Pilot in Progress: How We Build a Shared Evening

By Michelle Fletcher


FRIDAY, JANUARY 8, 2010, 8:30AM
I walk into ODC Dance Commons for the first meeting of PILOT 56. We sit together in the back office conference room. Kimi Okada, Director of the ODC School, sits with us and gives us the breakdown. We will meet every Friday at 8:30am—ouch, I’m not a morning person, but I have a feeling that this early wake-up call will be worth it. Kimi also tells us that we will select production roles, and between the six of us, we have a $300 discretionary budget to put toward a reception, photo shoot, flyers, posters, and PR. Well, the PILOT website did mention that we will be following the “by our own bootstraps” philosophy—now I see what that means. This project would make a good reality TV show. I only wish Ty Pennington were here to help.

We go around the table and introduce ourselves: who we are, why we applied to PILOT, and what our ideas are for the dance pieces we will each craft. Elizabeth Castaneda, having already participated in two previous PILOTs, acts as our facilitator—our go-to veteran. She describes her dance piece, her plan is to walk the audience through the exhibition hall of her heart. Angela Demmel, an MFA candidate at Mills, offers a piece that will explore dream space, drawing inspiration from Salvador Dalí paintings. Yukie Fujimoto is a former ODC dancer and a mother of two boys. She will be crafting a duet inspired by doll costumes. Sarah Lewin recently graduated and moved to San Francisco—this will be her first time choreographing outside of a scholastic institution—she will present a duet that navigates between the realms of memory and forgetting. I’m next; I’m nervous. I’m Michelle Fletcher, working on a full-length piece about marijuana and human energy. I will use PILOT 56 to work on my final section, which taps into the body’s ability to create natural highs. Last, but certainly not least, is Noosh Afarin. She is a Persian physician and brings a passionate, underground dance (illegal in Iran) to the PILOT stage.

Wow, I’m blown away by the diversity of the group. This will provide a wide spectrum for our audience, but how will we ever find a common thread? How will we agree on a title for the performances, a photo for the flyer, the order of dances? This should be interesting.

No sleeping late if you want to participate in PILOT! First things first: each of us must pick from an array of jobs. I lobby for the PR/marketing job. My husband is an editor and I can solicit his skills, plus this job entails tasks I have not yet done and want to learn more about. Noosh volunteers for reception. She has such a generous spirit that will lend itself well to being a wonderful preparer and host. Yukie will design the layout of the flyer; Angela will manage the box office; Sarah will take charge of publishing the program. Settled. Now, to agree on a title for the show, hmm.

To begin brainstorming, Elizabeth suggests “word vomit”—not the most attractive title, but I like the attitude: saying whatever comes to mind, without fear of judgment. We talk about common links and themes in our pieces. Private vs. public, reality vs. dream, memory, grass, transpiration, awakening, being present, ecstasy, nostalgia. Nostalgia seems to resonate with some of us, and we begin to imagine images for the flyer that might capture our ideas. But we have young, fresh voices not chained or overly attached to the past. I write down “My Young Nostalgic Life” and pitch it to the group. Does this title really represent the substance of our combined efforts? Is it too narrative?

We go home to marinate on these things and e-mail each other throughout the week. We have grown to like it. We have a title: PILOT 56, My Young Nostalgic Life.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2010, 12-3PM
The best part about the PILOT program is the mentoring process. Today we have a composition class with Lizz Roman. I haven’t participated in creative games and exercises like this since college. Today is the first time we have moved together as a group. Even with all our differences, moving together begins creating a unity and evokes a sense of solidarity. Lizz’s voice rings through studio B with ecstatic energy and encouragement. At one point Yukie shamefully blurts out: “Sometimes I worry I don’t have anything important to say in my dance.” Lizz exclaims in response: “Your dance is not going to save the world!”

Lizz has a way of melting away our fears—she encourages us not to take ourselves too seriously. She suggests that Yukie’s honesty in questioning herself as a choreographer is indeed worthwhile, and such questioning can lead to great dance. I am grateful for this encouragement to be honest and vulnerable.

We gather together in the Argyle studio to show our first drafts. We each have a 30-minute time slot. I’m a bit anxious about revealing my work in such an unfinished state.

Angela presents first: dream space. With a slip, her dancers move like clouds, blurring their identities between the folds of time and space. Hypnotizing. Elizabeth shows three miniature duets; the final one makes us giggle. I love how dance can provoke these uncontrollable, wonderfully audible responses. Yukie shows us phrase work inspired by doll movement—quirky and at times charming. I’m next.

My dancers do well, but I’m missing two of them because they’re out of town. I feel frustrated that I can’t share my full vision with this audience of peers and mentors. I stay flexible though, and feedback from the group sounds positive. I try to quiet my mind and listen intently to the comments. Everyone shares affirmations, images, a few ideas—no negative criticism at all. Noosh’s Persian dancers roll out what they have crafted. The male solo leaves me breathless. Sarah shows a duet that, even in its beginnings, demonstrates precise detail and poignancy.

The showings end, and even though it’s 10pm, I am not tired. I am alive. I feel sensitized. In my lively mind I fast-forward to a month from now and imagine the powerful effect we’ll have on audiences—at our real, live shows.

This article appeared in the March 2010 issue of In Dance.

Michelle Fletcher is the director of Here Now Dance Collective, a new dance company that stives to awaken its dancers, its audience, and its fellow human beings. Fletcher earned her BFA degree in dance from North Carolina School of the Arts and her MFA from Florida State Univeristy. Beside choreographing and directing HNDC, Fletcher dances with Purple Moon Dance Project. You can find information on showings and a premiere of Fletcher’s newest work with HNDC, “Who is Mary Jane?” at herenowdancecollective.com.