|Below is a project proposal that Maridee Slater and I wrote in 2012 and we came close to receiving a Creative Capital grant. The project did not come to fruition as Maridee entered the MFA directing program at Columbia University and I moved to Europe. We spoke on the phone today about this idea and will continue to research its possible future iterations. Below the text are some ideas and questions that I have about the project. I am posting this idea because I want people to steal it if they see fit. I think this kind of work is vital right now for all the inhabitants of the USA. I am sure it is not perfect, but I am hoping it will inspire.
American Dreams Project (as of yet, unrealized) with Maridee Slater
Pitch to Creative Capital in 2012
We plan to invigorate myriad American communities, both urban and rural, through research and creation with those communities. For each community we visit, we will generate a piece for and with that place and people. The culmination of these explorations is the final production set to premier in 2014.
Please tell us about your project in longer detail, including the final form that it will take.
Inspired by and pulling from the structure of Italo Calvino’s Invisibles Cities, this project is an exploration of the cities we inhabit and their effects on our individual and shared lives in the US. Invisible Cities is the fictional tale of Marco Polo’s travel through Kublai Khan’s seemingly collapsing Empire. Similarly, we will travel through The United States, examining what it means to be an American today and how the American Dream has and can evolve. The modern Empire of the US is made up of an eclectic mix of cultures. We hope to illuminate what it means to be an American by uniting that diversity with a gift of hope for a shared future. By nature, America is a country of immigrants. Where do our cities and pasts meet? How do our personal past cities come together? What new systems of communication and ways of existing in the world manifest when worlds of the past collide. The United States was built on the foundation of hope for a better life in a new land. We intend to restore that hope, and renew that land. The final project will be the culmination of these explorations of American Places. Each place we explore will be represented as a section of the final work. In the ultimate piece, we will juxtapose rural areas with urban cities, the conflicting ideals of manifest destiny, and America’s place in the global future.
How does your project take an original and imaginative approach to content and form? Please be as specific as possible.
The work is a collection of many independent pieces (or modules) that are capable of standing on their own. When these modules collide, they will form an opus. Each module will exist as its own world, coming together in the final piece to create a new world. This structure is a metaphor for American culture. The content for the individual worlds will be gathered and generated in specific places with members of various communities through a deep exploration of their traditions in modern society. Materials drawn from will include poetry, music, dance, interviews, architecture, environment, folklore, fashion and mythos.
What kind of impact-artistic, intellectual, communal, civic, social, etc.-do you hope your project will have?
We hope to bring local communities together and inspire in them a sense of being a part of something important and possible. By investigating and questioning the state of the American Dream, we hope to generate a new sense of what it means to be American. We want to bring the city to the country and the country to the city. By encouraging acceptance of communal diversity through the creation of art, we hope to create new ways of coexisting in each of the places we visit. We hope to encourage questions instead of giving answers.
Reflections after talking to Maridee on 2/10/17:
Fund and create a beta project in a couple of locations around the country in order to do the following:
Create templates for community engagement theatre projects using the following devices:
Follow-up with this:
create touring productions based on these experiences
I would appreciate any resources or leads that you might have of people already doing this or wanting to do this. If you want to help fund the beta project – please get in touch!
Again, if you are reading this and are inspired to act – go do it. The more caravans touring the country and engaging body to body with students and communities, the better!
About one year ago, I wrote this post, but didn’t publish it.
action is physical
In October of 2015, I made a big decision to uproot myself temporarily from the Netherlands.
I have since moved to Earthdance in Plainfield, MA to work as a volunteer. I have been here several times before for various workshops and residencies. While I was living in New York, I dreamed of coming here to stay for awhile, but just didn’t allow myself to make such an action. I felt I had to keep plodding along in NYC as a dance-artist and costume-maker. I have finally allowed myself to live here, in a place so reminiscent of the countryside where I grew up, and to come ‘home’. In addition to working as the Marketing and Development volunteer, I am also able to take part in the creative working and living experiment here. Additionally, there are three beautiful studios that I can use on my off hours to develop my daily practice.
Since leaving NYC three years ago bound for the Netherlands, I have let go of a lot of unnecessary baggage. A lot of this has been in my body’s holding patterns, but a lot of it is also external. I own very little stuff these days, and don’t miss the idea of having a permanent home. I don’t love the moving around, but once I arrive, I enjoy the constantly changing environments. I realized my lust for nomadism in 2015 having spent very few periods longer than 6 weeks in any one place.
