The following is a context statement and reflection about our BiP/WiP 2022 written for Wilson College's MFA Program.
Written by Bodies in Play Founder, Andrew Pearson.
The work in progress developed over the past several months emerged from a process I facilitated to create ensemble-devised, collectively-directed choreography. The practice-led research questions for the process first came to me through the book Perception: How Our Bodies Shape Our Minds by Dennis Proffitt and Drake Baer. The introduction of this book ends with the question “What kind of body do we have and how does it shape what we do, what we know, and how we connect with others?” (Proffitt, 2020, p. 8). For our work, I extrapolated upon this, curious how we might make room for each of our multifaceted identities within a choreographed work. How do we honor and celebrate the individual while simultaneously honoring and creating a communal experience? How do we invite and embrace the various realities and hurdles we face as individuals – such as differing privileges and access needs, conflicting schedules and job juggling, Los Angeles traffic, and more – in ways that make us each feel supported, acknowledged and maximally utilized? To answer these questions, I began from a place of shared leadership, transparency, and a non-hierarchical valuing of differing dance and movement aesthetics. As such, I invited only 3 of the 5 dancers who would join me in the process, asking one of them to be my co-director and the other two to each invite an additional dancer to make an ensemble of 6. We met for a total of 4 weeks on Monday and Thursday evenings, with Mondays being “creative exploration” facilitated with prompts and directives I proposed, then shaping these explorations into performable sections on Thursdays.
From the beginning, the process embraced the balancing of multiple truths and contradictions in order to create a cohesive piece built from 6 different voices in a relatively short amount of time. We not only had to honor the various needs of each individual, but also the complexities that come with living and dancing in Los Angeles such as: navigating traffic and commutes; working multiple jobs; and a dance presenting model built mostly on entrepreneurship, self-funding, and crowd sourcing. The guiding principle of this process was that each of us were entirely in charge of our own body at all times. This meant we, individually, got to decide what movement we would ultimately perform and whether or not we created variations or modifications of any given movement. Part of this was to allocate at least 30 minutes of rehearsal to individual warmups – a time when each dancer could care for their own body however they needed to. In our first rehearsal, as we individually warmed up, I also offered a series of contradictory prompts including: “Allow yourself to be bored with your warmup / Allow yourself to be interested in your warmup”; “Allow yourself to be silly / Allow yourself to be sincere”; “Allow yourself to not know / Allow yourself to be sure”. This set the tone for the remainder of the process.
From here, each week had a different focus. Week one was devoted to each of us creating our own short solos based on the following prompts: “What does my body know?”; “What does my body love?”; “Showcase your superpowers”; “Embody or physicalize your culture or identity”; “Who am I?”; “Who do I want to be?” After working independently for about an hour, we each shared the solo we had created and had an opportunity to ask each other questions to gain deeper understanding of one another’s process. We then shared directorship duties and took turns juxtaposing different solos to make new duets and trios that would be solidified in the Thursday rehearsal. In week 2, we focused on developing duets. I paired us up based on which couples had the deepest existing working relationship. We started with 15 minutes of an improvised physical “conversation”, taking mental notes of what our partner was communicating with their body. We then took turns offering choreography to each other based on what we had seen, still upholding the principle that we are each in charge of our own body and what movements it performs. This process eventually devolved into each partnership working together to create their final duet material. As with the first week, this material was then juxtaposed and remixed to create ensemble-directed sections. In the third week, we created a group devised sextet. I prompted each dancer to create a short solo to either showcase something we haven’t yet shared and/or to demonstrate what virtuosity means to us. From there, we each performed this new solo while the other 5 dancers responded with our own movements to shape the full sextet. We went through this process with each dancer until we had a six-person ensemble phrase. This would conclude the development of raw material and choreography for the piece.
For the last week, we started piecing everything we had created into a set 30-minute performance. My co-director developed an outline from the material that had been made over the previous three weeks based on a list of favorite moments we had all agreed on. As we moved through the outline, we’d pause to discuss options, choices, or edits as a group. We also started to bring spoken text into the composition. All text was pulled from journals we had been keeping throughout the process, but it was decided that rather than reading our own words, we would dance to our words as another cast member read. In the final composition, everyone spoke at least once, each person’s first solo phrase was showcased in different ways, and we concluded with the sextet. In our very final rehearsal, we also devised a way to include the audience in the process. As they arrived for the performance, they were invited to write their own answers to the day-one rehearsal prompts onto a sticky note and place it onto a mirror for everyone to read. This all took place in the happy hour that preceded the performance. Then, within the performance, prior to the finale-sextet, we took turns pulling a sticky note from the mirror, reading it aloud, and physically improvising a response. This added a great amount of levity to the work and welcomed a deeper involvement and participation for the audience while still maintaining a sense of anonymity and spectatorship.
