|(Isadora in her iconic pose)|
Sunday, September 27, 2015
As I slid into the outdoor pool with my Isadora silk tunic on, and said the line, “This coming to Russia has been tremendous,” an audible gasp arose from the audience. We were dancing on an outdoor deck with a pool, we had circled the pool, I had dangled my toes in the pool; I don’t think they thought I was going to submerge myself in the pool.
Let’s backtrack. I was rehearsing the show “Revolutionary,” a dance/play about Isadora Duncan’s life, in the home studio of Nacre Dance Company’s director Beth Fecteau. We warmed up in the inside studio and then decided to dance on her rooftop garden. It was immediately addicting; the atmosphere of the columns, plants and pool coupled with the sunshine and the breeze rustling our silks. Within minutes, we proclaimed that a performance must occur in this space.
At this point it was July and Beth said, she would see what she could do. In early August she contacts us to inquire if we are available for a rooftop performance on Wednesday night August 26th. YEAH! I mean I think I was going on vacation that week, but somehow YEAH! I could make it happen.
I rearranged my schedule for several reasons. I wanted as many opportunities to perform my role of Isadora Duncan in any setting before the public show September 27th. And - I found it irresistible to perform in the space. Isadora was all about the Greeks and nature and this space had both - it was outdoors, and had a Greek sensibility.
The other bonus was that we were going to incorporate the pool. Beth found three opportunities for us to worship one of the five Greek elements. Of course the stage rule is, “You must always use a prop more than once.” Although the pool was only 13 feet by 7 feet, it was a large prop that could not be ignored.
We were performing for a small dinner party associated with UPH that was being held at Beth’s home. Our audience would be small but mighty and this would afford us plenty of room to move about.
We were doing a truncated version of the show. Normally, the show ran an hour and 15 minutes and this version would be about 20 minutes. This was good news and bad news for me. I had memorized most of my 8 pages of monologue, but not all, so the shortened version was good, but now I had to memorize this 20 minute show edited and in a different order. That was the bad news. Memorization can be tied to a particular piece of blocking, movement or gesture and this rooftop blocking was pretty much unrelated to any blocking we had worked out onstage.
After all, on the ultimate stage that I would perform on, I had a chaise lounge as home base and clear sailing as I moved about the stage. My rooftop blocking included walking up the stairs as my entrance, wandering along a balance beam wide beam at the end of the pool, skirting plants and the fire pit, resting on a bench, swinging my legs in the pool and ultimately lowering myself into it.
After I lowered myself into the pool and spun around on the line, “For the first time I feel that I can stretch my arms and breath,” I catch a glimpse of the stunned faces of the audience. Excellent, the kind of reaction you always want. Keep them guessing.
After my immersion, Lauren performs “Revolutionary,” a strong comment on the political atmosphere in Russia. There is a quiet couple of bars in the piece, which I take to be a dance break, and I more or less back stroke over to the south end of the pool to fill the music. At its conclusion, I make a few comments on how water has greatly impacted my work and then the dancers commence the poetic “Water Study.”
I was not left alone in the pool for long. As space is limited on the dry area of the rooftop, Julia is assigned the pool. She gracefully and gradually makes her way into the pool and then to everyone’s surprise does a surface dive into the depths. I suppress a giggle, but continue to do my Isadora leg stylings and solar plexus inspired arm movements awaiting Julia to reemerge from the pool. She does and I think got more than she bargained for. A swath of hair is plastered across her eyes and she starts to cough a bit. Julia covers it well and continues her dance. I admire her commitment and carry on. as best I can because out of the corner of my left eye I spot Beth doing unscheduled leaps along the pool. A grand finale. To my right, Theresa, Erin and Lauren are carrying on heroically.
“Water Study” draws to a close with one more surprise. Lauren jumps into the pool with an auspicious splash. Please recall the pool’s size, so things are quite close. Whether on dry land or in the water, we have been told to hit the iconic Isadora pose as our bow. We do with Lauren emerging from her jump with her arms poised. Julia is still underwater but joins us momentarily.
