As most people know, the first day with a new boss is always nerve-racking no matter what one’s job. For a dancer, the first day working with a new choreographer, can be equally if not more nerve-racking! For me these nerves lead to my mind scrambling with all sorts of questions. What is this new choreographer like--friendly, soft-spoken, mean, tense, inspirational? Will he or she be super demanding and direct or passively indirect? Will I, as a dancer, be able to talk or contribute any of my own ideas to the piece? Will my style mesh well with his or her style? Will this choreographer appreciate the way I move? And on, and on, and on. It is sometimes impossible to quiet my mind until we start moving, and even then these questions often continue to pester me!
I remember walking into the studio the first day of rehearsal with our guest choreographer, Gabrielle Lamb, feeling a bit anxious for this reason. But, to my surprise, upon walking in the door and introducing myself to Gabrielle, she quickly reminded me that we had in fact met before. Gabrielle had attended my senior showcase in New York City just a few months prior at the Gibney 280 Broadway studios. I had been taking class before our performance at the same venue, and in an attempt to be bold had introduced myself to a woman sitting near me and Gabrielle. After some small talk, I ended up inviting them both to my performance the following evening. Little did I know, that the woman I haphazardly invited to my show would not only attend the performance, but soon I would be working with her on a new piece created solely for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance! I always enjoy looking back at my path thus far, and seeing how my school, a bit of risk, and Dark Circles brought me into a creative process with Gabrielle Lamb. It is no joke when they say that the dance world is very small!
In the studio, Gabrielle came in with a plan, pleasant smile, and addictive sense of focus. On the first day, Gabrielle taught us a Feldenkreis-inspired modern warm-up class in order to get to know us a bit better and to begin developing a movement language together. The class featured some release style exercises that were extremely refreshing to us, as we train primarily in improvisation and ballet. Within this different style, she utilized animal imagery such as octopus tentacles, bats wings, and serpent slithers in order to manifest distinct textures and pathways of movement. The company was quick to connect with these images as we train using imagery and sensation in order to enhance our movements constantly.Thus, from the start, it became apparent that working with Gabrielle would compliment and contrast the work we do with Joshua remarkably well, and all my fear and anxiety quickly faded away.
The first few days of the process involved learning phrase-work and building our own solos and duets. Gabrielle’s phrase-work is extremely detailed and intricate with clear hand and finger movements and foot positioning. However, amidst this unique specificity, she allows the dancers in the room to create independent and individually stylistic movements. In this way, the two weeks with Gabrielle felt like a group effort to construct a puzzle. Gabrielle worked with us slowly, piece by piece, to figure out how she fits into our movement world and how we fit into hers, creating an amalgam of movement and inspiration that showcases our company beautifully. We were encouraged to voice solutions to any awkward moments within the movement and discuss how the piece felt from within. From a dancer’s perspective this sort of open process inspired me to perform to the best of my ability. The work environment that Gabrielle created lead to a sense of clarity, which allowed the movement to settle into my body rather quickly, pushing me to perform with risk and abandonment very early on in the process.
One of the more challenging aspect of Gabrielle’s process for me was discovering and conquering the one-of-a-kind musical composition that guides the work. Gabrielle, just like in her movement vocabulary, has a very specific sense of musicality. The music that Brandon Carson composed specifically for the work, flows freely with intricately small subtle details and counts. Throughout the piece, we have to count like mad-men and women in order to accomplish the correct movements on the correct sounds. There are sections where we count in 6’s in sets of 24, then switch to 8’s, then switch to just listening for a splash or shells clanking. It takes a team in order to keep everyone on the same page, but we all enjoy the provoking counts as they unite us through the work.
The musical composition is truly what drives the piece as a whole and also inspired the special movement vocabulary of the work. Gabrielle's movement is complex, detailed, virtuosic, and requires an agile body to execute it properly. She finds ways to slip in and out of floor work, partnering, and lifts effortlessly. She truly takes her time to cultivate the work, editing and re-editing constantly as we progressed through the two weeks. The result of this steady, slow, research-oriented development is piece that is action/reaction based. Each dancer relies on another event or movement or person in order to continue the trajectory of the piece. To perform in this way, every dancer must be completely present, sensitive, and aware of everything that is happening onstage.
Working with Gabrielle for two weeks was extremely fulfilling and satisfying as an artist. It is funny for me to look back and think how nervous I was on the first day. Gabrielle is a an extremely humble, brilliant, sweet, intelligent, driven, and caring choreographer. I am so happy to have gotten to know her better through this process and I am excited to continue to work on her piece and eventually perform it!
Reserve your seats for Gabrielle Lamb's Can't Sleep But Lightly as well as for Joshua L. Peugh's Yellow & Rattletrap. The performance will take place March 3 at Addison Theatre Centre, Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. For tickets, CLICK HERE.