I love chance technique. I remember learning about Merce Cunningham for the first time when I was about eighteen and thinking how tough and ballsy his method sounded. I was also terrified by the idea of not knowing the future (i.e. the next step or phrase).
As I have gotten older, I have really begun to fall in love with chance. I find the entire experience exhilarating and thrilling. You walk into the studio with an idea and then guide it slightly, or perhaps you let it completely run wild.
Taking a chance in my work
My first experience using chance in my own choreography was in 2014 when I started creating a piece now called ‘Automatic Unconsciousness’.
To be really honest, I was struggling to come up with a storyline I wanted to tell, and was feeling a bit burnt out as a choreographer. But I went back to my roots and education, and I brought some tools to the studio.
For this piece, I used colored index cards labeled with a variety of things such as: Phrase A/Phrase B, invert, repeat, slow, fast, and more. First, I taught the phrases, then I had the dancers choose cards from each pile of: phrases, how to manipulate them, and speed suggestions.
We got to work and rather than ending up with too little material, we had far too many versions of all the phrases! I was so intrigued and excited by how these simple manipulations created enough meat for an entire piece.
I believe that chance allows the dancers to have a deeper involvement in the creative process. I also love knowing that we (as I believe chance often is a group process) can keep, discard, and further manipulate any material created.
Fast forward a couple of years and I have begun to challenge myself more and more to allow chance to be a part of my choreographic process.
The birth of Dancing the Distance
Throughout the past several months, I have written about my transition to living in the UK and how being physically distanced from my dance company, friends, and family has greatly influenced my creative process.
As I sat around one day wondering how I could be more involved and contribute something more to my concert (aptly named Dancing the Distance). I came up with the idea of creating a long distance dance film.
In the past, I have dabbled in film, but I have always been the one to run the camera, pick the locations and shots, pick costumes, storyline, etc. I have always had control over everything. For this project, I contacted several friends with this directive:
“I am creating a dance film and I would love for you to be a part of it! My company’s theme for the season is distance – emotional, physical, etc. We are interpreting that theme in a million ways both literal (space between bodies, space between two movements) and very abstract (differences in gender).
What I am asking is that you create a 1 minute video of yourself doing movement inspired by this theme. You do not need a video camera, a video from your smartphone will be perfect. You can be in any space (dance studio, living room, outside, ice cream shop, etc) and in any type of clothing (street or dance) that you like. All I ask is that you verbally tell me on the video where you are: ex – my happy place, the studio, home, New Jersey, Earth, etc.”
I gave the dancers a deadline to submit their work and then anxiously awaited the results.
Delegating the work doesn’t take care of the work
It wasn’t until I sat down to start editing, that I realized I had absolutely no idea what this film might look like! Where was the story? Is there a relationship between the dancers? Do I just show bits of unrelated clips and let that be something?
I was anxious that this film would end up just a series of clips that didn’t look like anything more than a line of clips with no order.
I started playing around, similar to how I would start creating in the studio when faced with a challenge. I cut out parts that intrigued me and manipulated them – fast forward, rewind, slow motion, repeating clips, or freezing the frame. I put a bunch of clips in a sequence and watched them hoping for inspiration and still nothing.
The movement was beautiful, but I wanted to feel something when I watched it
Finally, after taking a few days away from editing and chatting with friends and my husband, I decided to give it another try and see what the clips were showing me.
By a stroke of luck, the beauty of an idea and revelation started to bloom. As I poured over the various films, I began to notice similarities in movements, energies, and even gestures.
These similarities made me think about my personal connection to each person. Memories of pieces that we have danced together, shows we have performed in, studios that we have called home together were suddenly pouring into my mind.
I began connecting clips through these movements, if one person rolls, then the next clip starts with someone else rolling or rotating. This gave the film a sense of unity, like I had instructed these actions in the choreography. How incredible is it that we all found similar movements to express this theme?
One of the last pieces of the puzzle was music.
I tried lots of ambient noise, electronica, and even some classical music but nothing really fit. It’s like finding the right pair of shoes, suddenly, you just know and when I found the music, it all clicked. I was filled with a ton of emotions watching my friends from around the globe dancing at once as individuals and as a group.
There is a section of the film where lots of clips are layered and you see one dancer in the foreground and another as a shadow, for me, this is the together section. It represents the unifying nature of dance in our lives, both now and in our shared past. It also represents the fact that we are still dancing together though we may be physically quite far away. This is really is why title simply became Near.Far.Together.
A reflection on bringing unity from friends to film
As I reflect on this artistic journey, I am still not entirely sure how the process went from feeling completely a mess to completely in-sync, but I have a feeling it has to do with the connections that exist among old friends.
Maybe it is the fact that each person in this film is a dear friend and colleague of mine that has led us all to an unexpected symbiosis. At some point, we have all spent hours in the studio creating together. I wonder if, subconsciously, when creating a piece about distance, we were all able to connect through the language of movement.
Or perhaps I sat down on that second day and was determined to make something happen. I just decided what I was looking for and through the magic of editing I was able to create connection on film. I know that as I edited the clips, I was filled with warm memories of time I had spent dancing with each individual. I hope that as you view this film that you will also experience what it is like to be near to someone far away and so far away from someone near.
Dancing the Distance: Near. Far. Together
I have found in life that some people are always going to be embedded deeply in your heart and in the rhythm of your world, while others may come and go as time rolls forward.
This film gave me an opportunity to explore how connections continue to change over time and express it through my favorite language, movement. I invite you to watch and think about how distance has been involved in the relationships in your life.
I am always absolutely floored by the beauty exuded in my friends’ work and I hope that you enjoy my film, Near.Far.Together. May this be another stepping stone towards a deeper connection between us all.
I had no idea that learning the theories of chance technique would translate from the dance world into creating a film. The inspiration of difficulties running a dance company 3000+ miles away, inspired me to connect the movement of my friends into a cohesive piece of filmography.