Motivations from within and without - emerging dance video project

This September found Janusphere artistic director and choreographer Darion Smith working on a video project that morphed into an extension of his work on identity and perception, which continues to grow as a metaphor.

For this dance video project, Smith says he "didn't labor so much in the studio ;choreographing' each movement." Instead, Smith spent his time thinking and planning how to execute ideas with just a few hours in the studio space and only some lighting instruments at his disposal.

concept work video identity and dance darion smith.png

With purposeful limits on resource, time and space, Smith created two short video clips that contribute additional perspective to the characters in each. Looking at the still images of the work, both have similarities.  In the video sequences, on the other hand, two subtly nuanced ideas emerge. 

Smith's two new videos are not final works, but parts of something larger.  Through the ongoing project launched this September, Smith is "trying to understand that and to know why I am at this stage of my process. Where is it going from here is a good question to ask myself." 

The two videos are  flight and parasite.    

flight is about a character whose will is to fly.  parasite is about an imaginary creature who lives inside of us and is somehow always present despite never having been invited.  At this stage of the project's development, Smith is attempting to decide what he wants to say with these ideas and to find a way to advance them.

Both videos are the result of improvising with known material, capturing it with specific lighting designs, and then molding the footage into a logical sequence.  Stay tuned for more as the project continues to develop.

Dance in Dialogue: Janusphere Choreographer Explore Movement and Intention in New Work

This summer, artistic director and choreographer Darion Smith worked on some solo material that ended up in video format and an entirely different project with two local Oregon-area dancers, Kendra Lady and Sarah Macrorie.

Creative work and experimentation with movement in the studio gave birth to new ideas that are expanding into larger individual and collaborative works like the duet with Kendra and Sarah.

behind the scenes rehearsal

 

An opportunity to show the duet came up at a venue called Dance In Dialogue (D.I.D.).  So, in the words of Smith, "even though I was not initially working in the studio with a set deadline, I ended up doing exactly that to some degree with the arrival of the performance opportunity."

To prepare the work in progress which Smith gave the working title proximity, Smith went through an extensive process of reviewing and mediating on rehearsal videos.  Of this part of the process, Smith says, "it's not that I don't plan things to do in studio and reach conclusions in studio, but often the most profound insights come when I'm not in the studio, at least conceptually."

janusohere dance company rehearsal photos

Smith encorporated the ideas of movement and intention, with the practical application of new concepts that developed out of his review of the studio work, and presented the piece on September 28, to the Dance in Dialogue audience.

Can I Make Art that is Felt as Much as it is Seen?

I was thinking about the two opportunities that are taking my work out of the University of Oregon and Eugene in 2018, a guest artist and choreographic residency at PLU (Tacoma, WA) and the selection of my choreography for presentation at ACDA (Boulder, CO). In both cases my work will be seen by new audiences and will be performed at new venues.  This will provide opportunities for me to work with young dancers, to gain experience, and to foster creative output and growth.

In addition to these performance and creative opportunities, I am working on a new collaboration with University of Oregon professor and artist Carla Bengston and Neal Moignard, artist and graduate teaching fellow. Collaborating on this project gives me a view into a new way to consider and use dance as a communication as we explore the many dimensions of dance and find meaningful ways to create new work.

In dance making and in art, I am noticing that conventional approaches are good in small doses but too much keeps you stuck in one place.  To be honest, I am sort of scared of changing perspectives... that's actually what makes it fun. It is meaningful (despite how scary it can feel) to use these skills and knowledge to go where I haven't been by following my intuition and then to use those same devices again to make intentional choices. 

This creative approach keeps me (and my collaborators, and my artistic inspirations) from being crushed by externally driven expectations that are somehow less and less appealing to me.

I don't want to make bizarrely different art unless it's effective and meaningful in making me experience the world in new light.

darion smith 3.jpg

I can't know that until I try. That being said, I am also trying to hone in on my own aesthetic.  I don't want to become completely transient in my own world of ideas. I truly am looking for a dance rush that's unique to me, something I can build upon.  The challenge is making art that is felt as much as it's seen. When I saw Bebe Miller for the first time, I was engaged in several ways at once like a sensory overload... in a good way.  This is the kind of reaction I want to create for my audiences. 

Seeing Bebe Miller, I realized that I was profoundly lucky to have been sitting in the audience and that the right person was performing in front of me at the right time in my life. I  experienced that performance, and the impact of art, in a powerful way.