In the Context of My Own Work:
Though this work was decidedly ensemble driven, the project is an extension of my solo practice as I utilized 10-years of self-research to devise the prompts and creative tasks. As with all of my work, this project affirms the individual’s lived experience as a source of knowledge and inspiration through the use of queer magic. The magic of queerness is the ability to open emotional and psychological doors and offer ourselves permission to exist outside of expectation. Simply existing as a queer person in this world suggests an alternative to the norm. While this particular piece doesn’t necessarily depict overt queer narratives or themes as my solo work does, it still utilizes a queer sensibility that helps even a heteronormative cis-gendered person see the world in a new way or give themselves permission to be or express themselves more authentically. This all stems from my solo process, rooted in giving myself permission to make the choices I want even if when those choices fall outside the “approved canon” of dance or theater, in addition to giving myself the permission to be exactly where I’m at, at any given moment – pain, fatigue, anxiety or indifference included. This process of permission-giving was the cornerstone for the entire ensemble process. However, unlike past work, I intentionally deferred to the ensemble for major decision making. My creative role was to facilitate the initiation of choreography, but I wanted the co-director and the ensemble to ultimately shape the piece and feel ownership of what we presented. This did present certain challenges, such as learning to shut off my internal creative process when I leave the studio. For projects where I maintain full authorship, I typically continue creating and editing outside of the rehearsal space, so it was hard to force myself to turn this instinct off as to not move forward without the dialogue and considerations of my collaborators. Once I was able to surrender to this way of working, it became quite liberating, and I was able to channel that energy toward the creative production of the live presentation.
In the Context of the Broader Artworld:
Within the larger performance world, this experiment is an extension of the legacy of Contact Improvisation, as developed by Steve Paxton and collaborators in the 1970’s. As chronicled in Cynthia Novack’s Sharing the Dance, Contact Improvisation was both an artform and social movement invested in dismantling hierarchy and infusing egalitarianism and democracy throughout its process (Loc 249). Paxton, specifically, was invested in creating dances by sparking each individual’s impulse to move without ever feeling the need to copy him, look like him, or receive explicit direction from him (Loc 953). These ethos have also influenced the work of Liz Lerman, Anne Bogart, Urban Bush Women, and Bill T. Jones in various ways. Lerman has built a company that foundationally recognizes her cast as simultaneous performer and choreographer. As she puts it, her company the Dance Exchange is a “think tank and action lab” (2011, p. xv) designed to find “common purpose amid individual vision and action” and “allow for multiple perspectives” (2011, p. xvi). Anne Bogart takes this a step further, noting that “being a director is a function rather than a person”, meaning that all production roles can be shared and filled by any member of the creative team and any given moment (2008, p. 33). Urban Bush Women use this approach to tell culturally and politically relevant stories for the performers who are telling them (George-Graves, 2010, p. 186) and Bill T. Jones embraces a multicultural cast and dialogical interrogation within his process. Jones’s “Still/Here” provides a great example of the power of questions as prompts to draw out lived bodily knowledge as source material (Grubin, 1994). However, unlike many of these artists who are actively working with communities of non-dancers, all of our source material came from the performers themselves. Rather than the dancers being instruments to interpret other people’s lived experiences, we unveiled our own lived experiences as an invitation for audiences to consider their own. Additional community engagement came in the final presentation, through use of the sticky notes as well as a pre-performance happy hour and post-performance talk back.
Having now presented the work for an audience and received feedback from both audience and the ensemble, it’s exciting to hear that every goal I had for the project was achieved. The work was well received by both audiences very familiar with watching dance as well as those brand new to viewing dance. Members of the ensemble noted how welcomed they felt to be their full selves – tired, annoyed, silly, or whatever it might be. They also noted that no matter how much they had going on outside of our process, the container of our process was always stress free and rehearsals were a welcomed respite from their hectic lives. I hypothesize that the cohesion experienced while watching the movement vocabulary comes from a group of people authentically and genuinely expressing themselves and the ability to feel calm and present within the process. The parameters set up for the work had less to do with aesthetics or product, and more to do with how we approach our bodies and each other.
Beyond building parameters and facilitating creativity, the ability to listen to myself, my body and the ensemble in order to pivot, as necessary, within the process was a crucial part of the practice. There were several rehearsals in which what I had originally planned had to be scrapped based on the needs or responses of the folks in the room. Sometimes I would initiate this pivot based on nonverbal feedback I was picking up, but sometimes these pivots would come directly from the ensemble, either reinterpreting my instructions on their own accord, or vocalizing a different option. I found it wonderful that they felt they had the agency to advocate for themselves as well as take the initiative to devise their own process despite what the initial instructions had been. Even so, within the current limitations, there’s simply not enough time to implement a truly democratic process, so one of the biggest lessons I’m taking from this process is to continue develop and own my role as leader while simultaneously distribute power and ownership.
The following is the proposal for the work that would become our BiP/WiP 2022.
