Wednesday, November 4, 2015

TMM credits and review by Gregory King in the Dance Journal

Photo: Bill Hebert
Gregory King has written a poetic critique of my performance last Sunday in the Dance Journal!    
I didn't see any programs, so  I share here the credits for the piece—  one must give credit where credit is due. 
Todos Mis Muertos (All my dead ones)
Day of the Dead altar/performance
Created and performed by  Merian Soto
Video: Irene Sosa & Merián Merian Soto
Music by Eblén Macari
Thanks to: All of my dead ones. and to the living: Magda Martinez, Jose Ortiz of Fleisher Art Memorial; Leticia Nixon, Valeska Garay and La Calaca Flaca Day of the Dead Committee, Pepón Osorio,  Bill H, Serena Muhti, Muyu Yuan, and Carolyn Pautz. 
Photo: Bill Hebert
 Presented at Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia, Nov 1, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fleisher Art Memorial presents 2015 Pew Fellow in the Arts, Merián Soto, in Todos Mis Muertos. Sunday Nov 1, 5PM. Fleisher Sanctuary, 719 Catherine St. Philadelphia. Admission is FREE.

Dear Friends,

I have now arrived at an age when many of the elders in my life have gone; my mother and father in-law, Benjamín Osorio and María Luisa Encarnación, most of my aunts and uncles, and my teachers Barbara Lea and Elaine Summers. And then there’s the loss of good friends and collaborators such as Lourdes Torres Camacho and Niles Ford. Last year, I lost my mom, Andy Soto.   

The time has come to dance for the dead again. 

I created Todos Mis Muertos in 1989, for a Day of the Dead altar by María Hinojosa at BACA Downtown in Brooklyn. First dedicated to my grandmother Mamita, María Eulogia Pagán, the dance came to me as a gift from the other side. It came with a kind of certainty that I didn’t question. There was the pale yellow soul light, a series of objects to wear, carry, manipulate, and balance, and a series of actions to perform. I would be unseeing, like Mamita. After my dad, Henry Soto, passed, I was compelled to restage the work and presented it in venues including Judson Memorial Church and El Museo del Barrio in NYC, and the ICA in London, UK, in 1998. 

The experience of creating and performing Todos Mis Muertos, connected me to the beyond. It filled my heart.

Todos Mis Muertos is a performance altar offering to the dead as well as the living.  The dancer, blindfolded, becomes a constantly transforming altar. Todos Mis Muertos is about the intersection of light and gravity; the extraordinary demands of the balancing of various objects and weights (gravity)—and the loss of sight—open a channel of energy (light) beyond everyday reality. 

Along with the La Calaca Flaca (Skinny Skeleton) Day of the Dead Committee and Fleisher Art Memorial I am happy to help bring together the community of South Philadelphia in celebration of this centuries old tradition honoring the dead.  Journalist Leticia Nixon, artist Valeska Garay, and I are creating an elaborate traditional altar piece dedicated to the disappeared  women of Juarez,  in  Fleisher’s sanctuary . Audiences are welcome to contribute their own offerings to the altar.  The celebration will also feature performances by traditional Aztec dance group Cenzontle Cuicatl, mariachi Pedro Villaseñor, and traditional food.   

Hope to see you there!         —Merián Soto 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Branch Dancing at Temple University's Department of Dance

Kailey McCrudden

Another academic year  is over, bringing individual and group learning processes to an end.  In my teaching, I often use the reflection paper as a tool for arriving at closure.  This semester various students of Corporeal Improvisation chose to write about Branch Dancing.  This year I was  delighted by the students’ articulate descriptions of their experiential discoveries.  With their permission,  I share some below:

“I found that as soon as I stepped into the space with the branches in my hand, my hands became my eyes and my eyes became an extension of the branch. I found this transition and sensation by standing still and feeling the texture and subtle movement within my branch.”  Katie Adkins
Katie Adkins and Leslie Cornish

“I noticed how organic my movement became while dancing with the branch.  I think this is because of the rough and natural shape of the branch. It is almost smooth in spots, but not completely.  This organic quality also resides in the energy the tree produces, even when the branch is broken from it’s roots and seemingly dead, an energy still exists.  This energy, when the practitioner is one hundred percent focused, is transferred naturally through the body.  While dancing I came more in tune with my breath and the steadiness of how I was breathing. I was not labored, even when my movement increased in speed.  I think because I was relying on the branch to initiate my movement, my breath maintained an evenness that stemmed from the intuitiveness of my transitions.”  Blythe Smith

