Every Word, Every Day: Dispatches from Creative Residency in Eugene, OR

Janusphere Artistic Director Darion Smith shares dispatches from his creative residency in Eugene, Oregon, where he is working with an interdisciplinary team of artists on the ongoing collaborative project Every Word Was Once an Animal.

every word was once an animal artist team.jpg

New Discoveries

Every day has provided opportunities to reflect on the intersection of dance and other mediums, and the ways in which they coalesce. The residency has been fulfilling with new discoveries daily.

Our process includes visiting sites that include lava fields, forests, creek beds and dams. Here, we are experimenting with sound, video, dance, and Carla Bengtson's art work and overarching concept of the collaborative work we are doing.

landscapes interdisciplinary performance project.jpg

Diverse Landscapes

It's been rewarding to work with dance in the various landscapes and through the lens of this project. We'll be taking what we have been discovering in the field and distilling it into the preview showing format at CFAR in Eugene, OR. For me, the next big step for me in this process is working with the dancers in the space at CFAR.

Updates

Our team of collaborators from across artistic disciplines will be developing this work into a 7 week exhibit spanning March - April 2020 at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

The preview at CFAR will help to gain perspective and generate more questions about the project going forward. We look forward to sharing its developments as the project continues to evolve.

Every Word Was Once An Animal (team)

Visual Artist and Concept: Carla Bengtson

Composer: Juliet Palmer


Visual Artist: Jessie Vala

Dance Artist: Darion Smith





Update: Dance Education and New Work from Darion Smith

Last week on the blog we talked about a new work from Darion Smith that explores movement and meaning with an all female cast of dancers.

behind the scenes darion smith dance

Smith and the dancers are in rehearsals now, and we’re going behind the scenes to take a look at how the piece is evolving. The rehearsal process is short and intense. This speaks to some of the creativity and ingenuity that is an intrinsic part of working in dance education. Smith says, “we had such a short rehearsal time which forced me to focus on revising the choreography and dancer qualities.”

new dance work janusphere

Throughout the process, in addition to bringing choreographic elements to life, dancers are learning the mechanics of putting together a piece for the stage, and how to work together to communicate the aim and the story of the piece.

darion smith howard community college dance

We’ll be bringing you more, soon, as things continue to develop. Smith’s latest dance work will premiere April 5, 2019, at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

Creating Meaning in New Ways: Preview of New Work by Darion Smith

Choreographer Darion Smith is bringing a new work to life, featuring a five member, all-female cast. The dance work explores the tempo and intensity of select movements and tasks that involve large-scale props. It plays against - and with - the inevitability of gravity. To do this, Smith has designed gestural patterns that reflect some personal input from the dancers.

The randomness and disconnectedness of each section of the piece is apparent and purposeful. Smith has choreographed it this way in order to explore new dimensions as a choreographer. He says, “I'm trying to find new ways to create meaning and metaphor using methods I'm unfamiliar with, as well as those that are completely improvised.”

This new dance work is unique because it is being developed during a very short creative residency with the dancers. They meet once a week, complete run-throughs, and receive feedback.

For Smith, who is always excited to try something new, or to try something he has done before with a new twist, the excitement of this work comes with setting dancers on the path to develop their craft in new and more sophisticated ways.

“I'm excited to see how the dancers develop themselves inside of the work and what they will take away from the process,” says Smith. He is hopeful that this newest piece for emerging dancers provides new perspectives to everyone who is working on it.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the blog, when Darion Smith talks about the connections between dance education and choreography, and we share more details about the upcoming April 5, 2019, premiere at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

Let it Go Behind the Scenes with Darion Smith and Sarah Gomez

As promised, we have more behind the scenes updates from the rehearsals for Darion Smith’s Let it Go.

Let it Go Darion Smith Sarah Gomez.jpg

In the new piece, Sarah Gomez joins choreographer Darion Smith in the work, created for two dancers.

Let it Go premieres Friday, November 16, at the Horowitz Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College.

Show Times and Ticket Information

The HCC Dance Showcase, which includes dance works created by both faculty and students, will run two performances: Friday, November 16th (3:00 p.m.); and Saturday, November 17th (7:00 p.m.). Showcase performances will be held in the Howard Community College Smith Theatre, housed in the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center.

The address is 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD, 21044. 


Premiere at Horowitz Performing Arts Center

Darion Smith’s new work, Let it Go, premieres November 16 and 17 at the Horowitz Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College in Maryland.

Let It Go, the first work that Smith has choreographed and premiered at Howard Community College, is part of a larger show, the HCC Dance Showcase. This fall’s Showcase features dance works created by faculty, alongside student works in the same program. 

Let It Go is a work for two dancers. Sarah Gomez and Darion Smith will present Let it Go at the premiere. Gomez and Smith will explore an obstacle course built from physical props and set pieces, examine aspects of the human condition, and tangle and untangle personal stories.     

