Creative Work, Dance, El Anatsui, Film, Finding Place, Guest Dancers, Travel

On Vacation in NYC

After a very successful premiere of Finding Place at the NC Museum of Art, it is time for a break! So the dancers and myself take from mid-July to mid-August off from regular rehearsals. A few of us actually take real vacations, while the rest find the time to catch up in their “regular” lives of 9-5 jobs, laundry, taking care of kids, going to school, etc.

I take advantage of the small bits of free time to attend the National Dance Association’s annual pedagogy conference in Norfolk, Virginia, and then go to visit a good friend (and fellow dancer) Monica in New York. (I’ll write more about the NDA conference on my personal website soon:

Most modern dancers I know love to take pilgrimages to NYC as often as we can. We take classes, see shows, and generally just enjoy feeling like New Yorkers without having the sky-high rent and being able to know when we go back home we’ll have washers and dryers in our homes. My trip was no different; I took several modern dance classes (at The Ailey School and Dance New Amsterdam), some anti-gravity yoga classes, and went to see Zarkana at Radio City (thank you Living Social deal) and (a definite highlight) Sleep No More! This was also a bit of a “work trip” in that I worked with Monica on a new film section of Finding Place, which we shot in Central Park.

Monica in Finding Place

Before I got to the city Monica sent me her story to be included in Finding Place, a bit of it is below:

The city where I grew up as a little girl was very hot and humid. We only have two seasons there: hot and rainy and hot and not so rainy. … One night when it was bedtime, we lost power. It had been a very hot and humid day and thankfully it started to rain after we lost power. My dad had a brilliant idea; he opened our apartment door so we could get some of the refreshing rainy air into the apartment, and he grabbed a mattress for my mom, my younger sister, him, and myself to lay on while the power came back. When it did, I didn’t want to go back to bed in my room, it had been very fun to lay all together, hearing the rain fall.

Obviously, it would have worked out quite well if it had been raining the day we needed to shoot our footage, but no such luck. No worries, we definitely captured the “hot and humid” feeling, and some rain noise will be added in to the video later. A tiny bit of our Central Park footage is captured below; look for the completed film to debut with the evening-length Finding Place in February 2013. (I left in the New York city noise for now. Monica’s story and some rain will overlap the movement in the final version.)

(Code f.a.d. Artistic Director)

Creative Work, Dance, El Anatsui, Finding Place, Guest Dancers

Final Preparations & NCMA Performance

If you’ve been following the count, you know that our final rehearsal before the NCMA performance of Finding Place is also rehearsal #9. That is VERY fast to make a 15 minute work, particularly one with this many dancers (12), but nonetheless we are upon the show! This final rehearsal was spent reviewing the entire work, making sure dancers had the details correct, and practicing what the performance will be like in this informal lobby space. The audience may walk through your pathway, and there is no “offstage” I remind the dancers; even if you are not the “performer” in a particular part, people will be watching you. You cannot relax or break character. Embody our theme, mood, and community. I utilize every minute of our 3-hour rehearsal, but as we finish at 9pm on July 5, I know when we gather again in two days for the show, we will be prepared. The dancers and I are ready and confident in the art we will present.

Then, the day arrives.

The museum security guards are the first to welcome us with “you must be the dancers.” We carry in our wooden trough, half a dozen trash bags full of wine corks, and my great-grandmother’s trunk containing the coke bottles, make-shift caramel pie, and moon pies. The first item of business is to decide exactly where the trough should be in our space. The dancers mark through some movement so we can be sure how much space they will need, while making sure we leave enough space for the video projector and audience. A few minutes later we have the trunk and trough in place and full of corks; the dancers are free to finish getting into costume while I look for our technical assistant to set up audio and video. Naturally, being a museum, the installation of these two large items did not seem too out of place, and we had many patrons come over to get closer looks at the pair of cork containers. This provided more opportunity for me to talk about the company/the work and to gather audience for the shows; I was very pleased to see many of these same folks stick around the our first show (about an hour after set-up).

For such a short amount of time in process, Finding Place premiered even better than I might have hoped. We had wonderful audiences for both shows, full of dance and art-lovers of all ages (from about 5 to 80+ yrs old by my estimates). We will surely continue work on expanding this piece, with plans to show an evening-length version in late February. (Keep watch of this blog and our website for the details!) In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy show videos clips from the performance at the NC Museum of Art.

