Monday, August 31, 2015

Modern Dance Forms - an artifact of interest

Following is the introduction from the book, Modern Dance Forms in Relation to the Other Modern Arts written by Louis Horst and Carroll Russell, 1961:

Long before the time of recorded history dance must have been a developed and complex skill. Early man used it to help him surmount the riddles and complex tragedies of his daily life. He lived at the mercy of nature forces which we have learned to understand and in some degree control, and dance was for him a powerful way to conciliate these forces. It was his religion and his poetry and his science. Ritual dances were his insurance of success against natural enemies of hunger, disease, and death - fertility dances, harvest dances, war dances. He danced to celebrate his joys in triumph or his sorrow in defeat, and believed that his very survival depended on a dance of such strength and agility that it would be worthy of notice by the gods who controlled his destiny.

Thousands of years of civilization have endowed us moderns with only a veneer of refinement to separate us from our crude and naive ancestors. We accept unthinkingly the essential importance of communication between us marked by involuntary movements of hands, of eyes, of breath, etc., which express human emotions directly. We all have an instinct to use movements as a release for deep feelings of gratification ("I felt like jumping for joy") and frustration ("I was hopping mad"). Its elemental nature is conspicuous in the impulse to dance, so evident in every young child. The dancer's will has a relationship of intimacy with his body like the child's, whose demands, joys, and alarms are immediately told in physical movement. The dancer knows that his mind quickens his body and his body enlivens his mind, and he glories in the responsive obedience of one to the other. The feeling of oneness of body and spirit which is so obvious in the child must have been more nearly the condition of the primitive. We know, because provisions were left in his tomb to sustain the physical body on its trip to the after world, that the primitive's conception of immortality was unthinkable without his body. He did not relish the prospect of leaving it behind to rot in a grave while the soul escaped to dwell in austere purity.

Of this deep responsiveness between body and mind the art of the dance is formed. Henri Bergson, in his essay "Laughter," has said of the artist (and it applies with special vividness to the dancer) "He grasps something that has nothing in common with language, certain rhythms of life and breath that are closer to man than his inmost feelings, being the living law - varying with each individual - of his enthusiasm and despair, his hopes and regrets." This "something grasped" is given form by the performing artist. It may be mounted on a stage and offered to people who do not themselves possess the rich power to discern these "certain rhythms of life/" It is built of symbols abstracted from daily living and intimately associated in the memory of experience with action and emotion. To Enjoy it, the trained eye of a connoisseur of painting or the trained ear of a music lover are not needed. Any human being who is willing to give it his attention should be enlivened by dance.

Why is it then, that dance, with a venerable history and an ability to speak with directness, is now considered as entertainment and that few write of it? Dance is not even recognized by most aestheticians as an art. It is no longer an essential of living, no longer qualifies as one of those things - not bread - without which man cannot live. This is a very new emphasis and arrangement of values in man's long history. When he fought for his existence against physical odds, his body expressed his life directly and vividly. But the present day fellow who goes from down to up in an elevator, and from here to there in an automobile, who does his hunting at a desk or with a can opener, has a body that is nothing but a shell which miraculously shelters the complicated biological functions which keep him breathing. As abiding places for our personalities, our awarenesses, our bodies are dishonored and atrophied with disuse.

Words serve us where actions once did. No wonder modern man has forgotten what gratification it once was to him to express his participation in life in disciplined movement. One has only to look at the proud posture of the trained dancer - the carriage of his spine and his head - to sense his enjoyment in the knowledge of power in bones and muscles. But lacking this knowledge of power, most people respond to the concert dance as to a language only half understood, and their fears of the unfamiliar are more acute than fears of the novel in the other arts.

The dance as an art form, like an easel painting or a mounted piece of sculpture, is a fairly new phenomenon. Even the ballet, which was the first dancing to be presented in the Western World as spectacle, grew out of court performances in which the king and queen and the ladies and gentlemen-in-waiting made up both cast and audience. Folk dancing, social dancing, still are widely enjoyed as forms of self-entertainment. The principal connotation of dance, therefore, is of physical stimulation and emotional release through action. But any present-day concert dance production, although it does accomplish this effect through an automatically sympathetic physical response in the audience, also proffers emotional refreshment and intellectual quickening. To many, at first, this seems highly inappropriate to dancing.