Simply put, it's like eating that smelly piece of piece of stinky cheese that you thought was truly nasty before, but now you're mature enough to appreciate it and now, suddenly, you can't get enough. There are loads of things we will appreciate over time if we're willing to take a chance, to apply some effort, and to be open.

At the same time, there are things that I guess I will never like or that I will always prefer. This is what is so hard for me as an artist: the act of being decisive and making dance a stimulating, powerful experience. 

It feels awkward to look at a lot of my old work, especially the crappy stuff, and think it's probably the same for many artists.  But after spending the time to play and explore, and to be open, my work has become much more nuanced and I feel like I can get to new places by creating a dialogue with myself through my work.

Looking back, I realize I was thinking very much about how I should impress my surroundings instead of myself. I didn't really control my own will because I was ensnared in the opinions of others, even if I and they didn't know it. I guess what I'm trying to say is that for me, right now, I am at peace with a more self-focused perspective in my dance making.

This doesn't mean that I am ignoring the fact that an audience will look at my choreography and have an experience.  It means that I don't mind taking myself and the audience somewhere we might not have expected to go.

Hopefully it's worth it.

Involuntary Movements

By Darion Smith

My new choreography, Involuntary Movements was inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between The World And Me, my own experiences as an African American (biracial), and African American History. 

I was able to create a landscape (set) with props, text, soundscape, and music that incorporated and carried the inspired content of the work and allowed me to live inside of the work as I was performing it.

For me, the experience was transformative in the generative rehearsal phase of the process and then later, that experience was magnified even further when I shared Involuntary Movements in front of an audience. I had dug deep into my own feelings about race, being biracial, African American and half British (white) brought me into a lot of self conflict, if you have read Ta Nehisi Coates' book, you will understand my position even more.

Once again I found myself in the heavy presence of identity, only this time it was less ambiguous and tread the tense line of the social constructs of race in the United States in 2017.  

Involuntary Movements explores the physical and emotional reactions to racism and injustice towards the African American population through my own experiences. 

The new dance premiered at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.  

All photos of Involuntary Movements are by Megan Morse of the University of Oregon Journalism School.

Rosetta

Rosetta is a dance work by Darion Smith based on the concept that the human experience can be distilled from our complex, technologically enhanced and modern social structures into some basic structures that were defining factors in the early stages of the human experience.

The work is built on human structures in our modern society including hierarchy, wonder, conflict, companionship, communication, teamwork, and ritual.

With this piece, Smith's idea was to create a character that could be multiplied and could carry meaning and function for the group. The characters were similar in appearance to each other, again to make their actions read more than their appearances but within a large group.

Hacking Perception and Identity through Dance

Recently my research has been focused on developing new ways to experience identity. I've been conducting experiments for building choreographic structure and content in relation to aspects of experiencing identity.

The results from this research can be seen in the work that follows. But if you want to be thorough you'll have to go back to last year during Spring Dance Loft, when Dan Daly and I performed 1 up 2 down.

In this work, Dan and I wore black spandex body suits that made it hard to tell who was who but it also created a foreign character whose identity was simplified into one surface (spandex).

It would be an understatement to say that these two characters were devoid of facial expressions. Their physical features such as hair, eyes, nose, ears were blended together by the spandex and this made the experience of perceiving them much less about who they were based on their looks.  Rather, perceiving their characters became based on what those characters were doing.

This experience inspired me to ponder how identity influences perception. I believe that one's perception can be hacked, leaving the immediate action of the object more revealed and less complex, this in turn gives way for a broader range of interpretations by the viewer.

My most recent work reflects this realization in a variety of ways.  Stay tuned to the blog for more on that.

Composer Dan Daly on Collaboration, Creativity and Working with Choreographer Darion Smith

We spoke with Daniel Daly about his recent collaboration with choreographer Darion Smith on 1 Up 2 Down.  Daniel Daly is a Master of Music candidate and Graduate Teaching Fellow at the University of Oregon (UO).  

Dan spoke with us about his process, what it was like working with Darion Smith, and how collaborations between composers and choreographers help to enrich the performing arts from a creative development point of view and from an audience point of view.