(Code f.a.d. Artistic Director)

Creative Work, Dance, El Anatsui, Finding Place, Guest Dancers

Rehearsal 8: Moon Pies & Diamonds

We’ve completed the opening, closing, middle movement section, and the first story section. We’ve also recorded additional stories, so now to choreograph a second story section – to complete Finding Place for this first performance! (As I might have expected, this work is calling for even more development; I’m sure it will evolve into an evening-length work later this season. For now, though, we only have about 15 minutes to perform at the NC Museum of Art, so we are wrapping it up.)

Our second story section begins with a story by founding company dancer Jill Bradley Hall – a story about her grandparents’ farm and old country store. Despite teasing for her country accent by fellow dancer (and northerner) Christina Serafino, Jill paints the picture of this store quite vividly:

“It fit the stereotype of small country store perfectly. Old men sat on the front porch talking, dipping, and smoking; an old coke drink box sat in the back next to a refrigerator where you could cut your own bologna; and there were cases and jars full of candy and etc. The highlight of every visit to the store for my sister and I was the chance to choose one item for ourselves. I almost always chose to get a Moon Pie. I loved them. Except for the chocolate kind.”

Upon hearing the story, Christina also mentions how she hates Moon Pies, so… she is the natural choice to play Jill’s sister and have to dance with a Moon Pie! The rest of the duet comes fairly easily – a combination of our playful movement from section 3 and gestures towards our coke bottles and other store provisions.

The rest of the second story section is a combination of two stories contributed by our guest dancers Jennifer Kirby and Corinne Canavarro. Jennifer talks about the sentimental value of her diamond engagement ring (containing her late grandmother’s diamond), while Corinne describes her grandmother’s dining room table and its community-building properties. These two stories just seemed to compliment each other beautifully, and so I had Jennifer and Corinne each say one line at a time – alternating segments of their individual memories. The choreography followed suit with Jennifer performing short solo combinations showing the love she has for both her grandmother and her (now) husband in between the larger ensemble gathering around our symbolic dining table. There is nothing too fancy about the dancing in this section, though I have a feeling it is some of the most potent movement in the piece.

(Code f.a.d. Artistic Director)

Creative Work, Dance, El Anatsui, Finding Place, Guest Dancers

Rehearsal 7: How does it end?

While most may believe the ending of a dance is naturally the last part to be created, that actually rarely happens with my work. I usually know how I want a piece to end sometime near the beginning of the process. I recall, for example, making Indulge – the idea for the ending of the dance actually came up in our first brainstorming session between video artist Colby Hoke, dancer Natalee Campbell, and myself. (If you haven’t yet seen Indulge, you’ll just have to trust me that it is a memorable ending – involving the consumption of almost an entire red velvet cake…)

So, true to form, the ending for Finding Place occurred to me rather early in our process, though I hadn’t had the chance to map out the exact choreography with the dancers until this (our seventh) rehearsal. Seeing the material with our music, with all those dancers, it just looked better than I could have imagined! The projected video is also a huge part of the ending especially; we will be projecting an image of El Anatsui’s Group Photo throughout the closing of the work. The dancers become the living embodiment of this sculpture installation; they bring those ideas about community and who we associate with to life. I’m sorry that the dancers will not be able to ever see the work in its full realization, but that is the plight of the live concert dancer. You can watch videos of the work after the fact, but it is never quite as memorable as being there in the moment. I’m just so grateful there continue to be wonderful dancers to choose to perform and create those moments (even while sacrificing ever seeing them for themselves).

costume imageAs we come closer to the end of our process, we also began nailing down all those other details for the performance, like costumes. While I initially contemplated ocean-themed costuming (blues, teals, and greens in flowing fabrics), I had a few dancers try on some jumpsuits in the Code f.a.d. costume arsenal, and for some reason those just hit a nerve. Now to complete the idea by finding jumpsuits for a dozen dancers (perhaps minus our one man who will surely be fine in pants and a shirt)… A few of the jumpsuits and rompers found can be seen in the photo above; I can only have faith we’ll find enough that function together by the big premiere.

(Code f.a.d. Artistic Director)

The premiere of Finding Place will be Saturday, July 7, 2012 at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Performances will be held at 2pm and 3pm; visit for more info.

Creative Work, Dance, El Anatsui, Finding Place, Guest Dancers

Rehearsal 6: Hair Braiding & Caramel Pie

Finally we get to start on the first story section of Finding Place! The story sections are where we really get to point out the meaning behind some of our movement to the audience and share personal memories about family, community, and objects that trigger those memories.

