Saturday, September 29, 2012

Interview with Cicada Brokaw Dennis, Sound Composer and Designer for SoMoS.

SoMos is a Branch Dance performance spectacle bridging nature and the urban landscape, to be presented in a parking lot in the North Philadelphia barrio on October 12, 2012, at 7:15 and 9PM as part of Taller Puertorriqueño’s performance series, Café Under the Stars: Spotlighting the Arts in El Barrio. In contrast to the urban landscape, the parking lot at 5th and Huntingdon Streets will be transformed into a quiet carnival of nature images, sounds, and movement invoking the four seasons. This is a free event.

Interview with Cicada Brokaw Dennis, Sound Composer &  Designer for SoMoS

Q: Please describe your work for SoMoS . How does the scale of SoMoS affect your approach to sound design?
Cicada Brokaw Dennis: The scale does not really affect my approach, so much as the scope and breadth of the work. The length of the piece really moves it well beyond the realm of design so that we must speak of sound composition. And the number of different sound environments requires that I create multiple sound compositions. Each environment requires its own hour-long multi-channel composition.


I am a collector of sounds. I have many long duration, as well as shorter duration recordings with which to paint the sonic canvas. To create surround sound mixes, as backdrops I am using multiple long duration stereo recordings of nature placed into the four stereo planes present in the quadraphonic sonic field. These backgrounds evolve and develop over the time of the piece. Other shorter duration events are placed at various times, locations, and distances to complete the compositions.
The compositions are ever evolving and changing. Yet the pace is that of nature: a slow steady asynchronous interwoven complex of sound patterns which gradually shift and change.

Q: What is the set up like for the show, and what are some of the challenges?

Cicada Brokaw Dennis: There is a sonic environment for each of the four seasons. These are suitably placed within the performance space. There are also a couple of other smaller scale environments. Each environment requires its own sound source, amplification, and set of speakers along with necessary cables and power. Each environment must be plug and play, as there is not a cost-effective way to continually monitor every environment and be adjusting sound levels during the performance. Our tech rehearsals are very important to get to that level. The sonic juxtaposition of the various environments will make for interesting experiences at the areas of transition and overlap. The quadraphonic sound fields and the tents will help each sonic environment maintain its integrity. Because of the large scale, it is not feasible to put up and tear down the performance space prior to the week of the performance. A lot of tech work and tweaking of the design will be done in the final week in order for everything to gel.

Q: Merián has talked how SoMoS is like a culmination of her branch dance work. How long have you been working with Merián on branch dances, and how do you see this evolution of her work, and the evolution of your contributions to it?

Cicada Brokaw Dennis, Leigh Mumford, and Beau Hancock 



Cicada Brokaw Dennis: I previously worked with Merián in her Postcards from the Woods in 2009. At the time, that felt like a culmination. SoMoS builds on that experience and moves to another level of form, movement, and sound. The branch dances in the Wissahickon occurred in various seasons at the time and place of those seasons in nature. Postcards in the Woods was in an enclosed space using projections and surround sound, which moved through various seasons and experiences of nature during the course of the piece. In SoMoS, what I see is that the seasons and experiences of the pervious works are taken out of time and simultaneously placed into a single place within an urban environment. We are bringing recordings, interpretations, and reflections of nature into a space that is normally perceived as devoid of her immediate presence. The piece is also reaching out to a community, by being placed there in that space and being free for those who would come. The development of the dancers and the choreography of the work continue to evolve and expand, as the dancers find connections within themselves to the natural world and with the branches.

Q: Other thoughts?

Cicada Brokaw Dennis: SoMoS is sure to be a transformative experience for those who come to experience it as well as for those of us who are creating it.