Because of the inferior status of dance in the culture of the Nineteenth Century, the rebellion against outmoded forms in the dance world didn't appear until the other modern arts were somewhat established. The manner and the reasons for the rebellion are strikingly similar, however, to what occurred with painters, sculptors, musicians and poets. Although there are scores of books about the visions and values in the other modern art fields, little has been written to explain the techniques of the dance as a means of aesthetic communication.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Hello. It is with great pleasure and anticipation for being on site that I am greeting you for the first time. Thank you for having me! In preparation for this choreographic residency in September I have been meeting with some collaborators to begin the conceptual and material development for the choreographic work to be, Elemental Forms, and here I would like to share with you some of our current inspirations in thought and image. My sense is that this work wants to become a kind of embedding into site, space, and time. A way for the human body to become 'of' a space beyond being 'in' it and an attempt to experience the body in performance as a 'fixture' while shedding some potential expectation around what it means to be a dancing body in public performance. Some of the words I and my co-dancer and collaborator, Samantha Mohr, are bringing into our process are: fossils, mark-making, imprinting, embedding, reflection, fixtures, and shell formations.
When contemplating the notion of becoming a 'fixture' and also presenting a dance work, time becomes an interesting consideration. How do we define the durational boundaries of something that wants to be fixed? I feel that many of the choreographic gestures will not only engage the natural elements on site as well as the aesthetic architecture and its history, but will also take their time to resonate. I can see Elemental Forms becoming a durational work performed as an installation. What would it be like to take our time and sink into being there with each other, the site, and the public? We'll find out what this all means and what changes, falls away, or remains during our creative process, but I will continue these lines of inquiry as a way of approaching 'site-specific' dance-making at the Annenberg Community Beach House.
Lynn Ellen Bathke, collaborator and costume-designer extraordinaire, has already begun construction on what will be a series of garments that layer and peel away based on the ideas mentioned above. Her work also looks at the styles and fashions depicted in photographs within the Marion Davies Guest House. I could not be more excited to be working with her on this project! Here are some of Lynn's initial designs and fabric swatches:
These last few images are sourced from this site: and depict the Denishawn School of Dance and Related Arts founded in 1915 in Los Angeles. The lineage of early American Modern Dance in Los Angeles will be yet another thread of inquiry for this residency and potential source for movement generation.
That's all for now. I hope to see you at the Body-Mind Centering workshop with Gillian McGinty on August 18th!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Welcome to 2015 Choreographer-in-Residence Rebecca Bruno!

     photo by Safi Alia Shabaik

This fall, Choreographer-in-Residence Rebecca Bruno will be creating a new site-specific piece in the Courtyard of the Beach House, September 8-27, 2015. Tentatively titled Elemental Forms, her work will create a dialogue between dancers and the natural elements of the Beach House site – exploring the interactions between sand, water, air, sun, space, and people.

Join Rebecca at the Beach House on Wednesday September 16, 9-10am for free Beach Walk with a choreographer’s focus. Her final presentations will take place in the afternoons of Friday-Sunday September 25-27 (check out for info and to make reservations.)

Rebecca Bruno is an active member of the Los Angeles dance community as a performer, choreographer and producer. For the last two years, her project “homeLA” (, has investigated dance process in interior spaces, presenting large-scale dance events in residences with hundreds of performers and thousands of guests. Rebecca has worked as a dancer and collaborator with Pablo Bronstein at the REDCAT Gallery and Le Mouvement Festival in Biel, Switzerland; as associate choreographer with Julien Prévieux at FAHRENHEIT Gallery and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris for What Shall We Do Next?; and as a member of the temporary performance company, WXPT, initiated by the artist taisha paggett. She is inspired by the tensions between public and private space, the strange and the familiar, and the possibilities presented by bodies in architecture and the natural world.

In celebration of Marion Davies’ support of artists, and to further the work of artists in all disciplines, the City of Santa Monica created the Annenberg Community Beach House Artist Residency program. Several times a year a local artist works out of an office at the Marion Davies Guest House, sharing their progress with the public both in person and online.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Balancing a Writing Life

So, today is the last day. This residency went by all too quickly and I have loved every minute of it. I was here at the Marion Davies Guest House almost every day of my tenure. This was a perfect residency for me because it balanced my two sides: the introvert and the extrovert. I love to spend hours alone – and here I was able to look at the ocean while working, a definite perk -- but I also enjoy getting out there and sharing my love of fiction with other people.

