Dispatches from Bellingham Repertory Dance

I am returning now from Bellingham Repertory Dance, in Bellingham, Washington, where I taught a five day master class in preparation for the company's upcoming fall show. 

It's been exciting and more than a little challenging to create work in such a short period of time, and to do it to the music of Richard Wagner's Der Walkürenritt ("The Ride of the Valkyries") from his acclaimed Nineteenth Century opera Die Walküre (The Valkyrie).

The dancers have been great about throwing themselves into the work. This kind of openness and commitment from artists makes it so much easier to explore the dimensions of a complex work. Not knowing the dancers, with the exception of Hannah Andersen my former graduate colleague at University of Oregon, made coming into the process at Bellingham Repertory Dance difficult  to predict, and required a flexible approach.

Circumstances like this force me, as a choreographer and dance educator, to rely more on my intuition during the day in the studio, followed by intense meditation and analysis each night as part of the post-rehearsal process. It means bringing that energy back into the studio the next day, fostering collaboration, relying on and learning from each other, and maintaining a level of commitment and focus that creates great performances.

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The dancers will continue to rehearse weekly leading up to the work before it debuts in their fall season where, no doubt, their hard work and dedication will be a reward to them and to their audience. 

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In addition to using the work of Wagner during my time with Bellingham Repertory Dance, I was fortunate to collaborate with musician/composer Christian Cherry for other sections of the work. Cherry's music adds more dimension and emotional context to the work, and it was a pleasure to explore.

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I look forward to discovering how this work matures leading up to the premiere. 

Dispatches from PLU Residency

In addition to creating new work with students at his recent PLU residency, Janusphere Dance Company Artistic Director Darion Smith, says he found it "rewarding to teach beginner/intermediate level ballet and contemporary technique for the week."

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Smith shares that the PLU dance students were attentively engaged during his classes and during rehearsals. Throughout the week, Smith says, "I witnessed improvement in the way PLU students performed in both the studio during classes and in rehearsal." 

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Towards the end of the residency, rehearsals for the new work moved to the stage. In 2015 the PLU theater was brought up to date to include new state-of-the-art equipment. The new theater, Smith says, "makes the premiere of Pivotal Play at PLU, April 20 - 21, even more exciting."

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Stay tuned for more details and ticket information for the upcoming April 20 - 21 performances!

 

Lizard Finds a Home: Collaborative Project Update

Carla Bengtson and Darion Smith will present their collaboration, an interactive installation featuring dance and inspired by Carla's work with lizards, in Spring 2018. 

Bengtson and Smith's project has received the green light from the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, Oregon, to begin a residence there soon.

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A collaborative project between art, dance, science, and the humanities, Lizard is a multi-media installation and interactive dance performance that will be welcomed by museum goers of all ages and interests.

The project, which is the product of the ongoing creative explorations of Smith and Bengtson, promises to deliver an immersive experience on how lizards and humans communicate, the process of learning a physical language, and how we learn to see and understand movement in a new environment.

Stay tuned for more details!

Two Premieres, One Night, in Oregon

Janusphere Dance Company is excited to share news of an upcoming evening at University of Oregon's Dougherty Dance Theatre, March 16, featuring Darion Smith.  Press release about the event follows, including ticket purchasing information.

On March 16, at 8:00pm the UO Winter Dance Loft will host an evening of compelling new choreography from Janusphere Dance Company director and MFA candidate, Darion Smith. The performance will premiere two dance works by Smith, The Big Red Button and Game Change

In The Big Red Button, Smith uses personal experiences from the group to build a collage of sociopolitical dance sketches, and in Game Change, Smith and dancers create three distinct worlds and explore the voice. Game Change has been selected to represent the University of Oregon at the upcoming 2018 American College Dance Association regional conference in Boulder, CO. 

At 7:30pm in Gerlinger Annex 352, Smith will give a 20 minute presentation on his creative process titled, a dancing mind. In order to explain the way he works out choreography, Smith has constructed a physical representation of his process. Smith’s research involved an analysis of his process during the creation of a dance piece while simultaneously integrating novel methods from master choreographers.   

  A recent Smith project, "Rosetta"; Photo by Pam Cressall

A recent Smith project, "Rosetta"; Photo by Pam Cressall

The performance will be presented at the Dougherty Dance Theatre. DDT is located on the 3rd floor of UO’s Gerlinger Annex.

Purchase Tickets: $8 General Admission, $5 Students and Seniors 

Darion Smith grew up in Santa Barbara, California where he began his dance training with Kay Fulton. Smith studied at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, Germany and at the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow, Russia. Smith has performed with Dance Theatre of Harlem, Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Buglisi Dance Theatre, New York Theatre Ballet. Smith is the artistic director and cofounder of Janusphere Dance Company. Smith’s Choreography has been presented in prominent venues and festivals throughout the U.S. and internationally in Madrid, Spain and Mexico City, Mexico. Smith is in his final year at UO’s graduate dance program where he is also a graduate teaching fellow.  

In Upcoming Residency, Darion Smith Aims to Teach Dancers to Experience Own Voices

We spoke with Darion Smith about his upcoming artist residency at Pacific Lutheran University.

Smith says that the spring residency at the campus in Tacoma, Washington, will enable him to teach and to create new work with dancers from PLU. As Smith puts it, "[m]y aim is to make it a powerful experience for the students at PLU by integrating their creative abilities into my studio classes and during rehearsals for the new work I am creating."

Many of these creative opportunities will come through improvisation and compositional tasks.  To that end, Smith plans to offer PLU student dancers "new ways to experience dance and develop their own voices."

It is the quest to find an artist's voice and to use dance as a mode of storytelling that propels Smith's choreography.  "One of the main reasons why I fell in love with dance is its ability to tell a story," says Smith, who believes that as a choreographer and a dancer he is "a story teller too."  This is why he looks forward to guiding the students in class and rehearsals, by helping them to discover more about themselves as creative individuals.     

Stay tuned to  the Janusphere Dance Company Blog for more on the work Smith plans to develop with Pacific Lutheran University students this spring, and where and when it will debut.

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.

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.
 

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.