Written by Bodies in Play Founder Andrew Pearson for Wilson College's MFA Program.
Bodies in Play, established in 2017, produces melodramatic Plays in which our Bodies further the narrative through dance and movement. For the past 5 years, these productions have been generated through my own creative research and development. Though each project has been a collaborative experience, most shows have manifested in solo form, with me as both the lead creative and performer. For our next project, in a move to de-center my lead authorship, we have invited dance-based performers to collectively devise an ensemble-driven performance. Within this process, I’m curious how we can make room for each of our multifaceted selves and identities? How do we honor and celebrate the individual while simultaneously honoring and creating a communal experience? How do we invite and embrace the various realities and hurdles we face as individuals – such as differing privileges and access needs, conflicting schedules and job juggling, Los Angeles traffic, and more – in ways that make us each feel supported, acknowledged and maximally utilized?
I hypothesize that one way to answer these questions and achieve these goals is to begin from a place of shared leadership, transparency, and a non-hierarchical valuing of differing dance and movement aesthetics. The first step in this process has been to distribute the casting authority for the work. Rather than me casting the entire ensemble myself, I have invited only half of the ensemble into the project: Darby Epperson, Daurin Tavares, and Sadie Yarrington. Darby and Daurin were tasked with each inviting another artist, casting Derrick Paris and Cristina Flores, respectively, while Sadie was invited to work as a Co-Creative Director for the project. While I will facilitate the devising process through various creative tasks, Sadie has been delegated with taking the temperature of both group and individual creative desires throughout rehearsals in order to shape the final presentation. However, even within these designated roles, we will be taking a page out of Anne Bogart’s And Then, You Act in which she names that “being a director is a function rather than a person” (p. 33). So, while the main functions of each person in the ensemble will be to devise/choreograph and perform (with the added functions of facilitation and creative direction for myself and Sadie), creative choices, design elements, prompts, proposals, edits, written elements, and more can come from any person in the room.
As of now, the ensemble has agreed to 24 hours of rehearsal over the course of a month and a half, with 4 hours on Mondays and 2 hours on Thursdays. Mondays will be “creative play” facilitated by me. Then, on the following Thursday, each artist will come in with ideas for connecting or juxtaposing some of the work developed on Monday. For example, one artist may want to learn a phrase created by another artist to perform a synchronized duet; another artist may come in with a piece of music they think would work nicely with one of their colleague’s movements; or perhaps we all play with aligning the similarities or contrasting the differences found in each other’s choreography. Once all ideas have been proposed, Sadie, who will be noting where there is group consensus, will make final decisions in order to walk out of each Thursday rehearsal with a few performable sections. The resulting aesthetic is as of now impossible to describe, as it will blend the various impulses, tastes, and experiences of all in the room. I hope to find beauty in variety and cohesion in disparity to uncover a new aesthetic specific to these six artists sharing time and space.
This project is an extension of my solo practice as I will utilize my 10-years of self research to devise prompts and creative tasks for the ensemble, with the aim to hold space for other artists to go through their own introspective journeys while simultaneously acknowledging our existence within community. As with all of my work, this project affirms the individual’s lived experience as a source of knowledge and inspiration. Within the larger dance word, this experiment is also an extension of the legacy of Contact Improvisation, as developed by Steve Paxton and collaborators in the 1970’s. As chronicled in Cynthia Novack’s Sharing the Dance, Contact Improvisation was both an artform and social movement invested in dismantling hierarchy and infusing egalitarianism and democracy throughout its process (Loc 249). Paxton, specifically, was invested in creating dances by sparking each individual’s impulse to move without ever the need to copy him, look like him, or receive explicit direction from him (Loc 953). However, in continuing with the natural evolution of Contact Improvisation which saw a “gradual transformation of an initially raw form into a more polished, articulate style” (Loc 1844) our finished product will be a “set” piece of dance-theater aiming to amplify the differences of our cast, rather than neutralize them (Loc 838).
Bogart, Anne. (2008). And then, you act: Making art in an unpredictable world. Routledge.
Borstel, John & Lerman, Liz. (2003). Liz Lerman's Critical Response Process: a method for getting useful feedback on anything you make, from dance to dessert. Liz Lerman Dance Exchange.
Creating New Futures (2021). Equitable contracting vs 4.4.2021. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScrwVaCxzojYziYBcXQhKQqHzcK_FV_g9NUp1_hEbRY2njj4A/viewform
Novack, Cynthia J. (1990). Sharing the dance: Contact improvisation and American culture [E-reader version]. The University of Wisconsin Press.
The following is a summary of my "artist journals" kept during my first semester of graduate school at Wilson College. While on campus, I worked in solo form, knowing I was getting ready to embark on a brand-new experiment in ensemble-form upon my return.
Written by Bodies in Play Founder, Andrew Pearson.
