Megan Quinn: From dramaturg to dancer

megphotoLast year, when Gina and RealLivePeople made The Jobs Project. I served as the dramaturg (the role Jenna now plays). This year, I am performing in Would I Lie to You? Creative adviser versus performer: there are some obvious differences between these two roles. As a dramaturg, I attended rehearsals sitting down with my notebook. I took notes, made observations, and served as a sounding board for Gina. As a dancer, I attend rehearsals to rehearse. I learn and practice material, engaging in the physicality of lying. There are obvious constants as well: same dance company, still run by Gina and still in a dance studio, most often the Latvian society. But the way I enter and experience rehearsals is very different.

When I was a dramaturg I saw my role as keeping an eye on the overall structure and consistency of the piece. I made connections between various sections, I noticed how details applied to the theme (the many faces of jobs) and I helped Gina plan the arc of the piece from beginning to end. This year, as a performer, I am focused on the details and my contribution to the work. I am constantly asking myself how I am able to support the theme of lying, through movement and personal narrative. The difference is a bit like moving from seeing the forest to focusing on the trees. As a dramaturg, I worked hard on observing the information and physicality presented by the dancers. It was important to relate to the work, so that I had valuable insights. But the focus was on seeing others. As a dancer, I need to put myself in the work. The focus is on what I can contribute, physically and creatively.

Gina does ask her dancers to be mentally and creatively involved and so in that way, there is not a solid line between performer and creative contributor. In both roles, I need to find and use the best way for my strengths to be present and useful. But as a dramaturg, I used strength of observing, connecting and articulating, and as a dancer I now am trying to use the strength of being open to share and create, applying both my personality and dance technique to the work.

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What it’s like: Dramaturgy for Dance

Jenna_HeadshotBy Jenna Stelmok, Dramatrug

I’m incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to dance. In fact, I spent one of the most formative years of my life (age 3) falling down in a glittery tutu.

When I first met Gina Hoch-Stall and interviewed for the position of dramaturg for Would I Lie to You?, my primary concern was not having enough experience in dance to provide real assistance to the project. While I have dramaturgy and theatrical experience, I didn’t know the difference between battements and a port de bras (I still don’t, I just looked up those terms online), let alone how to express a story through movement. Still, Gina and I hit it off and wrapped our meeting quickly with a “Let’s do this!”

But as I’ve attended rehearsals for RealLivePeople, I’ve slowly gained more of an understanding on the creation of a dance piece. I struggled in the beginning with dropping my logical and narrative-based approach, and opening myself to a physical, more free-form type of expression. Allowing my mind to be open to the movement onstage in front of me, and connecting with the dancers’ impulses and ideas, has become a fantastic experience in engaging with others’ stories. Furthermore, RealLivePeople is the most accessible dance company I’ve seen, offering work that may be fully understood by “normal” (i.e. non-dance) folk.

Photo: Lindsay Browning

Photo: Lindsay Browning

The dancers, while technically proficient and skilled, are not stuffy or traditional; their stories and impulses are clear, raw, and immediately visible the moment they move. Since this is an ensemble-based piece with every dancer contributing new material, Would I Lie to You? is additionally packed with a wide variance of personal (hi)stories and opinions on what it means to tell a lie. Expressed with minimal text, the piece instead explodes with body language and movement to be interpreted by an audience through their personal views.

I was asked what it’s like to work as a dramaturg for a dance company for this blog, and my first inclination was to try and explain all of the unexpected variances between this project and any dramaturgy I’ve done in the past. Then, I received the instructions “It doesn’t have to be crazy long, or too complex. Just honest.” Honestly, working as a dramaturg for this dance company been one of the most engaging artistic experiences I’ve had. It’s has opened my mind to an entirely new form of storytelling and dialogue. I’ve learned how to experiment and create art with only your body as a tool, and what it means to take a physical risk.

Working with this dance company has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to put yourself onstage, with no significant filter between you and your audience, and share your world with others. Working with these dancers has been real, explosive, and bursting with honest expression— at least, I think it has…

Would I lie to you? Definitely.

