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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

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MAY 2020 Issue
Dance

UnSequenced: A Podcast About the Choreographic Process

UnSqequenced cover art: Lara Wilson

Dance may seem like an unlikely fit for podcasting. But choreographers are no less capable than film directors or novelists of talking about the making of a work, offering insight even to those of us who will never see it staged. UnSequenced: A podcast about the choreographic process is a podcast from {DIYdancer} Magazine that claims to “get inside a choreographer’s head” to understand what drives them as artists and “discover the stories and emotions behind [the movement].” The podcast gives listeners an auditory experience of the rehearsal studio that goes beyond the usual Q&A format by letting the choreographers speak from within their choreographic processes.

Episode one of UnSequenced dropped on June 1, 2019, when the world as we knew it was the world as we no longer know it. The podcast releases a new episode every month and I look forward to hearing from movement artists about how their choreographic practices have changed since the advent of the global coronavirus pandemic. When I spoke with host Stephanie Wolf on April 15, she said that she will be connecting via Zoom with Pigeonwing Dance’s Gabrielle Lamb who is creating quarantine solo dances designed for a 5 by 8 feet rug she has in her house. Wolf said, “I had some tape stockpiled and thought about putting everything on pause. But I kept the Tiffany Rea-Fisher [artistic director of Elisa Monte Dance] episode because it is like a talking love letter to NYC, which felt heartbreaking right now.” Wolf released the Rea-Fisher episode on March 17 and said that listeners should expect more episodes that focus on “how people are thinking about choreographing in this moment in history.”

In season one, we hear from California-based choreographers Micaela Taylor and Lara Wilson (who is also {DIYdancer}’s creative director); Atlanta-based choreographers Tara Lee (Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre) and Raianna Brown; former Batsheva dancer Bobbi Jene Smith; New York City Ballet principal dancer Lauren Lovette; and Safety Third Productions’ Katherine Helen Fisher and Shimmy Boyle. So far, in addition to Rea-Fisher, season two, which dropped in February 2020, has featured Dublin-based Liz Roche; Brooklyn choreographer Heather Bryce; and Amy Leona Havin of Portland-based The Holding Project. Though clearly focused on contemporary dance, the podcast is careful to represent a range of identities and geographical locations.

<i>Stephanie Wolf. Photo: David Ellis</i>
Stephanie Wolf. Photo: David Ellis

Each episode strikes a solid balance between thematic concerns and the actual practice of making dances. When Raianna Brown of Komansé Dance Theater talks about her work Skid—made with 30 dancers around the issue of homelessness and gentrification—we learn about her research methods, her desire to redress misperceptions of Blackness, and her movement influences (Horton, hip hop, and House, to name three). We also hear how she talks to her dancers: “I want to see your whole story in these movements.” Brown says at one point that it’s hard for her to explain the dancing in her work, but she does so with precision, evoking both movement qualities and choreographic structures.

The April 1 episode featuring Amy Leona Havin first bathes us in a male-voiced Jewish prayer before introducing Havin herself and the new work, mekudeshet, which premiered in 2019. Again, we learn about the inspiration for the work (Havin’s evolving personal relationship to Judaism in relation to her experiences growing up between Israel and San Diego) as well as hear Havin in rehearsal, counting to her dancers. We hear stomping. We learn the piece took a year to make.

My favorite episode showcases Micaela Taylor as she sets a new work on the Denver-based Cleo Parker Robinson Dance. It was thrilling to hear from the legendary Robinson herself, who says of Taylor, “She goes beyond the entertainment. She goes into the psychic.” Taylor seems to effortlessly find the words to describe the dancing: “Physically it means to have more restraint, a little bit more thickness, more substance to movement, as if you’re moving through a thick liquid; mud, water.”

Unsequenced is a highly produced endeavor, which is no surprise given that Wolf works for Louisville Public Media, an NPR member station (the podcast is an independent project of {DIYdancer}). The hosts interject just enough narrative context, biographical content, and description to highlight the practice and words of the choreographers. But what I like most about UnSequenced is that each episode runs around 15 minutes. There are too many long-winded podcasts out there and—just like a live dance performance that runs longer than an hour without intermission—they can be hard to get through. As we mourn the loss of live performance, I'm grateful to have the sounds of choreographic thinking pass through my earphones, to remember what it means to make a dance.

Listen at DIYdancer.com or wherever you get your podcasts.

Contributor

Sima Belmar

is the ODC Writer-in-Residence, writes the monthly column In Practice for the Dancers' Group publication In Dance, and teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

All Issues