Author Archive | Michelle Lynch Reynolds

Welcome

Oct 2017 In Dance coverHow far back can you trace your dancing family’s tree? Not just the thick trunk, or the sturdy, knobby branches of your direct influences. Your key teachers. Your guru. What of the twigs that fan out, of the stems of the leaves fluttering in the wind? What of the roots that dig deep and wide, expanding into tendrils under the forest floor like an intricate hidden lace developed over years. Decades. Centuries.

Your dancing family tree does not stand alone. It is influenced by the health of its neighboring giants, whose root systems lend you nutrients and a foundation from which to grow. The insects and birds nestled into its crevices, the monkeys howling and swinging with wild abandon amidst its branches.

Oh and the wind, the rain and the snow, building in the skies far away, across worlds and oceans, and histories.

What I am talking about, of course, is context. Your dancing family tree can’t exist without the ecosystem and its history as its context. But it can be challenging to keep such a vast historical context in focus: to keep perspective.

I got to thinking about trees and monkeys and rain after reading Kate Mattingly’s review of the book Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer in California and New York, 1955 to 1972, in which she probes the implications of calling dance “radical.” Radical is relative, depending on the context in which the dance is seen, by whom, at what time, from the reference-point of whose history? From a perspective of European dance education, Anna Halprin’s undressed bodies on the ground amidst Northern California’s redwood trees would be the height of provocation (and they were!). But when considering the full context – the winds that bring nutrients across oceans – one calls up thousands of dances where skin is celebrated; dancing with bare feet against earth has taken place for millennia.

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In addition to Mattingly’s “Defining Radical,” this month’s issue offers opportunities to keep perspective and find new ones. Among them, Heather Desaulniers talks to La Tania about her ambitions after an illustrious performing career in Flamenco. Claudine Naganuma shares about her career in teaching dance to individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Liz Duran Boubion and Juan Manuel Aldape Muñoz investigate Latina/o/x performance in a time when anti-immigrant sentiment in our country is alarmingly high through the Festival of Latin American Contemporary Choreographers. Their writing is printed here in English and Spanish. Su escritura está impresa aquí en inglés y español.

There are more articles to discover within, along with a performance calendar teeming with events taking place this month.

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It might be logical to be diminished by the vastness of context. And in some ways it’s a humbling truth that any single artist is a tendril at the end of a twig, of a branch, of a trunk sitting on roots that expand out and out and out and out. But the other side of that truth is that any single artist is a part of an ecosystem where the health of one is vitally linked to the health of the whole. Without that single artist’s creativity and courage and experimentation, the balance would tip. With that single artist, new growth becomes possible.

Welcome

may in dance cover screenshot 2017San Francisco, and the surrounding Bay Area, is known throughout the world for its weirdness and fabulously-unapologetic-radical-queerness. It has long been a sanctuary for migrants (documented and not), LGBTQ communities, the homeless, left-leaning politicos, and artists. Those who don’t agree with capitalist, heteronormative, “polite” society. Within such a context, dance-making reflects this Other-ness. It is unruly, political, disabled, sensual, black, brown, female, spiritual, provocative, and profound.

In Dance, Dancers’ Group’s platform for writing about movement ideas and practices, spans 19 years, during which time the social landscape in which dance artists make work has shifted dramatically. In many ways, we have progressed, seen in advances in LGBTQ rights and clean energy, for ex- ample. But, progress comes in fits and starts, marked by counterpoints that shift, push us back, and perpetuate Other-ness.

Of course, Other is relational, relative to an always shifting mainstream. Whether intentionally topical or not, art is necessarily responding to and being witnessed from its broader context. Take Farah Yasmeen Shaikh’s teaching Kathak in Pakistan: she must reckon with her own identity as a Muslim-American and the historical and current geopolitical standing between Pakistan and India. Her reflections on her work and its context are part of an ongoing series of articles, “Gaining Perspectives, Changing Perceptions.”