LBrowningPhotography10

Photo: Lindsay Browning

Would I lie to you?, like previous work by RealLivePeople, is an exploration of our sense of identity and common humanity. But this time it’s all about lying: who we lie to, when do we lie most often and how we feel about it?

Rather than asking these personal questions to strangers we’ve stayed a bit closer to home: each of the dancers started the process vigilantly (and not so vigilantly) tracking his or her lies and reporting them back to the group. From there I conducted an interview with each dancer about their lying habits – the text from these interviews will form a large portion of the sound score for the piece.

What we’ve learned so far is surprising (and also not): pretty much everyone lies all the time but we feel really differently about it. Some dancers believe that their lives would be better if they never lied while others believe that lying is a necessary part of many of their relationships and interactions – it keeps thing cordial. Along with the moral pondering there are also discussions about cheating, familial patterning, text/email deceit, chronic exaggeration and long term self delusion. It’s kind of juicy.

Oh, and there’s dancing:

lie rehearsal video screenshot

Atypical Day

By Sara Nye, Dancer

There is a piece of the Jobs Project that, in rehearsal, we call the Typical Day section. It is an amalgamation of many different interviewees describing snatches of their ‘typical day.’ Thus far we have approached this section choreographically by creating a tight improv structure that governs our movement choices and involves the handful of us taking turns and moving only when a new person in the sound score speaks. We are slowly becoming accustomed to hearing various interviewees talk about what a typical day in their work life entails. We are learning not only what they say but how they say it and matching our movement to their vocal inflections. We try to anticipate when the score will shift to a new speaker. I find this task very satisfying, as it organizes the dancers in a clear way and I love following patterns in dance, both as a watcher and practitioner.

I have begun thinking more about how this section relates to my working life because, in a recent rehearsal, Gina asked us to incorporate movement grounded in tasks from our own jobs. I struggled to find something ‘typical’ because each of my work days is different from the others. This fact will not ultimately matter for the execution of this task: I can choose any work task from any of my jobs and it will work in the context of the piece, but that initial struggle opened up a line of thought that would not stop pestering me. Surely no one has two work days that are exactly the same? There are similarities, but no one does the exact same thing every day. Then I thought, let me think outside the workplace – is there any one thing that I have done every single day for, say, a year?

Bike. No, not when I’m travelling, or when my bike is in the shop. Check my email. No, thank God. Talk to my husband. No, I think there have been small trips we’ve taken apart where we didn’t talk every day. Leave my apartment. No, there have been days where I’ve stayed home. More basic. Eat. Yes – here we go. I have eaten something every day. Walk. Yes, I have walked around my home, at the very least. Breathe, smell, see, sleep. Yes, I am lucky enough to have done all of these things every day. But if I dial back my personal history further, even some of these go away. When I was a baby, I did not walk. When I was in college, there were days I did not sleep.

My journey down this rabbit hole of technicality is mostly an interesting thought experiment I created for my own enjoyment, but it helped me see the Typical Day section, and also my own work days, in a new light. Because compared to what I just learned about myself, most of my days are actually atypical, no matter how typical they seem. Every day is unique. Kind of a refreshing thought.

Meet Molly! She is ready to teleport.

As a company we spend endless hours rehearsing, giggling and sharing our lives and we wanted to share a bit of ourselves with you. Rather than posting tired bios with stats and degrees, each company member created questions for another.

Molly fish face

Photo Credit Lindsay Browning

Interviewer: David Konyk

Interviewee: Molly Jackson

1. Do you feel any connection to the Jackson 5?

I don’t know if it is the last name connection, the initials connection (MJ ❤ MJ), or the sweet dance moves connection, but yes….yes I do. One of the first CD’s that I became obsessed with as a young kid was “Kid Rock”. It featured classic hits such as “Rockin’ Robin”, “Who Put The Bop in the Bop Shoo Bop”, “Chantilly Lace”, “Red Rubber Ball” and or course “ABC” by the Jackson 5. I listened to this album until it was so worn in that it would barely play anymore. To this day, every time I hear the Jackson 5, I feel like I’m 5 years old again. ABC, easy as 123! These songs completely formed me into the young lady I grew up to be. A 60’s baby at heart.

