Posted by Creative Director, Lauren Stallings
Many years ago, as a teenage bunhead, I took my first dance composition/dance improvisation class at a ballet summer intensive. This class was led by a tattooed, sweatpants-wearing modern dancer who made us take our hair down before entering the studio for his class and banned pink tights. He carved out the space of the room with his body in ways that hypnotized me – he moved with full body and mind consciousness, tossing his body and shifting his weight in ways that I didn’t allow myself to move in ballet class. I hungrily ate every piece of information he fed to us that day.
The concept of movement not being dictated by, or even having to relate to, music was introduced to me by this teacher. This isn’t a radical concept by any means but was incredibly formative for me as a teenager who had only studied classical ballet (which is unquestionably musical). “The music should come last and exist only to serve the movement. Never begin work by selecting the music. Then you run the risk of the movement becoming too influenced by your relationship to the music.” I wrote this advice from this artist down in a journal I kept during the summer intensive and have abided by it almost religiously in the years since. When creating new work I always start with first building movement and then finding music that supports this existing physical structure. I never allow myself to become too “married” to the music and have been known to change it weeks into the rehearsal process. Additionally, I’ve always resisted the urge to set work to music that I like and listen to regularly.
I was introduced to musician Julien Baker’s work by a friend who immediately said, “You should choreograph to this.” I’ve had friends say this to me before and have never felt so compelled by music to want to set movement to it. Julien’s music is haunting, desperate, spare, and fragile. I immediately wanted to choreograph to it but hesitated, fearful that any movement that originated from a work of music would be disingenuine or forced. I put her music in my back pocket and (though I began to visualize movement to it) resisted bringing any choreography set to her work to actualization.
While talking to one of Racine + Southern’s dancers, Christina McKinney, I realized that Julien and I had mutual friends and that several local dancers had been toying with the idea of choreographing to Julien’s music too. Energized by our shared feeling that Julien’s music commanded movement, the concept for Sprained Ankle – a show set entirely to Julien’s debut album of the same name – was born.
The choreographers participating in Sprained Ankle each selected a song from Julien’s album and began to create movement inspired by her music.
As a participating choreographer, to allow myself to create work dictated by Julien’s music was an absolutely new experience for me and freeing in many ways. Creating physical forms and structures to pair with the melodies, rhythms, and moods of Julien’s work came surprisingly easy. I was pleased to find that my choreography inspired by this music never felt forced, disingenuine, or false. Some music demands that movement be set to it. To give in to the urge to do this, and to accept that movement can originate in a variety of ways and be inspired by an endless number of prompts, was intensely personally gratifying.
Sprained Ankle Featuring Live Music by Julien Baker
October 24, 7:00pm at the Jay Etkin Gallery
$5.00 admission, free for students and children under 18. Free local beer with admission.