On Midsummer Humidity and Shifting Modes

By Sarah Marks Mininsohn ('17)

Since completing HPI, Shreshth Khilani ('17) and I have been working on various iterations of Table on Table on Table, a project that combines radio podcast and dance into a multi-dimensional story experience. After a whirlwind of rehearsing for SoLow Fest in my hot, woody West Philly attic, suddenly it’s the middle of July, and the performances are over. I find myself suspended in the new and slower pace of post-performance life and midsummer heat waves. In the spirit of pools and waves, of indulging in the slow weight of watery humidity, I’d like to focus on the fluidity and floating. I want to reflect on where I followed watery feelings, my pleasure and my intuition in the project, and how I can take these lessons with me as I shift modes.

I want to begin with Shavon Norris, a beloved HPI faculty member. I entered Leah Stein’s Art Room for Shavon’s showing, which was part of Leah’s May Studio Works Series. The room was coated, from floor to ceiling, in Shavon. The walls were adorned in her drawings and paintings, and chalkboards were laden with Star Trek and Prince. Throughout her performance, she swam through memories, ranting, and raving, swirling between characters and moments of past and present. Memories bubbled to the surface and crashed, breaking and opening way for new ones. She did not separate her words from her movement, nor did she draw lines between performer and audience, joy and loneliness, science fiction and religion. All components flowed together to form a whirlpool of honest, embodied, Shavon.

The fluid feeling of this showing reflected much of what Shavon taught in her HPI class called “Mindful Making.” Each Tuesday afternoon, she would enter the Rear Studio and refresh the space with her fierce energy. She would generally begin class by checking in on her feelings after teaching a classroom of young humans. Sometimes she was bubbling with energy, other days she felt frustrated or frazzled. Either way, she would allow her emotions into the room, making it okay for us to do the same. Each class, she would feed us new tools for locating pleasure, honesty, and intuition in artmaking. Looking back at my written notes from her class, I found one from late September that said:

You don’t always need facts to back up intuition.
Practice intuition muscle so it doesn’t stop working.

A few lines down, I had written: 

Water lingers, gets into everything.
Right now there’s a lot of water in the world.
Oozing emotion and water.

A few weeks after Shavon’s performance, I had the opportunity to chat with her on a bench in Rittenhouse Square. It was a hot afternoon, and people strolled by slowly in a hot afternoon kind of way. We caught up on her day and mine, and her work and mine. Throughout our conversation, I was reminded of the fluid intuition she encouraged throughout HPI. I asked how, in the context of her project, does she remain so honestly Shavon and still allow for openness and not knowing what she wants. She replied that she focuses on the feelings she wants to feel rather than the things she wants to have. The universe works in twisting turning ways and won’t always give us what we want to have. But, we can set ourselves up in the universe to have options for feeling.

She said that she has no idea what she wants her final piece to look like. However, she knows how she wants to feel. She wants to feel proud. She wants to feel both witnessed and witnessing. She wants to feel like the center of attention.

This acknowledgement of desired feelings keeps her honest, and allows for openness, the ability to flow and adapt in many aspects of her work. In her current project, she has opened herself to working in different performance spaces that she wouldn’t have thought she’d want to work in, because she knows how to make them her own. By infiltrating the walls with Prince and deciding to perform in close proximity to her audience, she made Leah Stein’s studio “Shavon.” Throughout her performance, she takes inspiration from unique combination of bodies in the space, allowing new ways of feeling pride, connection, and pleasure to arise. Because she has tools for affirming herself and her feelings in many different settings among many different audiences, she can indulge in openness, in flotation, in watery intuition.

Shavon said that throughout her rehearsal process she would try to rehearse in a studio, the setting that had been scripted as the proper rehearsal setting. A few times after attempting to move in a studio and sitting against the wall doing nothing, she allowed herself to turn around and leave. She wanted to be in a space that inspired her, a space that was more “Shavon.” Sometimes her most inspiring rehearsals took place in a steaming hot shower.

In this spirit, I want to reflect on intuition in my own practice, in following feelings in the fluid, often confusing and frustrating state of not knowing what the a piece of art will become. Sometimes we stuck it out in Table on Table on Table rehearsals, allowing the unknown to take us somewhere, even if we knew that nothing we came up with would make it into the final showing. Other times, when the hot attic felt limited and overwhelming, I said, “let’s go drink ice water and eat fruit.”

Table on Table on Table flowed between podcast, theater, and dance, between worlds of the auditory and the kinetic. In rehearsals, Shreshth and I negotiated murky questions of logistics and power dynamics, questions that may lack a single correct answer. How do we approach working with a splintery, historic attic that stores heat like a sauna? In a story surrounding issues of queerness and immigration, what does it mean to embody characters that we don’t share experiences with? The process was messy. Wooden floors squeaked. Sweaty bodies slid off of one another. Sweaty bodies took pleasure in cold juicy watermelon and then sweat and slid some more.  