2. Without thinking about it, what is the first song to pop into your head right now?

Well, I’m listening to music right now, so I’m not sure that I can answer this question honestly. I had a gig dancing at Sister’s Nightclub last night, so I suppose my brain is on pop song overload right now. I’m cleansing myself with some Velvet Underground radio of Spotify. It is an absolutely amazing station…you should give it a try.

3. Was the answer to question 2 by the Jackson 5?

Now that you mention it, I think I’m sensing an awkward and slightly terrible mix of “ABC” and my current song “Waving Flags” by British Sea Power, happening in my head right now. I hope the rest of these questions aren’t about the Jackson 5, because I’d like to forget about this terrible mix of songs and focus on cleansing my mind of the pop song overload called Sister’s Nightclub.

4. Do you make your bed in the morning?

I’m still sitting in bed right now, actually. I don’t plan on getting out of it anytime soon. I got home from work at 2:30 am and it’s 10:30 right now, so I see going back to sleep for a little while in my foreseeable future. However, on days when I am not still sitting in my bed, yes, I am an avid bed maker. I have trained myself (and my boyfriend, Ryan, for that matter) to not leave the house in the morning without making the bed. It makes me feel calmer. Ryan and I share a moderately small room in a house with 4 other roommates, so it can easily get cluttered and crazy with all of our stuff occupying a small area. Walking into a wild room and seeing an organized bed helps me not feel like I’m going insane.

5. Do you get nervous before going on stage, (performing)? If yes, what things do you do to reassure yourself?

It depends on what I am going on stage to perform. If I feel confident and comfortable with the movement and setting, I would say that I’m less nervous and more so focused and excited. If I am feeling a little uneasy and unsure that I’ve had enough rehearsal, I visualize what I am about to do and steady my breath. I find that if I can see the movement in my mind, then it is a good indication of knowing it in my body. If I am feeling confident about the performance, I shake out my nerves, try to get myself in an excited and positive place, and then focus on coming to a calm state of mind and relaxing my body so that my energy is focused into the ground and not up in my shoulders or in an unstable place.

6. If you had to give up, (lose), one of your five senses completely, (sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling), which do you think you could live without?

This is a scary question. I’ve thought about it before, and it makes me so sad to think of life without all of these senses.

I am an incredibly visual person. I can’t imagine living without color, texture, visual art, being able to see human emotion and movement.

Hearing is a lifeline for me. Without it, music would cease to exist in my life. Hearing a song and allowing my body to soak it in and respond to all the layers and textures of the beats and vocals. Yes, I”d also miss hearing voices and sounds in the world….but music is what I don’t know if I could live without.

Feeling I also don’t think I could give up. I tend to get anxious if I go for a while without feeling human to human contact. Really feeling and responding to a hug, holding someone’s hand, or feeling a hand rub my head or back. And a life without getting the full enjoyment out of sex….don’t get me started.

Smell. Hmm….living in the city, sometimes I wish that I didn’t have the sense of smell. Is it true that if you lose the sense of smell, you also lose the sense of taste? I think it comes down to either smell or taste. I have always said that although I appreciate and fully enjoy and LOVE tasting a delicious milkshake or bowl of mac n’ cheese, I am a very texture based person when I’m eating or drinking something. If something tastes good but has a creepy texture, I can’t eat it. And vise versa, if something is bland or sort of foul, I’ll eat it if it feels interesting in my mouth. So, as long as I could still feel food, then maybe life wouldn’t be absolutely terrible….and maybe I wouldn’t want to have that 8th serving of cake.

7. If you could have one special ability, what would it be?

One special ability. Of course my go-to answer is the ability to fly. It would be amazing to soar in the sky and feel completely weightless. However, I think that it would still be hard to get to places long distances away….and would I be able to carry any bags with me? Questions questions. Probably not. I would like the able to teleport and have the ability to teleport anyone who I was touching. I want to travel to every inch of the world, but it’s hard to do things like that living on the salary of a barista/dancer and when your schedule is full of rehearsals, gigs and work. If I wanted to grab lunch, I could teleport to a cafe in the South of France. If I had a day off and was sick of gloomy weather, I could suddenly be lounging on a beach in Brazil with a few friends. Or if I simply missed my family, I could zip to Boston and take a yoga class with my mom and dad.