Code, Choreography, and Georgia O’Keeffe

CityDance artist Sarah J. Ewing guest blogs about her upcoming Georgia O’Keeffe-inspired performance at the Phillips on May 12.

choreography code 3_sjewingdc

Rehearsal for the upcoming performance

Through the process of making Analog O’Keeffe with the CityDance Conservatory Dancers, I have kept coming back to the word “audacity,” and more specifically: the audacity of choice. That word and that drive has been the starting point of the choreography, and is what attracts me to Georgia O’Keeffe’s work. I am not particularly rebellious in my life or in my work, but I do aim to be audacious.

OKeeffe_Pattern of Leaves

Georgia O’Keeffe, Pattern of Leaves, 1923. Oil on canvas, 22 1/8 x 18 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1926 © 2008 The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The creation of contemporary dance is a constant decision making process, and one that really doesn’t carry a rule book of what is right or wrong. You have to walk bravely into the unknown when you make a new work and never let the fear or uncertainty of that process hold you back. To have the audacity to create what you want to see in the world—I hope that the young dancers in this piece walk away from this process with a taste of just how powerful of a notion that is.

I also love computer code, the automation of workflows and the beautiful logic that runs databases and websites. It is everything that dance isn’t; reliable, consistent, and permanent—and yet, for me, the process of creating a dance piece and designing a database are the same. The goal is to hold as much information as possible inside a structured design so that the audience, or the end user, can obtain the information that they need to access.

Choreography is made rich by the use and manipulation of time, space, and energy. In a database, these elements would be the tables that hold records which individually don’t say much, but when put with other records, can tell the history of one dancer’s training for the past 10 years. You can see that training when you watch them perform through their skill and technique, or you can pull a report from the database and make a pivot table. We all like to receive information in different ways; for this project I chose to combine my two favorite ways into one.

We are using Xbox Kinect sensors to track the dancers movements, and then using this data to manipulate my animations that are programmed in Quartz Composer. These will be projected during the performance, allowing the dancers to create the entire environment of their performance based on their own choices in movement. That brings us back to audacity—and the power that free choice gives us. I hope the audience sees a little O’Keeffe in the show, and also a little of the students themselves—both inspire me every day.

Sarah J. Ewing, CityDance Ignite artist

Nicole Libeler side by side

Photos: Nicole Libeler

Some Assembly Required

In anticipation of Thursday’s interactive tour of the Per Kirkeby exhibition by Pittsburgh’s Attack Theatre, Artistic Director Michele de la Reza breaks down her performance group’s innovative method of combining dance, music, and the visual arts, which they call “Some Assembly Required.” See Attack Theatre in action Thursday night, or if you’re an art educator, participate in tomorrow evening’s Teaching Per Kirkeby Teacher Program (registration still available). 

Attack Theatre’s “The Score”

Attack Theatre’s “The Score”

Some Assembly Required is a process/performance that engages the audience with dialogue, performance, and improvisation inspired by works of visual art. With a devotion to the transparency of the artistic process, Some Assembly Required offers audiences a new way to engage with visual art and a new lens through which to experience dance and live music.

So, just how does this process work? Well, like many great works of art, we start with a blank canvas. For Some Assembly Required, we call this canvas the “score.” The score is essentially a road map for our dancers onto which we will add improvisations throughout the performance. It works similarly to the musical notation that guides a musician.

We will transform your comments during a facilitated discussion of artworks in Per Kirkeby: Paintings and Sculpture into music and movement, inserting and overlaying these improvisations into our blank canvas. We will create a unique performance using your ideas to add new layers of emotion, intent, and color, passion and complexity, and ultimately to create a new work of art together.

Use this image of the score to see if you can pick out the different and distinct phrases of the performance in the video below. This video is from our recent performance of Some Assembly Required: Public, when the artworks in the process were public artworks throughout our home city of Pittsburgh.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IL6XF10Klb8]

Check out just one example of an improvisation in the video below from one of our rehearsals where Peter Kope, my co-Artistic Director, asks the dancers and musicians to create an improvisation based on the idea of “armless.”

Michele de la Reza, artistic director, Attack Theatre

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?edit=vd&v=nLMy2yxptsU]

Moving with Me

Photo of artist Janine Antoni dancing the 5Rhythms by Meg Calrk

Janine Antoni dances the 5Rhythms. Photo: Meg Clark

After giving a brief overview of her work last Wednesday evening as part of the ongoing series Conversations with Artists, Janine Antoni calmly stepped away from her podium, took off her shoes, and walked to the center of the floor. Slowly she began to sway, moving her arms limply from side to side, gingerly tilting her head back, and lifting her feet. But she also continued to address everyone in the room, orally and physically guiding us through her movements of the dance, the 5Rhythms. “Our feet are on the same ground,” she told us, “you’re moving with me.” And as I leaned in closer, I noticed everyone around me was too.

Up until this point, I had only encountered Antoni’s work through research. I knew about her various pieces: rubbing one rock against another for a span of days in And (1996-99), tightrope walking over the ocean in Touch (2002), harnessing herself to a dollhouse replica of her home in Inhabit (2009)—and I understood that in all this, the artist was seeking connection between herself and other people. But I never felt connected. These works seemed too narrowly based in personal relationships of motherhood, womanhood, and love to include me. The nature of their subject matters and their intimacy seemed to belong exclusively to the artist.

But in sharing Antoni’s experience of dancing the 5Rhythms with both her and the audience, I began to feel connected.

Photo of Curator at Large Klaus Ottmann and Janine Antoni as they sit down for a conversation after her dance. Photo: Meg Clark

Curator at Large Klaus Ottmann and Janine Antoni sit down for a conversation after her dance. Photo: Meg Clark

Toward the end of the evening, Antoni sat down for a conversation with Curator Klaus Ottmann. He spoke about the expression of love, relationships, and gentleness in Antoni’s work, asking, “Where does that come from?” In reply, the artist revealed her work stems from “a deep loneliness.”

Immediately, I harkened back to Antoni’s dance . . . “you’re moving with me,” she had said. Before this Conversation, I saw Antoni’s work as a private and personal journey into the bodies, thoughts, and feelings of others. I didn’t understand the role of the audience, the part I could play in Antoni’s work. I didn’t understand that my role was necessary to her art’s meaning. But when I felt Antoni’s feet pounding the floor, and when I heard her voice calling out to the audience, and me, I felt connected . . . I was moving with her. Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone that evening, and I don’t think Antoni did either.

I’ve found that Janine Antoni and every participant in the Conversations with Artists series has enhanced my understanding of their art, not only as ideas that must be talked about, but also as entities that must be experienced. To explore this season’s theme–Art as Experience–we began with Wolfgang Laib in October and continued with The Otolith Group, Jill Downen, Anthony McCall, and, of course, Janine Antoni. Tonight, the experience draws to a close at the season’s final Conversation with William Pope. L. It will be another packed program, but standing room may become available for those willing to come a bit early and wait in line. Hope to see you there!

Madeline Bouton, Center for the Study of Modern Art Intern