Composer and musician Daniel Daly

Composer and musician Daniel Daly

How would you describe your creative process when you are composing a new piece of music?
I try to access an emotional archetype -- fear, exhilaration, longing, etc. -- and then, through a process of inward listening and improvisation at the keyboard, I compose a seed idea that corresponds to that archetype. To develop and complete the piece, I spin out the seed material according to my understanding of its musical properties. The music I spin out may in turn suggest some new and unforeseen dimension of my emotional archetype. Such revelations are exciting, and they keep the energy flowing: music informs archetype, archetype inspires music. Hopefully, at the end of the piece, the music has revealed a drama of emotions.

How does your process change when you are working collaboratively, specifically when you are working with a choreographer like Darion Smith?
The process is the same, but better, faster, and more fun. When collaborating, I still access an emotional archetype, but the immediacy of improvisation and interaction helps me bypass my inward searches -- which can be murky, repetitious, and draining -- and shoot from the hip. I see Darion make a move, and I'm instantly prompted to respond to the emotional and dramatic character it suggests to me. And as I develop the music, his ongoing activity is not merely another factor that I must balance in my attempt to create a coherent piece of art, but it is also a profound source of energy and inspiration. 

What is the relationship between dance and music?
I don't have much insight on this question. I understand that music and dance are both time-based arts, and thus are, in my opinion, a more natural pairing than music and sculpture, for example.

Why are artistic collaborations like your recent collaboration with Darion important for artists like yourselves (do they challenge you creatively in new ways, to they help to bring new work to life more quickly, do you benefit from introducing each other to your audiences, etc.)?
As a composer, I'm desperate for that magic source of inspiration that will help me create meaningfully, quickly, and enjoyably. I often work with text or with theater because I relate to storytelling better than I relate to the demonstration of an abstract musical idea. And I often collaborate with dancers because their art form seems better able to communicate meaning than mine. Whenever I witness a dancer's gesture, I'm struck by a mysterious depth and intimacy. Dance seems to go the heart of the matter, always. Music is sometimes disembodied and inhuman (and therefore, in my perspective, bordering on meaningless). The composition of much of the 20th century's art music revealed astonishing mental expertise and an even more astonishing inability to connect to listeners. Why? I suspect that it was because some of that music wasn't firing on all cylinders. It was brilliant mentally, but deficient, perhaps, in the arenas of body and spirit. I hang around dancers to be a more embodied composer. That way I have a better chance of communicating meaning to my audience.

Do you believe that artistic collaborations are important for audiences, particularly young audiences?  If so, why and how?
I also don't have much insight into this question, alas. 

More about Composer Daniel Daly
He is a composer, but his primary interest is storytelling. To that end, he frequently includes other media – such as theatre and dance – in his compositions. At UO, he created music for Scorched, a play produced at Hope Theatre in winter 2016, and founded sonos domum, a new music ensemble dedicated to multidisciplinary collaboration, in 2014.

His specialty, however, is creating text for music. He recently completed the libretto of a new opera entitled The Banshee, whose music he is currently composing in preparation for a May, 2017 performance. His dramatic vocal compositions have been performed by acclaimed soprano Estelí Gomez in Portland, Oregon, and at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium in Eugene. Prior to his studies at UO, he published his own fantasy novel, When Waters Whisper, and served in a music position at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where he transcribed the score of the new musical, The Unfortunates, and created sound for a side-stage production of Caryl Churchill’s apocalyptic drama, Far Away. In 2012, he graduated summa cum laude from Willamette University, where he studied composition, creative writing, digital music production, and piano.
 

1 Up 2 Down A Collaboration with Oregon Musician and Composer Daniel Daly

In 2015, Janusphere Dance Company artistic director and choreographer Darion Smith began a collaboration with musician and composer Daniel Daly.  A graduate teaching fellow at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance, Daly joined Smith in the University of Oregon studios to create the piece 1 Up, 2 Down that explores music, dance and relationships.

Daly and Smith, who also perform the piece, presented it at the 2016 Spring Dance Loft at the University of Oregon Department of Dance.

Stay with us for more developments and discussions about this work in progress collaboration.

Shining Light on the Creative Process from Concept to Performance

Janusphere is back in Oregon after a successful studio performance of AMP at On the Boards in Seattle.  We are sitting down with Artistic Director and choreographer Darion Smith to talk about the creative process and how preparation and performance contribute uniquely to the development of new works for contemporary dance.

How does the creative process differ during the preparation process (workshopping, choreographing) and the performance process (dress rehearsals, performances)?