Being asked to plan and run two community events when you usually spend most of your time at home in yoga pants can be challenging, but thanks to this residency, I got into the habit of suiting up every day and taking the introvert outside to play.

I think of myself as a commercial writer. I describe my book as light, but not so light that someone will have to scrape you off the ceiling. It may seem antithetical to artistic or literary purists, but I aim to please. I want people to enjoy my work. I love to make people laugh.

I don’t often have much control of a first draft and that drives me crazy. There are two sides of writing for me. The first draft makes me think that I’m either brilliant or insane. Then, I am comforted when all the revisions shape those initial ravings into something that might be conceived of as art.

For a writer, I’m a pretty outgoing person. I see myself as an entertainer, albeit not one who jumps around singing and dancing. I tell tales and I do it on the page and though I’m glad when I amuse myself – which is pretty often – I’m thrilled when I amuse others. I believe that my literary heroes: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Somerset Maugham, George Orwell, E.M. Forster, Elizabeth Von Arnim, Dodie Smith, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Boyd, Ian McEwan, Nick Hornby, Raymond Carver, Toni Morrison. Truman Capote, Grace Paley, and so many others (okay, I realize that the majority of these are English) all wrote to be read. Many of them wrote for money and they weren't ashamed of it. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol because of a pressing need for cash. He loved to perform in public, but when you look at how many hefty tomes he produced, you have to acknowledge that the guy spent plenty of time alone at his desk – and he was writing with a quill. Dickens balanced his extroverted and introverted sides and it worked for him. I would not compare myself with Dickens, but what I would say is that I, too, have been able to exercise both sides of my personality during my time here. This particular residency encourages community interaction; and, for me, that was a bonus.

One of my favorite moments came last weekend when a nineteen year old woman (we'll call her Zoe) came to the guest house with her parents during my office hours expressly to meet “the writer in residence.” We talked for about forty-five minutes while her parents toured the house. We covered why, in the story Zoe was currently working on, her character runs into the Devil in a dark alley and then we segued into whether Zoe had ever written with a pen instead of a computer.
            “A pen?” She looked at me as if I had just asked her to write with a dinosaur bone dipped in blood.
            “Well,” I explained, “sometimes the action of using a pen and moving your arm can quiet the mind or just give you a different perspective.”
            On the first day of the residency, I bought myself a neon green pen holder and a dozen matching pens. I took one out and handed it to her. “Keep that,” I said. “Try it.”
            After a while, Zoe’s mother, a lawyer, dropped in and since I secretly believe that all lawyers are closeted writers (since I was one myself), I asked her if she was interested in writing.
            “Oh, no not me,” she said and she went away so Zoe and I could finish our conversation.
            It was then that I explained how writing was like the Vulcan Mind Meld, guessing that everyone, even nineteen-year-olds knew about Star Trek. Zoe gave me an odd look. I pointed to her forehead and then to mine. “Writing is like communicating brain to brain. Anything that enhances that communication is probably good writing and anything that makes you wonder if you should go get that piece of chocolate cake in the kitchen probably doesn't work so well. Sure, there are rules and there are tricks, but they are all to send you in the direction of the Vulcan Mind Meld.”
            Zoe nodded, thanked me heartily and walked off with her pen. A few minutes went by and her mother popped her head in.
            “Could I have one of those pens?” she asked, as if this particular bunch of neon green pens had something special about them.
            “Of course,” I said, handing her one.
            Maybe that was my favorite moment in the whole residency, the one in which I seemed to have been able to convince this mother and daughter that there was power in these pens, even something magical about them.
            And by convincing them, I convinced myself. After all, one of these pens can create a whole world.