Interview by Josh McIlvain
Photo: Lindsay Browning
September 25, 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Quick and Easy Guide to Experiencing SoMoS


Photo: Melissa Putz
  • It's free 
  • Wear comfortable clothing.  Leave the heals at home!  
  • You may experience SoMoS from beginning to end or come in at anytime. Audiences get to choose how to experience SoMoS. Late arrivals are welcome! 
  • There are two performance during the hours SoMoS is open—you can catch performances you've missed the second time around—also each iteration brings new creations so you will never see quite the same thing twice. 
  •  Three large geodesic tents and an outdoor performance area with simultaneous performances for audiences to move in and out of at will. 
  • You may sit, stand, walkabout or do all three.
  • Docents will be there to help interested audience members negotiate the piece: these docents are dance and movement artists and scholars.
  • The three geodesic tents have interior performance spaces devoted to winter, spring, and summer. Fall will be outdoors. 
  • Once you arrive, you cannot miss it! 
    In inclement weather please check the blog (branchdances.blogspot.com) for updates
  
Some Highlights 
Photo: Lindsay Browning
  • Performances are simultaneous. You can walk through the parking lot at your own leisure and take in what you choose from this feast of branch dancing.
  • Outside and in the center of the event, dancer Olive Prince (of Olive Prince Dance) performs an hour-long solo with two massive 20-foot branches. Says Olive, "The weight of the branches becomes intense and it immediately requires me to sustain this constant awareness of my body and the branch moving in space."
  •   In the spring tent dancers Marion Ramirez and Jung Woong Kim perform an intensely sensual duet amidst the sights and sounds of spring in extreme close up. Says Marion, "I imagine that we are seeds and we grow through the branches and get trapped and survive by going around another branch, and get rained on, and grow some more."
  •  Jumatatu Poe (of idiosynCrazy productions) will perform with a large bundle of branches, stationed outside the summer tent, and standing on a floor cut in the shape of the map of Puerto Rico.
  •  Massive video projections of nature up-close and the performers shadows will be projected inside and outside the tents.
  • The summer tent will be a hang out for audience members. Merián explains, "The summer tent will have projections of a tropical beach and be empty except for a white gym floor and white exercise balls. It was an idea I had when I first built the large tent. It seemed so much fun I didn't want to mess with it."
  • Multiple soundscapes of nature in quadraphonic sound. Says sound designer Cicada Brokaw Dennis, "The compositions are ever evolving and changing. Yet the pace is that of nature: a slow steady asynchronous interwoven complex of sound patterns which gradually shift and change." 






Interview with Marion Ramirez, dancer-collaborator for SoMoS.



Q: What is your role in SoMoS?

Photo: Lindsay Browning
Marion Ramirez: I am a performer-collaborator in SoMoS. As performers we bring the branch dance practice alive through our work. Because of its improvisational nature, it is never same as the time before. Also by having the audience so close to us I have discovered that we are viewed as sculptures and/or as people, depending on our performative quality. It is important to stay present and open to all the information we are receiving but not to lose focus on the slow movements that emerge from our connection to the branch and other performers.
I specifically have a long duet with Jung Woong Kim as part of the spring season. I imagine that we are seeds and we grow through the branches and get trapped and survive by going around another branch, and get rained on, and grow some more. My relation to this dancer's body and energy grows from this imaginative nature being. One example is that looking at the other and sensing has more to do with what we perceive through our whole body rather than what we see with the eyes. The eyes are part of the body but not more important than anything else. This way of working which I often use in my own work is magnified in the branch dances.

Photo: Lindsay Browning
Q: How does the location of SoMoS affect your approach to performing?

Marion Ramirez: In performing outside but not in the forest or at the park, there is a different feeling than what I am used to. In rehearsal I continue remembering that being outside is being in nature. Sensing the air, the change in the position of the sun, the amount of light there is, the movement of the clouds above and the rhythms of the people around us. In this work people are nature.

Q: How long have you been working with choreographer Merián Soto on branch dances, and what was the process like to develop the practice?
  
Photo: Gabriel Osorio-Soto
Marion Ramirez: I have been working with Merián since 2003. I joined her for one of the first residencies of branch dancing, in Huntington, Long Island. At that time, I was more of a witness, outside eye, observing her process of discovery, documenting, and helping her understand or differentiate the different explorations with branch dancing as a solo/duet between dancer and branch. I was witnessing and supporting this way the development of her solo Three Branch Songs in collaboration with musician Elio Villafranca.

