Monday, February 14, 2011


Monday, February 14, 2011
Washington, DC

There is something in life that seems to precipitate huge moments in few days across a calendar year upon year. Valentine's Day was my Mom's birthday. Two years ago yesterday she passed. Two years ago today she was supposed to be in Utah at the Best Friends Animal Shelter caring for rescue animals -- it was her idea of a way to live in service of creatures abandoned and abused by people who should know better and care more. Her humanity was endless, my Mom's. It was always about what was needed, and for her there could be no better birthday than to hold a battered animal, to dish out a needed meal, to encourage an exhausted keeper. 

Valentine's Day was the day I got engaged -- Francesca surprised me as no one else ever has when she couldn't get the words out as she asked -- or, more, I guessed. There's a warmth in that memory that nothing will ever touch. 

Valentine's Day is the day I learned that one of the most caring, giving and selfless public servants I have ever known in my life -- and I have been honored to know many -- died. 

His name was Jeff Coudriet. He was, if titles matter at all, the Committee Clerk for the Committee on Finance and Revenue of the City Council of the District of Columbia. He was the boundless, relentless energy in the room, the guy who knew so much more than he would ever say, but never boasted about his knowledge. The guy who looked you dead in the eye and told you straight what was and what was not possible. The guy who got it done because he believed in you and believed in the fundamental power, and the profound responsibility, of government to make the world better. He did make the world better. He changed mine, and CityDance's. He made it possible. 

That's no exaggeration. He made it possible. At the end of the day, when all the ideas have been put forward and the talent laid out like so many offerings at the reception, when someone has to stand up and say "I believe in you and what you do, and I will help you get there," it was Jeff, more than anyone else, who stood for us. Year after year as we realized that no amount of fundraising from individual donors or grants or bank robbing could get you where you had to go financially, it was Jeff, and his boss Jack Evans, who made it happen. They didn't have to. They chose to. 

When the bottom fell out for us 18 months ago when then Council Chair Gray finally led a successful effort to eliminate DC Earmarks, I knew that it was Jeff who was the very last to relent. 

It wasn't about friendship, though I considered Jeff a friend. It was about service. He believed in the power, in the vitality, in the deep grace of the arts to make the life of a city he cared deeply about better. 

That whole conversation is yet again underway, and that idea once again under assault. The emails swelling up my inbox of the latest effort to wipe out NPR and PBS, the desire to make a point by obliterating the NEA and the NEH tell the now familiar story of cynicism in "fiscally responsible" clothing. Its not that. The notion that a civil society does not need inspiration from the talent that swells in our land, and that, even if it does, there is something vile about the notion that we can, we must, all support it is once more afoot. It's not even pennies on the dollar. Its fractions of pennies. Yet somehow even that is too much.

Art is a money-losing venture - maybe it shouldn't be, but it is. Its just the way it it. So is scientific research and the quest for knowledge by the way. There is a message looming in my own organization to the young artists we train every day that a career in the field is well-nigh impossible. There isn't the money for even the most meagre salaries for professionals who amaze and who give real-life and breath to dreams. There isn't the will to stand up in the corridors of power and say "enough." You cannot thrive in the experience of that which you cannot sustain. 

Through all of that, through watching the support which had been so fundamental as a differentiation point between Washington, DC and so many other municipalities vanish, there was Jeff, the person who believed. It didn't matter whether there was a day when no amount of care could make money materialize in a recession. You knew that someone in a position of power cared about making a difference and understood that sometimes you had to do more.

When I was on the Hill for those seminal years in my life I found people like Jeff in every corner of the legislative branch. He was someone who understood that service was not about convenience nor expedience. He knew the system and he knew its strengths and weaknesses and he celebrated those and stood by them as he listened and cared and tried to find a way to make better the lives of those who came to him. 

The longer I live the more, not the less, do I believe that "one person can make a difference" is in fact a maxim not simply an idea. I see it every day. I see it writ small and I see it writ large. Rarely have I seen it larger than in the devotion Jeff Coudriet gave. The number of lives he touched, and the subtle and vibrant way he touched them are something I know I will never comprehend. I think none of us will because he wasn't that kind of guy. You knew he'd done something powerful for someone when you'd ask him a question and in deflecting it there's be a small smile at the corners. That smile wasn't for you. It was for him and the people he'd done something for. 

We live in stunningly difficult times when the words funding and art are combined. Those times, and the vitality of a city we call home, are a bit tougher today. 

Thank you, Jeff. Thank you for believing in so many, and for doing so much for a city that needs the care you gave and the meaning you brought to a too-often cliched phrase -- that government exists to serve, and that service has a meaning that lasts beyond the day and into the future. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sound advice

February 13, 2011
Washington, DC

At the end of a long conversation yesterday with Chris (CDE rehearsal director and choreographer-in-residence) we got to talking about programming order for the upcoming concert at Montgomery College on February 25 - 27. The discussion is one we have before every show -- and often have both many times before a show and during a concert run, when we have made major changes to show order during runs, or on tour. We've come close a couple of times to changing show order during a show. 

Program order is an odd thing. Its like -- but somehow far more important than -- song order on an album. The way you string a concert together, especially a repertory company concert, dramatically affects the entire way a show is seen, and can alter totally the success of failure of a concert as a whole, and individual dances as works in and of themselves. Sounds silly probably, but its way, way true. 

Yesterday's conversation reminded me yet again that its so often the soundscape, not just (or even) the choreographic landscape, that drives a concert. You would think a dance concert would be dominant in its attention to visuals, but you ignore, or undervalue, sound at your peril. 

