Bebe Miller Company Archival Project

BMC Autumn Residency 2010:  Dance Fort/History
In the three OSU residencies that I have had the privilege to be part of with the Bebe Miller Company, I have witnessed a fascinating interplay between a devotion to the present moment and negotiation of what a product might become.  It is something about the way they all drop in, the ease with which they transition from the day to day: eating lunch, sharing inside jokes, or dealing with logistics to conceptualizing a project, remembering or recalling the structure and details of previous choreographic work, or observing and engaging in the interactive bodily investigations that take place during rehearsal.  What is most interesting is the blurring of the lines of what takes place in any particular time and space.  My impression is that in general, the company members are experts at navigating in and around what others might consider interruptions, however, in the creative process of BMC, interruptions might not be known as interruptions, but more as an integral part of the process.  Watching them work is a lesson in Buddha-like acceptance of whatever might intersect one’s path.  If a studio is suddenly unavailable there are no grumbles, they move outside to the lawn.  Wet bottoms and grass-stained knees ensue, but it is as if this was the original plan.  When bees are found in the shady patch of grass they move around the corner to a sunlit area and continue their explorations as if nothing happened.  I learn lessons of persistence, seeing opportunity rather than obstacles, how to be relaxed in what can often seem like high-pressure situations.  Within three-day residencies or two-hour rehearsals I have a sense that there is plenty of time.  In their physical and verbal shorthand, camaraderie, and candidness I find myself yearning for a ten-year relationship with a group of individuals dedicated to a third-thing.  For them, I believe the third thing resides within the unknown in their creative process. What is the dynamic interplay of histories, personalities, and expressions funneled into the investigation of the arrangement of movement in time and space?  What is the duration, what is the focus, how much effort, what are the dancers using to recall information while composing a duet, to what is the director giving her attention? Improvisations are timed and interspersed with conversation regarding the third thing.  Dialogue is constant.  They subvert the popular model of efficiency during rehearsals, yet they are efficient. Ideas and structures are fluid, but not without the keen eye of a detail-oriented director or the dancers skilled approach to movement. There is an unspoken dedication to the present moment and what is being observed or enacted in the rehearsal space. Their artistic tasks seem to be simultaneously filled with the utmost passion and the poetic nature of what it is they are doing, yet grounded with down to earth perspectives that ask questions regarding the usefulness or public interest in something such as an interactive archive of BMC.  There is a caring and compassion and teasing; from the outside it looks something like familycolleaguesfriends.  Being witness to this process reminds me that there are many ways in which artistic pursuits take flight.

December 24, 2010
Many of the questions and discussions that surfaced over the weekend regarding the past ten years of Bebe Miller Company’s work are questions that I am currently asking myself in my own examinations of creative process, choreography, performance, visibility, public engagement, and the significance of this sometimes elusive art form.  As a fly on the wall in this experience, I feel I am witnessing a group of collaborators that have shared a rich and deep history of individual and collective philosophical inquiry in an attempt to discover meaning through the body via movement and text and careful observation in experimentation and exploration.  Trying to find patterns within the creative process and performance pieces in four selected choreographic works over the span of ten years could reveal a quality of persistence or creative obsession, but with the understanding that the participating individuals, groups, situations are continuously evolving over time.  It makes me long for continuity and longevity when working creatively.  So much of dance is project-based, with revolving cast members leaving little room for enduring relationships.  When discussing her initial company experience in the early rehearsals of Verge, Angie said that her focus was primarily driven toward learning material or navigating Bebe’s rehearsal mode, which is a very different attention than ten years of knowing and experiencing will offer.  What can comfortability and closeness bring to relationship and how does one continue to ask questions or seek more after the formative phases of It was obvious to me that these people are something close to a family, but with a somewhat uniting interest.  I appreciated the process of expanding, narrowing, and negotiating through discussions regarding intent and vision for this project.  in which Bebe and her company members/collaborators communicated and conducted investigations during is likely very different than the way that  While the conversations were centered around the company members shared interest of BMC, there was also a sense of a specific and deep knowing of one another through this ‘third thing.’

BMC Winter Residency 2010
Over the weekend, I was fortunate to become part of a team for an archival project that will assist in the development of a technological means to share the evolution of creative process within the Bebe Miller Dance Company.  The intention of the project is to find a way to make visible the specific ways in which the company moves through creative process and transitions into performative choreographic work.  Angie Hauser and Darrell Jones traveled to Columbus this weekend to begin the process of recalling, remembering, and revisiting Bebe Miller’s method of investigation and composition through the company’s work, Going to the Wall, Verge, and Necessary Beauty.

When I was first told that I would be an assistant in this process, I was both elated and petrified.  Elated to have the opportunity to work alongside an admired mentor and petrified that somehow I would fail to be what I needed to be in my role.  I expressed this concern to Bebe on Saturday and she offered a brief description of how she currently viewed my position and also stated that the role may not be completely defined at this point and as we moved through the process, roles and needs of the project would reveal what would be necessary in our roles.

As a cast member in her new work repertory this winter, I find this open endedness or doorway left open to the unknown implicit in our rehearsals; in our development of movement material, improvisational explorations, and consideration of themes and concepts in discussions.  For me, there is something about this doorway between what we do know in phrase material or improvisational structure, sequencing and what we are constantly considering or reconsidering within the material or that which is unknown, maybe not to ever truly be known, that keeps the movement, the work, and thought process alive in a particular way that is unique from many other rehearsal processes in which I have participated.  Similarly, Darrell referred to the “question mark” through which he was tracking the experience of the interaction in a dance and that the familiar lived somewhere within, around, or between the unknown.  These thoughts reminded me of the study indicating the mind’s contradicting pull to constantly hold onto the familiar while seeking new information.

