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…