Later on, I moved out of US for a few years and upon my return I joined her again for more branch dance within an ensemble context. I participated in the first version of Postcards from the Woods at Pregones Theater in the Bronx in 2009. We rehearsed over time for a few months while I was pregnant. It was special experience for me to do this while expecting my child. I was naturally more inclined to slow down my movement (although my idea an experience of slow was often too fast for Merián). I learned a lot through it and the creative process revealed the different experiences between performing in nature and in a black box theater. Also in that performance we worked with projections, which also affects the performance significantly. One is aware of the show that is encased in the screen and relates to it as another partner.
Then I joined the branch dances for the 2011 project, for the Wissahickon Reunion, in Philadelphia, and the Wave Hill performance in the Bronx. For all these performances we would go in groups of two to six people to rehearse at the site, and align our practice to the specific qualities and elements of the locations. But to our surprise most of the time we had unpredictable conditions. In the performance we realized that the nature of the performance itself prepared us to deal with anything.

Photo: Wave Hill
In October 2011, we had a performance at Wave Hill and there was a snowstorm. It was very unexpected, we did it under a few inches of snow with trees falling down everywhere around. In the rest of the shows, we had rain and did a wonderful performance under the storm, and other times, it was incredibly cold, weather that made my limbs numb and I couldn't move well. But the work can adapt to any situation. I learned to be there with what I had and not try to make any one moment beautiful or attractive by trying to control the natural course of my responses in slow speed to the relationship of branch, my body in performance, and the environment.

Q: Merián has talked about how SoMoS is like a culmination of her branch dance work. How do you see this evolution?


Marion Ramirez: I see the progression from solo work—which always implied to be a duet, the branch with the dancer—to the simultaneous experiences of the performers in duets like Jumatatu Poe with my sister Noemi Segarra and then the group work in the park, like trees that are individual and by themselves but are sharing space and resources with others, to more ensemble work in which many branches, many people, many personal stories, collective stories, nature's shapes and qualities all come together. 
Photo: Lindsay Browning

I have especially enjoyed this last work, in which I duet with my husband in an impossible, delicious, and long duet for the spring season. We will be dueting for a few hours, since there are two runs of the piece the same night. We are improvising within the context that Merián has given us, and are framed by, and are following the specific images that we all discovered together and that relate to the branch dancing. At first I felt that we were doing something dangerous, soon after there was no fear. The vine and a plant have no fear of growing. This metaphor has given me much inspiration for my performance and for my life.
I also enjoy the simple stories we have developed for the group work, like a collective experience. I can't imagine this being a culminating event for branch dance. Every time I go to the park and see a fallen branch I grab it and practice, play discover. I hope to continue being part of these performances if Merián chooses to continue performing them, but I will also hope to be available and instigate more development of branch dances as I continue to collaborate with Merián.
September 25, 2012
Interview by Josh McIlvain

SoMoS: Interview with Olive Prince, dancer-collaborator for SoMoS

SoMos is a Branch Dance performance spectacle bridging nature and the urban landscape, to be presented in a parking lot in the North Philadelphia barrio on October 12, 2012, at 8pm as part of Taller Puertorriqueño’s performance series, Café Under the Stars: Spotlighting the Arts in El Barrio. In contrast to the urban landscape, the parking lot at 5th and Huntingdon Streets will be transformed into a quiet carnival of nature images, sounds, and movement invoking the four seasons. This is a free event.

Interview with Olive Prince, dancer-collaborator for SoMoS.

Olive Prince in SoMoS  Photo: Lindsay Browning
Q: How would you describe SoMoS?

Olive Prince: SoMos is “carnival” of branch dancing. The audience has the opportunity to wander through a world that presents a sensory experience on nature. You will see dancers moving with massive branches, tents that capture videos of each season, bodies moving in response to the environment that is created, and leading to an overall experience that the audience can immerse themselves in. You can walk through the parking lot at your own leisure and take in what you choose from this feast of branch dancing. It is like taking a walk in the woods where you can take the time to stop and watch the slow evolution of the leaves moving in the wind or you can wander off the path to what interests you.

Q: How long have you been working with choreographer Merián Soto on branch dances?


Olive Prince in OYWPP  Photo: Pepón Osorio
Olive Prince: I started dancing with Merián on branch dancing in 2004. It was an idea she had and I was a graduate student at Temple and went into the woods to investigate it with her. We weren’t even holding branches at that time, but I was dancing on a tree trunk and connecting with the weight and gravity of the environment. This later evolved into her first Wissahickon Project and that was the first larger investigation of the work I did with her. We performed four times for each season.