While observing the “rehearsal” with Meghan Durham-Wall and Karl Rogers (with whom Bebe is currently creating a duet) and Angie and Darrell, initially, my attention was drawn toward the familiar dancer culture casualness that resides in the time preceding the formal start of rehearsal.  Warming up, joking, talking, internal assessments, taking in the space, acquainting with the others in the room.  I also feel that this preceding time within the umbrella of Bebe’s rehearsal has a particular quality.  In my experience, in composition class and rep, I feel there is an openness or allowance that is slightly more ambiguous (without value judgement) surrounding and inside of her rehearsals.  There is room for play and discussion and movement exploration that does not exist in a linear fashion.  I find layers of jumping off points and moments of interruption or as Colleen Leonardi rephrased, “subversions.”  I think this relates to the open doorway or question mark that lacks the a+b=c equation, participants are informally invited to be alert, present, and participatory in a way that may not always align with a more passive, show me what to do mentality.  There is an intricate interplay between allowing things to happen and pushing things to happen.

It was fascinating to listen to Bebe, Angie, and Darrell discuss the early developmental stages of Going to the Wall and Verge. The material that they were working with focused on race, gender, and ultimately identity.  They were talking about doing improvisational scores for hours and hours over the course of days.  I sense that somehow there was a different experience of time and direction in energy and focus than we have experienced in a two hour rep rehearsal that meets sandwiched in between other classes, teaching, etc., which also became a topic of discussion, dance in the institution vs. professional dance (again, without value judgment).  It sounded as though the company cast was able to take the explorations to extremes with the issues at hand.  I imagined the allowance and space as part of this process, which brought up for me what is central in the dance experience–space.  Space to play, focus, and have time to invest or investigate issues as complex and taboo as race, gender, and identity.  Angie said so well what I feel in regard to this ability of dance and perhaps what is embedded in Bebe’s creative process: in these kinds of explorations within this unique context, we are able to come closer to understanding the gaps that can never be closed or completely understood between one another, but through the space, time and direction provided, we can initiate an intimate step towards each other.

Watching Angie and Darrell try to recall their duets from Verge and Necessary Beautywas so tender and revealing in how the body-mind can remember information (from 2001).  Angie’s easeful, liquid lightness and Darrell’s full bodied listening, as though he can hear through his muscles.  After dancing, Darrell commented on the fact that he was not recalling steps or phrases, but rather a state of mind or state of being.  Through that state, he found traces of the duet.  Much like traditional social dance roles, Angie stated that in trying to remember the Verge duet, which was more distant in her memory, she found herself in a place of listening to Darrell, not necessarily passive, but in the not knowing, having to be active in a different way than she was accustomed.  She explained that she likes to “do” things, maybe make things happen and in this attempt to recall she was not able to go into a default mode of moving.  While they were dancing, Bebe, Colleen, and Annie, and I were observing from the audience in Sullivant Theater, meanwhile a video of the performance was playing simultaneously on the computer; we were also recording our activity via video camera, and I think an iPhone was lying around somewhere recording sound.  What was so satisfying and stunning was seeing the video and the live dance sync up for brief moments.  In Verge, the video of the duet was so emotionally evocative, it brought on all kinds of associations of racy, steamy, slow, hot, tension filled moments.  I found myself having memories of moments in the past, getting together with an ex-lover after a break up and somehow what once was in a relationship is no longer present, but the memory of a familiar physicality or emotionality is so strong that all boundaries become ambiguous, the forbiddeness of that kind of return, but also, the undeniablity of it.  I could sense the quality in the video in the physicality of the quality of the state of being and relationship Darrell and Angie were exhibiting live, nine years later.

Our conversations would bounce and build so organically.  We discussed the presence of the 90’s dancing body and all the influences from that time period that came through in the choreography, performance, and process.  There was an internal listening and specific use of breath that they attributed to the specific training methods and general values of the times.  When compared to present day focus, things feel much more urgent to me, have a different sense of assertion or aggression.  It made me think of Gaga and it’s intention to address the inner as well as the outer and that both need to be acknowledged simultaneously, which seems congruent with our modern day technological, media driven, multi-tasking, global lifestyles.  We discussed how after 9/11 everything changed.  Angie began questioning the value of the ways in which she was dancing, training, etc.  Present day, I sense a need to be hyper alert and hypersensitive, but also with the desire to sometimes shut down, because incessant stimulation can feel so overly stimulating.  Back to Gaga, which is this physical practice or what Ohad Naharin refers to as a discovery, which is all about igniting your senses, finding ways for yourself to meet the frenzied state of the world with an open and alert body-mind.  I find this approach to seeing and being in Bebe’s rehearsal process, course focus, and often just being in her presence.  I sensed it over the weekend spending time with the project team.  There is a call to “bring oneself to the table” or situation or conversation.  There is an invitation to become active and assertive.  Already, in this process, I feel myself actually wanting to share my thoughts or to simply put them out there.  I am trying to pinpoint where the hesitation or reticence comes from when I am in class settings and how this environment or situation is distinct.

Carl Jung quote from Michael:
“The serious problems in life are never fully solved. If ever they should appear to be so it is a sure sign that something has been lost. The meaning and purpose of a problem seem to lie not in its solution but in our working at it incessantly.”