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.

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