Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mari Meade Montoya on Self-Structured Time

A huge part of our Phase 2 work is the self-structured time component. This time is intended for us to develop ourselves as artists-- performers, choreographers, teachers, and human beings. For me this has been incredibly valuable time.

Self-structured time has the freedom to be whatever you want it to be (within the goals of Phase 2 and as long as it doesn’t conflict with LCI events/meetings), but also the vital necessity to contribute to your future as an artist in NYC. I have learned that this provides me with time to develop myself and the connections I need instead of cramming it in after a long day of waitressing. The city is really a roller coaster, but it is well worth the ride.

One example of this is an audition process that started on September 28th at Judson Church. Over 90 females arrived for the audition, and the auditioner saw about 15 people at a time come in and do the material. Then she would ask a few of the dancers to stay until the end of the audition for the callback. During this first stage of the audition I ran into nearly every dancer I knew. Since the job was paying for rehearsal as well as performances, everyone was jumping at the opportunity to be involved. Already I thought the process was worth the connections and introductions that were made during the first hour of waiting for my name to be called.

When they got to the M’s, about two-thirds through, I went in, warmed about, and was taught a short combination. After doing the combination about three times, the auditioner asked two of us to stay for the callback. All of us left the audition studio, and the other girl and I joined the other dancers waiting for the callback. An hour or so later, the auditioner called all the callback dancers in (about twenty of us). We learned another phrase, did it in groups, and then at the end she said, she was looking for three people, but it was down to the following six… my name was not called. Slightly disappointed, but nonetheless excited I had made it so far, I went home.

About two days later I received an email from the auditioner, stating that although my height wasn’t right for the part, she really wanted me to come back for the final callback. Once again, excitement! The roller coaster was giving me the loop-the-loop. After a few false notifications, the now seven of us were given a final callback date. On Thursday we went back to Judson Church and the auditioner filmed us doing a phrase. The auditioner was actually one of the dancers, and she was sending the video to the choreographer who was currently in Croatia. I thought it went well, but didn’t have my hopes too high or too low.

Two days later I received an email that I had not been cast. Although I was disappointed, I was surprised how positive I felt about the process and optimistic I felt about the future. I emailed the auditioner back, thanking her for her time and energy. Moments later I received an email from her saying that although she did not make the final casting on this project, she thought I was a beautiful dancer and would like to get together to do another project. And so the roller coaster goes…

I have had a few other similar experiences, and not just with auditioning. A few weeks ago I sent in my teaching resume after hours of research to a few dance schools. I heard back from one saying that unfortunately the position had been filled, but none of the others even responded. Yesterday I received a call to come in for an interview on Friday for a teaching job! We will see where this roller coaster takes me.

My point in these stories is that the ride is worth it. I feel like I am being seen, and really getting my foot in the door, even if I am not walking out with the cash (or more importantly, performances, teaching experiences, etc) yet. Although feet are hitting the street a million miles an hour, NYC begs for patience. I have found that by sticking with it and staying pro-active, I am getting to know the dance world. I have faith things will come through, as some already have (and some haven’t). I thought the city would ask me for a strong will, or the ability to get up no matter how many times you get knocked down, or for the sacrifice of working an unrelated day job while running to auditions at night. So my will needs to be strong, and I have to keep getting up, and the Kenan Fellowship at LCI has graciously given me the opportunity to have a job related and intertwined with my field. But what is the biggest thing the city is asking me for? Patience.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gregory Hoffman on Life as a Teaching Artist

The first thing you notice about the Teaching Artists at Lincoln Center Institute is that these people are for real. Meaning that they are all extremely serious and committed to the work that they do. They are all very busy working artists who have chosen to commit a substantial amount of their time because they believe in the work that LCI does. Even the logistics of getting to a school can prove the level of dedication. This was evident the other day, when I made my first visit to a school in Scarsdale, NY. Lynn Ligammari, my mentor, had a roughly 2-plus hour commute (mine was a bit shorter from Harlem), and we had to be there at 8:30 am. Even with this grueling schedule, I observed Lynn give class after class a well-guided exploration of rhythm and pattern.

