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.

11487.jpeg

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. 

11494.jpeg

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.

11510.jpeg

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."

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!

 

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.

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?

Read More