Now that my evenings are free of rehearsals and tech runs, my practice of intuition takes a slower pace. I’m reassessing how I spend my days and treat my body. I’m taking time to indulge, whether by attending more dance technique classes, or jumping into a cool swimming pool, or lying in front of a fan doing nothing. David wrote in the Quiet Circus blog, in relation to his artmaking lessons learned from Eiko, “being brave is not a matter of being powerful.” As I practice listening to watery intuition I realize that I can’t exercise complete control, but I can give myself options. Water works in twisting, turning, and surprising ways, and maybe part of being brave is not trying to contain water with my bare hands, but letting myself float in it. My body is comprised of mostly water, a luxurious, inspiring substance.

[photo by Sarah Marks Mininsohn from Glen Onoko Falls, PA]

 

 

An Echo Score: Finding Structure for Artmaking After HPI

By Sarah Marks Mininsohn ('17)

In my West Philly attic that smells of wood and roasted vegetables wafting from the kitchen below, twelve or so bodies sit in a circle. It is the first of two “Call for Collaborators” workshops that Shreshth Khilani and I would hold for the next iteration of Cabbage Head, a project that began at HPI this past fall. After sharing names and artistic interests, I introduce a version of a score I had learned over the summer, a score that would help us become familiar with the space and with one another in this new process.

We begin around the periphery of the attic. When drawn to do so, one person enters the space, and positions their body into a shape of their choosing, in this case, standing upright with hands on their shoulders, elbows sticking out. Gradually, others enter the space and imitate that shape, in relation to the original. The second person to enter stands close enough to touch elbows with the first, amplifying the shape in close proximity. A third person enters and imitates the shape on the far end of the space, drawing our awareness to the depth of the attic. Eventually, someone adds another shape, which might remain still, like the first, or move in a repeatable pattern. With this contrasting shape, we may choose between the two existing ideas. As the score continues, these two ideas pass through the filters of different bodies, like a game of telephone. Each idea changes the space. The original task of imitation soon unravels into interpretation. We may translate shapes into traveling pathways, or flip them upside down. We may introduce rhythms; feet thumping on wooden floorboards or elbows swimming in circles. As I lead the score to a close, the final image does not visibly include the original still shape. However, it echoes in the space, laying the foundation for what has developed.

When I graduated from college last May, I feared that I would no longer make dances without a school structure to support my creativity. My artmaking had thrived in college, a setting that provided performance dates and challenging assignments, and offered talented collaborators and abundant rehearsal space. Entering into HPI, I hoped to continue developing my choreographic practice. In this school-like setting, I would prepare for the impending cliff jump into life as an artist with no school at all.

HPI did impose structure. It provided me with deadlines, space, assignments, and collaborators. But HPI did not imitate college. It introduced performance practices I had never considered, as well as peers with very different interests and experiences from my own. So, the choreographic plan took unexpected turns, as it tangled with others’ ideas of how to use the resources offered by HPI. Shreshth Khilani and I began our hybrid dance/theatre/radio collaboration called Cabbage Head, combining our tools for choreography and directing. While the choreographic tools I had learned previously were foundational to Cabbage Head, this new process took me away from what I knew, into the realm of character work and narrative. Our combined process could no longer fit into the category of dance, nor could quite define it as theater. It became something unknown, unstable, and chaotic. By the final HPI showing of Cabbage Head and into showings of the piece in January, it culminated into some sort of cozy podcast listening party combined with movement, an experience with fragmented stories of memory, loss, and healing. I was energized to do more with this process we had at once worked rigorously to create and stumbled upon by accident.

After HPI and a few more showings of the piece, Shreshth and I continued to explore this process by applying it to new themes and stories. I no longer had the structure of college or HPI, but I held onto the echoes of those structures, and I had momentum. We were curious about involving more artists in the continuation of our work, animating my West Philly attic with many moving bodies. I also predicted that working with a large group would hold me accountable to thoroughly planning rehearsals. We held multiple movement and text workshops, enlivened by each guest artist who felt moved to wander into the space. These workshops became calls for committed collaborators, which became a group of nine people dedicated to regular rehearsals and the next iteration of the process, extrapolating from what Shreshth and I had developed during HPI.

Nobody has carved a path for me to follow, or written me directions, or given me a deadline, or done exactly what Shreshth and I are doing. This is hard for me because I take comfort in structure, organization, and accountability. Considering this new openness, I am thinking about how I transition from imitation to interpretation. How can I embrace new shapes, flip them upside down, and perform a chaotic unraveling of what I know how to do, as I build my own structures and processes? Throughout the next few months, I plan to gather stories of how HPI alum have found and created structures for their artmaking. If you’d like to talk to me about your experiences as I continue this blog, reach out!