The driving question motivating my current practice-led research is: How does my solo practice inform how I facilitate ensemble or collective-based creation, as well as influence my pedagogy and mentorship? I’m curious how I can continue to develop my personal choreographic interests while also giving permission to the other artists to bring themselves to the work. How can I lead and facilitate the group without dominating the experience – especially taking into consideration that I move through the world as a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied man? This leads to a struggle with identifying or believing in a need for my work. Why does the world need to see my choreography or hear my words? Why do people need to see me dance? Is my creative energy better spent elsewhere?
I have found a great amount of creative fulfillment within my writing process, so I know bringing this into dance rehearsals will be important for my process moving forward. I do have some practice putting words to the experience of others, and have found in my own process the more candid I am about my internal experience the more it resonates with audience. This is certainly something I can provide to an ensemble experience. If I can provide space and time for dancers to just be with their bodies and explore, perhaps I can help them excavate their stories, both physically and verbally.
Not that this is a simple task. As Andrew Tarkovksy says, as quoted in Anne Bogart’s And Then, You Act: “A true artistic image gives the beholder a simultaneous experience of the most complex, contradictory, sometimes even mutually exclusive feelings. It is not possible to catch the moment at which the positive goes over into its opposite, or when the negative starts moving toward the positive. Infinity is germane, inherent in the very structure of the image” (p. 36). Rather than asking “how do I afford others more privilege”, perhaps I should be asking “what happens if I invite complex humans with various oppositions into a collaborative rehearsal space? What if we have no time or money, but can find expansiveness within ourselves and the process?” Bogart also shared a story about a friend who was having a similar struggle with her privilege and being an artist. This friend spoke with Mother Teresa, worried she wasn’t contributing enough to society, and Mother Teresa reminded her that while her country is starved for food, our country is starved for spirit (p. 43). So, if my privilege has awarded me the opportunity to feed more spirit into this country, especially if this can be done within the facilitation of a collective of disparate individuals, perhaps I can cultivate an environment of “rapture”, that in turn “radiates to audiences and then out into the world” (Bogart, p. 49).
Once I’ve been able to give myself permission to continue this work, I’ve noticed a huge part of my work is not just the composing of steps or words, but the actual approach to performance itself. How do I enact those 7 "compelling forces inherent to theater” Anne Bogart breaks down in her chapter on Magnetism (p. 64)? Is there a way to teach this to my ensemble? Do I need to teach it to my ensemble, or do I need to be open to what they have to teach me about their ways of performing? I wonder if there’s a way to incorporate elements of Critical Response Process within the creative process, so as we devise new work, we’re offering neutral feedback that can help shape choices – so we are all in dialogue with the work and listening to what the work asks of all of us. These are just musings for me to be aware of as I enter the space. I won’t be able to answer anything until we get inside of it and physically embody process and start creating the piece experientially to know what direction to go. The piece will tell us what it needs.
My intentions for making dance-theater:
Bogart, Anne. (2008). And then, you act: Making art in an unpredictable world. Routledge.
The below reflection was written in response to a follow up question from the
Bodies in Play feature in VoyageLA :
Written by Bodies in Play Founder, Andrew Pearson.
How do you think about risk/What role has taking risks played in your life/career?
Bodies in Play was developed as a platform to create live performance experiences, with bodies as a focal point for creative expression. As with any performing arts production, being in close proximity with other bodies has always been a key element for both the process and presentation of the work. As I write this, in September of 2020, many of the projected projects for Bodies in Play have been placed on hold or sent back to the drawing board. The current health risks associated with bringing bodies together are simply too high to operate or create as originally intended.
Prior to this pandemic, when thinking about risks in the performing arts, we often thought about creative risks in relation to the audience. If we make this choice, will people buy tickets? Will we get a good review? Will people be impacted? All of these are important questions to ask since as performers our relationship to audience is symbiotic, but I’ve always also looked at risk from a more selfish point of view: How will these choices make me a better artist?
Whenever I take on a new project, whether I'm the performer, creator, or producer, there has to be some element of fear involved for the work to feel worthwhile. There has to be some sense that I may not "get it" or achieve the desired result, and in many cases, I’ve failed. As a dancer, this may look like not quite landing that move I've been practicing or not quite hitting the musical timing as desired. As a choreographer it might look like overcomplicating the steps or creating something far too derivative and unoriginal. However it's these failures that produce growth and allow me to take bigger risks in the next project.
So now the question is, in the current climate, what scares me artistically? How do I support Bodies in Play in ways that keep my health and the health of my collaborators and audiences in mind while still stepping beyond my creative comfort zone? So far, the risks associated with the coronavirus have put me in a state of pause and reflection - failure, in this case, is not an opportunity for growth. Failure is simply not an option. Yet in a city and industry where popularity has often been a key factor in relevancy, to pause presents a slew of risks that scare me in ways I haven’t been scared before. Thankfully, if my past projects are any indication, this fear suggests I may find myself becoming a better artist on the other side. And that’s a risk worth taking.
