How can words, fibers and performance intersect? I’m still contemplating the connections myself, but I know that creating textile/fibers pieces, for me, satisfies a specific desire to invent.
Additionally, because most dances require threads of some kind– scenery, decor, or costume,– I bet many of my pieces will end up as wearables.
I can happily report that three of my recent performance ventures have included my fiber crafting and/or shibori. In chronological order, these are the installation for “Cave” (November 2020 and April 2021, Ypsi Glow (October 2021) and a suite of liturgical pieces for First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor (December 2021.)
Over the past year, I’ve been learning Fibers from the best, Suzanne Boissy, who is a Faculty member in our neighboring School of Art and Design at EMU. Since I am also a Faculty member (teaching Ballet to non-majors) it’s just a hop, skip and a jump between the Fibers’ Lab and our Dance Studios in the Warner Building. Suzanne is also one of my best friends, so I count my lucky stars that I get to study with– and shadow, her– in full Studio Action.
If you’d like to read more about Shibori, including an approach I call “Trash Panda,” fill out a contact form and I will keep you updated when my next blog post drops.
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2021 is heading out the door. As I pause to reflect on all that has transpired this year, I want to dedicate a few words to “Ypsi GLOW.”
We met on a rainy chilly evening and were painted by Professor Suzanne Boissy from the School of Art at EMU. My body painting took about an hour, and the other dancers’ painting required roughly half an hour each. What did we discover during this installation and performance?
Contrary to what you might expect, after loading in the installation, setting it up, and dancing for four hours, we felt energized. After playfully interacting with the “audience,” who passed by our windows, we felt joyful and connected. Some of the tiniest participants rolled by in strollers. Families and small groups of friends danced with us, laughed with us, and scanned our posted playlist with their phones. A whole school of piranha “swam by” in the rain. The colorful full-head masks on these GLOW-festers artfully conveyed a compelling grouping of these carnivorous –and awe-inspiring–fish. We danced backwards–quickly– trying to escape the potential threat of their teeth.
Public Art makes a sense of community possible. A sense of community makes optimism possible. As the pandemic, and its effects, drag on, this community festival is just what the doctor ordered!
The Back-Story: How did we get here?
About a month prior to the performance, I submitted an Artist Proposal to create an installation and performance at Ypsi GLOW. Then, I crossed my fingers for luck. Once my Proposal for “Punk’d Up Dance Marathon” was accepted, we were off and away for a 6-week flurry of preparations. Deliverables included a short video piece in “Glow TV,” the installation itself, hosted by SPARK East Innovation Center, 215 West Michigan Avenue, and a suitcase full of hand-made fiber props, costumes and make up! Ooh, and a long playlight and custom performance.
By long, I mean four hours and one minute long. I developed the playlist on Spotify for easy sharing, and asked friends to submit song nominations. I asked “What songs make you want to dance?” About 12 friends responded with song title suggestions, and these all made it into the playlight. Next, we dancers donned several costumes and danced our hearts out, twirling fiber wands, dancing traditional American jazz steps, with other forms such as contemporary, modern and popular/club dance thrown in. Often, we were balancing all this while manipulating day-glo props. Did I mention this is a black-light installation? It was, and with the inclusion of approximately 20 black light instruments and special effects lights, we made SPARK East glow up!
SPARK East went from a chic, all-business shared office space, to a circus-like stage. Swirling lights, day-glo wands and go-go boots set us up for a rockin’ contemporary playlist that included artists as varied as Adele and Amber Mark, Laura Mulva and Mitski; Lizzo and Lil Nas X.
The Installation transformed SPARK East
This blog post would not be complete without a list of folx who made this Installation and Performance possible. Thank you to all our friends at Ypsi GLOW and FestiFools. Especially we thank the school of piranha who swam by several times. And everyone who danced on the sidewalk with us, outside our window.
Video Team: Troye Aho, John Verellen, Videography by Sidney Anderson, Make-up by Jess Aho. Sidney Anderson went the extra mile as Video Editor and is the Engage@EMU Graduate Student Coordinator.
Performance Team: Lisa Dietz, Amy Hutchison, Christina Sears.
Design Team: Christina Sears with make-up by Suzanne Boissy. Lisa Dietz provided hands-on assistance.
Special Thanks: Jennifer Goulet, Jeri Rosenberg, Trevor Stone and all the gang at Wonderfool Productions.
A quote from one of our incredible dancers:
I’m currently a senior at Eastern Michigan University majoring Nursing and minoring in Musical Theatre. I’ve danced my whole life and my favorite performance was when I was in Addams Family the Musical!
Since September 2018, I have been studying Creative Writing @ EMU. No stranger to EMU, having been a member of faculty in Music and Dance since 2011, I’ve always enjoyed the campus and community. However, studying with Creative Writing Professors in the program has been an incredible journey. One aspect that makes the Creative Writing Program at EMU special is hybridity.
Many higher education programs (MA’s, MFA’s) direct writers into a stream of study right from the point of application. As a multi-genre Movement Artist making the leap into Literary Arts, I had a deep desire to explore it all-
Poetry, fiction, flash-fiction, Creative Non-Fiction, and hybrid forms. This blog post documents my third project in MultiMedia, the art booklet. Today I’m sharing a photo gallery of DOCuDrama of a Dream, my second artbook project. I’m discovering a whole world of art books, collage, and multimedia composition.
As a person with health challenges and some level of disability, I’ve really had to take quarantine seriously during COVID-19. Even though I’ve struggled with social distance limitations, for example having to put my band BadjaMutha on complete hold, I’ve really never been more creatively productive.
Part of the impetus has been due to my extreme thirst for creative exploration, part of it is due to having a wonderful collaborative partner/teammate and delightful community of artists to interact with/ and learn from, and part of it is slowing down and attuning to my inner rhythms and the energy of the earth.
Winter, even in the disordered climate-change version of winter, offers opportunity for peering inward, and contemplating shifts, affinities and contrasts. I haven’t been posting a lot on my blog due to demands of life, job and school-work- I hope you enjoy this December post.
In today’s blog post, I offer glimpses of my new art booklet DOCuDrama of a Dream. I used many different compositional tools, techniques and technologies to construct this piece.
First, I concentrated on harvesting and recycling images and language from my dreams. I dedicated my focus to writing as soon as I wake, no matter what the hour, for a period of about 14 nights. Later, I processed the language into edited hand-written compositions. In these compositions, I hone the text into a bi-fold article: the meaning of the text is important, but the visual element of the writing has equal weight. Therefore, instead of typing the text and applying the usual (computer-based) options to the text, I tried to really focus on the act of writing as mark-making. I’m obsessed with line!
Textual Meaning and Materiality
Style of writing gains import here. I invented a kind of block-lettering that reminded me of early computers. And by early, I’m talking about the computer technologies of the late 70’s and early 80’s- ginormous computers that had a footprint of 20 square feet. My father, Dave Sears, an engineer at Allison’s at the time- took me to visit this computer at work. Allison, a branch of General Motors, was HQ’d in Indianapolis, Indiana, where I was born.
This computer used punch-cards and binary coding to function. It was a far cry from the nanochip tech we all have access to today. But this vintage tech was an aesthetic motivator for the hand-lettering you see below.
Additionally, I fleshed out my dream-material with character names (Lisa, Jill and Arthur Robinson, Barney, etc.) and gave Lisa, a leading lady, her own enscriptive style, a loopy cursive script. I even created a signature for her. Finally, I typed up the bulk of the content on a vintage typewriter I scored of Ebay. I was absurdly excited for the typewriter and it’s accessories, two ribbons, one black and one red to arrive. Quickly, working as a choreographer does, I established some aesthetic rules.
First- due to typing on unusual paper(s) I decided to accept all mistakes as fate, and work them into the flow of the text. One reason was that the corrective technology for this mid-1960’s Coronamatic typewriter is pretty primitive. The second reason was aesthetic: imperfection proves this item is made by human hands.
My own life is full of mistakes, shortfalls, and imperfections. Why should this booklet be any different? I decided to accept the mistakes of this booklet process, and integrate them, even when errors of spelling or fact occur. This led to another interesting sidebar- Tabloid type elements.
Some of the mistakes I made were mundane, but some were early steps in my research process. For example, one day, during a hike in the woods, my partner and I were discussing the Beatles’ song: “Give Me Money.” We both had a sneaking sense that this song, is, in fact a cover. I dreamed about it later, and dreamed it is a cover of a Bill Withers’ tune. That proved incorrect. I discovered a fascinating music research line. Berry Gordy’s administrative assistant at the time, Ms. Janie Bradford, is a co-writer of the song. She also was in the Motown Offices on the day the Beatles expressed interest in covering the song, and probably took the call where the deal was sealed.
Is she appropriately credited? Yes, today she is and does receive royalty compensation for her many songwriting credits. Check out this cool blog post for more about Janie Bradford, her accomplishments in music here. However, this is not the typical outcome for musicians, especially in blues and rock-n-roll music. Even in the case of the house bands for Motown’s various labels, many of the musicians suffered from poverty and instability in their careers and lives. Thus, creative exploitation, and a specific sidebar, exploitation of women, became a thematic sub-current in the booklet. This theme can’t be identified in the photos, and likely will only come to complete fruition a the next version of the project. (Spoiler: women’s reproductive capacity and monetization of biological reproductive capacities through the practice of surrogacy, sperm and ova donorship, etc. will be a theme in future drafts.)
The booklet components lay fallow for about six weeks this past fall, while I tried to decide upon a strategy to complete them. With the aid of art found in a little free library (LFL’s) on Oak Street in Ypsilanti, MI, I generated a cover. Memories of growing-up times with my father are layered underneath the medieval lady (greeting card art) on the back cover: a jingle from a radio advertisement for Smith Brothers’ Wild Cherry Cough Drops is penned in messy gray and royal blue marker.
On the front cover, I include a photo I took in 2009 on a visit to the Dominican Republic. The signage in English reads “No Passage, Private Property.” According to Frederick Engels’ 1884 Book, Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State the conceptualization of Private Property, ushered in a transition from matriarch to patriarchy. Family bloodlines and the establishment of trackable paternity made monogamy and privatization of land the new system in 18th century Europe. Industrialization in the mid-19th century allowed for the development of the middle class, and the widening divisions between workers, landowners, middle class managers of industry, etc. Finally, nuclear family practice and models of patriarchal tradition formed the perfect vehicle for the transfer of white privilege through heirs and inheritance. As society continued to evolve, a centralization of wealth and familial lines through the father created a cult of domesticity for certain classes/ races of women. The fence in the sepia-toned photography, and the off-center sign speak to all of these meanings.
I choose, with great zeal and joy, to stitch the whole booklet together on a fancy modern sewing machine. This choice of technique echoes centuries of female labor and points to women’s integrations and roles in testing technology. Also, women’s roles in fashion, textile production, manufacturing garments.