 

Shavon Norris joins HPI Faculty

We are feeling lifted and excited to have Shavon Norris join our faculty this year and we hope to pass on that excitement and joy, so please read on about Shavon in her own words and find out more about her class Mindful Making. 

"This is where I'm from.

Thomas. Eva. Carmen. Maureen. Mimi. Kenneth. Randy. The tree. The names. The double Dutch jumpers. The curry goat eaters. The storytellers. My people are the loud ones. My people are Bronx. St. Croix and Antigua. My people hold secrets. My people tell hard truths. They love and they eat. My people are care takers. Healers. Prayers. Kneelers. Bowers. Tea drinkers. My people lay face down at altars. Welcome and hold. Remember and forget. My people look alike. Move alike. Sound alike. My people have full bodies. Full lips. My people are ancient. They are learning how to speak. They commit crimes. Create legacy and shift generational curses. My people are bound by Christianity. My people practice habits of white supremacy. My people are regal. Ratchet. And righteous. Savage. My people are silent criers. Historians. Remeberers. My people are now. My people are beautiful. My people are trying. My people are clever. Sharp and direct. Suffering. Surging and thriving. My people. My tree. My before. My above. My below. My in front of. My people are my people.

 

This is what I am.

I am Artist. Educator. Mover. Maker. Facilitator. Dreamer. Empath. Writer. Healer. Teacher. Wailer. Rager. Lover. Smiler. I am imagineering. I am passioning. I am Black. Brown. Pink. Bones. Blood. And Sweat. I am in the room and in the margin. I am light. I am lifting. I am shifting. I am being. I am pro no and pro me. I am caressing and touching my pleasure. Reaching for delight. Shining lighthouses on my flesh. Speaking truth and gentle. Remembering my native language. I'm growing my religion and my deities. My tribe and my heart dwellers. I'm building my temple. Birthing my gods in salt and moons. Claying statues in blood and flesh and sand. Making them. Making me. Hammered and loved. I am calling my angels and my dragons. My shame and my light. Calling up my tender and bruised and my extraordinary. Sitting them at the table and breaking bread. I am focused on my humanity.

 

This is what I do.

I create space that acknowledges and celebrates and explores the light.

We are full of light. Chi. Chakras. God. Goddess. Mother. Earth. Oshun. Fire. Kali. Water. Spirit. Soul. I create space to explore. Be curious. Look at our light with intention and purpose. Dialing it up or down. Our human inheritance. Our human right to be bright and blinding. Or go dim and invisible. Supernova this moment or slip into the background. Camouflage. Hide. We are deserving of the full expression of our divinity and vulnerability. 

 

This is what I do.

I create space that acknowledges and celebrates and explores difference.

We are different. The cadence in our voices. The pulse of our breathing. The soaring of our desires. The color of our dreams. The smell of our skin. Like the delicates of snowflakes. Finely and beautifully different. Birthed in unique. Gliding and floating. And then finding each other. Landing and gathering. Our different together. Sticking and staying. Living and being. In love. In family. In humanity. I work art create teach speak love in space to be curious about the different. Shaking assumption. Opening eyes. Making love to the new and the surprise. Our fingerprints. Our soul prints. We are deserving of the full expression of our divinity and vulnerability. 

 

This is what I do.

I create space that acknowledges and explores oppression.

Reflecting on how oppression helps us think we have little. Or no options. Oppression supports us limiting. Sabotaging. Restricting. Ourselves. And others. Encouraging us to say yes when we want to say. Hell no. Supporting us saying I can't. When our insides. When our ancestors. Dance and chant. Yes love. You can. Oppression says rage is for some. Fragility for others. Bliss for a few. This is what black be like. This is what woman looks like. This is the relationship between poverty and self worth. The is the story of happily ever after and forever. I work art create teach speak love in space that explores freedom and liberation. Our right to have access to the full landscape of our emotions. Thoughts. And dreams. Our right to fully express and be ourselves. To be fully embodied and awake. Or asleep. Our right to have choices so we can make choices. How you art. Learn. Love. Live. Be. Is choice. We are deserving of the full expression of our divinity and vulnerability. 

This is where I come from. This is what I am. This is what I do. I see. I dance. I chant. I bow. I wail. I rage. I move. I teach. I make. I bliss. I love. I soar. I land. Light. Lift. Shift. Be."

 

Want to learn more about Shavon?

Curious about Mindful Making?

