Bridging a Quiet Connectivity: 7 Weeks of Performance Research in Portland
My name is Louisa Parker and I am a Sophomore at Bennington College studying the connectivity between dance, figure sculpture, and piano, using the groundworks of the body as a catalyst for this exploration. As a sculptor, dancer, and woodshop manager at Bennington, I am invested in construction of and with the body. In my work, I consider how the body can translate movement into 3-dimensional actuality. This study of intermedium translation between the body, sculpture, dance, and piano is one that is becoming increasingly fascinating to me.
In my research for Bennington’s winter “Field Work Term,” I reached out to Jordan MacIntosh-Hougham, Bennington alumni and recent Guest Choreographer with Shaun Keylock Company, who directed me to Shaun and his company in Portland, Oregon. Over the seven weeks of the internship with the company, I participated in company rehearsal—learning repertoire and building choreographic sequences for the company’s upcoming full-length show in May. I also aided administratively, assisting with office work and research. With the opportunity to challenge my skill sets on such opposite scopes of work, I was able to set parallels between the ways of thinking that bridge the two fields of administrative and dance work. Choreographic exercises in the studio aided my creative problem solving skills in the office, while time management and analytical thinking in my administrative work served me choreographically.
In the studio, I worked with Shaun to build choreographic phrases through varied forms of movement research. It was fascinating working with layered prompts to construct complex phrase material from such simple instruction. In my administrative research, I found residencies and performance opportunities for the company to apply to this coming year. These residencies offer studio space and accommodations for artists to develop and perform new work, which is crucial to the growth of an upcoming company. This research was also extremely valuable for myself as a student intending to pursue dance post-grad. I have a more solidified understanding of what residencies and performance opportunities typically look for, and how to take advantage of their resources under a limited budget. My experience in both ends of this work highlighted the importance that the balance of these skills hold towards the growth and maintenance of a dance company.
In addition to my studio and office work, I had the opportunity to interview Jordan on the upcoming premiere of their piece, Bad! Bad! Bad!, restaged for Shaun Keylock Company. Jordan spoke candidly on their study of the audience-performer relationship, which they often focus on in their work. I began thinking more about this incredibly specific dynamic—specifically how a performer can nonverbally communicate with the audience, and give them something that will stay with them once they leave the theater.
During the performances that I attended by local companies and artists, I found myself fixated on the sense of humor, and use of tricks, that choreographers apply to their work. The choreographer’s comedic license and use of quick paced, virtuosic movement continued to surface as primary factors determining audience accessibility and choreographic intention.
Navigating non-verbal humor is fascinating when considering that such a large percentage of the humor we are exposed to is verbal. Humor dependent on body language is an entirely different entity. I was most drawn to choreography that used humor as a commentary on a broadly understood feeling or condition. This type of humor is globally accessible and relatable to daily tasks, relations, faults, and quips that we run into every day. The use of awkward movements and interactions between dancers can drive a sense of sympathy-driven humor that feels so deeply real.
The use of virtuosic movement is another widely used form of speaking to an audience. An audience wants to be moved, and choreographers aim to do that with impressive technical skill. Walking away from a high-energy performance is something that stays with an audience member.
Humor and impressive technique proved to be the most successful forms of communication between performer and audience in the performances that I attended in Portland. In my dance work at Bennington, I will continue to research ways to move an audience with intentional consideration of impact and meaningful communication of the body.
My objective for this internship was to immerse myself into a field that I am becoming increasingly magnetized toward. I am so thankful for the freedom to have been able to fill the roles of administrative assistant, understudy, and choreographic eye, all under the scope of ‘intern.’ I am returning to Bennington with a fuller choreographic toolkit, and a more humble understanding of the work that goes into running and maintaining an independent dance company. I plan to use the research I conducted for Shaun Keylock Company as a launchpad for developing my own artistic work, and help other artists do the same. I am so thankful for the classes, shows, and discussions that challenged me, moved me, and inspired me to continue pursuing work in this field.