Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Out of the Vault

Next week the Emory Dance Company performs their fall concert, Vault. The concert focuses on the idea of the choreographers taking old pieces and ideas "out of the vault" to revamp them and propel us forward. Greg Catellier, senior lecturer, answers a few questions about the original version of his piece "Of Kiltering" and the process of modifying the work for the concert. 

Tell us a little bit about the idea behind the original version of your piece "Of Kiltering".
The original idea for "Of Kiltering" encompassed several notions of balance. One could watch "Of Kiltering" and think only of the balance of space, that is, where and how the dancers are distributed throughout the stage space. However, I was also contemplating the balance of relationships, the balance of power, and the homeostasis of power that groups fall into. I was so fascinated by balance at the time (2006), that I asked each dancer how much they weighed hoping that I could somehow figure out how to balance the stage mathematically by adding the different weights together. That didn't go over so well with the dancers.

At the time, I was also reacting to my somewhat new environment: the cast is matched in number and in gender to that of the Emory Dance Program full time faculty. I'm not making any direct statements about my colleagues with this work, but like all groups the balance of power shifts between us. 

Why did you choose to take this particular piece "out of the vault" and not another one of your works?
I considered bringing back several pieces but I was able to cobble together a great cast of student dancers that matched the number and gender of dancers needed for "Of Kiltering". Furthermore, it is one of the pieces that I really like, which is unusual. I find most of my works abhorrent a year after making them.

Looking at it with fresh eyes I see that it started me down the path of the work I'm doing now. The evening length works I create take a subject and approach it from many different angles. "Of Kiltering" is a mini version of that formula.

What about this new version is different from the old one? How do you think these changes affect the work?

In the old version there was a section where Lori Teague and I were attached to ropes that went through a pulley system above the stage and attached to the two chairs that are used in this piece. As we moved through the space the chairs would fly up and down. I was really trying to get at the visual balance of vertical space. The mechanism was also a kind of upside down scale. The section worked in and of itself but stood out as something foreign within the work as a whole. We ended up cutting it for a version at the Modern Atlanta Dance Festival.

In this new version I added to a trio section that focused more directly on the balance of power. The trio is kind of comical and I always felt that it got short shrift in the original piece. I also feel that this change has allowed me to tailor the work to the talents of these particular dancers. I'm pleased with the new "Of Kiltering".

The Emory Dance Company Fall Concert Vault shows November 15-17 at 8pm and November 17 at 2pm; tickets are available for purchase here.  Please see our Facebook page for more details. For information on the Emory Dance Program, please go to our website

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ending a Series With New Inspirations: George Staib and Gaga Technique

As our last Opening the Space event arrives, we ask George Staib, Senior Lecturer, to delve into his experience with Gaga technique after journeying to Tel Aviv for a Gaga intensive. Staib shares with us how Gaga has influenced his technique classes and helped shape his upcoming evening length piece, Versus. Staib will be teaching a technique class next Tuesday, November 6 at 7:30 pm in the Schwartz Center Dance Studio.

When most people hear the word “Gaga” we think of a crazy pop star.  For those who don’t know, what is Gaga technique?
Gaga is an improvisational technique developed by Ohad Naharin, the current artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv, Israel. The technique is founded upon vivid imagery, used to provoke specific movement qualities and assist in developing a keen awareness of the entire body while moving. Participants are asked to work internally, always using sensations as a source for movement, rather than psychological triggers. This allows for greater individual exploration and helps the mover become acutely aware of his/her habits, offers keys to new movement inventions, and strengthens the performer's ability to communicate physically. 
When did you first come across Gaga? What was your initial reaction?
My first experience was in New York while watching the Cedar Lake dancers perform Naharin's work Deca Dance. I was transfixed; moved by their physicality, intrigued by their ferociousness, and in awe of their command over their bodies. Since that experience, I stalked Batsheva on-line and became obsessed.  Never having been an improviser myself, I was skeptical; but having had the experience in Tel Aviv, I must admit that I am a believer.
How do you incorporate Gaga into your technique classes? 
I found that since studying, my eye is now more focused upon subtlety. I believe that I am gaining more insight where finding "glitches" might be concerned, and I feel better suited to offer advice. Certainly, I do not wish to turn everybody into a Gaga inspired dancer, I simply wish to provide a different perspective from the things I am able to understand more fully now. I do use imagery I obtained in Israel, and use the freedom I felt as a point of departure. When something is especially wonderful to you, you want to share it. And although I am by no means a certified Gaga teacher, I can offer a little of what I learned while studying in Israel. I must admit, that becoming certified is on the horizon for me, and I will be returning to Tel Aviv this summer for the Gaga Intensive.