All pool dancers exit the pool with our silk tunics immediately plastered to us and see through - fun!. I know for a fact our audience has enjoyed many libations and I can only imagine what they think they were witnessing. Actually great art. The Duncan work was perfect in the setting and experiencing all the elements of earth, air, fire, water and the Greek’s beloved fifth element of ether.
Diane Lachtrupp Martinez
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
BECOMING ISADORA : HOW IT CAME TO BE.
My journey to becoming Isadora actually began over a year before the April 2015 Duncan immersion weekend described in the first installment of my “Becoming Isadora” blog. I had started to work with Nacre in December of 2013 when my husband ( Nacre dancer) said they needed some additional dancers for a piece and let me know about the audition. I am not a modern dancer, but it intrigued me, so I audition and was accepted. As additional dancers, we were not company members, but we given the name “community dancers.” Since I am a professional dancer in the ballroom world, the title “community dancer” was a tough pill to swallow but the title tickled my younger son and he delighted in repeating the title - “community dancer” many times over.
After the “community dancer” gig ended in March of 2014, I was invited to continue to take classes with Nacre. I accepted the invitation gladly and so continued my foray into the world of modern dance. Although I was professional ballroom dancer with a jazz background, I was not a modern or ballet dancer which was the backbone of Nacre’s repertoire. I had always wanted more ballet training and enjoyed the movement of modern.
Process is not my speciality. However, I think this was the best example in my life of showing up, working hard, and not worrying about what anyone else thought and working through challenges. Twice a week on Tuesday and Friday mornings, I would throw my butt around, in the Nacre classes, with abandon and commitment in an effort to master the material. I was doing it as a form of exercise, additional training for my tango dancing and to increase my knowledge for choreography. I asked questions, stumbled across the floor, picked myself back up and continued working hard. I was not giving up. When we would move across the floor in groups of two, I would ask my partner to be in front of me so I could try it. The other dancers were patient and slightly amused by my efforts. On occasion I was discouraged by my inability to grasp a combination above my pay grade but most of the time I was happy if I improved with each repetition.
In August of 2014, Nacre put out a notice for their annual choreographer search for their spring season. In the past, the director Beth, had viewed submissions on her own and made the decision. This year they were letting the public choose at an event titled “So You Think You Can Choreograph.” I entered, was selected as a finalist, and in the end was one of the two choreographers chosen to work with the company. More info on that in my blog -http://dianelachtruppmartineznocompromises.blogspot.com/2015_03_01_archive.html
I believe this event, contributed to elevating my position above “community dancer” with Nacre.
After the contest on November 1st, and before I really started working on the piece I was selected to choreograph, I continued my classes with the company and working hard in class. If class started at 10am, around 11:15 at the finish of class, I would pack up my things and head out the door as the other company members stayed to rehearse. One day last December, as I was moving off the floor to go, Beth said, “Diane could you stand over there?” I looked behind me to see if there was someone behind me, but there was not. I was being asked to participate in a piece.
The next rehearsal, Beth continued to use me in the piece “Falling to Pieces” and so I came to dance with the company. She never really asked me, it just developed into that. I showed dedication and commitment. It paid off. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it was a little bit like musical theater meets modern dance. I followed the choreography as best as I could, but would occasionally add something a little theatrical which I believe Beth sometimes liked and sometimes it was just wrong.
However, my theatrical leanings are what might have inspired her to pose the question regarding - “Revolutionary.” One day after rehearsal, she asked if I still acted and the answer was yes. I was trained as an actress, and although dance was my focus now and livelihood, I had continued to act in shows now and then. Mostly musical theater - not high drama.
So, here I was a non- modern dancer playing a modern dance icon, dancing in it and having to memorize a daunting amount of lines over a course of 8 pages of just me speaking. I wanted to get Isadora right. I started to read her book “My Life” and saw many instances where the play “Revolutionary” had come from this book. I continued to study Duncan with Beth and we continued to work on the pieces at rehearsals. We didn’t have any specific performance dates yet, but had our sights set on the fall.
So since December of 2013, I had gone from “community dancer” to winner of a choreography contest and now Isadora. I was thrilled but could not rest for long. There was much work to be done for this new modern dancer playing a modern dance icon who had not exercised her dramatic chops in awhile. I was nervous but excited.