Joe Goode and his eponymous Performance Group began 30 years ago, in a time when making performances as an out gay man was perilous, even in San Francisco. His 29 Effeminate Gestures was therefore groundbreaking, depicting a man embracing his femininity while wielding a chainsaw. Decades later, Goode continues to shine a light on the nuances of relationship and the politics of the intimate, all in his playful yet potent, allegorical style. Writer Kate Mattingly covers Goode’s upcoming 30th anniversary season.

Scholar Sima Belmar continues her series “In Practice” with a discussion of borders and immigration. She speaks with Juan Manuel Aldape Mun?oz, a previously undocumented immigrant from Mexico and current movement artist in Berkeley, CA. With the Trump administration’s focus on immigration across our Southern border, Mun?oz’s studies on anxieties, sweating bodies, borders, and migration become all-too relevant.

Since the Nixon administration, the United States has fought a brutal and flawed “War on Drugs,” one of several policies of a criminal justice system that has led to the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and other people of color. Several incarcerated men from California’s San Quentin Prison have written about their performance work with The Artistic Ensemble, a collective of artists creating within the walls of a penitentiary.

As a counterpoint to these in-depth articles is Dancers’ Group’s annual Summer Workshop Guide. Dance practices are, after all, embodied, and as Mun?oz says, “when I think I sweat, when I move I sweat—it’s a way of knowing and relating.”

I implore you: don’t put this issue down without reading Chicano performance artist, writer, activist, and educator Guillermo Go?mez-Pen?a’s Letter to the Revolution. I carry his words with me in this unpredictable time when society seems to be heading backward towards Other-ing: “We continue to talk back & make art.”

Welcome

When our Executive Director, Wayne, asked all of us at Dancers’ Group to reflect on our hopes for 2017 for the January/February issue of In Dance, I was at a loss. It was early December and the 24/7 news cycle of the presidential election-turned-transition had me feeling like I was careening down a hill in a car whose brakes just failed. The pace of incoming information had a newfound urgency, which has continued through the early part of 2017 and shows no signs of slowing down. To respond to Wayne’s provocation I wondered: How can I (and those who share a progressive, liberal politic) endure a political environment that calls for attention and resistance at the pace of a sprint for the duration of a marathon?

No. “Enduring” is wildly insufficient. My bar is higher than survival. How can I thrive? How, and in what ways, can I make a positive impact on the lives of others?

I am certainly not alone in my concerns regarding the political actions and tenor coming out of the United States federal government, which I assert to be racist (e.g. the travel ban), classist (e.g. seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act), authoritarian (e.g. restrictions on federal agencies’ communications), and lacking rationale. Several writers featured in this month’s issue also touch on political events and activism, addressing similar questions through their words and artistic practices.

Farah Yasmeen Shaikh continues her series of articles about her experiences of performing and teaching in Pakistan. This month, she reflects on how her artistic practice is a tool for combating the spread of fear of the “other” — in her case, being a Muslim-American woman. Kathak provides a platform for Shaikh “to bridge cultures…and do [her] part in influencing a global culture that can be positive, supportive, and non violent.”

Choreographer Charles Slender-White articulates the role that activism plays for him on and off stage. He recalls his personal evolution from being a young political organizer in San Diego, to his renewed focus on activism and ongoing work of creating artistic opportunities through his company, FACT/SF.

Famed tap dancer Michelle Dorrance expounds on tap’s history in African American culture, having emerged out of slavery and deep institutional racism that persists to this day. And Miriam Peretz celebrates the power of community and sisterhood through the newly formed Nava Dance Collective, a group of women who perform dance and ritual from Central Asia.

Back in December, I scrawled my hopes for 2017. May the tide turn toward love, justice, and joy. May we be patient with ourselves, yet urgent in our work. May our art help carry us through.

