In coaching the Stamina ensemble I often use the image of a luge, the strangely endearing Winter Olympic sport in which teams of athletes speed down a track in a highly specialized sled. The conditions of the track can only be somewhat predicted; they change according to the outside conditions on the day of the race and much attention is given to the potential for unseen ice on the track. Because they can’t control all the conditions of the competition, the athletes must train to be increasingly sensitive to responding to potential environmental changes through an understanding of their weight, their intention, and the subtle steering of the pelvis as a team—while still executing the well-practiced terrain of the track.
In Stamina of Curiosity there is obviously no luge track and no risk of facing sub-zero temperatures. What we endeavor to navigate are the changes to our internal environment that come about with an audience present. This goes deeper than just “stage fright” or performance anxiety. To be dancers we have to know, long before we are wise enough to understand the contract we make with ourselves, that being witnessed in dance is something we don’t just want, but need, long for, and will pursue at the expense of material gain. Simply put, we need you, the audience, to be present in order to do what we do. What happens in the studio, however transformational it may be, is still only preparation for the practice of being transformed by you and the alchemy of our interactions.
Each Stamina rehearsal with the ensemble ends with what we respectfully, even lovingly, refer to as the “five and five”—five minutes of drawing and five minutes of silent meditation. Truly, five minutes is not much of either, not “enough” to warrant any of us calling ourselves experts. The “five and five” is just enough, though, to bookend loose, confusing, chaotic, or enthralling moments that emerge during our rehearsals and to put us in touch with our beginner’s mind, and minimize the magnetism of perfectionism or acute analysis of our day to day successes or failures.
These disciplines, however minimal, remind us, daily, that there remains much in our lives that we cannot control or perfect simply by working harder, pushing, or forcing change when, in fact, change—progress, evolution, development—will occur in multitudinous quantities on its own terms. This state of humility the “five-and-five” fosters is a welcome contrast to the false confidence instilled through much of our former individual forays into concert dance and reminds us that we are shedding decades of learning to appear to be—rather than truly be—confident and fluid in our ability to adapt. This willingness to surrender that presentational mindset, and the physical posture it catalyzes, is at the heart of my work.
Each “five-and-five” drawing appears at first to be unique to the personality of each dancer and yet, over time, they have begun to merge through shared, repeating images—spirals, eggs, forms bleeding into other forms. We label each drawing with the date only; we don’t sign them as “ours”. Today, as I pulled them out to prepare them for posting on this blog, I was hard-pressed to know which were mine, though I had been so sure at the time that my drawing would remain stamped by my idiosyncratic personality and style. I see my drawings taking on the qualities of the others’ work and a convergence of shared influence: Ben’s fluid mechanics, Jessie’s pastel veins and arteries, Kristina’s just-organized abandon, and Tim’s wispy and courageous contradictions.
The drawings document, without words or explanation, the privacy of our internal journey through the movement, the emergent care we have developed for minute detail, and our increasingly collaborative sense of flow, change, repetition, composition. Just as in the drawings, sometimes the sense of having to choose between being unique (the leader, the boss, the decision-maker) and one of the group (collegial, easy, even rebellious) confounds me, but the ring of the meditation bell, interrupting the sound of the waves just outside the studio window, reminds me to surrender to being, simultaneously, always myself and always merged with the “other.”