For our first section, I decided on three stories: a brief “introductory” story (my own) to give some context to the Coca-Cola bottles seen in the trunk onstage, a slightly longer story from Kirsten about spending time in Jamaica visiting family, and (our longest story) Danni’s explanation of her trouble making a very special caramel pie one Thanksgiving. From Kirsten’s story:

This one day an older woman passed by asking for food, so I gave her some of the dried plantains I’d been eating. After she ate them, she took my hair and braided it into this beautiful, intricate pattern.

Right away Kirsten’s memory set up a relationship between two women, and it gave us ample inspiration for movement – all the patterns of braiding. While the swish of a leg behind the body or the arc of an arm overhead may occur in your typical hair-braiding session, once you imagine the dancers not only as the people but also as the hair itself, I believe you will see the images quite clearly. See the rehearsal image below: Jill and Kristina dance as the braiding hair while Kelley and Euijin are braiding in a more traditional context.

rehearsal image

Danni’s caramel pie story was similar in that parts of the text translated to movement quite easily – topping the pie with Cool Whip, caramel melting and splattering on the ceiling, a dog sticking his paw right into the pie… as you can tell, this is quite a story! There are many of these humorous antics but the story also has a very touching message as Danni remembers her grandmother who originally made the recipe for this special pie.


Hear more about Kirsten’s time in Jamaica and find out what happens to this disastrous pie at the Finding Place premiere!

(Code f.a.d. Artistic Director)

Creative Work, Dance, El Anatsui, Finding Place, Guest Dancers

Rehearsals 4 & 5: More of the Same

rehearsal image
The next couple rehearsals (one with just the company dancers and one with our full cast) really consisted of the same type of work we had been doing the previous week – working on the opening of the piece with gesture material and setting that middle “big movement section.” So, this week felt as if not much progress happened, though, not only could this be expected at almost the mid-way point in our process, if you look closely we really DID make a lot of progress.

The opening and the middle sections were both completed this week, meaning time-wise we are about halfway done with the choreography. The opening really looks very meaningful and the middle is quite “dance-y” and satisfying to watch, but without our story sections in the mix yet (and without the video!), it is difficult to make any sense out of what you are seeing. Of course, in my mind I can see how it is going to work together and make sense… I hope I’m right.

During this week I also collected more stories from all our dancers, and they are so wonderful I wish we could use them all! Perhaps we will keep working on this piece after the NCMA show, work all the stories (and maybe more) into the performance, and end up with an evening-length work about our community. Some really great thoughts from within the stories:

“I was obsessed with [my first pair of ice skates]. Rental skates are in general very unattractive and are usually blue or brown in color. I was so excited to have my very own pair of white skates, and the day we brought them home I just stared at them. I examined the all the contours of the shape of the skate and I was in awe of their pristine condition.”

“On April 1, 2004, my family and I went to the Cleveland Indians home opener. I remember that it was raining and freezing, but I was so happy to be there! (We drank a lot of hot chocolate during the game.) I remember sitting directly in front of first base and that we were so close that I felt like I could lean forward and be able to touch the base.”

“As a child I always dreamed of becoming a painter. I loved the ability a painter has to take a completely blank and lifeless canvas and bring such a vivid portrayal of emotion to an on-looker’s attention. … No one sees the world like an artist. [Art] has allowed me to develop and appreciate the world in all its grandeur. No other place is as simplistically complex or completely simple as this world.”

What has captured my attention the most are the brilliantly clear images created by the dancers’ memories. The above are all from stories that we actually are not using in Finding Place – at least not yet, so stay tuned for some sneak peeks at the stories you’ll hear on July 7! In the meantime, enjoy a bit of our “big movement” middle section:

(Code f.a.d. Artistic Director)

Creative Work, Dance, El Anatsui, Finding Place, Guest Dancers

Rehearsals 2 & 3: Finding an Opening

After the first rehearsal with our expanded community of dancers, we had some time in the studio with just the Code f.a.d. company members. We spent a couple hours on this Saturday morning developing even more material, plus working with our gesture phrase to figure out how Finding Place should begin. I would say more often than not, I work in this way – finding some vocabulary, developing a few phrases of movement, then figuring out how the piece should start. So, we are not quite just starting from the beginning, but usually that is the first part of the work that gets set or staged choreographically. This way it is easier to see where the arc of the piece will need to go.

Technically, we started with the middle of the beginning on Saturday. I knew I wanted some of our guest dancers to do the very first movement the audience will see – a portion that then was set in rehearsal 3 (the next time with all our dancers). See below a rehearsal shot of one of the first images in the work:

Rehearsal Image, June 14

Of course, we still have to work out costumes, and even that box is not the real prop we will have by the time we get to the NC Museum of Art, but we are used to working with whatever is around at the time until all those details are hammered out. I find it better to start working before getting those types of things to some degree because then you can see more clearly what you may ideally need for a prop/costume/set.