I plan to do my part in making these hopes become reality by investing at Dancers’ Group and also as an audience member to further support dance artists in their tireless and essential work. By reading well-researched investigative journalism. By calling representatives in Congress to talk about issues I care about. By instilling the values of compassion and curiosity into how I raise my daughter. By resting, laughing, and moving.

I do not expect, or want, everyone to agree about how to address society’s ills. Our artistic and personal diversity – in form, background, and belief – enables our work to engage, to begin and continue needed and important conversations. To “bridge cultures,” as Shaikh writes.

Dance need not be overtly “activist” in tone or intent to have political implications. Dance’s mere existence pushes culture forward – even as it recalls its history – a radical act in its own right. Dance can be a provocation. A communing. A history. A hope. A resistance. May it be all that, and more, for you.

Welcome

October In Dance Cover ft. Safar-e Zamaan – Journey in Time, Badakhshan to Kolyab. Photo courtesy of Afsaneh Art & Culture Society

Creation is an unruly and complex thing, full of seeming contradictions. A dictionary of words describe it, refusing to adhere to grammar, to consistent parts of speech. Exploration / limitation / control / flexibility / author / collaborate / agitate / participate / work / play / intention / surprise / mess / precision / vulnerability / authority / / /

/ intimate / formal / familial / As this issue of In Dance heads to print I am anxiously awaiting the birth of my first child, due later this month. I wonder how she may look like me and her father, her great-grandmother, her ancestors. Will she carry forward my unusually short thumb, or her grandfather’s insatiable scientific curiosity? And, in what ways will she be wholly unique? How might she forcefully push against tradition to forge her own path?

/ process-based / results-oriented / humbling / empowering / / /

/ continuity / A regular reader of In Dance could see “creation” as a distilled commonality across decades of published writing about dance, be they previews, reviews, photo essays, poems, reflections, or investigations. We have heard from artists about their unique perspective on wrestling with—and embracing—the process of creation. This process often, but not always, leads to sharing their creation with others, on stage, in a class, on paper, online, and then back into a new or continued process of making. Creativity Coach Holly Shaw shares her insights into this cycle on page 11, and how one might approach the transitions from one artistic project to the next.

divergence / lineage / Also in this issue are articles featuring artists working deeply within their cultural traditions: Theatre Flamenco’s Carola Zertuche and Hope Mohr. Zertuche was interviewed from Theatre Flamenco’s home in San Francisco’s Mission District where they are preparing to celebrate 50 years of Flamenco. Hope Mohr shares insights into her company’s annual Bridge Project, a collection of performances, workshops, and conversations with luminaries of post-modern dance. This year’s Bridge Project is centered around Locus, a work by Trisha Brown from 1975 which will be reinterpreted by 10 local artists from varying disciplines.

/ experiment / joyful / mystery / boredom / educational / confusing / / /

/ multiplicity / Creating is looming large on my mind and in my body, and while childbearing may not be an artistic practice per se, it certainly is an act of creation. My collaborator in this act is small, but she already has a mighty influence over my life, compelling me to reconsider long-held assumptions about my emotional identity and physicality. She is teaching me that limits are empowering, vulnerability is natural, control is a fiction, and creation takes a huge amount of energy. As with any meaningful collaboration, the process: nonlinear and sometimes challenging; the result: transformative.

Welcome

It can be hard to be an optimist in a country and world with deep injustices. “The arc of the moral universe,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “is long, but it bends toward justice.” How long does it take?

Conversations about equity in the arts are ubiquitous, and it’s easy to be cynical: talk is not change. Beyond the best of intentions for greater diversity, there lies structural discrimination—racially biased policing, paltry support for maternity leave, educational systems that benefit the wealthy, ableism and ageism that limit access to intellectual and physical opportunities (oh, and the list is so, so much longer). Collectively, they become a fortress of privilege.

This month, Dancers’ Group steps into the murky yet essential terrain of equity, with a particular focus on women in dance. A topic that is a mere thread of the fuller web of inequity, and an enormously complex issue on its own, more than any one publication can contain.

