Updated: Mar 10, 2019
A Contemporary/House/Latin fusion improvisation solo
Intention: I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my creative process, acknowledge the wonderful artists that I have collaborated and worked with on this piece, and articulate the improvisational movement work generated.
The Beginning Concept
Originally, the concept started out as Confidence in Archi-texture which centers around the concept of having confidence in building a structure that is only visible to the mind. The invisible structure is built through the partnership of music and real-time movement composition. With textures in mind, the artist examines what this intangible structure consists of and looks like as it goes unseen by the human eye.
I had the intent to create the music for this piece as that has been something that I’ve been wanting to do ever since I bought the Maschine Mikro MK2 back in 2016. Because I hadn’t had that much experience with the MIDI machine, I revised the concept to Content in Archi-texture to reflect the current song choice Content by Xander. I still wasn’t quite satisfied with the song but felt that it best suited the subject and solidified the concept.
With an emphasis on texture, I wanted to wear a top with a hood. I chose a sleeveless grey hoodie that had a slight avant-garde vibe and lightweight/breathable fabric.
When I have the hood on, it gives the sensory experience of comfort. I am able to take a step back from being in the present and assess where I currently am and the direction I want to go. To also complement the hoodie, I decided to add black leggings and black socks.
On adjudications day for the ASU Fall 2018 Dance Undergrad Show, this is what I presented as my elevator pitch to the Artistic Directors, Taylor and Tori, and ASU DUOS (Dance Undergraduate Organization Support):
Content in Archi-texture focuses on the question: What does it mean to be content in the present moment? Each person is the physical culmination of the intangible foundation they’ve built for themselves. Does being content mean settling? Confronting resistance? Aspiring for more?
These are all of the questions that I address in my improvisation. In addition, I performed the piece in full costume for the sake of professionalism and presentation.
Based on the feedback, the concept was well-received and the piece made it into the Undergrad Show! However, both Artistic Directors felt that a different music choice could be considered to improve the movement dynamics of the piece as well as match the climax of the journey that I am taking the audience on.
The Development of Present Shift
With only a month to go until the Undergrad Show, I started to explore different music options that included the genres of Chillstep, Alternative, and Electronic/Dance. In addition, I had been attending Urban Ensemble instructed by Melissa Britt and Sam Wells, which is a class that allows the musicians and dancers to collaborate with one another to create rhythms via instruments and movement. During one class, we learned House and Chicago footwork and experimented with making beats on iMaschine via iPads - little did I know that this class would change the course of my piece!
Once I got home from that class, I pulled out my Mikro MK2 hardware and Maschine 2 software on my laptop - all of the buttons on the MK2 now made sense! I started exploring the different digital kits available to create a base beat. Next, I started figuring out how to create Sections and add in layers of beat patterns. I got so motivated that I created the first draft of Present Shift within 3 hours! As I was working toward the final draft, I made sure to improvise with each draft to get an idea of what movement rhythms I could generate. I ended up adding some elements of House and a slow Samba rhythm into the track. With recommendations from my sister, Valerie, to add more rhythms and melodies, I created a final draft the next night, uploaded Present Shift on Soundcloud, and sent it to Artistic Directors, Tori and Taylor.
Fortunately, I had developed the song right before all of the production needs were finalized. The feedback that I received about the song was very positive so I was able to change the previously submitted track to the song that I developed! This was definitely a huge accomplishment because I have been wanting to create music for the past couple of years to complement my movement, and I was finally able to do just that!
Improvising with Present Shift
With the music decided, I had a couple of improvisation sessions to embody the musicality and dynamics before the lighting design meeting and tech week. The beauty of improvisation is that you can have the same music, but pull out different elements of the song each time you improvise to it. Each time, I gave myself different directives to explore, including: 1) Travel and take up more space when highlighting an accent, 2) Incorporate Samba walks and bachacatas, House grooving, and even popping, and 3) Create more intricate movement while holding one leg in a developpé. I also filmed myself each time to see how the movement actually looked and could be perceived by the audience.
During one of the improvisation sessions, I had a peer observe and provide feedback from an audience perspective. One of the questions that he asked was,
“What is the difference between improvising in class and improvisation as a performance?”
After some thought, I came to the conclusion that one's focus and how they present themselves to those around them produces the difference. For example, whenever I’m improvising in class, I notice that my movement becomes more internal and I tend to curve my spine. My focus is downward as I am less aware of those around me and more focused on the movement pathways that I am discovering. However, when I am improvising for an audience, I make sure to connect with the audience. I have more intent with each movement, a stronger focus, and I take up more space with my upper body by widening the space between the arms and the torso. The quality of having a performance face truly elevates the improvisation and engages the audience on a deeper level because you are acknowledging their presence.
During the previous semester, I had one of my best friends, Cheyenne, design the lighting for my first solo, You Don’t Know Me But You Will, that I presented in the ASU Spring '18 Undergraduate Dance Show. The work that she did complemented that piece beautifully and I couldn’t think of anyone better suited to light this piece as I felt that she understood my improvisational work being a dancer herself. I gave her full control over the lighting design appointment. Because the piece is improvisation, she based the lighting cues off of the music rather than the movement. Having produced the music, I felt that I was able to give her the sensations of the movement to work with which still allowed me the freedom to move without being boxed into a single spotlight or one portion of the stage. With the design experience, expertise, and ideas that she brought to the table, I am really thankful to have had her on board.
With improvisational pieces, I place a heavy emphasis on warming up prior to performing. Before the tech/dress rehearsals and each show, I gave myself at least an hour to get my muscles warm. As a personal movement practice, I start with a ballet barre warm-up before moving to different styles such as contemporary, popping, house grooves, and Latin, and even tap. It’s important to have the stability and training, as each transition that I make is planned in real-time. As it gets closer to performance time, I play the song on repeat to train my brain to memorize the different patterns of beats.
For Thursday’s performance, I focused more on the intention and sensations of resistance and settling. I actually felt more resistance to the choices of my movement and explored that feeling throughout the piece. For Friday’s performance, I focused more on the musicality, especially the "whooshes" and rhythms of the music, along with aspiring for more by expanding my movement beyond my kinesphere.
Upon reflection of this piece, I am extremely blessed and grateful to have such a supportive group of family and friends, two talented Artistic Directors, a best friend that can do amazing lighting/stage managing, a sister and professors for musical composition advice, and a great production crew. To hear the applause during the middle of the piece and the loud cheers at the end leaves me with a great feeling that keeps me performing. As an artist, I always aim to leave a mental footprint i.e. an impression that inspires people to challenge themselves and strive for more.
Here's a video of the Friday performance: