This semester I had a dream. I wanted to make a new quartet exploring themes of categorization and quantification. It would be rigorous yet somehow still messy and human. I had A LOT of complicated conceptual ideas, some juicy movement, four talented and eager undergraduates as well as a brilliant dramaturg (theater PhD student). I also wanted the dance to be responsive to the audience: kind of a physicalized choose-your-own-adventure where the same piece might never be performed twice. A four-minute was accepted into the Spring Concert and we were given the requisite eight minute time limit. Which meant I had eight minutes to:
- Accurately and deeply explore the complexity of categorization
- Develop and introduce 5+ movement phrases created by myself and the dancers
- Introduce the rigor and specificity of percentages/quantification of sensation
- Find a way for audience members to interact with the work through their phones to keep it anonymous but still engaging
- Make sure that the dancers, myself and Tyrrell (our dramaturg) actually knew what the heck was going on
We spent two months working on it and managed to put something together that barely achieved all of the above. And guess what, when we shared it to the concert workshop crew (fellow colleagues and one professor) it completely bombed. It was so full of concepts, ideas, different movement vocabularies, confusing audience relationships that it didn’t mean anything to anyone.
I wanted to pull it. I felt like a total failure. Not only had I made something that didn’t make any sense but it also read as vaguely offensive because the watered down categorization ideas we’d squeezed in weren’t thoughtful, they were just obvious and dumb.
Fortunately, and also unfortunately, there is absolutely no time in graduate school to wallow or go to a place of deep introspection. Within twenty-four hours I had decided to scrap the categorization and quantification themes and devote the rest of our rehearsal time to working on improvisation strategies for a piece that would be truly audience responsive. The dancers were still allowed to draw from the movement material we’d generated but they could also create anything else they wanted depending up on what was submitted by audience members.
It became a piece that could (almost) be executed in eight minutes. And I think it was a successful experiment.
Here is the promotional video I created for the concert: