The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Jan 31, 2011

BalletX: Report from the stage

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By BalletX Dance Colby Damon BalletX is a new Philadelphia dance company with an ambitious goal—to redefine ballet and bring it into the new century. The company, a Knight Arts grantee, debuted "Beside Myself" by Tobin Del Cuore in November 2010. Today dancer Colby Damon reflects on the performance...

Beside Myself was quite a journey from start to finish. Being that it was an impromptu commission, the intent at the start seemed rather nebulous, as we just began the first few days experimenting with various phrases and pairing them with different pieces of music. In the beginning, the men and women all learned every movement phrase, and it was interesting to see the slight differences within the movement manifested by individual intent and personal movement style.

As Tobin progressed, the actual shape of the piece slowly came into fruition. What was interesting about this particular process compared to others was that the movement phrases really depended on whatever aspect of the human psyche Tobin was examining that particular day. One day, vocabulary within a phrase would consist of minute, almost confused or neurotic movements. At other times, they would consist of sweeping, wide movements, invoking more of a sense of expansion and acceptance. Whatever the phrase, Tobin was always extremely specific about the intent of a movement, describing not only from where it should originate within the body, but also what sort of emotion it was provoking. I can remember him describing various movements as "dripping", "gnome-like", and "controlled like Tai Chi." It was always interesting to go in every day and see what he would come up with. Once the piece was complete it seems everyone's part took on a particular, unique character. For me, inheriting that role was a very intense yet fascinating process. There was never any need to "put on" the role, in my mind. The movement itself was so rife with intention and complexity that just simply focusing on the movements themselves provoked enough of an emotional reaction. Every time the piece would begin I would never anticipate a section further on in the piece; to do to would invoke too much anxiety at the gargantuan task ahead! It was such a large, intense emotional ride that I really just had to stick with it mentally moment by moment. At the end of a piece, after a very exhausting, manic yet jubilant section, I was required to do a very vulnerable duet with Laura Feig, which was always an amazing experience. Being in such an exhaustive state really enhanced our partnership, and stripped us down to our most basic selves. But what was really special was that this duet, as with the rest of the piece, was truly constructed around our actual personalities. I interacted with Tobin for a total of 12 weeks this year, so needless to say he got to know me pretty well.

Naturally, during that time I was often sharing my views of art, politics, love, and life in general with him, and it seems every section, and in particular the duet, was constructed around those views. As a result, once we got on stage I was able to put forth a very genuine performance, which I think by the end of the piece was able resonate very personally with the audience. The piece was at times dark, at times cool, at times confusing, summed up with an extremely open, affectionate duet, hitting home the magic of relationships in contrast to the craziness induced when we are trapped within our own minds. Anyone can identify with that concept, but when a choreographer is able to take such a universal experience and tailor it to a dancer's own unique personality, that is truly remarkable, and that it what Tobin was able to do with Beside Myself.

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