A year ago I realized I wasn’t doing what I set out to do. I wasn’t performing, choreographing, or teaching. I was doing some of those things, some of the time, but none were fully realized. I had entered on another path, and had learned far more about the ‘Business of Art’ and the ‘Art of Business’ than I ever expected. I discovered personal strengths and weaknesses and saw them reflected as public successes and failures for that company. Life lessons aside, it grew depressing. The idealistic clarity of purpose I once knew was fading.
Life throws us a lot of lemons, and as Aysha Upchurch says, it was high time to make some lemonade. Depressed and needing to change, I did…….. EVERYTHING. Except fulfill my need to communicate through dance. I decided to leave my artistic home of four years (CityDance Ensemble) and made the leap from Associate Director/Director of Education to Founder/Artistic Director of my own company. In August 2006, Contradiction Dance: An Exchange Between Life and Dance was born. Contradiction Dance is dedicated to the fusion of modern, jazz, hip-hop, and tap dance fused by elements of Theatre and Story-telling.
Contradiction Dance is about reflecting society as I/we see it. We are an eclectic mix of devoted specialists in our respective forms, yet we are all curious creatures diving into the aesthetic mix we’ve built. As Artistic Director, I am, of course, interested in expanding our audience. I often ask myself, “How can I reflect on and question the experiences of a large audience if I only interact with a small aspect of the population?” Life has a way of meeting our needs, and I find that my desire to integrate the diversity of forms that we practice and enjoy encourages the conversations necessary to make the work.
Recently, I have been working on a piece called Casual Contact, which draws from the diversity of experiences I have had in making ends meet. Though I perform, choreograph, and teach, I must do other things to supplement income. But those pesky “other things” do not define me or distract me from my artistic purpose. In fact, they are great suppliers of “source material.” Take this excerpt from my blog on a part-time job:
“The purpose of a part-time job: For some, it’s to make extra cash. For others: to fill time, expand horizons, combat boredom, etc. For me, it was an experiment in being around people with jobs. The experiment is over now; I’m finishing my last days in this strange land full of protocol without purpose, goals set and met without an overall cohesive strategy, and complete ignorance of the actual skill sets within the worker pool that could, in-fact, further the stated mission of said company.
Casual Contact: There’s no such thing. We all make mistakes for $. Mine was choosing to work in a cubicle. Wow. Talk about culture shock. Voyeuristic life. Where’s the roof? I can hear EVERYONE’s conversation. Can I fit under the desk? Will anyone notice if I never come back from a smoke break? If I stand up, I can see everyone. This is weird. Who thought of this anyway?”
These experiences and thoughts have now become movement. Casual Contact combines “business casual” conduct and attire with hip-hop, jazz and modern movement backed by the sounds of Mushroom Jazz and The Gotan Project. The (in)appropriate gestures and “contact” in an office setting juxtaposed against “dance” partnering create fertile ground for choreography with a sympathetic human character. Casual Contact premiered in December 2006 at the Joy of Motion Choreographer’s Showcase. The piece is one of a tapestry of seven pieces that make up Perspective/SHIFT, the company’s first evening length concert.
We recently performed Casual Contact at the opening of a corporate awards ceremony: they recognized themselves in us, and LOVED it! We expanded our audience by asking them to look at themselves through our eyes and bodies; we were not judge, simply mirror. The post-performance conversations took on a new meaning; we were discussing the lack of casual human contact in the typical corporate workplace versus the violent or sexual contact many do experience – the film “Crash”, and much more. I remember thinking, “this is the exact purpose of my art.” I’m grateful to know that purpose and humbled to be capable of living it.
As a company, we continue to hone Casual Contact and perfect our “statement”. Rehearsal fuels my spirit: running and jumping on partners in heels with confidence, finding integrity in the gesture phrases, questioning how we are working with time, cleaning that damn unison material, and applauding happy accidents that lead to permanent changes. Bry Boogiemind asks how to do that lift with Kyra again, Joseph fights his tie in his face during his solo, Kyra continues to ask about the song she’s singing, “Do I HAVE to?” and I pray that the table I’m standing on doesn’t break… it’s been through a lot!
In rehearsal this week are three pieces: Casual Contact, Mother/Daugther Tango, and Pride. Mother/Daughter Tango is the bitter her-story between mother and daughter. This duet between a modern dancer (myself) and a tap dancer (Jasmine Artis) is based on my turbulent relationship with my mother. Mother/Daughter Tango explores the cyclical relationship of conflict, silence, and support that we share. Now, as a mother to my own daughter, the need to examine and resolve the past as a pathway to better choices for the future looms large. Set to Astor Piazzolla’s Milonga del Angel and to the percussive score of Jasmine’s feet, the raw passion and barely controlled rage in our volatile relationship is aptly supported by the music. As we refine the movement and sound each rehearsal, I am tormented by the lack of resolution and peace in both life and art.
Pride is a solo, of sorts, for dear friend and former duet partner, Reggie Cole. Reggie and I have been talking about creating this piece for two and half years; happily, we’re finally making it. A man looking back at the pressures, sacrifices, and unbearably hard work of raising his family – Reggie gets younger as the piece progresses. A celebration and realization of the joy and accomplishment his daily toil reaps for his loved ones, Pride celebrates one man’s relationship to himself, to his family, and to his God. Questioning who is family? And what do they look like? Several guests appear to set the stage and expand our notions. Pride resides mostly in my head at this writing; however, the essence of the movement has been a sheer joy to explore with my old friend and dear partner, Reggie. Our first rehearsal was spent giggling and hugging and reveling in the simple fact that we were in a studio together with the purpose of telling this story through our movement.
A new friend recently asked me why I dance the way I do. My response, “When I dance I feel closest to my best version of myself… as you say, fully awake, full of promise – not always realized, but worth the continued pursuit.” I spent two long years without poetry. The decision to begin Contradiction Dance brought a flood of lines and poems reflective of the bittersweet years past, the delicious present, and many hopes for the future. As these words pour onto the page, I am setting them in motion, weaving the fabric of Contradiction Dance’s first concert.
Perspective shift – everything changes.
Define your family.
Repetition. We repeat what we learn; it is all we know. Unless – perspective shift.
The other side of this coin.
Where strategy and intuition co-mingle and spawn an original experience. A bedtime song so year 5 does not have to be re-scheduled. What is your element? Elemental, elementary, elevate my circumstances via paradigm shifting constantly – found my constant.
Don’t spill this glass – I’m fragile these days. So much beauty threatens to crumble the ugliness so carefully crafted here. This is fine workmanship – I’d hate to waste it.
Like a massage to all the ethereal, yet necessary aspects of my humanity; my soul is resting. Intellectual batteries driven by high-octane creative juices are charged and ready for … something.
Now. The unmistakable, unexplored now. The past is uninvited, the future unimaginable, and the now – with its curiosities and spiritual blessings, is most welcom(e)ing. What should I wear for the occasion?
Nakedness seems most appropriate – as all has already been revealed, the secrets are not the intrigue, and well, it’s just sexier in the moonlight this way.
A project. With artists and friends. Welcome to the present. My present to this reality.
Contradiction Dance is in concert June 23 & 24, 2007 at Joy of Motion’s Jack Guidone Theater. Contact Kelly Mayfield at Contradictiondance@mac.com.