “figure eight to the right,” as well as names of moves that seemed to have a significance within the company, such as “Classic.” Regardless of the prompt’s origin, Matthew remained on the same page as Kyle the entire time, and breezed about the floor as he constructed his phrase. The result was amazing. From Kyle’s few moments of visual and verbal cues, Matthew danced an entire phrase of movement without stopping to think once: leaving us asking, “Did that just happen?”
Abraham.In.Motion dancer Matthew Baker develops a sequence of movement by “catching what he can” of Kyle’s visual and verbal cues
Once we picked our jaws off the ground and Matthew got a chance to catch his breath, we sat back down for a conversation with the two artists. Kyle provided generous answers to our questions about his company and process, sharing insights about the shifting roles of dancers and choreographers, the value of time in choreographic development and honesty in performance, and the approach to working with new bodies while creating work on others. I must be getting early onset nostalgia as we approach our final Night School next week, because I could not help but recall all the lessons we’ve learned this semester as I heard Kyle speak about his work. Remember the exercise we did with Martine a couple of weeks back, where we had to remember our partner’s gestures as they told us “something nobody knew”? I thought of that session throughout Kyle’s “Catch What You Can.” How Charles helped us alter gestures so they would fit the two-dimensionality required by labanotation? Very similar to how Kyle revealed he will develop a gesture until it has traces of its origin but breathes a new life.
If there’s one thing I think we’ve all learned through Night School this year, it’s that there are many, many entryways into making, viewing, and discussing dance. We’ve had the privilege of unfolding these multiple layers throughout the weeks: questioning why plastic bags float in the air, how people walk on walls, or where Kyle Abraham finds his musical inspiration. But more time for reflection next week. This week, we have a marathon of events related to Kyle’s residency to look forward to! Remember, Friday and Saturday will showcase two different programs, so why not buy two sets of tickets and camp out at the Power Center this weekend? You can even stay an extra night and be fed bagels on Sunday at the first ever UMS Brunch Download Conversation. Hope to see everyone this weekend, and at our LAST session/graduation next Monday night! In addition to thinking about the UMS dance season still to come, we will be celebrating with our Adventure Card raffle drawing, Perfect Attendance Awards, and of course, some food and drinks. So don’t miss out! No cap and gown necessary, just your presence and energy.
Abraham.In.Motion Performances, Mar. 13-14, 8pm, Power Center (TICKET REQUIRED)
Mar. 13: Opening Night Q&A: Abraham.In.Motion, Power Center, post-performance (TICKET REQUIRED)
Mar. 14: You Can Dance: Abraham.In.Motion, Ann Arbor YMCA, 1:30-3pm (FREE – SIGN-UP REQUIRED, BEGINS AT 12:45PM, FIRST COME FIRST SERVE)
Mar. 14: Closing Night Q&A: Abraham.In.Motion, Power Center, post-performance (TICKET REQUIRED)
Mar. 15: Brunch Download with Kyle Abraham, U-M Alumni Center, 11am (FREE)
Session 4 Resources: