Ideas from the Performers Playfield

On Monday a host of performers from this year’s On the Boards Northwest New Works put on a series of classes called the Performers’ Playfield at Velocity. I enjoyed the whole experience and have a lot of play with and think about. Some key ideas, concepts and thoughts I take away:

You can lead a person or group without saying a single word. I witnessed instructors teach choreography and give instruction using gesture, looks and body movement, nuanced physical communication, without speaking. This practice and ability captured my attention, to the point where I want to teach this way.

Theatre is a weird and difficult place for dance performers, and dance is a weird and difficult place for theatre performers. The more courageous performers gleefully, fully face the undiscovered country head on. The jacks of many trades live in this uncomfortably nebulous and amoebic space.

Teaching in the arts is a vastly underexplored and underdeveloped skill. It’s not enough to merely communicate clearly. There is always a gap of skill, ability and knowledge between the instructor/director/choreographer and participants. Speed of instruction and material volume involve a delicate balance between moving briskly enough within a limited time frame + maintaining everyone’s interest… and moving deliberately enough to allow everyone to keep up, utilize the material with competence and safety + not get overwhelmed.
Some have this skill to connect with all levels and find the instructional balance to keep the super talented participants engaged and curious + allow the novices to keep pace and enjoy the experience just as well. Some do not. And experience level isn’t directly proportional to one’s ability on this front.

When it comes to a dance class as a participant… good instruction and class experiences make you believe that, whether or not you’re able to nail choreography, you can totally do what those other awesome performers and dancers are doing. If you’re not there, it’s within reach.

Not so good experiences make you believe you are so chasmically far away from what you’re seeing or trying to do that a big part of you feels like you’re kidding yourself even trying to do it.

This may or may not matter to the instructor (and your mileage may vary as to how much the student’s perspective should matter to the instructor’s), but to the student it obviously matters a lot.

The Dance Diet: Get so busy that you barely have time to eat, and only enough time to eat portable and/or whole foods.

Gaga never gets old.

Satori needs to start doing regular open workshops again. More artists need to experience their process.

Of Monday’s many instructors I experienced the most joy from working with Martin Piliponsky aka Pili, even though I found the material in his Passing Through class fairly difficult (in a “I understand it but I struggle getting myself to consistently do it” way).
Pili’s from Argentina and his English is limited, but I delighted in his use of the above mentioned nonverbal communication. He did eventually speak, but a part of me wished Pili had taught the whole class without saying a word… not because I didn’t like what he said (he is a thoughtful, direct and smart communicator verbally) but because I really enjoyed taking instruction from his nuanced, inviting physical cues.

Semi-related Personal Takeaway: Though worried in the back of my mind about trying to survive six hours of physical/dance class, I was able to handle it for the most part. I did sit out the bboy class (though fun, I realized a few minutes in things were moving too fast for me + the compromising positions of the choreography plus the fast tempo could have gotten me hurt if I kept going), but otherwise I jumped in, went with it all and enjoyed much of what I did.
I had a huge concern about my stamina leading into next month’s Strictly Seattle, but it looks more like I can handle the forthcoming intensity just fine. I am quite active and in decent shape, but it’s been a long while since I’ve taken on that much volume of physical intensity (hours of dance over consecutive days).

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