Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kazakhstan Journal - Tuesday, August 23rd

Almaty, Kazakhstan
Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

There is a realization anytime I tell people where I am that Kazakhstan is a mystery in the States, and in many ways throughout the Western Hemisphere. Yet over the past 11 months my relationship to it has grown and grown through a series of opportunities to perform, to teach, to choreograph and to explore. Here, in Astana for the third time in a year, I'm in the last days of staging "Falling into the Sea," a 31 minute dance that has been evolving for eight years, changing with each iteration. Its the third dance of mine Samruk takes into their repertory, and the first time I've shared this dance with another company.

That is really just a part of the story of Company |E, and before it CityDance, in Kazakhstan. Our life here has taken on so many levels. Right now Jason Ignacio, one of Company | E's Associate Artistic Director's is in Astana, the Capital, working with another Kazakh Contemporary Company, Terra. To have two of us in Kazakhstan at the same time, in completely different cities working with different companies is really about as far from what a year ago I might have imagined as you can get. Yet the journey, like so many before it, has been rich, textured and full of life and surprise. How do you wind up with two people from one company in the same country 10 time zones away from DC at the same time, yet not working with the same people or on the same work? Crazy.

All this, really is due to the US Embassy in Astana and the US Consulate General here in Almaty. Through Jeff Sexton and Sue Kuester and the Public and Cultural Affairs teams we have been given a truly unique chance to share, in depth, what we do with these artists, and to build work, and bridges, which will endure for many years. My time here now lives outside State Department funding, supported instead entirely locally by Samruk, a step which is so much a part of our philosophy of building enduring partnerships which live past the time-frame that typically works for State. Yet none of it would have happened without them. Jason, for his work, has come at State Department initiative, and they're expanding the reach and scope to Astana, which was a dream for us.

Over the course of the next few days I'll have the chance also to share Jason's writings, images and thoughts with Terra, sort of a dual lens of working in KZ. Its the first time I've been able to share the writings of a colleague on this blog, and his ideas and musings are fascinating.

Here's Jason's first entry:

Day 1 @ Terra

"It was 3 am in Astana and I couldn't sleep, it was perhaps a mixture of unmerciful jetlag and excitement with my first day working with Terra Dance Company. I usually prep myself by researching the dance company's work beforehand but unfortunately Terra Dance Company does not have a website nor any publication available online.

Sometimes I like being left in the dark, it forces me to listen to what the dancers need as supposed to shoving a lesson plan that does not fit in the dancers' level. Terra Dance Company is a contemporary dance company housed in a beautiful theater called the Pyramid, which is literally a pyramid with an astonishing architecture from inside and out. The people from the US embassy and I arrived just in time for my 11 am class, I was greeted by 16 female dancers, all wearing dark leotards, tights and jazz sneakers (which I asked to be taken off before the class).

The class was held right at the vast space behind the stage, the floor is in good condition for dance but it was a little dim which I find very challenging throughout the class. Their strong ballet training was easily spotted in the beginning of the class, their spine is rigid and they struggle in standing with their feet parallel to the floor, which I find very common in dancers who don't have a regular modern or contemporary training. This gave me somewhere to start. Aside from helping them break free from one form of dance style, there is one mystery I needed to solve. The dancers were able to produce the movements exquisitely but somehow appeared disconnected, the question "why are they disconnected?" ruled my entire day. I tried series of exercises and activities to find out what's missing and I was able to locate the "disconnection" through the constructive improvisation exercise. They struggled in imagery and visualization, the movements kept appearing fake due to the disconnection of imagery, visualization and movement.

There are many factors associated with the inability to imagine and visualize while moving, most dancers are contented in just mimicking what the choreographer showed them and over time dancers lose their ability to think beyond counting and parroting shapes. I raised the question of "What motivates you to move?" as a performer I always look for a reason why I do things, a simple leg kick can mean so many things but why did you kick is the important question. Body language cannot lie and your body will naturally project what's in your head. Throughout this week I aim to draw a lot of things out from these gifted dancers from Astana, their strong potentials and spirit is inspiring me to do what I love to do…mentoring and teaching.

For tomorrow, I asked the dancers to write a personal story that will accompany the duet they helped developed today. I'm very excited to see the difference it would make to have a story running in their head while dancing."

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