From Monday,Nov. 30 through Sunday,Dec. 6, I was involved in a project called RAPID EYE MOVEMENT with ART BRIDGMAN AND MYRNA PACKER. This dance/theater/performance art work is based on a series of dream sequences choreographed for the duet company by six different choreographers including Marta Renzi, Bill T. Jones, Mark Dendy, and Ann Carlson (i'll edit and add the others i can't think of right now when i have the program in front of me). Art and Myrna premiered the work in NYC at St. Mark's Church a year and a half ago. Since then they performed it in about ten other venues. In each place they perform, they gather a "chorus" of local performers (not necessarily trained dancers) to do short vignettes/crossings/behaviors that serve to weave their duet sections together.
Anyway, last week I was a member of the chorus.
I'd spoken to Art on the phone before they arrived in Cleve, and he said they didn't need trained dancers, just good movers, people with some stage presence, etc. etc. I debated about whether or not I could handle the time committment, then finally decided that I just couldn't resist the opportunity to work with them again.
So we're at the first rehearsal/audition, and it's kind of disappointing cuz there are only five of us there at first then Lelani Barrett shows up and livens up the whole place with his exhuberant, strong and powerful self and we're still wondering where were gonna' get another guy, cuz they need at least two, and after a short easy, swingy-flingy, juicy warm-up we're off. Running, lifting, tossing eachother, flowing down risers like molten lava, falling off high places onto mattresses and eachother and I'm thinkin' "if this isn't technical, what is?" Of course I know the answer to that, but still-these are contact skills, and they take tons of "training" to master.
As the process continues, two more men and a woman join the cast and we're all a bit bruised and confused, but loving it and having a great time. The group's energy was wonderfully cohesive considering that we were mainly strangers at the beginning of the week. I found new (or renewed) daring in myself, found myself doing things I'd thought maybe I was "too old" to do anymore, rejoiced in abilities I didn't know I had and energy that stayed with me throughout a pretty arduous week of work...
Many thanks to Myrna and Art, and to DanceCleveland and Cuyahoga Community College for sponsoring the event.
KaroL's review from the Cleveland State Cauldron Let's Dance By KaroL
School's back in session, and it's time for me to rave about Cleveland's best athletes again. No, not the Indians or Rockers or that virtual football team, either. Certainly those folks are great athletes, but pound for pound, the members of Cleveland's dance community are the ultimate athletes.
I have taken several dance classes, but this December, thanks to DANCECleveland, I got a chance to actually dance onstage with a professional group. I have always had a lot of respect for dancers and how hard they work, but now, I respect them even more.
Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer were presenting a piece called RAPID EYE MOVEMENT at Tri-C Metro, and needed one more male dancer to fill out the chorus. I auditioned, and to my surprise, I actually got the part. And the bruisesÍ
RAPID EYE MOVEMENT refers to the motion that your eyeballs make while you are dreaming. The dance program consisted of multiple sections. Five different New York choreographers were asked to take a dream that they had, and make it into a dance piece. We (The Chorus) performed those dreams. Art and Myrna filled in the sections between the dreams with their own magnificent choreography, generating a totally surreal venue. Art and Myrna do beautiful lifts. They picked each other up in ways that challenged my pre-conceived notions about how gravity works. Unfortunately for me, I didn't get to see much of Art and Myrna's actual performance because I was busy backstage most of the time. The Chorus was constantly fussing with props and costume changes.
The pieces I did see (and participate in) were really wild. I got to strike a snotty pose while standing in a little red wagon that was being pulled across the stage. I got to carry a coffin, throw hoopskirts, and flick a fly-casting rod (also while standing in a wagon). This was the easy stuff.
During one section, The Chorus chased Lelani Barrett around the stage. If you were lucky enough to have seen THE URBAN NUTCRACKER this season, he was the huge fellow who played the Rat King. When we caught him, we lifted him up over our heads and carried him off stage. This was made more difficult by the fact that he was wearing hoop skirts on various parts of his body which made him slippery. Also, unlike many male dancers, Lelani is BIG. This dude has shoulders as wide as a refrigerator. It was a relief for the backs of the entire chorus when we dumped him into the elevator.
My back also got quite a workout catching Melissa Miller. Two of the dancers were standing next to a wall with their fingers laced together at chest height. Melissa stood in their hands and "climbed the wall". Then, (with more courage than I have), she leaned back until she fell backwards. Some of the chorus caught her legs, but I got her back and most of her weight. The first couple of times that I practiced catching her, we ended up sitting on the floor with her on top of me. By the performance, we had it down, and it worked well. Got a nice gasp from the audience, too.
The real bruisers were the "human lava", and the dreaded "run-dive". In the "human lava", we were to slowly roll down a set of steps. The steps were covered with cloth, and we were wearing trench coats. The first time I tried it, I didn't have a secure enough leverage spot when I went to roll from back to front, and butt-surfed down the steps like something from a Warner Bros. cartoon. I quickly learned how to not do that again!
My favorite section of the performance was the "run-dive". Colleen Clark called it the "run-die". Until I learned how to do it correctly, I called it the "run-bruise". The chorus started standing stacked together in the upstage wing on the right. Then, exploding forward, one right after another, each chorus member RUNS until they get to the middle of the stage. At that point, you drop into a horizontal roll, slow down, and end up lying next to each other, downstage, left. It looked amazing.
When it came time to do the "run-dive" during the performance, I was really pumped. This was a one -time performance. There was never going to be a second chance on this. I had that half-crazed all-or-nothing feeling you get when it's the last play of the game, and your team is down by one point, and you have the ball. This was also the first time we did the "run-dive" with the stage-lights. Bridgman and Packer actually put this show together in one week! I myself, tried out on Tuesday, and performed Sunday. Talk about cramming!
Then the magical moment came. I was near the end of the line so I got to watch as the chorus members took off ahead of me. Single file, they flew out of the darkness, went horizontal as they passed through the bright center of the stage, then rolled off into the darkness again. In my mind's eye, I can still see Susan Edwards and Briana Susarrett backlit, all elbows, hair, and coattails, running into the light ahead of me. It was a real rush, and as close as I get to extreme sports.
Gosh, look at the time! My column is almost over, and I still haven't mentioned Heather Hudson, Robert Prebe, and Pat Solomon who also were in the chorus. Thanks, Chorus, it was great fun to dance with you!