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.

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.
 

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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