More on Becoming Isadora this week: Showtime Sunday September 27th - 7pm
at the Skidmore Dance Theater
Diane Lachtrupp Martinez
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
|(Author at a February 2015 photo shoot)|
Isadora. Isadora Duncan. A part I had been asked to play for Nacre Dance Company back in January of this year. I had agreed to take on the role of the woman who was credited with starting modern dance and was about to immerse myself in a weekend of Duncan culture, costume and movement.
Nacre Modern Dance Company had taken on a new project of producing the play “Revolutionary;” depicting Isadora Duncan’s life. The play was a combination of both dancing and an eight page monologue by the solo actress - me. I was flattered and excited to play a historical woman of dance.
Friday evening, April 10th I arrive at Universal Preservation Hall (UPH) at 5:45 to prepare for the first session of the weekend. Beth Fecteau, director of Nacre, hands me my silk tunic and sash which is contained in a matching silk bag. I open it up and pull out my silks and am surprised by the color. I thought I was receiving a periwinkle silk tunic but it turns out to be a pale violet. I look around at the emeralds and burgundies worn by some of the other dancers and at first am disappointed but soon realize that the pearly, luminescent quality of the silk suits Isadora Duncan. It is a complete mystery to me as to how to wear my tunic and sash but am soon helped by other dancers in the draping and knot-tying required to achieve a Duncan look. Apparently a number of them have danced Duncan before and are accustomed to the Greek style tunics and the fact that we wear them for both warm-up, rehearsal and performances. I am entering Duncan culture. It is thrilling.
Before we start, Beth introduces me to the visiting Duncan instructors, Cynthia Word and Ingrid Zimmer, as “our Isadora” and Cynthia comments that I even look like her a bit. My hair is the right length and style, bone structure is similar and I do have a long neck. She was famous for her elongated cervical area.
At 6pm sharp, we begin with Beth introducing Cynthia and Ingrid from Washington who are setting the pieces on us. They have done the show “Revolutionary” a number of times and are here to share the choreography, the spirit and the styling. Before we start to move, we sit in a circle and they show us photos of both Isadora Duncan and her dancers as well as some of the classic Greek artwork that inspired her. I am currently, reading her autobiography, “My Life” and recall the unwavering influence that the Greek art had on her.
|(Cynthia Word starting the workshop with Duncan history)|
We start with a warm-up that has a loose structure and does not adhere to strict counts with the music. I follow along and am soon having fun with the beautiful warm-up that is much looser than ballet. I feel that I am dancing already at the barre. At the end of the weekend, my hips were quite loose due to the multitude of leg swings we do. I also felt that the warm-up offered a cardio benefit as few exercises were explained but really it was based on follow the leader and there was no stopping in between. How revolutionary!!
In the weeks building up to this weekend, Beth had been giving us more Duncan movement in class which helped me through this weekend. But truth be told, it was clear that everyone else had been in a Duncan environment before - from their expert draped tunics to their knowledge of the warm-up. And other people showed up, who I didn’t know who apparently love Duncan and wanted any opportunity to be a part of it. Furthermore, a number of the dancers, including Beth, had been to Greece to dance among the artifacts and reproduce Isadora’s experience. I had some catching up to do.
Friday evening we worked on “Balspiel,” a light hearted dance that depicts young women going to a party and Isadora as a dancing young girl. I found this one a little challenging but fun. I went home exhilarated and looking forward to the next day.
Saturday at 9am after the warm-up, we are divided up into two groups to learn different pieces. There are 10 numbers to learn so we must divide and conquer. My first number of the day is “Revolutionary” which is a comment on the Russian Revolution and serfdom which she was vehemently against. She was opposed to anything that constricted the human being and human spirit from a tsar to a tight ballet corset. She was frequently asked to wear more substantial undergarments under her tunic which she wore everywhere and firmly refused.