Stay tuned for more about the choreography process and how the idea of Let it Go took shape. Behind the scenes rehearsal photos and video previews coming soon!

Premiere at Bellingham Repertory Dance Company: Sacrifice Choreographed by Darion Smith

A few months ago, we told you about Artistic Director Darion Smith’s residency at Bellingham Repertory Dance Company. The work that Smith developed at Bellingham Repertory Dance Company in July premieres this weekend, October 26, 2018, and runs for two weeks.

Titled Sacrifice, the dance piece is a trio for three women. It features musical premieres from Christian Cherry along with music from Richard Wagner's The Ride of the Valkyries.

Darion Smith in rehearsal, Bellingham Repertory Dance Company

Darion Smith in rehearsal, Bellingham Repertory Dance Company

Reflecting on choreographing Sacrifice and working with the dancers at Bellingham Repertory Dance Company, Smith says, “I came to BRD with some ideas in mind but spent the first part of rehearsal process getting to know the dancers and how they move.”

The resulting work, he says, includes “sprinkles of humor but also dramatic, ritualistic, and highly energetic moments that align with the music.”

In addition to the musical features, the dance work encorporates a fabric prop that the dancers have had to get used to working with, all of which come together to create an experience for dancers and audience to enjoy and that will leave them talking about Sacrifice.   

Game Change: When Practical Challenges Influence Art Making

On the blog today, we’re spotlighting Artistic Director Darion Smith’s recent new choreography, Game Change. In so doing, we are also looking at how practical challenges, like choreographing for students as opposed to professional company dancers, influences how a choreographer makes art, and how that art takes shape.

Game Change, choreographed by Darion Smith, was selected to represent the University of Oregon at the ACDA North West Regional Conference 2018 in Boulder, CO, in March.

University of Oregon dance students in Darion Smith’s Game Change at ACDA Conference. Photo by Pam Cressall

University of Oregon dance students in Darion Smith’s Game Change at ACDA Conference. Photo by Pam Cressall

As Smith explains it, Game Change is “a representation of nuance in my creative process.” That creative process was specifically influenced by his time as both a graduate student and an instructor in the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance. Now teaching in the Howard Community College Department of Dance, Smith reflects on his time at University of Oregon, and the impact that academic exploration and teaching dance students has had on the creative process and the work it produced.

He says, “from the moment I arrived at the University of Oregon, I realized that I had a new space to be creative in and a new set of constraints. In some regards there were no constraints to what I wanted to make,” at the same time, because he was working with students, as opposed to members of the professional Janusphere Dance Company, there were other factors to consider, from learning outcomes, to range, to readiness.

University of Oregon dance student in Darion Smith’s Game Change at ACDA Conference. Photo by Pam Cressall

University of Oregon dance student in Darion Smith’s Game Change at ACDA Conference. Photo by Pam Cressall

Talking about Game Change, Smith walks us through some of his process, starting with the early stages of turning “an idea that floats in the mind” into movement. If, as he explains, that idea “merits enough interest,” he tries to work it out in some physical form, often starting in his own kitchen or living room, exploring the idea ans seeing where it takes him.

From the Living Room to the Classroom

When it is time to take the next steps toward creating the work, by bringing the choreography to dancers, a choreographer needs to transfer those movement ideas in specific ways. “A lot of how I worked in the past was by showing movement phrases to dancers and them picking it up,” says Smith. Once the phrase was learned, he would move onto other aspects of putting the choreography together.

Smith says that, while he was able to use this mode of making dances to some degree with students, he did recognize that, “working with professional dancers, I was able to choose the dancers for specific qualities, making this mode of translating choreography very effective.” In the classroom studio setting, he saw that “working with a diversity of levels and experience at university taught me that this mode does not translate as clearly as it did in a professional setting.” Choreographing for students required more. That lead to an enriched creative process and it pushed Smith, as a choreographer and an educator, to “see and explore other qualities in the dancers I was working with" and to explore new methods of generating a dance that has structure and unique qualities.”

Improvisational Techniques and Adding Voice

Part of this exploration included incorporating improvisational tasks and the use of the voice. “I was happy to use my work to get to know the dancers as artists and individuals, by inviting them to incorporate more of themselves into the work.”

University of Oregon dance student in Darion Smith’s Game Change at ACDA Conference. Photo by Pam Cressall

University of Oregon dance student in Darion Smith’s Game Change at ACDA Conference. Photo by Pam Cressall

As a result, he created three distinct worlds in Game Change, the through line of which was the dancers.

The ACDA Conference was the perfect environment to present Game Change, because its choreography and execution are unique to the dance education experience, and the role that dance education plays in the creative process for both choreographers and students of dance.

The Things You Learn in Dance Lofts

Darion Smith, choreographer and artistic director of Janusphere Dance Company, looks back on the nascent stages of A Place of Origin, his latest work exploring identity through dance.