Written by Bodies in Play Founder, Andrew Pearson.
Writing a monthly reflection is a challenge when every week feels like a year. The emotional journey each day brings is vast and expansive, while the physical journey remains confined to the distance between my bed and kitchen. The social climate screams for participatory action as the health and safety climate demands stillness and separation.
Living in this time of extreme contradiction is overwhelming, uncomfortable, and often paralyzing.
As someone in the performing arts, I’m being asked to reinvent what it means to create and express. As someone who works in education, I’m being asked to question what lessons and values are worth sharing. And as someone with a desire to see a better tomorrow, I’m being asked to unlearn historical inaccuracies and indoctrinated biases.
It is this unlearning - and the reflection of past unlearning - that helps quell the overwhelm. I’m much more proud of the unlearning I’ve accomplished throughout my lifetime than I am of the learning. For the most part, to learn I simply had to show up, with a marginal amount of interest, and maybe put in some effort. This nation’s educational system was rigged in my favor, and as a boy in dance, studio owners and teachers went out of their way to present opportunities for me to learn.
It’s the unlearning that requires real work, which is also what makes it the most rewarding.
I’ve had to unlearn internalized homophobia and misogyny to be better to myself.
I’ve had to unlearn heteronormativity to be a better friend and partner.
I’ve had to unlearn aspects of my dance training to be a better artist.
I’ve had to unlearn the American Dream to design a better career.
I’ve had to unlearn white supremacy to be a better educator and citizen.
I’ve had to unlearn the idea that any of this is a destination and recognize that the unlearning will continue throughout my lifetime.
And I’ve had to unlearn the belief that a contradiction is a binary conflict so that my overwhelm can be accompanied by extreme peace, my discomfort can be met with pleasure, and my paralysis can breed innovation and creativity.
“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” -- Lao Tzu
Written by Bodies in Play Founder, Andrew Pearson.
I began developing Bodies in Play in 2016 as a playground for body-centric performance and education. In the past month, I've been grappling with what that looks like on a virtual landscape.
While the majority of BIP's performances thus far have been solo-works, it has always been the intention to bring Bodies, plural, together in Play. Even these solo performances were made in collaboration with other humans, in real space, breathing the same air. Practicing alone and developing choreography at home or in isolation is just a small part of the practice, because it's not just about designing or perfecting movements - It's never been about the moves at all, but about what we learn about ourselves and others through the process of acquiring the movements and the sharing of our bodies with others.
When I teach, I'm not only showing how to execute steps, but rather sharing my perspectives and value sets that have been cultivated through my physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual communion with other artists. It's this sharing that I miss the most, which is why I have translated some of the cornerstone Bodies in Play beliefs and values into a series of BIPism's to offer virtually. These have been made available in pieces through my social media platforms, and now collected together here.
It is no one’s place but yours to decide what is right or wrong for your body.
One of the silver lining benefits of taking classes remotely has been the release of pressure to conform or adhere to each exercise exactly as prescribed. For example, I'm following along to online ballet barres at least once a week, but I do everything from first position rather than fifth. I still garner the benefits of working though my legs and feet, but in a way that feels more kind to my hips.
This isn't to suggest we should all become dance anarchists when we do get back in class together - but perhaps that we should acknowledge that there isn't a one-size-fits-all movement practice and that training together might benefit from a more democratic dialogue than the hierarchical approach we're used to.
Play is essential.
This is based on Dr. Stuart Brown’s leading research on the subject of play.
So how to we maintain this essential part of our humanity during a global pandemic? For me, it’s required taking pause and rethinking old patterns of productivity.
For example, my partner has always been a huge help with various production elements for my shows, however with full time work schedules we've had to squeeze projects into little gaps in our calendars and work at the mercy of the deadline. Now, with the world on pause and giant question marks looming around the future of theater and performance, deadlines have relaxed and time has opened up. The spontaneity of our new playtime is something to look forward to.
The body is an instrument - in order to be played well it must be well tuned.
The way we tune our body is entirely dependent on the types of activities we plan to engage in. My own physical tune-up is informed by my experience with Western concert dance vernaculars, exercise modalities, and somatic practices, which in turn informs my movement aesthetic and choreographic choices. It also informs how I teach, however, I make sure to design different tune-ups depending on whether I'm teaching dancers, actors, or gym clients, with a recognition that the tune-up that best serves me may not best serve all.
Ultimately, at the root of all Bodies in Play tune-ups is the award-winning PSA: The More You Know! The more you understand the mechanics of your own instrument, the better you will be at playing it!
Growth is uncomfortable, but laughter helps.