I have been questioning my desire to create art products and have become obsessed with being present with my body, my mind, my emotions. 2014-15 ushered in a new period in my life when I became a dedicated meditator. I sat two Vipassana courses in Europe and have seen a great improvement in my mental, physical, emotional, and energetic self. I also quit drinking which has encouraged my body into an accelerated awareness and healing. I find I can feel a great stillness when everything around me is quick and stressful. And when I am standing in the forest, I feel the quickening inside of myself, the infinite amount of movement that I already possess. And I begin to actively ask myself the questions What makes me move? and what makes me become still?
These questions came up last weekend while I was taking an Authentic Movement Workshop with Susan Schell and Shakti Saudeh here at Earthdance. This was an incredibly healing workshop, revealing to me the power that my body possesses. The power of imagination and the knowledge of the body in action. This action is physical and whether it takes me through a room slowly or around the globe, quickly, I begin to see revealed again, the idea of a morality behind action. While here in a slow place each movement affects another and I must stand with each action. I must witness and allow myself to see the other and to be seen witnessing myself. I must try to understand what it means to support. And maybe through this practice, there will be a path before me, revealed. A path of right action moving through the world with this life.
I chose to leave the Netherlands permanently in May for a job at Earthdance that did not last very long. That story is complex. The short of it is that I live again in the United States and feel, partially because of my experience in a live/work artist retreat center and partially because of the 2016 election results, more activated than ever.
Perhaps that path I’ve been looking for is revealing itself at last.
Artists Rise Up!
Women Rise Up!
Care Rise Up!
Happy New Year 2017.
As I was describing my move from NYC to the Netherlands to everyone that asked, I kept hearing myself finish the explanation with the sentence, “It’s an experiment.” I think I could sense people’s worry or concern (or my own worry and concern) about what I was going to do or how I was going to do it, and I added this word as a kind of defense. It made it seem lighter.
As in, “It’s no big deal.” – Deborah Hay (If you know her, you know she loves an experiment!)
Of course, what loomed behind this defense was the description of the risk. I was screaming in my head, “I DON’T KNOW IF IT’S THE RIGHT THING OR WRONG THING TO DO OR IF THAT IS EVEN HOW I SHOULD THINK ABOUT IT. I HAVE A LIST OF EVIDENCE THAT MAYBE I AM WANTED AND NEEDED OVER THERE BY PEOPLE I LOVE AND REALLY WANT TO WORK WITH, OPPORTUNITIES THAT I CAN’T PASS UP – OPPORTUNITIES I MIGHT NEVER BE OFFERED IF I STAY IN NYC OR EVEN AMERICA.”(the voice starts to turn on me) “OH YEAH! AND YOU THINK YOU CAN MANAGE THIS CRAZY PROCESS OF ASKING ANOTHER COUNTRY IF YOU CAN STAY? AND YOU ARE GOING TO START A COMPANY? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! GOOD LUCK!” (Ouch. But wait. Hope comes back. Yelling continues) “BUT IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE! I DON’T REALLY KNOW WHY! DO I HAVE TO? JUST SAY YES! AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS. I CAN’T KNOW UNLESS I TRY, RIGHT? IT’S AN EXPERIMENT!”
Aren’t these conversations with the self great? The emotions, the doubts, the hopes all swirling around.
But now as I slowly emerge on the other side, I can’t help but to look more closely. Was this actually an experiment?
Well, according to trusty old Wikipedia – an experiment is an orderly procedure carried out with the goal of verifying, refuting, or establishing the validity of a hypothesis.
So… the hypothesis. What was that? Did it revolve around being successful or finding opportunity? Yes, but perhaps not directly. On a deeper level, it is to practice and share art, full time, with the added experiment of moving to a new location. Orderly procedure – I came here, I applied for a visa, was granted a visa for the next two years and am set up to work as a freelancer. And the main bit, the art practice? Yes, it is happening. I am part of starting a theatre company, my mind is running with ideas and curiosity, some of them finding their way onto the page or into my body and into conversations with collaborators, and I am teaching classes regularly.
So, that’s a relief. I wasn’t lying to all of you! It was an experiment after all! And as one of my great teachers, Barney O’Hanlon, pointed out one day in class last year, “Deborah, you are an experimenter, aren’t you?”
YES! YOU CAUGHT ME! I am a Practicing Experimenter. And that’s a label I can get behind! Maybe I should put it on my (non-existent) business card.
There’s this other phenomena that when something ends – for example, this particular experiment, a loss is felt. And I am endlessly fascinated by these endings and the fact that when something ends one just has to look closely to see what else is still happening and how that ending might help contextualize what happens next. For me, this is the practice.
So what does it mean to practice? Wikipedia? “Practice is the act of rehearsing a behavior over and over, or engaging in an activity again and again, for the purpose of improving or mastering it, as in the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’. The word derives from the Greek praktike, feminine of praktikos, ‘fit for or concerned with action, practical’ and that from the verb prasso,’to achieve, bring about, effect, accomplish’.
