My most recent piece was a blues dance solo with a different feel from the material I’ve shown before. It was a little nerve wracking to perform the first time, because I wasn’t sure how the crowd would react. Fortunately, it turned out much better than I ever would have expected, and the response was an overwhelming positive. So far, I have had the pleasure of performing it both at Espanish Blues Festival in Madrid, Spain & at BluesSHOUT! in 2015.
I was also honored to be featured in the Sweet Molasses Choreography Blog this year. The interview I wrote is below, but you can read the official version (and a lot more about choreography in the blues world) by clicking on this link.
What did you want to express with this choreography?
In short… I wanted to be a badass old man in a jam circle.
The kind of jam that starts when you’re just sitting, smoking your pipe, watching all the young whippersnappers jump and strut and tire themselves out showing one another up. Finally there is a lull and everyone points at you. They start calling your name, hoping that you will get up and dance just one song for the masses. So you put down your pipe and get your old bones on up from that chair, creakin’ and a poppin’ like they do these days. A good wink and a nod at Miss Suzie over there. She’s a pretty little thing and you always knew she wanted to dance with you back in the day……
Why did you choose the song for the piece?
The song sort-of chose me. I love Lightnin’ Hopkins, he is my introverted happy place. With only his voice and a guitar he creates whole worlds around you, enveloping you in a cocoon of music to play in. There is so much intrinsic rhythm that pours out of him. It doesn’t come from a metronome. It comes from his gut.
What other dances influenced or inspired this one?
— Awhile ago I saw an old clip of a “bucking” jam from an old black & white movie. Something about the casual, yet self-confident way the men were dancing captured my imagination.
— James Brown videos, particularly his “instructional” video.
— Looking at old pictures of Lightnin’ Hopkins from his album covers… the way he sits in a chair is so interesting!
How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?
So here’s the story…
Since January I have been working with new images based off some applied anatomy classes I was taking and a free writing session I did on what I thought of as my “Blues Dancing Body”. (I highly recommend writing about your own Blues Dancing Body. Its a fascinating practice!)
I wrote about how I imagine my flesh dripping off me, sinking into the floor.
I thought about my spine as this energetic column of power at the center of my being, my organs and other body bits falling into place rotating around it in various ways.
Then, I brought the wrong kind socks to rehearsal! They were far too slippery for the funk-blues music material that I was working on, and it was a mess. So instead I put on my go-to chill-out happy-place Lightnin’ Hopkins album and just danced, playing around.
During that little improv session “Suzie Q” just sort of happened… the old man developed from the sinking flesh, the lyrics of the song, and envisioning Lightnin’ himself. The ideas of internal rotation fell into place around the Suzie Q & Corkscrew movements. I was watching videos of James Brown from working on the funk-blues material, and his old man antics fit right in with the rest of what was developing.
My choreographic process for this piece was different than it has been for my blues works in the past. I spent a whole lot of time thinking about who this person was onstage and the movement that person would create, and much less time putting together the actual choreography.
So I was asked to speak towards the “Blues Aesthetic” of this piece…
Hilariously, I showed my “groundbreaking” choreography to my mother and her reaction was “Oh, that looks like some of the stuff you were doing 10 years ago!”
Which made me laugh, because its true. From the beginning, this piece has felt like I’m cycling back to an old/new way of moving and creating. I may be working from a new angle, but this dance has always been there.
I will say that if anyone would have told me that I had to make a dance that was super “blues-y”, I would never have let this piece slide out of my body the way it did.
We as a community put a lot of emphasis in our speech about what is “not blues” in order to define our dance form. We spend a lot of time imitating movements from the outside in, and have difficulty finding the depth of internal understanding or the weight of cultural associations behind them. They have become “moves” and not “ways of moving”.
But we are a community that refuses to go the easy route and define our dance by the basic steps. Blues is defined by how you do something, and not what you do. How you do something begins from the inside out.
So if you think I may have “cracked the code” on “being blues-y” … well, I don’t think I have, I’m just listening to my body in new/old ways. I could give you a thousand academic reasons why this piece seems more authentically blues, from structure to subject matter, etc… , but mostly I just stopped caring if everyone thought I was blues-y or not. 🙂