No growth can happen in our comfort zones. To improve anything, we have to push our boundaries, but a simple shift in mindset can make challenges feel like games rather than frustrations. What if every time we hit a road block, we smiled? What if every time we failed, we laughed? What if every time something felt hard with thought "this is great! I'm learning!” Laughter has natural relaxing properties, and more often than not "muscling through" (whether that be mentally or physically) actually makes the task harder to accomplish.
(I acknowledge that this is easier said than done, which is why I’ve written in down).
There is no separation between mind and body.
To better the mind is to better the body and to better the body is to better the mind.
We often hear about the mind-body connection, but I think it's a bit of a misnomer. It suggests there is a separation that needs to be connected - like a wire running between the mind and the body. However, I believe there is no such wire - the body IS the mind and the mind IS the body.
For this reason, Bodies in Play utilizes 2 channels for play:
Mental Play - in which I bridge the gap between what I think my body is doing and what it is actuallydoing (aka increased physical awareness).
Physical Play - in which I bridge the gap between what my current body is capable of and what my future body will be capable of (aka increased physical ability).
While you can focus your attention on either channel or flip between the two, both will improve your overall practice and performance.
Becoming a better artist is synonymous with becoming a better citizen.
Becoming a better artist requires increased self-awareness and self-reflection. It requires personal and social inquiry. It requires discipline and joy. To improve upon any of these characteristics inevitably makes us stronger contributors to our communities, both near and far.
A body in play is rebellious.
To be playful with one's body in a society that capitalizes on our physical insecurities is an act of courage and empowerment. My first act of rebellion in performance was when I finally allowed my sexuality and femininity to be expressed in my choreography. For years I had been indoctrinated into a very heteronormative and gender-binary way of viewing and making dance. Bodies in Play recognizes that the body is first to be stereotyped, discriminated against, and politicized. The color of our skin, our able-ness, our gender or sexual expression are all attributed to our physical identity. We are judged first for the way we look and the choices we make with our bodies, before we ever have a chance to share our beliefs, values, or ideas.
Bodies in Play values all bodies, understands virtuosity can be showcased in a number of ways, and that beauty and strength come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities.
Make serious art, without taking yourself so seriously.
Which reminds me - I've been far too sincere with this post. So here are some stupid jokes:
Which part of your body likes to drink milk?
Why don't dogs make good dancers?
Because they have two left feet!
I was addicted to the Hokey Pokey -
but thankfully I turned myself around!
Why did the tap dancer give up?
He kept falling in the sink!
Art making is messy and the process can often feel laborious, if not tortuous. Adding a healthy dose of humility can help ground us and alleviate some of the pressure. Especially when working with dark or somber subject matters, maintaining a sense of levity can provide a lifeline when rehearsal or performance ask us to open up and provoke the pain bodies inside of us.
Bodies in Play loves to tackle heavy topics.
Bodies in Play also loves to entertain audiences.
Bodies in Play does not believe these ideas to be mutually exclusive.
Written by Bodies in Play Founder, Andrew Pearson.
To the Women:
To the Women who have taught me to lead from kindness, proving through their actions that power, strength, and genius are not traits that need be linked with cruelty or condescension.
Recently, I was told I earned a teaching position because I have a kind approach to leadership. This was probably the best compliment I could receive given my mission and goals with Bodies in Play, but it’s also something I can’t take full responsibility for. I often wonder how, as a white cis-gendered man, I might move through the world had I not had the great fortune of spending most of my life taught and lead by women. Most of my teachers and dance instructors throughout my life have been women. Every dance company I’ve every performed with has been directed by a woman. Every. Single. One. There’s no way this hasn’t informed my teaching and choreography practice - for the better, I whole-heartedly believe.
To the Women who have always been there when the men disappoint. Who provided support and literal shelter and never made me feel strange for preferring female companionship.
When I was 5 I was the only boy from school invited to the all girl sleep over party. This was a cause for concern for parents, but a compromise was made where I could participate in all the pre-bedtime games and activities but would be picked up at the end of the night when it was time to go to sleep. While the message this engrained into a young boy’s brain was “you’re different”, this sentiment has never been given any credence by the many women who have loved me throughout my life. There have been countless sleepover parties since.
To the Women who break “the rules,” empowering others and giving permissions to live outside societally accepted norms.
Since 2012 I’ve lived with an image of juxtaposing Alanis Morissette’s Clean Hands with Lady MacBeth’s Out Damned Spot speech. Besides the obvious superficial relation, however, I could never quite justify the connection - not enough for a full piece at least. This all changed in 2016, when I became aware of a certain politician’s media comparison to Lady MacBeth, due to her “thirst for power.” In acknowledging the insidious nature of Misogyny engrained into our culture, I had to wonder: how much blood is on my own hands? From this, the work wrote itself and the use of Ms. Morissette, another Lady M and music’s quintessential Nasty Woman, seemed only fitting for my 1990’s influenced pop art aesthetic. Thus, The Ballad of Lady M was born, and I have been fortunate enough to receive support to develop this work through Dance Resource Center - first as a solo in Rosanna Gamson’s Terra Nova, and more recently as a quartet through the HomeGrown Residency at UCLA/World Arts and Cultures.