Thank you, Martha! And it is about learning. period. I experiment so that I can make the space to learn. This word experiment gives me perspective and makes decisions seem lighter, more do-able, but not careless. They are experiments with my life after all!
Here’s a new hypothesis: We are all experimenters. Something’s not working? Try something else. Albert Einstein – “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Oh, and since I brought up Einstein, I have another hypothesis that I am a scientist disguised as a dancer. I think maybe it has something to do with reading a book about physics for research and studying psychology to better understand how people choose and also my deeper study of the work of Francois Delsarte (1811-1871) who stated the following:
“Science is the possession of a criterion of examination against which no fact protests. Art is the generalization and application of it.”
I’ll be making more hypotheses — About art, collaborating, teaching, living. I’ll tell you about them. Please tell me about yours.
And finally, a dedication, an ending — as yogi’s do, I am dedicating my practice in the foreseeable future to my beautiful and inspiring friend, the yogi, dancer, and choreographer, Lynn Marie Ruse, who passed away at the beginning of September. In an e-mail after we performed solos of Deborah Hay on her East Village roof in 2009, she wrote these words, “I am…in heaven. What a lovely night. And now the rain–so intoxicating I can’t sleep…it’s clearly love–dance, and its endless hold on me.”
This week I became a sole-proprietor, or an Eenmanszaak, here in the Netherlands and am officially doing business as Deborah Black Dance & Theatre. The very nice woman at the Chamber of Commerce (Kamer van Koophandel) read my name incorrectly, asking me, “what is Black Dance?” She realized quickly that Black is my last name and jokingly said, “I thought maybe African dance, but was confused by that while looking at you.” About a decade ago, my roommate, Laura Peterson, would discuss how I couldn’t really use my last name + Dance Company like other choreographers often do for obvious reasons. And oh, there I went doing it anyhow.
The point is – get your champagne flutes ready – I’ve been to the City Hall, Immigration Office, Chamber of Commerce, and bank. My procedure is moving forward.
HAHAHA!! YIPPEEE!! WOOT WOOT!! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! CLINK CLINK SMILE!
Actually it has just begun. I just opened a business. IN ANOTHER COUNTRY!!!
The fears of failure and old habits creep in, so as a soothing device, I read over the Goat Island Performance Group’s Letter to a Young Practitioner – “Don’t labor under the burden of importance.”
Followed by remembering a mantra of choreographer Deborah Hay – “What if it’s no big deal?”
I exhale and decide to accept these fears and habits that are always present. My studio practice helps me to realize this and give me a lighter perspective. Just when I think I have broken my habits I find a new one that I just hadn’t seen before.
“I cannot teach without you teaching me.” – Goat Island.
“The body as the teacher” – Deborah Hay
The thing I love most about being human is our ability to change. Society asks us to choose a path and stay on it, to be predictable. People come to expect this of others, but I absolutely love watching someone transform. And as difficult as it can be (believe me, I know what it is like to be stuck), I love to watch it in myself. I feel comfort to know it is possible. Because my ideal self translates this microcosmic phenomena into the macrocosm. Imagine what is possible!
An overly friendly banker opened an account for me this week. He remarked at a certain point how great it is that people can take what they love and make a business out of it. And to finish his sentence – “because the capitalist culture at large sees what you do as a hobby.” (sigh.) For me, being a practicing artist is an inseparable part of my being. It transcends the market.
But it doesn’t! Just like my last name doesn’t escape the image of race.
Here’s Goat Island again – “…we are informing ourselves through what we have learnt along the many interruptions and decisions we have reached until the point at which we can be decisive to be a practitioner, within the particular field of the arts we have chosen.”
Deborah Hay again – “Step up to it.”
And so I am. Because this business allows me to do what I am. The bureaucratic procedure has been like a rite of passage. And the running of a business will continue this challenge between being and doing. I will take it as a gift.
“When you start to think of the arts as not this thing that is going to get you somewhere in terms of becoming an artist or becoming famous or whatever it is that people do, but rather a way of making being in the world not just bearable, but fascinating, then it starts to get interesting again.” -Lynda Barry
I become tired of the newsfeed on Facebook. I rarely post anything there, but often become distracted by all the memes that appear. Most of the time, I look back on what I write or post and delete it, because I don’t like the record that it leaves. It’s seems unconscious.
But I’d like all my friends who are far away (or even close by) to have an update on what is going on during my big life change. And it has been about 7 weeks since I’ve posted (and many blog posts have also gone in the trash). So here’s a brief update.
In March I went to London. I had a ‘fantastic’ time getting over the border. Those UK border patrol officers really know how to grill a person. I imagine, though, they aren’t quite as good as those in the US. There’s no fingerprinting or eye scanning or renditions (well… at least not for me.)
