Methods for Creating
The ways into creative processes are wide and varied. I do not intend to cover them all in this section. Rather I will highlight a few that I have found useful in my own making practice.
Artists steal from each other. They also inspire each other. One of my most regular practices is taking a piece of writing or an image and developing material springboarding from that inspiration.
A duet in The Red Door was made in two rehearsals by stringing together paintings by Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum to form the psychic arc of an improvised piece. Another piece, House of Glances (directed by Kristen Greco), takes its name from an Octavio Paz poem. The poem was never spoken during the performance, but each dancer had one line of the poem that was their personal score throughout the piece. In On Solitude, by Kristen and myself, and Anna Konjetsky’s Die Summe der Offnung, quite a few motifs were crafted after moving in response to photographs in a book. Sections of Drowning Poems by Cid Pearlman were made from poems, and material in You Don’t Know Jack by The Carpetbag Brigade was developed by creating movement motifs in response to tarot cards.
Below is an excerpt from The Red Door and some of the images it was sourced from. The image of the children was not a specific photo we referenced so much as an idea.
This process of "riffing" off another artist's work gets really exciting when it is brought closer to home in a tight community. I have had the pleasure of being part of a number of chain reaction creations. In Discourse off the Walls, visual artist Bridget Henry created a full room installation as a response to wild fires up and down the California coast. We spoke with her some about her content and inspiration, and then made a performance in her installation. Our performance inspired her to make a wood block print that hangs on my wall. In another situation, singer-songwriter Jesse Autumn, came to watch a performance I was dancing in by Cid Pearlman. She was inspired by the grace of the dancers and wrote the song Jump at the Sun. I then took the song and used it to choreograph a trio section for Induced General Acquaintance with dancers who were all part of the original inspirational performance.
(Shah and Blah Productions performing in an installation by Bridget Henry and her resultant wood block print)
Another related process I have been lucky enough to be a part of was called Ricochet. This monthly event was a way to jump-start such chain reactions. In this multi-month process, artists of multiple disciplines make work using the same theme. When they present it, each selects another artist of any discipline to do a piece the following month that ricochets off some aspect of what they’ve seen. This developmental dialogue continues for 4 or 5 generations. At the end of the process you end up with a shared symbol set and web of narrative.
This process differs from the Chain Reaction because artists do not use each other's work in their new piece. Rather they take any aspect of the piece as a spring board for inspiration. For example, I saw a piece of inspirational art that I really didn't like in one of these Ricochets. It had lots of balloons and generally focused on the bright shiny happy aspects of life and creating without acknowledging the dark, weighted and gruff. I was chosen as the wild card responder that month and decided to ricochet off that piece. I created a scripted comedy sketch called Gravity Girl meets Helium Boy. It was an archetypal struggle between yin and yang, light and dark. I definitely wasn't inspired by her piece or going to use it in my piece, but I ricocheted off some aspect of the content in my response.
Ricochet is also a structure (a set number of artists each month responding to artists from the last month). The structure catalyzes responsive art-making with deadlines instead of waiting for them to arise spontaneously as with the Chain Reactions I've witnessed. It is a means of fostering dialogue and thoughtful response within a larger arts community. I have yet to be in a piece that uses this process to develop a shared symbolic language to then weave together into a single piece, but it is on my list.
In cultivating material for performance with particular content, I find writing to be a huge support, regardless of whether the text finds its way into the final product. This helps me to find the personal resonance and mine some deeper layers of my relation to the subject.
When I write I like to initially start with the free write guidelines set forth by Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down The Bones, “Keep Your Hand Moving… Don’t Cross Out.. Lose control… Don’t think. Don’t get logical… Go for the jugular (1986, p8).”
In Anatomy of a Cloud, my collaborator and I did a great deal of writing, much of which made it into the show, and much of which were presented in the program along with photos, creating a sort of art book that framed what the audience was about to see. Often a simple word is a useful springboard: identity, or war, or falling. Often I will take a writing that I’ve come upon that feels relevant and choose a line or two from that writing to send me in a direction.
Authentic movement is a simple process of moving with the eyes closed with a witness. This is a great practice for dropping deeper into the poetic mind and subconscious material that is ripe and pertinent to the mover. If there is a particular theme that is the subject of investigation, spending some time moving with the eyes closed with the theme seeded into the consciousness will result in a wellspring of images and responses. After the movement, both mover and witness go directly to a piece of paper and free write or draw, harvesting some of the poetic and experiential fruit of the practice. Movement and writing practice deepen each other immensely. One could then continue to follow the trail of the subconscious by moving again in response to the writing or drawing. This practice can be used therapeutically as well as in artistic process.
In making home., a piece dealing with migration, homelessness, and belonging, I began my process with an authentic movement exploration around my own ancestry. From there, I selected a number of movement motifs or moments I remembered from the session and built them into a repeatable score. At this point, the movements can often start to feel “dead” and lacking in the initial spontaneity and life that brought them out in the first place. It’s important to have patience in the dead zone. As the material become more familiar, the mind becomes more free to guide the imagination back into the movement.