The theme of “Women in Dance”—in all of its nuance and interpretations—is a response to recent headlines and personal conversations about ongoing challenges facing women in our field, namely access to fewer and less prestigious opportunities, artistically and institutionally. It is also our opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary strength, ingenuity, and artistry of the woman-identified artists in our midst.

For its part, Dancers’ Group’s engine is largely powered by women: more than half of our staff and nearly our entire Board of Directors are women. And more, the ecosystem of dance artists, writers, administrators, and advocates we serve is built on a foundation of activism and feminism, of matriarchs. Upon that foundation sit … or rather, move … thousands of strong women-identified artists sharing their stories, producing socially-engaged work, and generating artistic and financial opportunities. We are accompanied by men, and those who identify non-binarily on the gender continuum, who also resist misogyny, embracing feminism.

Our deepest thanks go to all of those who contributed perspectives in writing and photographs within these pages, representations of artistic lives that push towards greater understanding every single day.

Beyond articles and interviews probing the theme of “Women in Dance,” this issue provides an opportunity to go deeper into an artistic practice. It includes our annual Summer Workshop Guide, featuring nearly 80 Bay Area workshops across a myriad of dance forms, taking place from May through August. Plus, highlights of performances taking place throughout this month, opportunities to explore the traditions and innovations that can be provocative and breath-taking.

A publication is inherently limited to words and images; at best, it can articulate challenges and inspire action. Replying to a call for responses on this issue’s theme, choreographer Christy Funsch put into words her hopes for what will change in the dance world (you can read more responses here):

That women will continue to call out patriarchal abuses and biases. That women will work with other women as allies in creating and supporting opportunities for each other. That men who are similarly en garde against sexist policies are welcomed to work with us. That we read our dances as objectively as possible for the gender politics embedded in them and own what we are putting forth.

Or, as Melissa Lewis and Courtney King put it in their interview with Katie Faulkner, “feminism involves race, class, gender, culture, history, lineage—it has to, otherwise it’s nothing; it’s a shared her.”

While it is true that talk is not change, may these pages lead toward empathy, toward action, and ultimately, toward justice.

Welcome

WHAT BRINGS YOU DEEP JOY? This question was the opening ice-breaker of a board retreat I was recently a part of for Emerging Arts Professionals1. The question caught me off-guard, maybe because it was early on a Sunday and I hadn’t yet finished my cup of coffee; but more likely because I am rarely asked such a soul-bearing question by near-strangers. What brings me deep joy?

In the moment, I fumbled around with an answer about my ongoing practice of becoming a more inspired and skillful home cook. It’s true that cooking is meditative for me, seeing myself improve is joyful, not to mention the fun of sharing my tasty successes with others. But, deep joy?

The question has lingered in my mind for weeks now; its simplicity is a trick.

I find deep joy to be slippery and inconsistent, as what elicits it once may not do so again. That feeling that came over me when in a room filled with my loved ones likely won’t return the next time we’re all together. Perhaps that next time I’ll be tired, craving solitude, even while intellectually wishing for that grateful, joyful sensation. Or, let’s be real: sometimes I feel soul-penetrating joy laughing with my husband, but other times I just want to remind him to fold the laundry. The truth is, for me (but I’d be willing to bet I’m not alone), an experience of joy depends on being able to slow down—mentally and physically—to allow a depth of emotion to be felt.

This slowing is a part of my pre-show ritual, both when I used to perform, and now when I participate in dance as an audience member. Before performances, I will arrive to the space early and find my seat. Those quiet moments before the show are mine to exercise a bit of meditation, and prepare myself to have a deep experience, whether joyful or emotionally ‘-ful’ in some other way. I tend to go to dance events alone, largely because I find myself better able to slow down when I’m not also considering social obligations.

Inside this issue is a window into a dance ecosystem that seemingly knows no bounds—it is as abundant as it is excellent—with many dozens of opportunities to have an experience of extraordinary depth.