This is never more true than in a concert where all, or almost all, of the work is brand-new. The dominant dances on the concert program for "Hold Your Breath Until The End" are new ones from Chris and myself (in my case in collaboration with the company). When we got to programming conversations we found we weren't talking about how the dances looked, but how they sounded. Would the way they are shaped by their scores blend - how should they be separated -- how should they be programmed. In my case, at the end of the conversation, I found myself even rethinking my score based on ensuring a rich and diverse soundscape for the entire show. Somewhere around 3am I was still rummaging through my sound library, trying out different ideas, mixing things together, pondering what made a good story in sound to the story on stage. 

The successful choice of a soundscape is a funny, intuitive thing. Its a marriage. The good ones last. The bad ones....

For me, for "Conversations" I keep coming back to solo piano -- and a kind of solo piano that feels itself like a discussion, a debate with the movement itself. How does that sound impact what you see? 

It used to be that I'd pick my music long before walking into the studio. I think back to "Falling Into the Sea" and dances I made three and four years ago and it all began with the music -- the movement and the narrative all emerged from it. But over these past few years that's flipped on its head. The story is always the start - and so often the movement builds with no sound at all. Its about the interplay of the people in the room and how they touch each other -- both literally and figuratively. And so the challenge changes, and you find that you go in search of sound that does what you need it to do in service of a mood and a story -- and of when there should be no sound at all, when the air is still and its just the eyes that "listen." 

My Dad loved enormous music -- whether it was the Mahler Ninth or the Mozart Requiem. And I tried - for about 30 seconds -- to explore that. And it bombed with a capital bomb. It was one of those "play it for about 16 measures and run the other way" moments. The piano -- and specifically Max Richter's piano -- was the pull. 

But what happens if the right sound for the dance is not necessarily the right sound for the concert as a whole? Its like making two different dances at one time -- one for the htought of the dance and one for the thought of the program. 

Makes for some interesting cognitive dissonance. 

Its a journey still very much in process.....

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Limited Visibility...

...Chris (AKA Christopher K. Morgan) is at work on a new dance, "Limited Visibility," for the upcoming concert series at Montgomery College here in DC (well, technically suburban Maryland 'cause McPAC is about 25 feet over the District line). He's been working with Francisco (Campos-Lopez, one of our Creative Directors for FilmWORKS) on both commercials and an Inside Look video MicroDoc. They've really produced amazing stuff together -- and the commercial really shows both Chris' vision and Francisco's gifts behind the camera to their fullest.

Here's Chris's Artistic Statement on the dance:

Continuing his investigation of work that brings intimacy to the stage, Christopher K. Morgan's newest piece, Limited Visibility, exposes what one usually hides from public view.  Inviting the dancers to reveal things they might only do in private, the piece is a suite of dances connected in theme and design.  

Partially inspired by material he developed during CityDance's recent collaboration with the University of Iowa International Writer's Project, the work uses unconventional lighting sources to define small personal areas on the stage in which the dancers perform.  A sleek scenic design that Morgan is creating himself, as well as costumes made with frequent collaborator Kyle Lang, the aesthetic of the piece brings the edge near.

Thought it would be fun to put both here - process and result...


The INSIDE LOOK video:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hold Your Breath Until the End: The Trailer (1)

Saturday, February 5, 2011
Washington, DC

It's concert time, and Francisco Campos-Lopez spent the week with camera in hand and editing station on overdrive. Here's the first trailer for "Hold Your Breath Until the End," our concerts at Montgomery College's new Cultural Arts Center in Silver Spring. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Conversations With My Father (a beginning)

February 4, 2011
Washington, DC

My Dad died 14 years ago. But I still talk to him. Late at night, when the world is winding down, when the house is quiet, the air still, when sound travels around a room with a clarity that makes you think it can exist only in your imagination, I find myself, well, talking to him. Night was always his time. He didn't understand morning. I'm not sure he ever understood daylight. But 3am? Always. That was his hour. Its when he was so alive that you could feel him walking -- pacing, prowling -- around the house even though the door was closed and your lights long since out. You'd hear his cigarette lighter snap open, the needle drop on the turntable and "boom" Berlioz, or Brahms or Mahler burst through the night. When even New York was asleep, he'd be doing the dishes from a dinner he took three hours to craft and an eternity to serve. A meal at 11 wasn't uncommon. 

For a long time after he passed I stopped talking to him. Call it separation. Call it denial. But he was gone. Yet, over the years, memory filters through, the force of the moments which called you to be who you became slip through the cracks that come with time, and, in small ways, he found his way back. I'd be deep into one of his books (my Dad's library encompassed entire walls) and he'd be there. A lesson from dinner would be there. A word at bedtime would be there. A strong, course hand on my shoulder would be there. Memory would be there. Restored. Returned. Found. 

In these past weeks, when the challenges of keeping the very art that was the foundation of CityDance alive have grown like monsters in a child's imagination when the wind whistles under the seam in the window, it has startled me how present he's been. 

It's been a mixed blessing, that presence. Every child, no matter his or her age, carries so much which is unresolved about their parents. The good mixes with the bad -- the conversation you treasured intertwined with the one you never finished -- or never had, with the one you intended that death took away. 

For most of us, I think, those things lie like stones in a field. You work your way around them, you live your life seeing and feeling them, knowing that there's nothing you can do with them. I have an advantage there. I have dance and a company that understands what to do with life's grace, with its pain and possibilities. A company of extraordinary talent not simply as the physicalization of an idea, but of the idea itself. 

Yesterday we started a new conversation -- one not simply with my father, but with all our fathers. A love story for ourselves, with ourselves and with each other. A journey through our lives, and through our hearts with our families, present and absent, living and passed, because wherever they are, they are with us because we are so very much of them.

At a moment when so many things are challenging everything I treasure about what we do, it makes sense I think to find a way back -- back to family, back to friendships. Three weeks from tonight that journey finds its way to the stage. 

So much conversation lies ahead.