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.

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!

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!

Choreography Lessons: Working with Old Materials in New Ways

Notes on the creative process for Darion Smith's Screendance Project...

The screendance project includes valuable steps that reveal aspects of my aesthetic choices and lead to future creations, making it important to look at from a creative process point of view.

For this screendance project I have repurposed material elements from two of my choreography works for the stage: 1 up 2 down (2016) and Cavity (2017).  I gain more perspective out of an idea by using it more than once and in different ways. Also, because these were originally solo and duet works, it is possible to play with them in a variety of ways.

The process involved filming short improvised dance sequences in costume with theatrical lighting.  To begin, I wanted to test some simple lighting ideas and to work more within the context of a previously created character idea.  I created approximately 250 video clips in two days, over two weekends, sorting through each clip in the editing phase of the project.

Throughout the screendance project, I learned that by repurposing material elements of previous work into short video clips and rearranging them into a sequence, I was able to find stories, movements, and lessons for future creative works.

This process was not an entirely new way of creating something for me but this one is the most nuanced version of this type.  Usually, my creative process starts out with an image, a piece of music, or a sociological/philosophical question.  From there, I start to build a story with those elements. 

This time, I didn't form a story in mind, before or when filming the scenes.  Instead, I filmed myself doing things that felt inspiring to do in the moment within the context of the repurposed material and the immediate environment.  I formed my story and its meaning by fitting the different clips into a coherent video sequence. As a narrative started to form, I became more decisive in arranging the clips into that sequence. 

Despite the fact that I repurposed material to generate the short videos, a departure from my default creative process, I was able to develop a new perspective on how I might alter my creative process for future choreographic projects.  

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.

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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."

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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.

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.