Depending on the project, they are all different, I usually try to stay flexible all the way through the development of the work, even throughout the performance run.

creative process interview with choreographer darion smith

Flexibility is important, especially in the beginning phases when I am researching movement ideas to carry the inspiration behind the work. The central idea or theme needs to be present at this phase, otherwise the process of creating can turn into a runaway train, which might not be a bad thing because you might stumble across new ideas that don't manifest in a process confined to a time limit, but it is certainly a challenge.

If I see that an idea is not working I try to improve it. The big difference is what kind of changes you can make depending on whether you're just getting into the studio, somewhere in the middle of the creative process, or seeing the first stage rehearsal with lights, costumes, and the premiere is tomorrow.

I've made changes to work in the middle of the performance run before and it's nice to have that option. If I had to say where we spend the most energy it's definitely in the creation process, going forwards and backwards over choreography and ideas with the dancers. That can be physically and mentally exhausting but it is so much of what drives the creative process. 

When the idea is unearthed, shaped, and ready to be polished for a performance the process does usually change quite a bit, for me. How is this going to be perceived becomes a big question. At this stage my aim is not to communicate something unintentional to the audience. I share the piece with people to find out if my idea is making the impact I am after and to evolve the piece further.

studio theater janusphere dance company

Does the performance itself provide insight into your choreography and how it - and the works themselves - change over time?

Being a form of conclusion out of an artistic endeavor, a performance definitely sheds light on how clear my idea has been shaped into a physical form. When I go back and look at something I did five years ago I can see that, yes, there are definitely patterns to my work and also an evolution that is unfolding. 

After presenting AMP at On the Boards, do you know things about the work or have ideas about the work that you could not have or would not have had without the experience of performing it live?

Of course, after every performance there is some level of reflection, whether you receive feedback from an audience or not. It is also very different to rehearse something to the fullest (performance level) in the studio compared to performing it in front of a live audience.

At OTB's Open Studio performance a major element in presentation was the low-tech production aspect. So there are no light cues.  Instead each artist comes into the theater and operates the sound system independently without the use of theatrical lighting.  This helps keep us in touch with the piece and teaches us about how to continue to evolve it - and to create.

What We're Working On Wednesday: Combining Dance with the Human Voice

Janusphere Dance Company Artistic Director Darion Smith is hard at work in the studio developing a new work, tentatively titled AMP.  In AMP, Darion explores the nature of voice and the relationship between voice and dance to communicate with and experience the world around us.

We sat down with Darion to talk about the new work, its purpose and the process of bringing it to life.

What inspired you to work with the human voice in a dance piece?

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Spotlight in the Sphere: Steven Jasso Talks On the Boards Festival with Janusphere Dance Company

Janusphere Dance Company dancer Steven Jasso joined Janusphere Dance Company at the On the Boards Festival in Seattle, Washington June 17 - 19, performing in our world premiere of Object.
We sat down with Steven after we returned from On the Boards to talk about the Festival experience.

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Creating New Worlds

We Janusphere dancers literally lived together for the last 20 days of the rehearsal period leading up to On the Boards and we got to know each other on a deeper level in the artistic sense surrounding the work and in general. Because we were so close we had many discussions about the structure of the work, the meanings, feelings, that inspired the movements, and the context in the entirety of the work and the smaller pieces within it. 

Janusphere Dance Company dancers at On the Boards New Works Festival

Janusphere Dance Company dancers at On the Boards New Works Festival

The folks at On the Boards were so great to work with. This was a very inspiring experience. It was an honor to present work there among other selected artists. I hope we can come back soon. And this was exactly what Janusphere Dance Company needed to get going out here on the West Coast.

Choreographing and dancing in a work was and is a constant challenge. You can't really ever see the whole picture with your own eyes if you're in it. Even the fact that I recorded everything and studied the footage there's a dimension that gets lost without having an external view, the same view an audience member would have. As much as I feel the work internally, I need to know the perspective from the audience. I ask myself If I was my own audience what would I want to experience. 

I am enjoying finding and experimenting with ideas vs coming into the studio with a fixed image and trying to copy and paste it onto a stage.  I am finding and defining my tools to communicate more and more. I believe each idea is more nuanced than the previous one and that makes me feel like I am going somewhere and building a world that I can enter into and experience a temporary fantasy.