Q: What was the process like to develop the branch dances and at what point did you feel you "got it"?

Olive Prince: It has been a pleasure to witness how this work has evolved. Performing in this work is a constant evolution and practice of committing to the connection, sensitivity, and the body’s response to finding an energetic balance with the branch. I don’t believe there was one point where I suddenly got it. It evolves—the practice becomes a part of how you work and an approach that takes discipline, patience, and a heightened awareness. Each practice is different but it calls on me to not only commit all of my focus to this one task, but I feel like I become something else in the process of slowing down, listening, and connecting with the branch.

Q: What are you doing for SoMoS?


videoOlive Prince: I am doing a solo with two massive twenty-foot long branches. The journey will last for an hour and takes me to places that continue to surprise me. The weight of the branches becomes intense and it immediately requires me to sustain this constant awareness of my body and the branch moving in space. The smallest shifts in the wind or how I am moving my spine can alter my entire relationship with the branch. There is an emotional journey that evolves in this solo. I will be outside for the entirety of the performance.

Q: How does the scale of SoMoS affect your approach?

Olive Prince: We have all worked on each component of this work. The scale of the work defines the larger context in which I will be relating, but the practice is the practice. When it comes time to perform the work I will be situated in the middle of this grand spectacle of sorts. I will be working to listen and connect to the emotional and physical landscape of my own journey and trust that it will resonate in the context of the whole.

Olive n the parking lot. Photo: Melissa Putz
Q: Merián has talked how SoMoS is something of a culmination of her branch dance work. How do you see this evolution?

Olive Prince: This evolution has been thrilling to be a part of. It’s amazing to think about how we started branch dancing with one tiny branch and now we are using huge branches or multiple branches. We are relating to video images and other dancers in ways that have grown organically out of the process. Merián is amazing at giving the workspace to evolve. It seems to happen very intuitively and in the process of how she works with dancers and performs the practice. I’m thankful to have been a part of this process. The practice teaches you something every time.

September 24, 2012
Interview by Josh McIlvain

Saturday, September 8, 2012

SoMoS: The Branches




Beua Hancock
In case you are wondering, no trees were harmed in the creation of this work.   The branches were collected from the ground, mostly from Wissahickon Valley Park.    We dance with branches that have been ripped off their trees by the wind, the rain, or snow; or that have cracked off a dead or dying tree.





Jumatatu Poe
We call it a stick, and don’t give it much thought, but when we pause and handle it with attention, we sense and understand that in its form, this common object reflects the fluid patterns life.   This now “dead” object, was once part of a living, growing organism.  As we connect to it we image the wizard’s staff, a conduit of ancient powers— the  original thrust of life and nature, the form of flow  form. 


Jumatatu Poe, Jung Woong Kim, Olive Prince & Marion Ramirez

The practice of branch dancing is  paying attention to our sensory responses when holding the branches.   How does the body assemble itself to find efficient balance; how can we balance the energy of the rest of the body with the energy/sensation at the point of contact; how does one survive the practice over and extended period of time?  Sensing the weight, shape, and form of the branches triggers the somatic imagination and a myriad of sensations.  A feedback circuit is activated connecting sensing, observing, responding, imagining, choosing, and doing.   We sense the  myriad of  intersecting energies of physical  experience.  We re-member evolutionary processes and our connection to other living things.


We trick ourselves into staying present by committing to difficult tasks such as balancing “impossibly” heavy or long branches, handling various branches at one time, etc. The physical and somatic concentration is exacting, inviting a shift of consciousness.  Viewers willing to slow down  with us often report slipping into a place of reverie.  

video


SoMoS attempts to promote a communal shift in consciousness.   We have designed the various environments to stimulate the senses and the imagination.  But its not an automatic process.  We have to enter the experience; we have to slow down and take our time.   In the same way the dancer has to pause and sense into her body, the audience is invited to pause, and gently observe their own sensory and imaginative experience.

I hope you will join us  October 12. 

Photos: Lindsay Browning 
Video: Merián Soto