In London, I met Mark Jones who is an Alexander teacher and has an interest in the work of Delsarte. He took me to the British museum and we looked at and talked about the sculptures there and I explained to him some basic principles of the 19th Century Frenchmen, who is becoming more and more associated with the beginnings of most mind/body/spirit practices (including Alexander – in fact, Alexander was originally a teacher of Delsarte). We also went to the Alexander teacher training program that was started by Walter Carrington. It was great to experience this way of working with Alexander. I have really only worked with the great June Ekman who was a student of Marjorie Barstow (both Carrington and Barstow trained directly with Alexander). I was surprised that they didn’t talk much at all about what they were doing. The education came from the hands (and the minds). It was great fun and I felt re-vitalised afterwards. Mark and I spent hours talking about Alexander and Delsarte and their connections. I even gave him a couple of basic classes.
I also saw friends – Genevieve Grady who I met in 2007 working with Deborah Hay and then worked with in 2008 in Germany and the UK. Also, Heather Inglis who I lived with in New York for many years – she also danced for me in my early years of choreographing. I stayed with Natasha Nixon on the last night along with Iris Nikolaou. We started talking about dance and movement and what is the difference. (And a project was born…..)
I got on a train to Wales with Arjan Gebraad (NL), Jef van Gestel (BE), and Joana Pupo (P). Wales is beautiful, full of sheep and mountains and seascapes. I was training with the SITI Company – Barney O’Hanlon and Ellen Lauren – at the Centre for Performance Research in Aberystwyth. Two weeks of Suzuki and Viewpoints, movement and speaking, and Composition. The depth and breadth of what I find in this training is always surprising. I never have the experience I think I will have, but always learn something new about myself.
One day a seagull stole my lunch.
Another day we ran from the beautiful starling murmation that, well, rains shit if you are unlucky enough to get caught under it!
Iris performed a butoh piece on the beach of Aberystwyth about Eurynome,the wide- wanderer, Goddess of all things.
Then I went back through London to Brussels and back to Holland.
Since then I have been training and dancing as much as possible as well as working on my visa application. My immigration meeting is next week….
Also next week, I go to Belgium to work with Roel Swanenberg, Arjan Gebraad, Jef van Gestal, and Karolien Verlinden. I am looking forward to a little more than a week together of training and work and sitting on the back porch of the villaI missed a million things, but I am still here in Holland, enjoying the spring, navigating its emotional ups and downs, and also those of relocation.
(is there anything you would like to hear more about from this post? I take requests….)
This is a video assignment from Janouke Goosen.
Theme: Courtship Display
Time: max. 10 minutes
Only live sound (it can be instruments, text, singing, sounds)
Locations: No restrictions.
Emphasize: Spatial Relationship
I was completely turned off and stumped by this assignment, but then I realized I could use it to think about my “break – up” with New York.
The end result is very personal.
It was filmed in Staten Island one or two weeks before Hurricane Sandy. The text is from the Barenaked Ladies.
I played this song over and over on my ipod as I was leaving New York. It is an old favorite from the mid-nineties. It has equal parts anger, sadness, melancholy, and beauty. All things I feel about my life in NYC and it made me feel strong and brave and powerful…. you know, kind of sappy.
I loved going to Staten Island in the final year of living in New York. Taking the free ferry ride made me feel liberated. I would go there just to sit and stare at the city from a distance, so happy to have so easily escaped the madness. One night I was with Maridee Slater and I said to her, “do you want to do something really crazy?” and she agreed to take a ride on the ferry. We missed the next one back to Manhattan and she treated me to chocolate frozen yogurt with chocolate chips. This became my frequent $3 getaway.
This weekend I will make another film with Janouke, Arjan Gebraad, and Judith Sleddens in an empty office building in Den Haag. I look forward to sharing that soon.
And, yes, editing this video made me miss NYC a little bit…..
I have found myself in a pattern of writing the business plan for my visa, training and spending time with friends, and traveling from city to city. And, I have to say, I am struggling with this blog post. Everything I write feels boring. Maybe it is the studying of balance sheets and profit and loss statements, but the excitement of being here has subsided and as I draft the plan, the reality of the situation is setting in.
I am reminded of this poem that I read on the L train on my way home from training with Yanghee Lee in Bushwick in January.
Voyager (Mary Ruefle)
I have become an orchid
washed in on the salt white beach
What can I make of it now
that might please you –
this life, already wasted
and still strewn with
I look forward to creating with collaborators, teaching, research for my own interests, and becoming settled, but until then I step forward, slowly, steadily.
In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility. –Eleanor Roosevelt