Stepping out of my comfort zone: a look into rehearsals with RealLivePeople

How is rehearsal going so far?

Well I am definitely out of my comfort zone but I kind of like it. I am a dancer who enjoys the internal, emotional, “feely” kind of movement whereas RealLivePeople practices movement based off real emotion not the “dancer” emotion that I am used to. As human beings we find ourselves stuck in our daily routines, gestures, movement, etc. I have been stuck in my movement aesthetic for awhile now and rehearsing with RealLivePeople has honestly challenged me to step outside the comfortable corner that I have been in.

Photo Credit: JJ Tiziou

Photo Credit: JJ Tiziou

The piece I am rehearsing is about listening, and the movement truly comes from a real place instead of the overly dramatic, super feely place that has been a part of my movement style for so long. The first rehearsal was challenging for me, as I had to create movement based off listening gestures. For example, I was asked to nod the way I do as if I am listening to someone and make that nod into movement. This may seem like a simple task but as a dancer who is used to developing movement that will look “good” rather than movement that represents a real reaction, I was stuck. However, that is when I realized there is a lot more to movement than I have been practicing. RealLivePeople is helping me mature as a dancer and a choreographer. Though I realize that dramatic movement, gestures and faces still have a place in dance, I am beginning to let go of these a bit, and instead I am developing a taste for real, authentic movement. In the midst of this journey, I am thrilled to continue to grow as a person, dancer, and choreographer.

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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.

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.

From real time to real world, setting improvised material

By Gina Hoch-Stall, Choreographer

For those of you who do not read and memorize every word on this blog, let me bring you up to speed. My dance company, RealLivePeople(in)Motion, is currently in rehearsals for two upcoming shows: the first is a collaboration with Tongue and Groove Spontaneous Theater that will be entirely improvised, the second is a brand new piece exploring jobs, identity and what it means to go to work–the choreography in this piece will be set.

Photo by Craig Harris, Dancers Gina Hoch-Stall and Adams Berzins

Photo by Craig Harris, Dancers Gina Hoch-Stall and Adams Berzins

I love working in these two mediums: real-time versus set choreography. The juxtaposition allows me to see the strengths in each. I relish the immediacy, surprise and serendipity that come from doing all improvised work; however I also love the clarity of movement and concept that come from setting a piece and rehearsing it to perfection. Luckily I have dancers who can do both. In fact we build a lot of our movement through structured improvisatory exercises.

Back in October when we were first starting our work on ‘The Jobs Project’ we were in pure try-anything-to-see-if-it-works mode. Any movement idea we could think of we played out: we matched snatches of choreography with text and tried a lot of very silly and overly literal ideas. Most of these things were not ‘set material’ but rather improvisatory structures, built quickly to see what did and did not work.

Returning to the process after a brief winter holiday we began to take stock of what we had made. We had two rehearsals to run through all of the material with the fresh eyes of our dramaturg, composer and artist. They were enthusiastic and hopeful but I found myself getting more and more frustrated.

While I love watching (and participating) in the improvised creations in our rehearsals for PIFA, I was no longer interested in watching bare bones outlines of ‘sections that will be’ in our Jobs Project rehearsals. I was ready to flesh them out and see if they had enough substance to stand up to the editing process. So that’s what we’ve been doing.

In the past month we’ve taken three sections from gestation to birth and now we are figuring out what they’ll become when they grow up. The process is challenging for the dancers and myself. While we each have different levels of comfort in improvisation I think we all enjoy the freedom to make mistakes without being held accountable. Once material is set and codified that freedom no longer exists. There is now a right answer, a specific relationship and a clear tone–not that everything won’t change a million times over, but in the moment, the most recent version is final.

I have been told that I am bit of a control-freak (I prefer ‘pragmatic leader’) but whatever you call it, I love the feeling of completing almost as much as I love the creating. And no matter how exciting it is to improvise, I am not sure that I will ever completely abandon set work. I love the ability to build a piece one idea at a time and to be able to return to completed sections knowing that they will exist in roughly the same form that we left them, living in the bodies of the dancers (and often on camera). Perhaps it is the extremes that I enjoy, I don’t know. But right now I am quite excited to be doing both.

If you want to see examples of both types of work in motion, check out our video of “The Third Shift” at the Arden Theater. The first half of the video is all structured improvisation while the second half (duet with Sara and I) is completely set. See which you prefer…

We do not create dance in a vacuum, a reflection on open rehearsals

By Sara Nye, Dancer

“It can be to easy to overlook the incredible investment of ideas, time, attention,
creativity, and revision that goes into creating something new, especially when
we’re watching a performance as an audience member. With RealLivePeople(in)
Motion’s current work-in-progress, not only did a number of us have the opportunity
to contribute our stories to the foundation of this work, but Gina invited us to come
to a rehearsal—to observe and participate. I loved the way Gina and the dancers
included us in movement, exploration, and feedback. Watching the dancers
communicate the daily work lives that we had communicated through our spoken
and written words with their bodies provided a glimpse into the unfolding evolution
of a work in progress. Participating in RLPiM’s rehearsal has also made me more
conscious of how we use our whole selves in our work—bodies as well as minds.”

-Beth, Interviewee

Beth and Alya have jobs. They have jobs that are different from ours. They have
jobs that are different from each other’s. Beth works in career services at Penn. Alya
is a freelance photographer/stylist. Our director Gina interviewed Beth and Alya
about their jobs for our upcoming project, and then they came to one of our open
rehearsals. And from this separateness came harmony.

It was so energizing for me to read Beth’s response to being in an open rehearsal of
ours, because it confirmed something I’ve been pondering – when I share something
of myself with you, it affects you. You think about it after the fact. It does not exist in
a vacuum.

I have always been fascinated by the work that people do. I am obsessed with how
people make money, how they make it work, and what those choices do to their daily
lives. But I also want to know if other people ever wonder what I do and how I do
it. I think many of us wonder whether what we do matters. Now I have confirmation
from Beth that when she came to our place of work, participated, and observed,
she left with neurons firing. She wondered about our work afterwards. She thought
about the time it takes to explore a movement idea, change the rules, and try again.
And I love that she is now thinking about how her body works while at work. It’s true
– no matter what a job is, it requires movement of the entire being, body and mind
working in tandem.

Beth and Alya were such giving participants in rehearsal. Their movement
contributions as well as their feedback were honest, and I felt them becoming
invested in the progress we were making that day. And they should feel invested. In
this project, we dancers and our ideas do not exist in a vacuum. We have reached
out into the community, and now the community is reaching back.