To all the women who have inspired me to be a better man.
There was a moment when I thought the solo would be the end. That I had fulfilled my original vision and could move on to the next project. However, it’s this quartet version that has been the most illuminating. To be placed into a position of leadership, directing others what to do and how to use their bodies, has forced me to truly face the reality of unconscious biases when it comes to gender and sexuality. Not to say I’m any closer to unlocking the secret to gender equality, but I do feel more integrated into the societal dialogue. So while the piece won’t answer any questions, I do hope it invites further conversation.
Written by Bodies in Play Founder, Andrew Pearson.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had a passion for dance.
I’ve always enjoyed being physical. I respond to challenge and pushing one’s body. I respond to the rigor associated with physical practice. I respond to touch. To physical expression. To moving to music. I respond to many of the things provided by dance.
But am I passionate about it? Eh.
What I am passionate about, is making.
Ever since I could hold a crayon I’ve been drawing pictures. As a child I made paintings, sculptures, clothing, games, and toys. As I got older I began making short stories and living room theater. When I took my first dance class, it was simply for recreation - for physical exercise - but I immediately began making dances at home. As my dance training increased in High School, as did my choreography, but I spent just as much time making home movies with friends as I did in the dance studio.
When it came time to select a major for college, dance was the natural choice. But I only applied to schools that had a Choreography emphasis. I knew I wanted to keep making. In college I made ballet dances, hip hop dances, jazz dances, theater dances. I’ve gone on to make steps for musicals, for music videos, for dance companies, for myself, for dance classes - but I also currently make graphic designs, schedules, spreadsheets, events, performances, websites, newsletters, and more.
My point is, while I have a clear passion for making - for creating - I don’t know if I excel as a maker in any particular category.
I think it comes down to one fundamental concern: I’m too easily satisfied.
I’m so satisfied making things that the product becomes irrelevant. On a scale from “I don’t really give a shit” and “extreme perfectionism,” I lie somewhere in the middle, at “yea, this is good enough.”
This might be fine if my making was a total hobby - just something for me to exercise my creative impulses. However, I am actively seeking engagement and validation for my makings. I sell tickets to my makings. In this case, is “good enough” enough?
At this point, if you’ve been actively engaged in this newsletter, you’re likely thinking:
“So I shouldn’t buy tickets to your upcoming show?”
Well, while I’m not here to tell you what you should or should not do, I would like to share with you that my upcoming production is the first time I’ve truly reinvested in an existing project. Last year, when I first presented the piece in solo form, I had audience members asking when I was going to do it again. My initial response? Oh, no, this show is done. It’s been made. It’s been seen. Moving on.
But then, almost as if possessed by an Andrew I didn’t recognize, I found myself meeting with people to get feedback. Taking notes on their critical responses and internalizing possible edits. I found myself applying to residencies to further develop the work. I suddenly had a new cast and new members of the creative team. I was learning to become unsatisfied.
More than anything, I was learning to fall in love with re-making.
Only time can tell if this remake will have a remake or if my scale will continue to inch further from “good enough” toward its way to great or fantastic or excellent.
Regardless, whether I’m making or remaking - dances or crayon art - I think each work informs the next and each project aims to be just a little bit better than the last.
Maybe I’m less satisfied than I thought.
Written by Bodies in Play Founder, Andrew Pearson.
I’ve recently started developing a new project which has me doing a lot more writing than moving. At first this felt wrong, like I was somehow not allowed to be a writer. My training is in choreography and I have identified myself as a choreographer for most of my life. I can’t just wake up one day and be a writer. I recognize the irony in this statement given that this is a written reflection, but I’m specifically referring to creative theatrical writing. The kind of writing that is a primary artistic expression for some. For instance, if a writer decided out of the blue to begin making dances, I’m sure I’d at best be skeptical, and at worst be judgmental.
I worked through a similar insecurity when I incorporated Celine Dion and lip syncing into my previous works: This isn’t how you make concert dance! The conflict reminded me of a meeting I had several years ago with one of my choreography mentors. I was sharing a new project I was interested in developing and she asked me “why does this story need to be told through dance?” I was confused. “Why not an essay, or a painting, or a film?” she specified. “But - we’re dancers,” I thought. As dancers we make dances, not write essays. It wasn’t until years later I understood: as creatives, it’s not the formwe’re serving, but the impulse. The impulse to express an idea in a way no one else possibly could. Once I gave myself permission to follow my creative instinct to write, allowing words to drive my next work, I realized writing has been a part of my creative practice for just as long as choreography. Before I began dancing, I would write short stories and fill journals with fantasy novels. Of course, I was between the ages of five and ten, so these were simply amateur hobbies. They couldn’t possibly have been real works of art. Could they? Regardless, while I’m quite comfortable behind a computer screen and crafting words to impart my ideas, I have no formal training - could I possibly be a writer?