The company members and I mapped out that “middle of the beginning,” and each company dancer used part of our gestures to create a “big movement phrase” for the work. They were instructed to stick with the same style as the two phrases I had already taught them, but otherwise were free to interpret the assignment as they liked. We got some very interesting movement, yet at the moment I wasn’t sure how to make all this “big dancey stuff” turn into this work of art we are aiming to create. It turned out, all I needed to do was ponder a day or two while listening to the piece of music¬† I had already designated for this section (composed by Proxy/G. Todd Buker, of course), and most everything started to fall into place.

Rehearsal 3 (back with all our dancers – company + guests) was then spent staging the “beginning of the beginning,” and working out as much of this “big movement section” as we could get through. We made it through about half. Fourteen dancers is quite a lot to work with for all that loco-motor dancing, particularly since I tend not to like large sections of unison material. I’m feeling confident we will finish this part in our next full-cast rehearsal, though, and I hope the “story sections” will progress a bit quicker. (I say that only because of the short amount of time before the July 7 performance; overall this is probably the fastest I have choreographed a work – surely the fastest with so many people!)

As you might have gathered by now, Finding Place has several sections of dance. For this premiere performance, I’m envisioning 5 sections in all: Opening, Story 1, Big Movement, Story 2, Closing. These aren’t titled sections, just how I see the work laying out. (And we may continue working on this piece after the premiere – adding additional stories and sections.) Thinking about the work in sections also is making it a bit more manageable for me to be able work on parts in rehearsals with everyone and other parts in rehearsals with only a few people. The opening, big movement, and closing sections definitely involve the entire cast, so those are my priority in our larger rehearsals. I’m almost ready to get started on the story sections now, though. We’ve been collecting stories from our cast members, so it is exciting to see how their memories will shape our “place.”

(Code f.a.d. Artistic Director)

Creative Work, Dance, El Anatsui, Finding Place, Guest Dancers

Rehearsal 1: Defining Community

I know we’re behind on our blog posts… know we are so busy working on this new piece, that blogging just slipped my mind! I’m ready to update on all this progress, though, starting from our first rehearsal with all our extra “guest” dancers.

Since so much of El Anatsui’s work is about community, Code f.a.d. decided to expand our community for this show: we have invited 10 guest dancers to join our 4 company members for this performance. Fourteen dancers?! Wow. It is so inspiring to work with all these dancers each week, and to think they have chosen to work with me – that means so much to me… I feel so supported in this art-making.

So, to briefly introduce you to our cast, we have:
Christina – company member, working with me for 6 years now…
Jill – company member, lately was on sabbatical since she moved away, but we are so excited to have her back (slightly closer in South Boston, Virginia) since she has also been around since the beginning – 6 years ago
Kelley – company member, joining in Code f.a.d.’s first “official” audition 4 years ago
Kristina – apprentice for Code f.a.d.’s 2011-12 season; we are excited to have her perform in this as her first show with us!

And the “guests”
Jo, Jen, Danni, Jacqui, Josie, Euijin, Alex, Corinne, Kirsten, and Bronchez
You’ll be learning more about these folks in future posts…

On to our first rehearsal:

This was a “get to know you” type of day even though I have worked with the majority of our guests (many NCSU student dancers); the other Code f.a.d. dancers had not met them – and at least one was new to us all (welcome back to the U.S., Danni)! We had a company technique class (and other CFC dancers Brooks and Gerren joined in, even though they cannot be in this performance with us), then we worked on some of the “big dance phrases” for the work. Starting with the tougher stuff, I figured.

My favorite part of this rehearsal, though, was the second half where we really got into the content of the piece. Dancers each thought of one way in which they define community, and they each came up with a movement to illustrate that definition. (There were guidelines, of course; I told the dancers they were not allowed to move their feet in the movement – as if they were glued to the floor.) Once each dancer found their movement definition of community, they taught each other the movements and we made one long phrase of “glued-feet gestures.”

Here is a portion of that phrase as we started working on performing in a cannon:

This isn’t a final version by any means, but I’m so excited to get all this material from our dancers and to start forming the work! More updates and video clips are sure to come as we continue work. I’ll leave you with this final thought – a title for this El Anatsui inspired work came to me following this rehearsal (as I was lying in bed, almost asleep – thankfully I wrote it down!)… Finding Place.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy my chronicle of our journey  РFinding Place.

