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Dancing With Misha ... and Riding the Wave.

Fifty-six Pittsburgh civilians, including this reporter, augmented the regular cast of Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project in Past Forward (written and directed by David Gordon) in Pennsylvania November 5-8, 2000. Community members had been recruited by Linda J. Reznik, Pittsburgh Dance Council special project community outreach coordinator, but eleven dropped out, possibly owing to scheduling conflicts since the rehearsal demands were rigorous. The printed program began, "This evening's program will be a selection from:" and this was followed by a list of nineteen possibilities (not all were presented)--some new and some existing works created by choreographers associated with the Judson Dance Theater in the 1960s and '70s [see cover story, Dance Magazine, November 2000].

Intensive two-day preparations conducted by Nancy Duncan, White Oak's community outreach programs director, plus an insightful rehearsal with Judson choreographer Deborah Hay, preceded the two Byham Theatre performances. Works presented included Hay's Exit (1995), Steve Paxton's pedestrian paean Satisfyin Lover (1967), David Gordon's processional Overture to "The Matter" (1979), Simone Forti's task-driven Scramble (1970) and her organic Huddle (1961).

Of these, Forti's evergreen works demanded the most physical movement and focus from a select group of students and dancers. Duncan's enjoyable workshop included breathing, weight distribution, pressure, spinal alignment and surface contact exercises, most useful for weight manipulation in Huddle. Here, two ensembles of nine dancers mesh into tight circles as individuals hoist themselves aloft, top the mass and dismount, rejoining the group. The initial challenge was to succeed without injury. (Duncan provided cautionary instruction on where not to tread and reminders for proper supporting stances.) It was at times painful, but there were no major injuries. As confidence levels increased, the focus shifted to creative choices and longer solos. I performed it onstage November 7 and in the lobby preshow on November 8.

Inspired by the Los Angeles freeway system, Scramble's objective is to pass through the space between two moving bodies using upright, weighted movements. Duncan encouraged changes in pacing, intensity and natural responses to unexpected contact. Although I did not perform the onstage Scramble with White Oak, I did perform it with my seventeen colleagues in the lobby pre-show. The entering audience was intimidated the first night until Scrambler Jennifer Keller, a Slippery Rock University faculty member, spied one of her students amid the crowd. "Take your mom and walk through us," she instructed. On the second evening, we were less aggressive and the formation was looser to better facilitate audience infiltration--but it was also less exciting.

Cheerleader and traffic cop, Duncan offered honest assessments, fairness, encouragement, corrections and coaching for all. In The Matter, she helped individuals master a slow, steady gait and precise single-file spacing, while in Satisfyin Lover, a dance of walking, pausing and sitting, she pinpointed and alleviated congestion via timing adjustments and cast changes.

Working with Deborah Hay was an unparalleled experience, as she afforded community participants, as well as White Oak company members Baryshnikov and Tadej Brdnik, intensely personal solo moments within Exit, choreographed to an adagio section from Samuel Barber's String Quartet. While Hay set the groundwork--an arm to lead, a slow walk across a diagonal and four about-face pauses--watching her perform poignantly in the studio provided motivation, enlightenment and inspiration for the dancers' movements..

Satisfyin Lover was a simple sidewalk stroll, but Exit was both a dark plunge into the past and a confident embrace of the future for me. It was an awesome experience from the first step I took in the studio until I drifted into the blackness of the wings. I had an intense emotional reaction to dancing the work since the setting, interactions and the theme itself evoked memories and hopes for the future.

The Past Forward experience yielded more than just the opportunity to dance onstage with Baryshnikov and his remarkable company. It gave an experiential understanding and appreciation for postmodern dance's improvisational and thematic roots, and fostered teamwork and community spirit.

--Karen Dacko

An island awakening

The second generation of teachers of Gabrielle Roth's shamanistic, ecstatic dance technique--the Roth 5 Rhythms--reached the southeastern United States October 13-15. Titled "Waves," the workshop featured New York-based teacher Jane Selzer, who is trained in Roth's trademarked work. Seizer is also certified to teach Simonson Jazz dance and Kripalu yoga. She presented the dance/music/healing technique to adult dancers from across Georgia, Florida and South Carolina at the three-day event on Tybee Island in Savannah, Georgia.

"I had experienced Gabrielle Roth's work through a couple of workshops and my own explorations through her music and books for the past few years," said workshop organizer Dana Danielson of Rincon, Georgia, explaining how she came to sponsor dance as a spiritual practice work in her community. At the Tybee Island event, "twenty wonderful people were dancing their --es off: It was beautiful. And I'm so happy that I did it."

An author and recording artist, Roth has for the past thirty-five years taught primal movement and experimental theater, including laboratory and faculty workshops and retreats. She is artistic director of The Mirrors, her New York-based dance/theater/music company. According to its practitioners, the 5 Rhythms invokes a wide range of movement qualities to invite self-revelation and catharsis through dance, allowing participants to be at home in their bodies, to get beyond wordbased definitions and categories of thought and to practice a moving meditation.

Ric Liudahl of Tybee Island chose to participate in the workshop after a severe head injury and divorce left him looking for ways to restabilize.

"The Wave allows me to connect with my emotions and let that (part of me) live," Liudahl said. "I haven't found anything that works as well as music and dance. I don't have to have words in the way."

Because the workshops are therapeutic in nature, photographs and videos are not allowed, but for more detailed information contact The Moving Center, P.O. Box 271, Cooper Station, New York, NY 10276; 212/695-4070, email ravenrec@panix.com; or click on www.ravenrecording.com/gabrielle.html

--Sherri L. McLendon
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Title Annotation:White Oak Dance Project trains civilians for performance, workshop offered in the Roth 5 Rhythms technique
Author:McLendon, Sherri L.
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Words:1005
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