In 2015, I began conducting a character/movement study based on identity: my own identity, the identity of movement gestures, and fantasy storytelling inspired by researching the origins of an identity. The 2015 identity project led to other similar explorations where the idea of identity was expanded upon, with larger groups of dancers and more complex themes and structure. 

Photo by Pam Cressall

Photo by Pam Cressall

In the new dance work that began to grow, A Place of Origin, I recognized the possibility to combine elements of previous work with emerging methods of creation. The result was a work that encounters archetypes and human behavior and a draft that invites deeper development and distillation.

The purpose of the Dance Lofts at the University of Oregon, where A Place of Origin was made, is to bring choreographers deeper into their processes without the pressure of an end goal and productivity standards and expectations,. Even though I tend to work under a set of standards and expectations, this experience provided me with the space to begin new conversations through my work and a deeper exploration of where it has taken me and where it is going.  

Photo by Pam Cressall

Photo by Pam Cressall

The project also provided a platform to collaborate with composer Daniel Daly. In the early stages of the process I had originally imagined the work with a female soprano.In the end, Daniel developed the work for clarinet, oboe, and percussion, which was performed live. Daniel's music composition shares the same title as the choreography.   

I explored additional dimensions, working with sets, props, and lighting design. Having so many elements to contend with sometimes made the work get lost in figuring out how to use those elements effectively.

Photo by Pam Cressall

Photo by Pam Cressall

This challenge helped to push the choreography forward and prompted me to make decisions about what to change, or what to let go of. Another constraint was working for 1 hour/week for 10 weeks in the studio with the dancers, set, and props.

Every challenge and opportunity contributed to the way the work took shape, the ideas I was able to relay through the work, and the lessons I was learned from the process.

Trailer: Big Red Button

In his master's thesis work for the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance, Janusphere Dance Company artistic director Darion Smith choreographed a piece called Big Red Button.

Big Red Button is  a sociopolitical dance theater work. The new work for dance grows out of Smith's exploration of choreography and an opening to new ideas about expression and the relationship between audience and performer, and, by extension, the relationship between audience and choreographer.

Big Red Button comes at a time when the current sociopolitical climate creates a range of questions and emotions that art like Smith's is poised to encounter in meaningful ways.

Stay with us as we continue to discuss this new work and others that choreographer Darion Smith premiered this year.

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.  

New Year, New Work, New Creations

A New Year's message from our artistic director, Janusphere Dance Company co-founder Darion Smith:

2017 was one of the busiest years of my life. It was filled with classes, teaching, performing, and choreographing. I was constantly learning, creating something, and trying out new ideas and methods. Sometimes this creative process happened out of necessity; always, it happened out of curiosity.

It’s been fun not to get stuck in one place for too long (creatively speaking). At the same time, I believe I have found some rich material that I would like to build upon going forward into the new year. I’m expecting to graduate with an MFA in dance in June 2018. 

Darion Smith on stage in Cavity. Photo by Emma Frank

Darion Smith on stage in Cavity. Photo by Emma Frank

I have tons of work to accomplish between now and graduation, including a terminal project or thesis. I am researching the creative process within choreography. In order to do this I am studying and adapting methods of well known choreographers to my own choreographic project’s process. Hopefully, it will reveal new insights and novel choreographic devices.  At the very least, I aim for it to inspire future creations.

The project will conclude in two ways, with the physical creation and performance of an original choreography, and with a thesis document that explains what went on over the course of the project, critically analyzing the creative process involved in it.

There are many questions that are guiding my investigation into the creative process of choreography that will be revealed in the coming months. I am grateful for the opportunities that continue to present themselves in learning, teaching, performing, and creating. This dance is a labor of love and I cannot wait to incorporate more of what I have gained from graduate school into my work with Janusphere - and with you. 

Project Update: Collaboration with Carla Bengtson and Neal Moigard

Back in October, we introduced a new interdisciplinary project that Janusphere Dance Company Artistic Director Darion Smith is working on in collaboration with Carla Bengtson and Neal Moignard.

As Smith explains it, "Carla approached both Neal and I to join her project in which we will be trying to communicate with selected lizard species." The initial question is whether or not it is possible to communicate with the lizards, and what that communication could looks like.  For Smith, another significant question that the project presents is how this communication, and the documentation of it, becomes art.

Source: by   Biodiversity Heritage Library   is licensed under  CC BY 2.0

Source: by Biodiversity Heritage Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Smith will focus on "learning the lizard dialects, which are a series of specific head bobs and push-ups, tail movements, etc." that he will use to create the choreography for the project.

Still in its nascent stages, the project builds on Bengtson's ideas about communication with the natural world.  It will include gallery work, an interactive installation, and a dance performance that uses elements from the discoveries made and the ideas developed as the project progresses. 

For Smith, this particular project has him "thinking about dance in a brand new way in terms of communication."  That includes "looking at problems or ideas through the lens of very different artists" and the impact that has both on the audiences and on the artists themselves.

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.

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.
 

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.