Has Gaga inspired any of the movement in your upcoming work, Versus?
Gaga, or rather the study of Gaga, I guess you could say, has certainly opened my body to new movement and that freedom has brought new vocabulary. I would say that, yes, I do feel as though "Versus" will look and feel different, not only because of the subject matter, but because my dancers are moving differently and we are all feeling ideas differently. It is an exciting time. I believe we will always like what reminds us of home, but sometimes, it is nice to redecorate - for me that's what Gaga has done - like fresh paint on familiar walls.
All Opening the Space events are free.  Please see our Facebook page for more details. For information on the Emory Dance Program, please go to our website

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dance and Yoga Connected

Next Tuesday, October 30, is the penultimate installment of the Opening the Space series.  Anna Leo, Associate Professor, will be teaching a Yoga Class open to all levels. Below, Leo tells us how she has connected Yoga to dance and how it has been implemented in the Emory Dance Program.

What are a few of the many ways in which Yoga can be beneficial to the dancer?
I have begun creating what I call "modules" of yoga poses for specific dance classes.  For example, George Staib came to me seeking a way to help students access the arch in the upper back, I put together a series of yoga poses (a module) that address this area of the body, and provided a new way for students to observe that area of the body.  A singular pose may enable students to gain insight into a specific dance concept that they couldn't find through regular dance technique channels. I have worked on various dance concepts through modules including leg rotation, pelvic placement, specific ballet positions (such as passe, arabesque, and attitude, and general alignment.  For Greg Catellier's Fitness for Dancers course I prepared a module that works on strength, and then another for flexibility, especially of the hamstrings.  
Yoga focuses a lot on breathing, something that can often be overlooked in dance.  How do you think the breath work in Yoga can positively assist the dancer?
Although I include attention to breath in yoga poses and in dance classes, I actually teach about breath in separate sessions. The practice of pranayama (refinement of the breath) is a class in itself.
Any other words on the relationship between Yoga and dance?
It is my belief that a sense of well being is often the result of self awareness attained through activities  that connect the mind and body - like yoga. Great for dancers and everyone!

All Opening the Space events are free.  Please see our Facebook page for more details. For information on the Emory Dance Program, please go to our website

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Touching Base with Contact Improvisation

On Tuesday, October 23, Lori Teague, Director of Dance,  will be leading a Contact Improvisation Jam as part of the Opening the Space series.  Teague touches base with us with her perspective on contact improvisation in preparation for this event. 

1. How do you think contact improvisation best helps us as movers?
Contact Improvisation (C.I.) is mostly about exploring weight and flow in the body in three-dimensional space.  The timing and pacing of the movement is determined by the two, or more, bodies that have connected.  Concepts we explore in technique class, such as being grounded, transferring weight in any direction, or leading with various body parts are utilized while the mover is in the act of improvising with someone who is doing the same.  C.I. develops a sensitivity to someone else's timing while simultaneously deepening how they are moving from the inside out.  You are sensing through the skin; you are understanding leverage; you are following your own impulses and listening to someone else.

2. What do you think is most difficult for beginners to grasp when first trying contact improvisation?
Probably touch itself, and that is directly related to giving weight to your partner and the trust involved in that process.  Because C.I. is inherently intimate there has to be immediate abstraction— a way of discovering movement choices without a personal way of identifying with the source. I am not saying that you are detached. I am saying that you move your body and feel their body as an element, a mass of weight leveraging, skimming, following.  Our inhibition with touch is attached to social and psychological components of our lives. We can simply move and be moved by someone else by responding to an environment of tone and landscape.

3. What is your best piece of advice for all contact improvisers out there?
C.I. is incredibly fun.  The range of ideas and possibilities are magnified through touch, trust, community, and self-knowledge.

All Opening the Space events are free.  Please see our Facebook page for more details. For information on the Emory Dance Program, please go to our website

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Preview: Blake Beckham's Artist Talk on Threshold

Blake Beckham ('01C) gives us a sneak peak at what she will be discussing in next week's Opening the Space: Artist Talk about her latest work, Threshold. Beckham and her Lucky Penny design team built a life-sized two-story house made entirely out of cardboard and created an acclaimed dance within it. Don't miss this event on Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 7:30pm.

How exactly did you come across such a unique idea as performing in a life size house made of cardboard?

The initial idea was to create a performance piece addressing the fragile nature of home. In the course of my research, I started dreaming of a house of cards - an image that eventually transformed into a house of cardboard. The concept and material, I realized, evoked the tension at the heart of the work. Most of us associate houses with permanence, security, and stability. The cardboard box suggests transiency, packing, moving, even homelessness. To see a fully designed house made out of cardboard is a compelling contradiction. For me, its both provocative and evocative.