December brims with holiday celebrations and this year is no exception. The community calendar features annual regulars like ODC’s The Velveteen Rabbit to the iconic San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker. There’s CubaCaribe’s Christmas in Cuba, Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker Sweets, Solstice! by UpSwing Aerial Dance Company, and many more.

Beyond the holiday events, this month we will bear witness to several major markings of time. Abhinaya Dance Company of San Jose celebrates its 35th anniversary, and Usha Srinivasan spoke with founder and artistic director Mythili Kumar about the company’s history and future. YBCA presents Erasing Time, the first “retrospective” of iconic choreographer and healer, Sara Shelton Mann. Robert Avila writes about this 5-hour durational event. And, the Rotunda Dance Series concludes its 2015 series with a performance curated by Ma–hea Uchiyama to honor the Guna, an indigenous group from Panama. Julie Mushet sheds light on this special event.

“Joy” is a word that seems to be tossed around with great abandon this time of year, found inside cards, belted out in carols, and used in advertisements. But we know: deep joy transcends any season, and is astonishing, even in its slipperiness (in fact, because of it), when we are lucky enough to experience it.

May you be joyful, this holiday season and far beyond.

1. Emerging Arts Professionals is an organization dedicated to empowerment, leadership, and growth of the next generation of those working in the arts sector in the Bay Area. emergingsf.org

CA$H Grant Program

Deadline for dance projects: Tue, Oct 13, 5pm

CA$H is a grants program for the Bay Area’s professionally-oriented theatre and dance artists and small organizations with budgets of under $100,000. CA$H is holding four free applicant workshops leading up to the deadline. The application materials and process have changed since the last round, so please review materials closely. To learn more about the program, download the guidelines and application form, and sign up for a workshop, visit dancersgroup.org/cash.

Volunteer for Dancers’ Group/ONSITE and inkBoat’s 95 Rituals

Sun, May 31, 9:30am-1:30pm
Fort Mason Center, SF

Dancers’ Group is looking for a few volunteers to help with a free site-specific performance by Shinichi Iova-Koga/inkBoat at the Fort Mason Center farmers market. In exchange for their time, all volunteers receive a 3-month individual membership to Dancers’ Group, or a 3-month extension for current Dancers’ Group members.

This show is part of 95 Rituals, honoring the work of legendary choreographer Anna Halprin at 95, with a series of free site-specific performances at various locations with guest musicians and artists from around the world.

To sign up email edgar@dancersgroup.org

95rituals.org

Welcome

OVER A RECENT WEEKEND, I WAS VISITING with my husband’s family at a time when all of the young nieces and nephews were there, gathered together from the corners of California. Seven of them in all, ranging from nine months to nine years of age. As you might imagine, it was chaotic and, of course, filled with hilarity and joy.

At one point in the afternoon the eldest niece, Aria, was holding one of the younger girls and began playing a game.

It is a song and dance where your lap is a horse-drawn carriage, and the passenger is in for an increasingly bumpy ride. “…this is the way the ladies ride, trot-di-trot, trot-di-trot…” Much squirming and laughter ensues as the little one is bounced around.

This little game is one that I saw Aria’s grandmother play with her when she was a baby and toddler, and that her dad was also delighted by it when he was a small child. I don’t know how far back it goes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it could be traced to great-grandmothers and fathers several generations ago.

These small rituals passed down generation after generation—not taught, per se, but rather practiced—are all around us. As I watched Aria carrying forward this tradition without great consideration, I imagined the many lineages that each of us embody. The legacies we carry forward, sometimes intentionally but often unwittingly.

Legacies that are familial; legacies that are artistic.

How do we recognize, celebrate, recall, and carry forward the rituals created and sustained in a life of witnessing, practicing, and teaching dance?

This May, the San Francisco International Arts Festival responds to this question with a tribute performance honoring the vivacious Blanche Brown, whose encounter with formal dance training at the age of 35 sparked her ongoing dedication to dance that is connected to her spiritual practice. Turn the page to read Mary Ellen Hunt’s feature about Brown’s long and passionate career.