“Revolutionary” is I believe her most dramatic piece filled with quick drops to the floor, clenching of the fists and emotionally strong movement. Ingrid warns us that our left thigh might be sore in the morning and it was as we repeated the dance over and over. I was learning the piece to better know Isadora but I would have performed this one in a heartbeat. The choreography is mature and rich.
My second piece of the day was “Orientale” a piece that has some gypsy influence and is danced with a scarf. It is meant as a seduction and while not difficult in movement was actually challenging to memorize as much of the movement was repetitive but clearly different in some subtle way. In the script this piece follows her story about performing in Budapest and you see the blending of east meets west in the movement.
Apparently, I danced “Orientale “ well as it was decided afterwards that perhaps this Isadora would dance in the show. Other versions of the show had kept the acting and dancing separate. I was all for it. The dance possessed a Latin flair and I related to its movement and sequence of steps.
During the day we worked on “Ave Maria” which is the heart wrenching piece that is offered up after Isadora relates the death of her two children. A part of the play I was equally looking forward to and dreading. I have done dramatic work onstage before but it had been awhile since I had lost it onstage and had a break down. I was in tears just learning the piece and ached to be a part of it.
Saturday evening was a dinner party with some of the dancers including Cynthia and Ingrid. It was a whole new experience for me to learn of the Duncan world; almost a cult for some. Some dancers participated and left the dancing in the studio while others carried it throughout their day and life taking on a Duncan spirituality. It was not unlike the world of Argentine Tango where people danced Tango, dressed Tango, listened to Tango music and some up and moved to Argentina. I was happy to learn anything I could about Isadora and her personality, delivery, demeanor.
I was fascinated to learn of the Duncan lineage and how important that was to some. It was akin to having Mayflower roots. How many steps away from Isadora had your teacher been? Some had learned from the woman who had learned from Isadora; only two degrees of separation.
On Sunday, I spent time with the director Aaron Holbreiter going over the script. That afternoon we were having an open rehearsal at UPH and I would appear as Isadora for the first time. We were just doing selections from the show and I would be allowed to use my script. Beth, Aaron and I had edited the script for the open rehearsal. While I was in the back room acting, the other dancers were learning new pieces and reviewing for the afternoon performance.
What is also unique about Duncan is its spontaneity and natural quality. It is considered appropriate not to be over rehearsed and to have your own personal touch and styling within the Duncan repertoire of movement. A challenging balance to achieve.
After lunch, we do a quick run of the 20 minute show and I have my second encounter with the tunic and sash. It is one thing to wear a tunic in a casual style for a rehearsal but it needs to be “just so” for the show. Having never really been in a modern dance concert and accustomed to wearing tango high heels, fishnets and a flashy black dress, I am thrown by the beige/nude liner/leotard with a full nude/beige unitard that I am to wear under this beautiful but unpredictable shapeless piece of silk. We achieve shape by wrapping, tucking, pinning and twisting. Much to learn but we look fabulous.
|(Classic Duncan shape in classic tunic)|
The show starts out with us warming up at the barre in front of the audience and I notice that everyone seems to know a different order than I do but I hang in there- after all, I tell myself, I don’t want to look over rehearsed. After the barre, we head across the floor doing things I had never done before let alone in public. It occurs to me that while I was in the other room rehearsing with Aaron, that there had been some agreement as to what was happening at the barre and across the floor which I had not been a part of. I start to smile and then suppress a laugh as I realize that I probably wasn’t supposed to be out there, just the full time dancers. I hang in there awhile longer and when I deem it appropriate, depart from the group and go in the back room to gather myself for the acting portion of the day.
The truncated show goes well and I read from the script with some light staging in the community room at UPH. I am aware of some acoustical issues and am concerned that I may be sacrificing inflection and expression for volume. In the audience are some friends and family of the performers as well as our Duncan teachers as well as some other Duncan devotees. I feel supported yet watched and scrutinized.
After the show, an experienced Duncan dancer, who I had yet to meet, comes up to me and has more information on Isadora. She says that Isadora would sometimes lecture audiences for hours and had a high pitched voice. I nod and put it in the hopper for further consideration and reflection on my road to becoming Isadora.
More "Becoming Isadora" to come.
Diane Lachtrupp Martinez