I didn’t post last week because my head couldn’t structure a continuous thought. Here it is another week later and I still can’t, so I’m just going to talk to you from this place. Get ready to ramble.
It’s the end of my first week of Smuin.
It felt like a waterfall. The days are long with this company. Five hours straight through with the only real break at 15 minutes in the middle. To give some perspective, I usually feel spent after about 3 hours of rehearsal each day. 5 hours a day of real, non-stop creative output.
I’ve been going to see shows every weekend at San Francisco Sketchfest. Most every show has been incredible. Watching this kind of creative output and bravery is inspiring to me…especially when it’s improv. There is no rest in it. You have that period of time to be present and funny and conscious. I think there are some real similarities here to making choreography. I make all of my movement in the moment in the studio. Doing it for so many hours I start to feel an uncomfortable expansion in my head. There is a hurt that is not because of searching for ideas, it’s a pressure that comes from an exponentially increasing speed with which ideas come and demand to come out. There’s a point that stops like when string gets caught up in a gear and the lightning speed has made it supernaturally tight. There’s a pain too from trying to slow it down enough to keep my mind on the big picture and unspooled, to be able to communicate effectively to the people who need to interpret these ideas.
I had a lot of concern going into this kind of schedule after just finishing up a piece for San Francisco Ballet the week right before and I wondered if I was setting myself up to fuck it all up. The answer began to come to me while I was in the balcony of the War Memorial Opera House, lying on the floor listening to the music for my new Smuin piece as I waited for my dress rehearsal to begin. I was feeling something akin to desperate under-preparedness and I felt bad. I was angry to be in a familiar place and wondering why I couldn’t just be happy in a privileged job. And then I had the very clear perspective that the ideas were now coming to me quickly and freely. And it was clear in itself that the ideas were Because of the pain. It’s not that I can’t make good work when I feel good, but I’m discovering that I can make a great work when I feel bad.
I heard another quote from Ram Dass second hand, so my retelling of it is an invention, but it goes something like, “hold your pain in your hand like a beautiful flower and look at it. Treasure it. Beautiful pain. Beauuuuutiful sorrrow. Oh thank you for this wonderful depression and the gorgeous textures of this experience of life.” When I heard it it exploded in me right away and suddenly pain was free of the judgements of bad and was not just ok but something to be treasured (here’s a link to the amazing podcast I first heard this on. I go back and listen to it all the time)! I even made this thought the internal dialogue for a section of choreography in my new piece. I wanted to make the message manifest, at least for myself, to help me integrate the tremendous gift of pain for creativity.
I spent the weekend connecting with old friends and also doing two photoshoots. First with San Francisco dancer Christian Squires and the second with photographer Clark Brinkley. It sped by in a blink as there were so many things in this big city that I wanted to soak up and use to replenish the well.
There’s the feeling of fever dream that wafts over the second week of rehearsal.
A massive amount of material that did not exist before is now the investment of an entire group of people. I was up against a wall on Monday and felt the burden of having been meaningfully satisfied with the first week. How could I possibly ever live up to it and what did it even mean? Who was that person that made it all last week? Now we would get down to the business of disappointment. It is a sickening and dizzying descent. I let the feeling wash over me, through me…and after a few days back to being thankful even for THAT pain, now the work this week now feels even richer…and so on and so on.
I am wondering about the origins of the do or die investment to “do well” and am continually defining for myself was success means. Is there some ultimate bestower of achievement down the road? Am I expecting to meet God one day and have him say, “That dance you made was correct. You are a winner.” The pursuit of perfection I am turning inside out for is ever present but I can’t place my eyes on a tangible end. Like a greyhound chasing an unreachable mechanical rabbit around a track, drunk with passion of certainty of purpose, bounding in a circle forever.
During my research, I found this amazing quote from Janis Joplin in a letter to her family about the things that drove her:
“After you reach a certain level of talent, and quite a few have that talent, the key factor is ambition or, as I see it, how much you really need. You need to be loved…you need to be proud of yourself. I guess that’s what ambition is. Maybe it’s for love.”