If the workshop had gone on any longer it would have turned into a full-blown dance party.
Divided into three groups of six, each person created a “move”, not necessarily a dance move but some kind of movement or gesture that took into account the entire body and could be done to a count of two or four. After teaching our moves to the rest of our group the fun began as we assembled our dance. No, we didn’t haggle about order or which foot we should start with. We left it up to chance: a critical component of the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma’s current creation process.
Using coins, playing cards, dreidels, or dice (our tool for the workshop) the company strives to move beyond their habits and challenge their affinities. Co-artistic director Pavol Liska explained that even the emotions and facial expressions can be decided by chance. You are feeling (roll the dreidel)…lustful, while I am feeling (flip the coin)…depressed with a (flip)…sneer on my face. Liska claims no ownership of this technique; artists from Hans Arp to Merce Cunningham have used chance in their work, but it’s a structure that is resonating with the company and yielding exciting results.
The company also courts the unknown by making performances that run straight into what they don’t know. Poetics: a ballet brut, for example, is a dance for people who can’t dance but love to dance. And that is another critical part of their equation: fun and pleasure. And if you’ve seen Poetics, you know they take their fun very seriously.
But back to the exercise. Once we had determined the structure of our dance by rolling the (plural) dice we set about figuring out how to do it. The movements were never supposed to go together, so transitions were set with the aid of more dice rolls. For anyone who needs to make decisions with a group of people, invest in dice and commit to chance. It will expedite your process tenfold. Our group had more time to spend on dancing rather than discussing minutia that wouldn’t matter in the end anyway.
After we had more or less memorized our dance, it was time to perform. Backed by smoking tunes such as You Sexy Motherfucker each group took the stage and took pleasure in dancing together. We tried our dances to different songs with different tempos, transforming my group’s performance from the dance of the languid poseurs to the frantic boy-band digs its own grave. The finale was a big ole hootenanny resembling the gym dance from West Side Story (the frantic boy-band in this corner and the shaking ballerinas over there). And watching it all was the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma: smiling, laughing and cheering us on. It was the most wonderful role reversal. I was doing the same thing watching them dance last night.
Posted by Maesie Speer