The artwork for this unit, Mountain Music, is a bluegrass performance that examines the diverse roots of this music. It invites an exploration of the importance of the music to the region that nurtured it, and the community-bonding aspects of music making. The particular lesson that I observed, which took place before the students saw the bluegrass concert, dealt with the importance of rhythm in bluegrass. To do this, Lynn devised an activity in which the students were asked to describe what they thought of when they read the word “Music” written on the board. From there the conversation flowed into the beat and rhythm. Lynn eventually had the students break into groups (like a band) and come up with their own rhythmic patterns. Since these were 2nd and 3rd graders, it was great fun to see the enthusiasm with which the activity was met.

It was fascinating to watch Lynn respond to what the students came up with. There was much to explore in this deceptively simple activity: decision-making, cooperation, artistic expression, and performance skills, not to mention the actual musical concepts of beat, steady rhythm, and the physical coordination required to perform the often acrobatic “pieces” that the children devised.

For example, in one group, one student beat time on a chair while two students jumped up and down in unison. A fourth student jumped around in a seemingly chaotic manner. It wasnʼt immediately apparent whether he was off the beat or just doing his own thing. Lynn, however, used the opportunity to ask the students what it was called when one musician does their own thing while the rest of the group plays backup. “A solo,” several kids shouted. Lynn then led the group to notice how the student jumping randomly was a bit like a soloist playing on top of the beat. This is going to be an important aspect of the performance later, but now the kids have actually internalized what that means; they have experienced it without ever picking up an instrument, or even needing to know how to play one.

Itʼs moments like these that fill me with the same enthusiasm I see in all the Teaching Artists Iʼve come across at the Institute. I assume that they, too, have all had moments like this, when a group of students become energized, and itʼs clear that a connection has been made. I canʼt wait to see what happens at the next school visit. Even if I do have to get up before dawn to get there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rachel Perkins: Observations in the Classroom

This week I was fully immersed in the practical application of Lincoln Center Institute’s approach to Aesthetic Education. I am currently working with my mentor in two schools: one in Brooklyn and one in a suburban school district outside of NYC. My mentor, Lisa, has invited me to fully participate in the lessons and it has been an exciting, if sometimes intimidating, experience. Lisa is not only incredibly patient (a necessary skill with eighth grade students), she is very flexible. We created a detailed lesson plan with the teachers from each school, but she was not afraid to stray from the lesson plan as different ideas were brought up by the students. She always managed to tie these new ideas together in an organic way that brought the focus back to the work of art (Mountain Music).

In both schools, we are inviting the students to work in groups of four like the quartet that performs Mountain Music. During their time in small groups, I have been able to listen to the creative ideas the students come up with and offer any assistance I can. These situations have challenged me to use the skills I gained during Summer Session. For instance, in one activity we have been showing Depression-era photographs to allow the students to gain contextual information about the work of art. Using these photographs as a prompt, we’ve asked them to write a few sentences about what they think the story is behind the photograph. Some students asked me who the people were or other details about the photograph. Rather than giving my opinion on the photos, I asked guided questions to allow them to shape the story they wanted. It was a much more satisfying experience for them, and gave them complete ownership of their story.

It was intimidating to be in front of a classroom of students at first, and I felt a great sense of responsibility. By the time we visited the third classroom, I began to feel more comfortable and I’m looking forward to our continued work next week.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Elisa Friedrich on Adjusting to Life in New York City

When I moved to NYC I felt like Alice in Wonderland. I had not only moved from a small to a big city, but had, once more, become a traveler between the old and the new world. The day after I flew in from Germany I jumped right ahead into Summer Session at LCI. The National Educator Workshop gave me a week-long introduction to LCI's approach to aesthetic education. I was fortunate to find shelter at my friend Eva's house, so I could fully throw myself into the various experiences in how to learn and teach the arts.

Having lived out of my suitcase for almost two months, I was eager to find a place to unpack and settle down. Browsing Craig's List became my daily routine. I discovered that anything with a door and four walls can be rented, no matter how rundown and shady. It took almost three weeks to find a suitable room in Jersey City with whispering trees in the back yard. Being looked down on by Manhattan's trendy crowd, I like Jersey City for its calmer pace and the amazing waterfront with its spectacular view of Manhattan.

The maze of the subway system is not as intimidating anymore. I have overcome the obligatory confusion about the up/downtown directions after two or three trial-and-error experiences, mastered the distinction between local and express stops, and know now that frantic searching for your Metrocard in front of the stall is not necessarily met with tolerance and kindness, especially during rush hour.

