Lateral Inhibition

I spent this past weekend at Dance New Amsterdam’s spring Performance Project, which pairs DNA students with one of their teachers to work collaboratively on a month-long creative project that is presented in a fully produced concert.  I wish I could write a full review of the performance because I saw lots of interesting material from the five DNA teachers whose works were performed, but my vantage point was from the wings, where I jogged in place to keep warm and anxiously waited to go on as one of six dancers in the contemporary ballet piece.  The performance marked my first time on stage in two years, and after spending countless hours as an audience member with pen and paper in lap (to take notes for full reviews here on the blog), it felt strange to schlep a bag full of hairspray, Tiger Balm, legwarmers, and a plethora of cosmetics back and forth to DNA’s theater all weekend.  I thought those days were over.  In fact, I’d almost grown more comfortable watching and writing about performances than participating in them.

But on a Sunday in late April, one of my ballet teachers at DNA, Megan Philipp, pulled me aside after class and asked me to be in her piece for the Performance Project.  My gut instinct was to say yes.  The adrenaline rush that comes with performing is unlike anything else, and just hearing about an opportunity to perform made me crave that feeling even more.  When I looked over the rehearsal schedule – eight hours per week throughout May – my excitement diminished as I realized I’d be crazy to commit to that on top of my 9 to 5 job, consulting for iLAND, and blogging about performances (if I could squeeze them in), not to mention dance classes to maintain my technique.  The Performance Project sounded like fun, but logistically (and physically) it would be a stretch.  After changing my mind at least ten times over the next twenty-four hours, I realized that an opportunity like this might not come my way again anytime soon, and I usually follow the advice to go with your gut.  So with a lot of enthusiastic butterflies in my stomach and just a few hesitant ones, I agreed to be in the piece.

As the only group performing ballet on a program dominated by modern works, especially at a downtown venue like DNA – the self-proclaimed “premiere center for experimental dance” in Lower Manhattan – Megan, the other dancers, and I acknowledged the fact that we were the outsiders, and recognized the need to address ballet’s second-class citizenship (at least at DNA) through our piece.  In fact, this was the first year that DNA decided to include any ballet in the Performance Project, so there was added pressure to make this a standout work that illustrated ballet’s place alongside – not below – modern dance.

The result was a twisted, sinister piece that reflects the tension between classical ballet technique and more contemporary movement.  An intriguing little plot was woven into the work, in which the four other women and I seemed to be dolls wavering between charming sweetness and animalistic rage.  Using music by Bach, Javier Navarrete, and John Williams, the piece includes a somber waltz, a lively tango, and a fierce, lightning-quick allegro.  It’s definitely moody and unpredictable – in one moment my character is delightfully tipsy and flirting with the audience, and in another the dancers and I tear through the space with flailing limbs and furious floor work.

As it turns out, the title of the piece, Lateral Inhibition, reflects my initial dilemma regarding whether or not to participate in the project.  Lateral Inhibition is the competitive interaction that occurs when light falls on both light and dark photoreceptors, causing the two regions to compete with one another.  In spite of my initial hesitation, I have no regrets about participating in the Performance Project, and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work intensively with Megan and the other dancers over the past month.  It wasn’t always easy to dash out of my office at the end of the workday so that I could squeeze in a ballet class before a three-hour rehearsal that ended at 11 PM.  And I seemed to have a different aching muscle every week – one night I went home and placed a heating pad on my right quad, an ice pack on my left hip, and Tiger Balm on my back.  In these instances, I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?  What was I thinking?”  Fortunately, Megan and the other dancers were incredibly supportive and caring.  We cheered each other on no matter how emotionally and physically exhausted we felt.  And I constantly reminded myself how much I enjoy sinking my teeth into the creative process and being a part of the studio-to-stage evolution of a work.  I love watching how the artistic components – costumes, lighting, choreography, music, dancers – come together on stage.

Performance weekend was filled with jittery excitement, exhaustion, and wishes of “merde” and “break a leg”.  Luckily I broke both legs, so to speak.  I was really pleased with the outcome and thrilled to be back on stage.  Immersing myself in each performance and being fully in touch with my creepy character was much easier than I had anticipated.  Despite the aches and pains from the past month, I completely forgot about whatever was ailing me for the nine-minute duration of the piece and just enjoyed my stage time.  Shortly before rehearsals started, my friend Matt asked me if I planned on blogging about the rehearsal process throughout the month.  The thought crossed my mind, but I decided against it.  Perhaps this sounds selfish, but the Performance Project was something I did just for me, and I hesitated about sharing this experience with too many people – both in person and in the blogosphere.  So I kept things fairly quiet.

As expected, I was unable to actively attend and review shows throughout May due to my rehearsal schedule.  I missed several events that I had been eager to attend, and felt a bit detached from the NYC dance performance scene.  Nevertheless, I have no regrets about participating in the project.  Changing one’s vantage point is a good thing, and for me, the shift from audience member to stage performer turned out to be refreshing and rewarding.  Plus, you can’t beat the view from the wings.

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One Response to Lateral Inhibition

  1. Philip says:

    This is a great story, Evan…thanks for sharing it. As a frustrated should-have-been dancer I know what this must have meant to you.

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