Not Alone: Vulnerability and the Collaborative Solo

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For most of my career I have avoided solo work. I hated doing my own choreography, largely because it made me feel too vulnerable. My dances are personal, and I have always loved having the choreographic process as an artistic outlet through which I can express secret desires, heartaches, and anxieties. However, I always relied on other dancers perform my work, because they acted as a sort of filter for me. Yes, the work was very much based on my own personal story, but it was told through the interpretation of others. I was never too exposed if others told my story for me.

In graduate school, however, I began to tackle the challenge of personal solo work. In a way this revolutionized how I made, performed, and coached my artistic work. With the help of my brilliant teachers and mentors, I realized the importance of agency in the choreographic and performance process. When other people performed my work, I did not fully realize how the audience perceived them as dancers, artists, and people on stage. It was easier to let my personal story turn into one of self-pity, sadness, emptiness, and “done unto” rather than “doing” because I wasn’t the person who had to present themselves as having those qualities on stage. Acting as my “filter,” the dancers allowed me to separate myself from any negative presentation of my life’s story.

When I started performing my own work, which was still imbued with those some of those qualities, I realized that the audience was seeing me as being a self-pitying, saddened, empty, and passive person. I didn’t like that, because I don’t think of myself in that way. In trying to be expressive and vulnerable as an artist, I was really indulging myself in those negative qualities.  I learned that I needed to reshape the way I created, moved, spoke, and presented myself as an artist and person on the stage. I needed agency, I needed activeness, I needed power – even if the story I was telling was one of unrequited desire, heartache, or anxiety. I learned to create, perform, and coach others with those self-affirming qualities in mind, and I like to think my work as grown because of it.

Now, I want to push myself even further. My latest solo project is not a personal story, but rather a collaborative effort. I want to bring life, agency, and heart to abstract ideas, sourced from other people, instead my own experiences. I want to allow myself to be powerful in my movement and performance without a personal story to fall back on.

I have been collecting words – verbs, actions, descriptive phrases, adjectives and adverbs – from friends and contacts over social media. My choreographic process has involved interpreting these words into movement ideas, and stringing them together in a way that is non-narrative, but still (hopefully) very meaningful. There is no story, no theme, no emotional crutch to hold me up as a performer or make the audience empathize with my performance. It’s just me, moving on stage. Somehow, I feel even more vulnerable in this creative act than I did telling some of my most personal stories. I am alone, but moving only because of the directions, prompts, and encouragement of others. I am alone, but not alone.

I’m very excited and a little nervous. I hope that you will join me on February 8th as I debut “Not Alone” at the National Choreography Month Theatre Performance at Actors Fund Arts Center, 160 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201. The show starts at 7pm and tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door.

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