(Code f.a.d. Artistic Director)

Creative Work, Dance, El Anatsui, Finding Place

Brainstorming Content

Time for an update on our newest work! Our rehearsal last Saturday was really about finding the content of this new piece, based on the artwork of El Anatsui. The company had class (a combination of yoga and modern dance this particular morning), and then we moved out of the body for a bit and into our minds to gather some experiences from each dancer’s life and memory. I asked the dancers to spend a few minutes with me writing – a real “stream of consciousness” writing assignment – about how we define community. Anything the dancers wanted to write was great; they could complete the sentence “Community is …,” write about who or what makes up their community, or write about what they hoped for, admired or even disliked in the community. Some things we came up with that feel particularly potent to me:

My community is made up of many smaller communities.
A community should welcome you.
My community likes to be active.
My community is made up of artistic people and places.
A community needs good energy.
My community disappoints me.
My community can move past disappointments.
My community is intellectual, motivated, free-spirited, successful, vulnerable, and unsure.
My community likes to explore the world.
A community has equality.
I have built my own community.
My community keeps growing.

How will these words fit into a dance? Well, that still remains to be seen, but I anticipate vocalizing and/or using projected text for some themes – others will be imbedded into movement, perhaps going unnoticed to some audience members (but still there affecting the overall mood and environment of the work).

Our second writing activity was to brainstorm words or items we thought of that showed our personal materialism. This was a tough assignment for some of the dancers because the word materialism has such as negative connotation to many of us. Whether we like to believe it or not, there are materials in our lives and “things” that are significant parts of our lives (whether that be good, bad, or inconsequential). The dancers came up with a huge variety of items on their lists:

family & friends
the stuffed duck I had as a child
Grandpa Paul’s necklace
the blankets my grandmothers made
lots of shoes, my laptop, my cell phone, designer bags
trips & vacations

As you might have guessed, some of these things will make it into the dance as physical props, while others serve to help define our mindset throughout the piece. One of the reasons I asked the dancers to make this list of “things” relates to El Anatsui’s use of materials, which is quite varied and quite extensive. He most usually uses recycled materials and often lots and lots of each item. The following picture is El Anatsui’s work Straying Continents:

"Straying Continents"

As you can see, Anatsui has used lots (and lots) of his material – in this case discarded aluminum caps from bottles of whiskey, vodka, rum, and gin. The use of these materials makes a distinct statement about the interconnection of alcohol to the transatlantic slave trade. The use of recycled materials from alcohol will also play a part in our new work; in our case, we are using discarded wine corks to make a connection to the North Carolina wine business. (And those wine corks will create a cork “beach” of sorts, connecting to the coastal community in the state.) In the greater scope, I feel alcohol can create and at the same time deteriorate communities, so our wine reference is still tying into the overall statement about community.

And so now begins the invention of movement vocabulary to support our themes. I am working on my own on movement prior to our next company rehearsal, where we will “test out” some phrase-work. We will be sure to take some video clips as we continue work; check back here to track our progress!

(Code f.a.d. Artistic Director)

To view more of El Anatsui’s work, visit the NC Museum of Art! Click here for more info on the current exhibition, When I Last Wrote to You About Africa.

wine corks
About Us, Creative Work, El Anatsui

Your ticket inside our world

Welcome to “Inside Code f.a.d. Company” – our new blog to keep you (our fans) in the loop with all of Code f.a.d.’s activities. We will be posting (at least once a week) to update on our current choreography and film projects and to give you more insight into our dancers and other artists that make the company who we are. Feel free to post comments and ask us questions. What would YOU like to know about Code f.a.d.? Ask and we’ll be happy to tell you about it!

Up first, check back in just a couple days (or follow us with the links to the right) for more info on our new project, a dance inspired by the artwork of El Anatsui. Currently on exhibition at the NC Museum of Art is “When I Last Wrote to You About Africa – the artwork of El Anatsui.” Code f.a.d. is creating a new work dealing with some of the same themes present in the exhibition – community and the use of recycled objects. So… we are collecting lots and lots of used wine corks for reuse in our performance! This is just the very start of our collection:

wine corks

Tomorrow is our first rehearsal for the new dance material, so we will update more on our progress after rehearsal. There is much still to process – we are writing text, listening to various types of music, and starting to think about costuming. And, stay tuned to read about how Code f.a.d. is expanding for this particular show – growing our community!

Thanks for reading so far, and hope to find you checking in again.

(Code f.a.d. Artistic Director)