“My first experience with branch dancing was surreal.  I began running my hands up and down the branch, feeling the spiral of the branch, and I felt the spiral in my bones.  Up until that moment, I intellectually understood the spiraling nature of every bone and muscle in my body, but I had never sensed the spiraling in such a fully embodied way.  Each muscle and bone in my body spiraled into the ground, up into the sky, and continued into the spiraling bone of the branch. My newfound awareness of the spirals I possess created a buzzing on every inch of the surface of my body.  This energy on my skin generated an awareness of the ends of my being and the touch of the air around me, but also allowed me to sense my energy radiating past my skin, through every inch of the space.  This juxtaposition of energy up and down, energy in and out of the body, knowing the edges of self and expanding oneself, creates an experience unlike any other.”  Kailey McCrudden

Blythe Smith
 “It felt right to hold onto and give weight to the branches, really allowing them to be a pillar of support.  I was able to drop my weight into pliés without holding back, as I was supported by the branches.  Often I would find myself balancing one branch on my shoulder, back or leg, while the other took residence in my hand, leading a weaving pathway around the balanced branch.  This really centered me and forced me to create a balance in the different directional energy of my body at all times.  Dancing with two branches gave me a 360degree awareness like no other type of practice.”  Blythe Smith

“As I continued about my day after branch dancing I found I maintained a different focus in my technique class and felt more calming spirit for a longer portion of the day. The practice really centered me and let all my unnecessary negative energy leave my body unconsciously.”  Katie Adkins

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Absence and Presence: Elaine Summers and Me

The audience celebrates Elaine Summers' life and work
I spent most of  last Saturday, February 28th at Judson Memorial Church, in NYC, rehearsing for, and then performing, and celebrating in Absence & Presence: Memorial for Elaine Summers. 

Elaine Summers was my teacher.  She had a deep impact on my development as a dancer and artist. My Branch Dance Series has been deeply informed by my training with her and her seminal work with dances in projected environments. 

Elaine Summers

I met Elaine in 1978 when, as a CETA artist with the Cultural Council Foundation, I was assigned to dance in a series of performances she was conducting throughout the city that summer.   The exuberant and loving Tedrian Chizik, a dancer in her company who was to become a close friend and collaborator, urged me to study with her and I joined her next 10 session Kinetic Awareness course in the Fall.  I was hooked. Elaine was enormously knowledgeable, generous, supportive, and patient.  As a teacher, Elaine introduced me to a theory and practice of the lived, improvising, dancing body—detailed, mobile, aware, energized, spirited, connected.  Here, at last was someone who could guide my quest to transform my body and dance.  

Elaine teaching with balls
I continued to study with Elaine for seven years. For about three of the seven years I stayed with her, we moved infinitely slowly, a practice that was both difficult and transformative. Later, I loved her three-hour classes where we would do long, long, warm-ups, meticulously articulating all the parts of the body,  and then, in that heightened state of awareness,  we would go, go, go— exhilarating deliciousness pushing the edges of the possible.  KA practices such Letting the Body Stretch Itself, Bone Hugging, Slow Walk, Slow Rise and Descent, were extraordinarily challenging and thrilling once mastered; they continue to be a source of investigation and great pleasure.

In those years I danced in several of her works— Illuminated Working Man, Chance Dance, Dance for Lots of People, and Solitary Geography. I remember being fascinated with Elaine’s  work with projections.  I was therefore delighted to be invited by Thomas Kortvelyessey to perform in Crows Nest during the memorial.  Although I had never performed the piece, I had seen Dana Reitz perform it several times during a weekend season at Riverside Church in 1978 or 1979.  Nonetheless, as you can see in the video below, the work clearly has impacted my Branch Dance Series. 

I thoroughly enjoyed performing in Crows Nest last Saturday. The energy in the room —300 + celebrating Elaine’s  life and work, Juliette Mapp’s gentle directing,  my fellow dancers— Laura Quattocchi, Alissa Cardone, Gabriella Hiatt, the flickering light of the film on the body, the sounds of the audience performing Pauline Olivero’s Tuning Meditation— lifted the spirit and connected us all to Elaine and each other.     

Thank you Elaine for the many gifts.   Thank you Thomas and Juliette for organizing the event, to Laura, Alissa and Gabriella, for your dance and kindness, Marion Ramirez and Patti Bradshaw for your fierce and gentle friendship.  

Video of Crows Nest performance 2/28/15.  Camera: Long Cheng.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Practice of Peace

 Last week I presented a “new” branch dance piece.   I say “new” because these practices were developed 2 ½ years ago when I was creating SoMoS, and ambitious site specific work in a sprawling North Philadelphia municipal parking lot ( see blog entries from 2012).  

From the first rehearsals of these group dances in Conwell Dance Theater in 2012, I was excited by the shifting landscapes created by the dancers and branches in the clean, contained theatrical space.  

Below is a video of recent rehearsals. The wonderful group of dancers includes  Marion Ramírez, Olive Prince, Melissa Clark, Jung Woong Kim,  Silvana Cardell, Robert Bingham, Colleen Hooper, Elisa Davis,  Katie Jasmin, and Molly Shanahan.   More to come.

                                               The shifting landscape of The Practice of Peace: