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."

PLU dance residency guest choreographer Darion Smith.jpg

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." 

Guest choreographer in residence Darion Smith with PLU dance students.jpg

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."

Pacific Lutheran University dance department guest choreographer Darion Smith residence.jpg

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.

lizard darion smith carla bergston.png

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.