Anna Halprin (who turns 95 this July), epitomizes the question of “how to celebrate and honor,” an artist whose legacy ripples out for what is now a plurality of generations. This spring and summer, Oakland-based choreographer Shinichi Iova-Koga and his ensemble, inkBoat are creating a new work that responds to this question and in doing so are making their own rituals for Anna. 95 of them. And counting… Writer and scholar Ann Murphy responds to the project with a “score” of her own, exploring the project and its inspiration.

As dance artists, we often integrate remembrance with innovation. We are historians at the same time we are pioneers. Sean Dorsey embarks on a choreographic listening tour to capture memories of the first wave of those lost in the AIDS epidemic. He discusses this piece, The Missing Generation with writer Claudia Bauer on page three.

What better way, really, to carry forward rituals and practices, than through the relationship between teacher and student? In this issue, we learn from educators Patricia Reedy and Deborah Karp, as well as Rafaella Falchi, a long-time leader in San Francisco’s Carnaval festival and parade, about how they continue to engage as teacher and artist.

And, once again this May issue of In Dance features information about nearly a hundred workshops held over the summer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of the many opportunities to learn, celebrate, worship, reconstruct, and innovate.

Enjoy the experiences that incite you to ask questions, to simultaneously look back and move forward, creating and sustaining the rituals of your own artistic legacy.

Welcome, Jul/Aug 2014

Every now and again we are privileged to have an experience that makes such an impact—sometimes good and sometimes hard—that it shifts how we see things. Whether it’s a dance work that shatters assumptions, a new relationship, an unexpected challenge or a visit to a far-off land, it changes the lens through which we process the world around us.

My shift recently came with a trip to Beijing, China, where I represented Dancers’ Group during the last leg of a series of educational exchanges conducted in China through a partnership with Bay Area-based ZiRu Dance, with the support of the U.S. State Department. I witnessed master classes taught by Karah Abiog, director of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Training Program and supported the dancers of ZiRu performing in a mid-sized theater in Beijing. The company went on to perform in several other cities in China while I returned to San Francisco.

If you follow news coming out of China, it won’t surprise you to hear that things there are growing at an extremely rapid rate. It has long been the world’s fastest growing major economy, averaging 10% GPD growth for the past 30 years (thanks, Wikipedia) and Beijing alone is home to over 21 million. The scale and rate of expansion is nearly unimaginable, with entire subway lines popping up seemingly overnight and visual
art galleries the size of multiple football fields emerging in a heartbeat.

And while there is an abundance of classical dance forms in China, it was my observation that the dance community there was surprisingly modest when contrasted with sheer numbers in so many other arenas. That is likely beginning to change— new university dance programs are cropping up right and left— and for now, I was left feeling fortunate to be a part of a dance community that is large and diverse. Through the lens of this recent trip, it became incredibly clear to me just how much rich cultural history and thrilling innovation resides here in the Bay Area.

And so it is our pleasure to include in this joint July/August issue of In Dance, a celebration of our breadth. We feature four artists and companies working in a huge range of dance forms. RAWdance is presenting its 10th anniversary season of athletic contemporary dance. Frequent contributor, Rob Taylor, writes about the Diamano Coura West African Dance Company’s July performance honoring the life and work of Nelson Mandela. We interview Kinetech Arts, a forward-thinking collaboration of dance artists and technologists, and Korean sound and movement artist Dohee Lee reflects on ritual and myth in contemporary performance. Add to that dance education, tips on garnering press and cultivating relationships with funders, and an interview with the organization behind The Flight Deck, a new performing arts space in Oakland, and it has never been more true: the Bay Area is bursting at the seams with dance.

As the summer continues, I hope that you have opportunities to explore facets of our dance ecosystem to surprise, amaze and inspire you. And if you’re lucky, shift the way you see the world.

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