Living in a crowded city like NYC helps me to practice compassion and peacefulness. It is easy to lose your own pulse and only focus on your own well-being, without acknowledging others around you. Walking up the stairs of the subway and tolerating the slower pace of the person in front of you while being in a hurry can stretch my patience on bad day. I make a conscious effort every day to give food to people in need and treat everyone around me with respect. Some days it is easy to flow along with the heartbeat of the city, seeing love in the faces around me. Other days confront me with my inner war zone, my internal struggle to live up to my best.

The cultural life of the city offers never-ending inspirations. Observing the diversities of human expressions whereever I am, on the streets or in the subway, enhances my understanding of human behavior, including my own labyrinth of emotions. My ears are always tuned in to the many languages spoken around me, learning about the different rhythms and patterns in language. The possibilities to indulge yourself in art are endless. Museums, concerts, movies, lectures, dance meditations-- you name it, it is all accessible whenever you want. The choices can be overwhelming. But following Bob Murray's advice to take baby steps helps me to be present to whatever I experience and stops my mind from wandering into the what-if realm too much. It also reminds me to be patient with my own artistic endeavors. Finding my creative place within the community, I learn to accept that creating networks takes time and many tiny steps along the way.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Laura Gutierrez on Writing an Artistic Project Proposal

I just recently watched a Paul Taylor Documentary about his choreography, the company, and the rehearsal process. In the film a question that was asked was, "How do you create a dance?" He was on his way to the studio to begin working on the new piece and he said he still was not sure what the piece was going to be about. It was reassuring to see that Paul Taylor, one of the most successful modern choreographers, did not have his entire piece choreographed, set to music, or have the technical aspects in place; he just had a general idea or vision of what he wanted. I connected with him on this because in the past it is not until I go into the studio space, begin to move, and create on the dancers that the dance itself begins to take shape and that my theme becomes extremely clear to me. It is through the process that my work is made.

In preparing for the LCI artistic proposal, I had a general idea/theme of what I wanted my collaboration to be about; this was a huge challenge for me when it came time to writing the proposal. Putting my broad concepts for the piece of work that me and my co-collaborator had in mind into a proposal that was demanding us to be very detailed and specific was hard for me, since I usually work my way into the specifics as I go along the choreographic "ride".

In writing our proposal, being specific and detailed helped us to narrow down our ideas and talk extensively about our feelings toward the topic, which helped in getting to know the other's creative process when it comes to making a new work based on our passion for music and dance.

We ultimately came to an agreement on one common theme that we believe will be the most meaningful artistic process for the both of us in which we can create a cohesive piece of art.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mari Meade Montoya on Viewing Performances with her Mentor

One aspect of being a Kenan Fellow is having a mentor in your discipline. My mentor is full-time teaching artist, dancer and choreographer Lynn Brown. As part of our relationship building, as well as my personal growth as an artist, we receive a stipend to see performances in the city. We have been to four very different amazing shows, and I wanted to discuss some of the ways they have influenced me.

The first show we went to see was Life (in process) II by Bill Young and Colleen Thomas at DNA. This was my first show in New York, and that’s exactly what it felt like-- New York. The space, set up like Bill Young’s loft, was used in a variety of ways, forcing the audience to turn and rearrange to see different parts of the show. It incorporated text, including a few short monologues, as well as live music and videography through live feed. The piece ended with audience participants joining in a line dance with the performers. My immediate reaction was “I want use video in one of my dance pieces!” I felt like this was a real eye opener to the possibilities of New York.

Lynn and I also went to see Programs 1, 2, and 3 of Fall For Dance. Each show consisted of four pieces, generally around 20 minutes each. Overall this was an amazing experience. Every company was inspiring in their own way, especially because I had not previously seen any of them perform.

The first thing that struck me about Fall for Dance as a whole was the value of performers being in their own element. Many of the dance companies were classical, but many also were twists on classical dance (Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an all male en pointe ballet company, or Basil Twist, a puppeteer dance company). In the company Dance Brazil they began with a modern dance, and it didn’t seem to inspire the audience. But then, in their second and third piece, they really got into their capoeira dance movement. And the audience was soon cheering them on. I don’t think it was the incorporation of tricks, but rather that suddenly all of the dancers (about 12 men) seemed completely in there element. The audience recognized the performers were at home in their movement, allowing them to relax and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the piece. This was true for every company, no matter how classical or contemporary-- when they were truly being authentic, they were beautiful on stage.

