Sprained Ankle

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.

A Day In Passing // Part 2

Posted by Lauren Stallings, Creative Director of Racine + Southern Dance Exchange

Less than three weeks until the cast of “Passing” takes the stage! Don’t wait–get your tickets today at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/passing-tickets-17715244774.
This week we caught a glimpse behind the scenes with Jana Pate, Director of Integration and choreographer for Racine + Southern Dance Exchange. Jana has been assigned the Mature Adult Justice stage.  
From an outsider’s perspective, the end result of choreography is bodies in motion on a stage.  However, my choreographic process involves significantly more than bodies and movement at a specified time and place.  The preliminary stages of my choreographic process are somewhat unfortunate and actually a bit comical. I encounter agony, anxiety, and anticipation for the first rehearsal,most of which is completely unnecessary and also a bit ridiculous.  If I am not careful, I will dwell on these feelings for far too long and almost work myself into a state of choreographic paralysis! Over time I have learned to acknowledge those feelings without surrendering my sanity, and I have developed several guiding principles that allow me to settle in to a surprisingly calm state of creative exploration:
*Begin locally, grow globally.  I always derive my initial subject matter from personal investigation. For me, I am not able to produce genuine, honest work without first spending substantial time journaling, reflecting, and documenting memories as well specific visual details from pivotal life moments in fragmented writing.  I then move to a time of research across multiple genres of art, philosophy, and literature to find connections between a wide variety of source material and my scribbled introspection.  Ultimately, I am seeking to nurture ideas that allude to broader themes of the human condition that I feel I can authentically communicate through my small lens of experience.
*Incorporate improvisation. Before entering the studio for the first rehearsal, I develop several prompts that encourage movement exploration with the dancers, as I consider their unique experiences and perspectives highly valuable as well.  The “food” from these exercises is utilized in a variety of ways depending on the nature of the piece. I may integrate actual gestures generated from improvisation into the work, or I may simply use the exercise to provide a foundation for analyzing performance qualities.
*Work in silence.  Whether I am working on phrase material outside of rehearsal or choreographing on dancers in the studio, I intentionally choose to work in silence and often do not even  bring music into the picture until we are several rehearsals along in to the process.  This allows me to truly focus on clarity and select movements influenced solely by the subject matter.
*Nothing is too precious. I usually go in to the first rehearsal and subsequent rehearsals with general movement ideas, gestures, and a rough structure planned; however, I do not let that overrule open-minded discovery in the studio.  I have found that if I choreograph every single step and detail ahead of time, it does not leave room for the dance to live and breathe.  I enjoy the process of watching a dance evolve organically over time, and if I am holding on too tightly to any given idea, the freedom to throw it away and chart a new course in the moment is completely lost.  I have to get to a place where I can release some control and let the dance happen.

A Day In Passing // Part 1

Posted by: Lauren Stallings // Creative Director, Racine + Southern Dance Exchange

“The blank space can be humbling...Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.

“The blank space can be humbling…Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.”– Twyla Tharp

For Racine + Southern’s production of “Passing” I was assigned two separate stages of man as defined by Shakespeare: Infancy/Childhood and Incapacity/Sage Second Childhood. Though separated by decades these two ages of man are strikingly similar. The man in both of these stages of life is helpless, dependent on others, perhaps oblivious to the goings-on around him. I immediately decided to not portray these two ages literally, but to approach them more metaphorically.

My creative process involves lots of preparation and investigation before I ever enter the blank space that serves as my canvas: the studio. Before I allow myself to begin piecing together choreography, I tend to practice stream-of-consciousness writing, collect images that speak to me, sketch, and assemble vision boards for each new work. These creative rituals allow me to dig deeper into my intended material before the physical, choreographic work begins. They are a sacred, necessary part of my routine.


Preparation for Passing.

Even more preparation.

Even more preparation.

Strangely enough, my preparation for beginning to stage a new piece involves very little choreographing before the first rehearsal I hold with my dancers. I have found that if my mind has been thoroughly prepared for the task at hand through non-movement related research and investigation, the movement comes more effortlessly. During my earliest years of choreographing I would stage entire works before ever meeting the dancers I would be working with. I would then become frazzled when I would enter the first rehearsal and realize that I needed to re-configure every phrase and pattern. I’ve realized that my best, most genuine work materializes when I allow myself to enter an empty studio and accept what comes to me, in that moment, without self-judgement. If I’ve been disciplined in my creative preparation, this makes the actual choreographic process more enjoyable, authentic, and effortless for me.

To quote artist Nick Law: “Creativity is habit. It’s not the thing the happens In the shower.”

Dancer, Beatrice Davis, in rehearsal for Passing.

Dancer, Beatrice Davis, in rehearsal for Passing.

A Day In Passing // Introduction

On August 8th Racine + Southern Dance Exchange will premier our biggest show since the company’s inception in January of 2015. 11705375_675391119261859_250039189273534222_n

“Passing” is an exploration of the seven ages of man loosely derived from a famous Shakespearean poem. The show will feature eight totally new pieces by four local choreographers who incorporate various movement styles into their work.

A Day In Passing is a four part blog series that will follow the four choreographers’ creative process during the staging of these new works.

We invite you to take a sneak peek at four very diverse choreographic processes and then to join us at “Passing” on August 8th.

Tickets are available here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/passing-tickets-17715244774

Can’t make the show but would still like to support Racine + Southern Dance Exchange? Check out our GoFundMe!