Unsolicited advice. To myself. And, a word about stillness in dance.

Calm down and sit still. But, keep busy, too.


I have a serious tendency to jam pack my life.  I actually feel like sometimes this helps my productivity – when I'm not as busy I tend to catch up on TV, lolligag, and generally accomplish less.


So what gives?


There's actually some scientific rationale here… bear with me.  Kids who are in more activities after school have less time to do their homework, but perform better overall in spite of time constraints.  Why?  The theory is that since they have less time for playing video games and loitering in front of fast food restaurants kids in extra-curriculars prioritize their time better and procrastinate less.  They're also less apt to get into trouble, which, assumedly, also leads to better grades.


Not to compare myself to a loitering teenager, but the times that I stop to take a breath, like summer vacation, I shut down.  Maybe it's because I realize how simply exhausted I am, or maybe it's because I need to have multiple balls in the air to make my life work on every level.


In any case, late August for me means I no longer have my mornings to sip coffee and gaze at the various blogs I write for hours on end.  This makes me sad, but at the same time I don't seem to really be churning out any less content than before.  


On the other hand, it's harder to find a dedicated time and space to sit and reflect on what I'm writing.  I don't want to "churn out" content per se, but rather have the time to digest the things I'm writing and to make sure, by the end, that I still agree with myself.  In the midst of my chaotic schedule during the school year, I struggle to find the stillness that is required of any artist to make something s/he's proud of.  After all, what are we making things for?  Just to make things? Or to change perceptions, affect our audiences, and go on journeys of self-discovery?


That can't really be accomplished from 4 – 4:15pm on a Thursday afternoon in a subway car… can it?  


Maybe busy is good, but is there such a thing as too busy?


You might be wondering how any of this relates to dance.  I'm getting there – wait for it.


I saw a dance show several weeks ago that was JAM PACKED with movement.  Every beat of music had a "move" assigned to it.  For me, the stimulation was overwhelming and there was simply too much going on for me to really absorb any content.  It reminded me of that movie Amadeus when the Emperor sees Mozart for the first time and gives the feedback, "It's quality work!  And there are simply too many notes.  Just cut a few and it'll be perfect."


As ridiculous as that is, I've thought exactly the same thing on more than one occasion, and it was certainly the case at this show a few weeks back.  I was craving some sort of pause, or stillness, or even unison to bring it together and give my eyes and brain a chance to catch up.  That never happened.


But then I worked on stage crew for another show recently that had so little movement (or, if you prefer, so much stillness), that I: 1) got bored, and 2) got really frustrated because I needed something, anything, to happen.


So what's the happy medium?  Is there a perfect balance between stillness and chaos in dance, and in life? I'm thinking Wade Schaaf has the formula down (for dance, anyway).  I happened to catch a run-through of a new work from his upcoming show, and, for me, he captures a good compromise between the "too much" show and the "not enough" show (my two previous engagements).


Schaaf takes plenty of latitude in showing off the technical prowess of his dancers in furied simultaneous duets and solos, and then everything stops.  The simplest moment in which all 7 dancers repeat an additive gestural phrase ends up being the most powerful one of the piece.  When the bedlam returns, I'm ready for it because I've had that moment (or, couple of minutes) to breathe and digest his choreography.


Just like how busy kids do well in school… They won't if they don't even have time to eat dinner.  In order to make it all work, there has to be balance… for those kids, for me, and in a dance.  I told you I could get it to come full circle.


Consider supporting Chicago Repertory Ballet in its inaugural performance next weekend (Sept 21 and 22) at The Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts. Ticket are here.  Photo of Wade Schaaf by Cheryl Mann.





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