How does the theme of crossing thresholds into environments that are normally kept private and out of public eye come across in your choreography?

In the piece, we destabilize home by building it out of paper and fragmenting its architecture. We also call into question the fluid nature of its thresholds - spaces of transition where we might lose ourselves. From the very beginning of our creative process, I was interested in the dialectic of interior and exterior. Thresholds are icons of boundary that call our attention to this tug: inside/outside; public/private; the sacred/profane. Home is a refuge, but because we feel protected there, its also where we unleash something of ourselves usually kept hidden from the outside world. I wanted the audience to have a bit of a voyeuristic experience - to feel that they had gotten a little too close to the intimate relationships played out by the dancers inside this house. As such, the dancers expose themselves through an intimate physical language that's both tender and terrifying, dreamlike but familiar.

What were the challenges of choreographing a piece while simultaneously building the set in a limited amount of time?  Did these challenges influence your choreography in any way?  How did the structure of the set in general influence your choreography?

DramaTech Theater was incredibly gracious to offer us a five-week residency in their space, during which time we built the house, conducted all the technical rehearsals, and performed the piece. The short timeline for construction meant that our efforts had to be heroic. Thankfully, we had a devoted crew of 30, plus over 70 volunteers who made the extraordinary commitment. It took over 2,000 hours in 28 days to build the house, through a complicated process of gluing, cutting, assembling, hoisting, hauling, and problem-solving. We were physically exhausted, stretched to the limits of our endurance and imaginations. The dancers demonstrated incredible resolve, learning in a very short time to work with the set and its moving parts. In most of our rehearsals, we had to rely upon just drawings, models, and renderings to envision how the choreography would fit into the space. That was a fun but complicated challenge for me - to develop the work for the set, but without the set. And to create something that used the space without destroying it. Despite its hefty appearance, the house itself was actually fragile. With use, it would easily sag, dent, and rip. 

What do you think you will take away most from this experience?

Threshold generated an amazing and diverse community - people who came together to participate in the work, volunteer on our behalf, and assist with financial and production support. These were professional artists representing a host of disciplines, local arts patrons, architecture aficionados, all kinds of students from the Georgia Tech campus, moms, friends, members of the stage hand's union, and others who recognized that this was a very substantial effort for Atlanta's performance scene. The ambition of the project was magnetic. Those who helped build the house were empowered by the process. It was truly a remarkable sight: to start on day one with nothing but a giant pile of cardboard, and end several weeks later with a monumental structure. I think the artists at the center of the work (myself included) were all challenged in meaningful ways. I think we grew as creative thinkers and expanded our vision of what's possible. 

All Opening the Space events are free.  Please see our Facebook page for more details. For information on the Emory Dance Program, please go to our website

Monday, October 1, 2012

GYROKINESIS® Q & A with Sally Radell

Sally Radell answers a few questions about the somatic practice of GYROKINESIS® to shed some light on her upcoming Opening the Space class on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 7:30pm. 

What is GYROKINESIS® and what are its benefits?
GYROKINESIS® movement training involves circular movements of the spine, rhythmic breathing, and continuous flow to develop improved body awareness, core strength, flexibility, and movement integration. It was developed about twenty years ago by injured dancer Juliu Horvath as a way to bring movement back into and strengthen his injured body. The form was originally referred to as yoga for dancers and is suitable for movers of all experience levels. To me it feels like a form of Pilates for dancers because of the continuous flow that focuses on building core strength. It is now being taught in university dance programs across the country as a somatic form that strengthens dancers' technique.

When did you first come across GYROKINESIS®?
I first encountered GYROKINESIS® movement training about three or four years ago. As a dancer who has moved my whole life I kept getting injuries, primarily due to the fact that I spent most of my recent movement life teaching and not enough time training my body. A few dance colleagues told me about the work, I took a few classes and I was hooked. I was able to complete the teacher training process primarily in Atlanta and became certified to teach the form last April. 

What is your favorite aspect of this technique and why?
As a somatic form I particularly like it because it really strengthens ones core, which for me was the key to reducing my injuries and it definitely has. Also, it feels like dancing as opposed to just doing exercises. This interested me. One thing I have definitely learned in my movement life is that if you don't really enjoy it you won't do it. Additionally, in the Emory Dance Program we are working to increase our somatic offerings, so I am currently teaching our first class in it this semester. Next spring I will be teaching the material in a freshman seminar format and am really looking forward to it. I am also presently offering community classes in the form as well.  

All Opening the Space classes are free.  Please see the facebook page for more details.