 

cONSTELLATIONs

By Amelia Couderc (HPI '16)

Two weeks ago, we were given the prompt to bring in an object, a song, a video, and a text that piqued our interest, drew us in, or was somehow special to us. However,  the things we selected were not supposed to be statements about WHO WE ARE. But isn’t everything???

Anyway, these things made our constellations.

MY CONSTELLATION:

A metallic gold  wallet.
A reflector that fell off my bike.
A picture from a magazine from the perspective of Michael Phelps looking up from under the water of an olympic race.
A youtube video of a girl honking her arm at a huge steamship.
The song “Who Said” by Margaret Glaspy.

DAY 1 /2

We set up the studio with our mini-installations and toured the space like an art gallery. David had us each explain our constellation to the entire class. Then our constellations were grouped together.

  My group day 1: Logan Schulman and Carl(os) Roa

My group day 1: Logan Schulman and Carl(os) Roa

In our cluster, we were to dive into each constellation individually and experiment with what people brought to the assignment. Right away, our group “did it wrong”. Instead of  jumping into just one person’s constellation, we tumbled into an accumulation of all of our materials.

Our agreed starting point was the concept of cinematic techniques and “forced perspective” executed in live performance. Light/reflection and vanishing points were elements of my constellation that fed the group  concept.

  Me, Amelia, in the helmet

Me, Amelia, in the helmet

Logan came up with the idea of the space helmet as a tool to “frame” what an audience member saw. The duct tape was added to control the participators line of sight even further. Then, to make it so the participant was seeing something that we really controlled, we grabbed a wheely chair from the office. With both the chair and helmet, we could control the proximity, frame, and the movement of the frame of vision. Like navigating a person as a camera filming a movie.

Once the vehicle was built, we designed tableaus and scenes that the participant would “pan” across. The content of what the participant saw was pulled from all of our constellations.

We left this experiment considering additional cinematic techniques and what the content of the exploration might be...

DAY 3

We welcomed former test subject, Becca Khalil, to our group and  decided to try following the rules this time. All of the work with cinematic perspective was put on a backburner and we jumped into Becca’s constellation! Her  collection stirred up questions of giving secrets away, secrets/faces submerged in water, a fire belly burning with words, and a song.

So we gathered a bucket, slips of paper, and a Becca.

I was was drawn to how the secrets could hover in the water, not floating or sinking. You could still read them as they swirled around.

As we kept working, I noticed myself acting as the facilitator of Becca’s ideas. And, in that position, I never really questioned how I was implicated in the experiment. It was kind of a relief to be there solely as a supporter, but there was a point in the experiment when Becca dipped her head into the bucket of our secrets (not her’s) and I wondered if my secrets belonged in that bucket at all.

ALTHOUGH what came out at the end of the session was a really interesting submersion into one person’s concept. There was a lot of heat in being completely present in someone else’s realm of things, but still on the outside.

DAY 4

And then we  returned to the cinematic world of the space helmet. We found too much heat in our first concept to spend more time away from it (AND we wanted to invite Becca into that world). So we dove FULL OUT into aesthetic/design and lighting land.

I worked with Carl(os) on a tableau of a ship at sea in a rain storm, seen below.

  Not seen in the picture is caution tape raining down from the sky on the boat amongst the waves. 

Not seen in the picture is caution tape raining down from the sky on the boat amongst the waves. 

Becca and Logan worked on ways of manipulating light to create the atmosphere of our world. In the picture below you can  faintly see our second attempt at a vehicle for transporting the audience member through the space. As soon as the wheelchair entered the experiment, Becca brought to the attention of the group the implication of using a wheelchair in performance with regards to those who have disabilities and navigate the world in wheelchairs. We all agreed that it’s important for the wheelchair to be a thoroughly considered element of the piece (especially if it makes it into a performance of some sort). This made us realize that we don’t quite know WHAT THIS IS ABOUT?! If a wheelchair doesn’t make sense, then it doesn’t make sense and we don't use it. If it does, then we might transform the wheelchair into something else.  But WHAT?! iS? tHIS? about? Do we have to come to a consensus? 

All food for the next meeting.

OR we might move on to another constellation…

(That’s what happens.)

 

 

Zoe Richards in The Taming of the Beast

Then I saw the Reject Theatre Project'sSHREW, director Christine Freije's playful yet harrowing "feminist reaction," and I realized I had blithely accepted bullshit because I've accepted Shakespeare's reputation for exalted timeless wisdom, and want to believe that we've finally grown past his misogynistic era.

Arielle Pina in the FringeArts Festival

Arielle Pina in the FringeArts Festival

Headlong Performance Institute alums are making us proud this Festival! Check out this great review of Arielle Pina's ('14) piece "Unarmed".