I also noticed the different facial expression different companies had. The Martha Graham company dancers expressed their love for dancing, which I enjoyed. I also appreciated when the facial expressions added to the characters of the dancers, like in Monica Bill Barnes and Company. However, in some other pieces the facial expressions were completely blank and lifeless or overly choreographed. At an audition I was at recently the choreographer said, “Yes, be the character, allow yourself to act if that’s how you want to look at it, but don’t let your facial expression comment on the moment, actually show the character”. I thought this really summarized my reactions to the facial expressions of the dancers in Fall for Dance-- I appreciated the facial expression of the dancers in the movement or the character, but not the ones commenting on it.

As I often notice with LCI’s aesthetic education mindset, I left the shows with more questions than answers. So, I would like to just state some more of the questions that arose during these performances. What is the importance of presence vs. technicality? What is the point of musicians on stage, costumes, the set (ex: a big wooden box in Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company that I didn’t feel was utilized). Is the Grandiose feelings the City Center, extravagant costumes, set and music create necessary? Exciting? How does this affect the overall show? What is non-dance dancing? Is there such a thing? What makes it effective when you mix and match, for example Batsheva’s technical yet “down-town” repetitive performance? When does the strength of unison become boring? Is every movement so much more powerful in unison? If so, then why break from unison? Does pedestrian work/movement read well in a big space? (I thought it did when performed well, ex Monica Bill Barnes and Company). Is it effective to use music with words, and if so, how often? Why do I relate more to rhythmic work? Do all humans in accordance with our rhythmic hearts, or is this a personal preference? Could I envision my work presented at City Center? Which works? Why those works more than others?

Overall it has been a great experience going to these shows with Lynn, and I look forward to going to more. Not only has the dancing and choreography been superb, but I really feel like I am getting to know New York more. This is one of those opportunities that would never happen anywhere else, and I am so excited I have to take advantage of these incredible performances.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gregory Hoffman on Adjusting to Life in New York City

Gregory chronicles a restless night:

Itʼs 3 a.m. and Iʼve just paid $6 for a box of cereal. Iʼm out wandering around. Aimlessly. Thereʼs a 24 hour coffee shop in the West Village with free Wi-Fi, and I enjoy their chocolate chip cookies tremendously. Itʼs where Iʼve been going to work on my Kenan Fellowship artistic project proposal. And by working I mean staring listlessly at a blank page. And eating cookies. Iʼve got a little cluster of coffee shops that I bounce between-- when one closes I go to the next, until itʼs time to hit the all-nighter. But Iʼd been there for too long already, and I was well-cookied and overly-coffeed. So I figured Iʼd walk off the jittery sugar and caffeine buzz by cruising the ʻhood. When I saw the bodega, I remembered that I had no breakfast for the morning. I shelled out the cash and kept walking, my expensive little box of cereal shaking out a soft tattoo as I strolled along.

I could have just stayed in my Harlem sublet to work on my proposal, but itʼs good to get out. Besides, the lady downstairs has apparently decided to begin a one-woman war against the moths. So moth ball fumes saturate my room... a thick, oozing, almost smoky air of death filtering up from below. The first week was almost unbearable. Stomach cramps. Burning nostrils. Of course both windows are open wide, and a fan sweeps back and forth on full blast. But itʼs no match for the moth-extinguishing chamber of doom. Moving isnʼt really an option. Finding this place was an exhausting ordeal. And itʼs not financially feasible to put up another deposit and first monthʼs rent. I donʼt have that much liquid capital. Who would when cereal is $6 a box?

So I walk around at night to avoid the headaches and stomach pains. I think about my project and my proposal as I wander around. Itʼs nice down here. This part of town is where all the cute bistros hang out. They meet, fall in love, and have cute bistro babies. But they donʼt stray far from home. The neighborhood is teeming with them. Each block reveals the most c-h-a-r-m-i-n-g little place with the most delightful ambiance. The food, Iʼm sure, is simply delectable. I imagine conversations at these places are invariably witty, profound, and insightful. When I walk by in the early evening I see achingly beautiful people hovering around the sidewalk tables, their faces drawn to the gently flickering candles like rare moths plotting their revenge against my downstairs neighbor.

