Director's Notes, Part Three: Rehearsals Mean Learning for All -- Director Included

Director's Notes documents, from planning to performance, the challenges of local artist Katie Toohil as she mounts an original, independent theatrical dance production.

Well, it's time for rehearsal!

We hold rehearsal in three separate spaces: SPACE - Mixed Arts Collaborative, Tranquilo and Move Studio. First, please allow me a moment to extend many thanks to Jonathan Shields, John Fantauzzi and Jackie Smith for their generosity in allowing us the space to practice! I never dreamed I'd be able to hold rehearsal six days a week but it's been possible thanks to the help of these fine individuals. All of the studios are beautiful and have been integral to helping us develop this piece.

There are nine pieces that comprise Grieve, and all of them must be conceptually developed, choreographed and taught to the dancers, all of whom have different levels of experience with learning choreography (pretty much ranging from "zero" to "more than you can possibly imagine"). Sometimes, I solidly know the theme, concept and movement for a piece and and able to go to rehearsal and slam down several eight counts of choreography to have the dancers learn and perform. In some cases, we naturally take a more collaborative approach and develop the ideas, story and movement together.

For the most part, everything goes extremely smoothly but occasionally there are rehearsals that feel a bit clumsy. It's all part of the process.

At times, images come through to me very clearly as I listen to the music and I have no problem relating my ideas to the cast. Other times, the cast will give me "what the hell did you just say? you want me to do what?" looks which make me realize that I need some help clarifying these images. With such a large group and, therefore, an array of talents, it can be challenging to effectively convey what I want to all of the participants.

The cast has been phenomenal in stepping up as translators, though. When, as a choreographer, I don't necessarily speak clearly to a yogi, someone will chime in with, "Hey, think of it like Triangle pose." If I'm having trouble communicating with a ballroom dancer, another ballroom dancer will explain the difference between what I'm saying and what they're hearing. It's been a brilliant learning experience for me and I hope for all of them.

In rehearsal, "feel your feelings" is a phrase we pseudo-jokingly use quite often. The dancers in the piece titled "Runs in the Family" have received this instruction: "Put your hand over your mouth and feel your feelings," which meant to move as the music spoke to them for the duration of the phrase, all the while keeping their hands clamped firmly over their mouths. In this particular case, the hand over the mouth signifies holding back things you want to say, all of which the dancers' bodies will be screaming at top volume. I love these phrases of movement where the dancers are able to express their own stories with their movement. The things their bodies do are beautiful and inspiring.

At this point, most of the choreography is set and the next phase will be cleaning, tightening and learning to run the pieces altogether as a whole unit. And then, the debut performance at Oak Cliff Cultural Center October 14.

More on that to come!

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