Culturally, we’re made to believe that we should follow our (one) passion. Choose a vocation and become an expert. We’re led to believe anything outside of our chosen vocation is a hobby. You can’t possibly conflate your hobby with your profession. But I think there’s also a danger in conflating your day’s work with your life’s work. Throughout my career I’ve had a number of jobs (some related to dance, some not) that have allowed me to survive, day to day, in the infrastructure of today’s world. Sometimes these jobs have allowed me to survive more than day to day, providing some savings and security for the future. But ultimately, these jobs come and go, changing as the weather does with each new sunrise. My life’s work, on the other hand - my pursuit to better understand myself and others through creative practice - that’s the work that has remained in constant evolution.
Currently, that’s manifesting as words on a page. Understanding this provides the permissions needed to indulge the impulse. While this doesn’t quell the insecurity about the new work - the start of any creative process is always daunting - it does quell the inner conflict.
I wonder how this word play will influence my body's play.
Written by Bodies in Play Founder, Andrew Pearson.
What does the body need in order to move?
A seemingly simple question that can be difficult to answer simply. I broached this to my dance classes last week and got a handful of great but complex answers which can all ultimately be categorized into two fundamentals: Space and Energy. Without Space, movement is blocked. Without Energy, we remain stagnant. Both of these needs can be met either internally or externally. The Energy of someone else’s push can send us into movement, but only if there is Space around us. Likewise, movement generated by our own body requires us to both exert Energy as well as access Space within our joints. I like to use the mechanics of a door as imagery for this, as a door hinge functions similarly to the hinges of our joints. So, if we look at the hinge side of a door, for example, and we were to fill cement into the Space that exists between the door and the door frame, the door would be unable to move. No matter how much Energy we push into that door, it would remain still until the cement or door cracked to create Space. Likewise, without the Energy of our push, no matter how much Space we allow, the door goes nowhere (exceptions made for magic Alice in Wonderland-type doors with talking handles).
The same concept applies for our body. If I want to move my coffee cup from my hand to my mouth, I must both initiate Energy in my arm as well as have Space in my elbow to allow my forearm to travel. The thing I find most interesting about this relationship is, counterintuitively, the location in my body that requires Space must not be the location where I send Energy. If I were to engage the muscles in and around my elbow joint, my arm would lock and I would remain regrettably uncaffeinated. With our door example, it’s the difference between pushing Energy into the handle side of the door versus the hinge side of the door. A gentle push on the handle side swings the door into the frame. Inversely, a push at the hinge side will at best keep leave the door unmoved, and at worst leave us with broken or bloody fingers as I force Energy where it doesn’t belong.
In reflecting on this simple lesson on body mechanics, I realized it’s not just our physical movement that works on this principle, but also our emotional movement. Let’s take a common Los Angeles occurrence: someone just cut us off on the freeway. This is likely to illicit an unpleasant emotional response which we would want to move past. If movement is the combination of Energy and Space, we have a few options to work through this moment. We could change our external Space, sending our Energy toward changing lanes or exiting the freeway. Or, we could Energetically create an internal Space for a new emotional response like compassion (who knows what this driver is going through today) or gratitude (thankfully no one got hurt). However, if our Energy goes toward the Space that feels angered or frightened by the near collision, the displeasing emotion is likely to remain, or worse, amplify. In other words, like the body, if Space and Energy access the same point of origin, movement is either suspended or damaging.
This idea lead me to another musing: If we accept that movement is the result of Space and Energy working together but apart, could we then apply this to the movement of our life’s trajectory? For example, if an individual wants a promotion at work, they would need the Space in their life and mind to grow into the new position along with the Energy that goes into making themselves qualified, noticed, and deserving. If both Energy and Space go into his or her personal life or stay trapped in his or her own mind, the work won’t get done. If both Energy and Space go into the work, the movement into the new position will be stalled or uncomfortable. Another example could be someone who wants to see movement in their love life. If our Space and Energy coincide in the establishing of a life in which a lover could exist, the lover remains hypothetical. If our Space and Energy coincide in the revolving around a new lover, well, I think most of us have witnessed (or experienced) this result before. But if we have Space in our life and give Energy to our love, or a Space for love and Energy toward meeting people, now we’ve found balance.
When I run into challenge in a dance class or choreography, I pause to ask myself Where do I want to send Energy? Where do I need Space? Two separate questions with two separate answers. What if we were to apply this approach to our lives? Maybe, the next time we notice an opening of Space in our life, rather than rushing to fill that Space, we can ask ourselves where else our Energy might be best utilized. Maybe, the next time we’re feeling stuck, rather than sending Energy into this blockage, we could ask ourselves where our life seeks more Space.