January 4, 2017
Getting Back in the Saddle
The Day Before….
During our weekly meeting on Tuesday January 3rd, Jonathan and Sherri process the myriad emotions Jonathan experiences with regard to his upcoming solo at his sister-in-law’s studio showcase. Given the limited time he has to practice his piece, Jonathan fears he won’t be rehearsed enough. Insufficient preparation could result in him going on stage riddled with doubts – and regrets.
Yet, he acknowledges his work doesn’t need to be perfect; it just needs to be “good enough.” Prompted by Sherri, Jonathan fleshes out his concept of what a “good enough” performance means to him. On the most fundamental level, he needs to get through the dance without making choreographic mistakes. The basic structure of the dance must be set and committed to, at least for this production; he has to know the steps well enough that he doesn’t have to actually think about them during the performance. On a more complex level, he must ensure he emotionally understands the arc of the dance. Once the choreography becomes muscle memory, Jonathan can immerse himself in the essence of the work.
Jonathan doesn’t feel the need to analyze every qualitative nuance, but wants to be sure he has a “star to follow;” in essence, he needs to connect with his authentic inclinations as a performer and his sincerest intentions for the piece and allow them to guide his performance choices.
Making room for spontaneity, Jonathan is “prepared for strange and interesting things to happen on stage.” Surprises don’t have to be disasters – they can be wonderful. Most of all, he wants the entire dance to be a rich, meaningful experience for himself and the audience.
Sherri and Jonathan analyze the multiple layers of meaning this performance holds for Jonathan, given his present context. As a professional dancer and choreographer who has worked with elite companies and colleagues, Jonathan is accustomed to engagement in large-scale projects. Accordingly, his participation in these efforts has typically required a tremendous physical and emotional investment. However, his current context – full-time parent with extremely limited time to devote to artistic pursuits – makes it impossible to operate at such a demanding level.
It is not surprising, then, that Jonathan feels as if he’s on an emotional rollercoaster thinking about doing this small-scale show. On the one hand, it is rather disconcerting to know that his preparation is “not on the same level of ‘ramp up’” as it would be for a big show. On the other hand, he is inclined to give this small performance all of his passion and as much effort as his context allows.
Given that this work is infused with tremendous emotional significance, it certainly merits proper preparation. This is the first piece he has made since the birth of his daughter, now 2 years old, and the passing of his father last year. Through this work, he explores the profound changes and emotional impact of these life-altering events. It is his first solo in 8 years and his first time performing in 6 years. The solo also represents a big choreographic departure for Jonathan: it progresses at a painstaking pace and is propelled by simple movements stripped of anything extraneous. This is not the usual development of character and story that is central to his other works. Jonathan can’t predict audience reaction since the piece is an experiment on so many levels.
Therefore, “pulling it off” would be particularly satisfying...while “failure” would be devastating. Toward that end, Jonathan tries to “anchor” himself more by giving himself a “bigger net to fall into.”
As he further contemplates the bigger picture here, Jonathan acknowledges that the show represents his re-entry into performing and serves as Second Story’s first public presentation. Therefore, he decides that this will either be done well – or not at all. There is no outside pressure to perform, so he can easily bow out of the show if it doesn’t feel right. This “back door” would normally be attributed to “quitting” and “failing”, but here, Jonathan sees it as a responsible option for the integrity of his work and his health. Moreover, this solo is an important vehicle through which he emotionally processes key themes of sadness, uncertainty, loss and rebirth. He continues to gain insight into the meaning of these emotional experiences every time he works on the piece. The more he understands the feelings he wants to convey, the clearer he is about his choreographic choices.
What is also helpful at this time is remembering that even though he has been experimenting with new choreographic ideas, if HE ISN’T HAPPY with an artistic choice, he doesn’t need to wait for other’s feedback to confirm it. This is all about HIS choices and HIS artistic taste.
Jonathan also acknowledges shifts in perceptions and ways of operating outside the studio that are helping him feel more grounded. He is better able to let go of a lot of expectations of himself as a father. The more he connects with what he believes is truly important in his parenting role, the better able he is to let go of perfectionistic expectations of his kids. In doing so, he is finding a greater appreciation for his children and his role as a parent. He is also better able to be present and whimsical in his interactions with his kids. Almost counter-intuitively, when he acknowledges that his true nature is to put his children first – it’s not just a social obligation – he is more relaxed with his other responsibilities and personal projects. When it comes to his choreography, he is then more patient between rehearsals and more present during them.
Moreover, when confronted with others’ expectations of him, Jonathan is more proactive about clarifying and evaluating these “requirements” and setting necessary boundaries. This is tricky for him because honoring his own needs in this way can mean he doesn’t fulfill the other person’s expectations. Rather than slipping into self-blame, he is beginning to realize that it is not an issue of right or wrong. It is simply a situation in which each person has a different set of needs. The challenge is to allow these conflicting needs to co-exist.
Happy New Year! Group members enjoy reconnecting after a week’s vacation. Unfortunately, Lauren is unable to join the reunion as Parker is sick. Given the upcoming Marin Luther King Day performance, the dancers dedicate today’s rehearsal to practicing Jonathan’s solo and Lorena’s solo for the show. Mandy will help her colleagues as needed and rehearse her own solo sections of both Lorena’s and Jonathan’s works.
Jonathan leads a rather mellow warm-up as he shifts Eliza back and forth in his arms. We know Eliza wants a continual connection with dad, but we suspect she also loves the facsimile of an amusement park ride.
When the dancers transition to stretches on the floor, Eliza finds new avenues for fun: using dad’s yoga position as a tunnel, taking flying leaps on her prone father, and doing laps around Jonathan when he is upright again.
Mandy has brought in toys for Eliza and Sebastian that her own sons have outgrown. We’ll take anything that provides a few more precious minutes of distraction!
Sebastian tests out one of the toys for a bit while Lorena warms up, but his true objective is getting into mom’s arms, just like his pal Eliza is doing with Jonathan. Both kids are loving the rides!
Moving on to the next destination on her agenda, Eliza leads her dad by a finger to the toys so she can play and have Jonathan at the same time. Sherri slips in to facilitate a “dance of the 7 veils” with Eliza so Jonathan can return to his warm-up. Sebastian resists joining in as he is having a hard time separating from mom today. Lorena explains that he misses his father now that he is back to work after a week’s vacation.
The dancers then work on across-the -floor sequences, making adjustments for holding Eliza and Sebastian.
Time to get serious. Jonathan, Lorena and Mandy each utilize a third of the studio to practice their respective solos. Fortunately, both kids are able to play independently for a little while. Mandy reviews a recent video of Jonathan’s piece to help recall and reproduce intricate hand and arm gestures. As Lorena progresses through her dance, she notes areas she would ideally like to adjust; however, given time limitations, she will likely stick to the choreography in its present form. In contrast, Jonathan tests ways to incorporate new choreographic ideas that are emerging in the studio today. These adjustments are an outgrowth of an increasing clarification of intention, so even though he did not set out to make changes, he feels they are truly organic and necessary.
It is now time to rehearse Jonathan’s piece with music on the stereo. Sherri gently peels a crying Eliza away from her dad to enable him to do a run-through. Mandy observes, then processes with Jonathan details of his dance. Together, they consider one of the choreographic changes Jonathan is contemplating. Ultimately, Jonathan decides to go with the original version.
Next, Lorena dances her piece with music from the stereo. Both Mandy and Jonathan observe and offer Lorena qualitative notes.
Sherri carries Eliza into another room and seeks ways to entertain her so Jonathan can run through his piece without distraction. Lorena has a similar opportunity to focus on her full 6-minute run-through as Sebastian plays with toys on the floor next to her.
The dancers conclude the session with further discussion about both solos. Jonathan explains that his goal is to communicate a “slow burn” and a “steady progression” in this work. He also acknowledges that even though he originally created the solo for dancer Maggie Bradley, the piece evolved from his own mental and emotional explorations. This gives him emotional and theatrical freedom as he dances his own creation.
Sherri Muroff Kalt, founder of Process Portraits, LLC and author of Portrait of an Artistic Journey: The Creative Process in Real Life Context, is a Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude graduate of Duke University with a B.A. in psychology. She began her career in marketing and sales in New York City with L’Oréal, Monet Jewelers, and Givenchy. READ MORE