Late at night, after the bistro-butterflies have flown, I walk by with my bistro-priced cereal and see a rat with a paralyzed leg do a macabre dance along the curb. When I finally get on the train to go home there is a man screaming unintelligibly at an invisible adversary. This will be me, I think, after the moth balls melt my brain. Then the man falls asleep. I canʼt wait to get in bed myself... Iʼve been walking for hours, and Iʼm tired. Soon I will be snug in my Harlem home. Perhaps the concept for my project will become clear after a good nightʼs rest. When I sleep I dream of giant moths with human heads swooping around my room, their perfect features made ghastly by candlelight. They quiz me on Florentine Renaissance sculpture and German Expressionist cinema. Meanwhile the paralyzed rat eats its way out of my precious box of cereal. It limps over to my project proposal and shreds it. The moths are so large their wings leave dusty smudges on opposite walls. They bump against me and carry off the pieces of my tattered proposal, laughing manically. The rat hobbles into a hole.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rachel Perkins on Self-Structured Time

The Kenan Fellows at LCI are asked to keep track of their time each week throughout the second phase of the Fellowship. Fellows log the time spent on work they are asked to do by the Institute, such as attending meetings and making observations in schools. In addition, the Fellows are asked to fill the remaining hours of their forty-hour week with "self-structured time". This is time spent on developing themselves as artists. Below, Rachel discusses the challenges and benefits of tracking her self-structured time.

Since the beginning of Phase II of the Fellowship on September 1, each of us has had the challenge of organizing our forty hours per week. It has actually been much easier for me to efficiently use these forty hours than I originally thought. I have spent much of my time during the first few weeks doing research and work on my artistic project proposal. The freedom to schedule our own time has given me the opportunity to take an orchestra audition and play with two orchestras during the week. I have also been able to devote several hours a day to practicing violin, which is amazing!

It is nice that we still have time together at LCI. The first few weeks have included interesting meetings with the educational departments of New York City Ballet, Metropolitan Opera Guild, Juilliard, and the New York Philharmonic. We were also able to attend the two-day Fall Teaching Artist Workshop at LCI.

Some days it can be challenging to decide how you want to structure your work for the day, but that flexibility is also beneficial. For instance, I was able to attend a morning dress rehearsal of Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera-– something I would not have been able to do while in school or working in a job with traditional hours. This self-structured time is exactly what I need to explore what it means to be a musician and learn about the different paths available to me as an artist.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Emile Blondel on Networking

One major component of the Kenan Fellowship at LCI is the opportunity for networking. Fellows meet new contacts through their mentors, their peers, and through meetings coordinated by LCI staff. Below, Emile reflects on his networking experience thus far.

Networking is an important facet of finding performance opportunities, meeting artists with whom to collaborate, and finding jobs and housing. That said, networking has never come naturally to me. After-concert receptions are probably my least favorite part of performing, although the refreshments can be nice.

However, I do make an effort to talk to as many people as possible on these occasions. Most of my housing situations while living in New York and Paris have been found not through Craig's List, but by word of mouth and by getting placed into contact with friends of friends. Many interesting job experiences that I have had also came about in this way.

I have learned to keep some general habits when networking: Taking the time to talk to people when they seem interested in what you are doing; always carrying buissiness cards; following-up on ideas and opportunities, as people can often be busy and forgetful; thanking people when they have done you a service or favor; and most importantly, not getting discouraged when opportunities fall through.

There are many ways that we have to network in our current internet society--Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn among others. Personally I find face to face meetings or experiences working together much more meaningful and memorable than screen friends, and for me, it is usually these real-life networks that have led to the most interesting opportunities.

At Lincoln Center Institute there are great opportunities for networking possible, with artists, teachers and administrators who all share common goals of making the arts a part of everyday life and learning. In the short few months that I have spent at LCI I have met many interesting people and have seen some fascinating performances. Simply being exposed to the ideas and perspectives of the teaching artists and watching them brainstorm together has stimulated my own creative ideas. I look forward to continuing to expand my horizons this fall when I will accompany my mentor, teaching artist Patrick McKearn, into schools to begin putting everything that we have been discussing into practice.