            I am extremely grateful to everyone who made this residency possible. If anyone would like to contact me in the future, please do so at

Monday, February 9, 2015

Mystery Panel -- Feb. 10/ 6:30

Don’t forget to sign up for Tuesday night through the Annenberg Website.
I am thrilled to be hosting the mystery panel at the Annenberg Beach House tomorrow night. Part of it is selfish. When I sent  my application to the Powers that Be to get this residency, I sent in a piece of a mystery, so I am poised to ask the panelists a million questions. Tell us your tricks. Reveal how you pull rabbits out of hats. Show us why you love Los Angeles as a setting. Do you revel in this place as much as I do.
At the moment, I am sitting here, watching the sunset over a rough ocean. The sky is strange tonight. It’s pale blue at the top, then fades to white, to yellow, to orange, to a layer of clouds that drop into a roiling sea. The colors are pastel, quiet; the vibrancy isn’t going to arrive tonight. The sun will go down without fanfare.
But back to tomorrow and the panel: All four of our panelists have experience in film, television and fiction. Richard Rayner has also written non-fiction about LA crime and has a thorough knowledge of all the true dastardly deeds that gave rise to the noir of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hamett, and others. Southern California, despite the complaints about traffic and superficiality, has traditionally offered great riches -- gold, oil, entertainment, weather, breathtaking landscapes. It’s a place where the Bird of Paradise and Hibiscus are ubiquitous enough to seem like wild flowers (are they?). LA has enticed strivers and dreamers to come here. What sometimes looks ordinary in LA, appears extraordinary in those places from which many of us have come (writing a book. making a movie.). When I first moved to California from Boston, I heard, “LA? Why would you go out there? There is no culture.” I don’t think anyone could say that with any conviction today. And if they did, they would be showing an ignorance that comes from not knowing who we Los Angelinos really are. Our culture does not just exist in our theaters and museums (which rival the best in the world), but in our out-of-the-way galleries and in our unique stories.
The Marion Davies Guest House (where I am lucky enough to have an office during this residency), is a place where docents volunteer time to explain the history of a building that originated in a love affair. These docents revel in the history of their city; they understand well that culture is contained in everything from a city’s history to its commitment to contemporary artists. Sometimes, I feel that Marion Davies is wandering the halls, looking in on us all, and smiling.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Room with a View

So, I am sitting here on an overcast day. The sky is white, and the sea is a different shade of white. I’ve always had fantasies of sitting by a window writing and looking at the ocean, and now here I am. Is it as wonderful as I imagined? Oh yes. Even better.

I have many writing fantasies, but none include a computer or even a typewriter. Perhaps, the warp and woof of my dreamscape is a product of my place in time. The electric typewriter was invented in my lifetime. The widespread use of the personal computer didn't happen until after I was out of law school.

When I imagine myself writing, I am doing it on smooth paper with an expensive fountain pen, yet I have never been able to write even so much as a short story that way. I typed even my first terrible attempts at fiction.  

Jane Austen wrote on a small table in the corner and hid her work when anyone came in. Edith Wharton wrote every morning on lap desk in bed. She tossed her drafts onto the floor for her servants to collect. The prolific Anthony Trollope wrote on a desk he contrived to use on the train. All of these rituals appeal to me more than sitting behind a computer screen. Computers no longer make much noise, but the pure sound of a pen scratching a page has nothing click-clacky about it.

When I edit, either my work or other people’s, I come up with different comments depending on whether I’m using track changes or a pen. So, the question is: does our equipment affect our thoughts? I am writing this on a computer. I write almost everything on a computer, but I still dream of pen and paper. A pen never talks back or changes a word without your knowledge. A pen doesn't encourage me to roam the wilds of the Internet or check my email. And, as for editing, I cannot see the same things on the computer that I see on the page. Maybe, my eyes just get fed up with the screen, and want to range over a piece of paper and see white space.

There are those writers who claim that they need to sit in a basement and stare at a wall, that a view distracts them. I am not one of those. I think I have always been searching for an ideal writing situation: a Motel 6 off the highway, a generic room in a Las Vegas hotel, a cabin on the coast, a desk under the eaves of a barn in Vermont, a guesthouse in Montana. I think I should be able to settle down anywhere to write – no excuses, but my imagination is a wanderer. When I was a child, I wrote on blocks of colored paper. I wrote my published novel on a laptop at a desk in my living room while staring at the wall. I still don’t know what is the best writing process for me, but I have learned that having an office to come to every day enhances both my mood and productivity. So, a big thank you to the Artist in Residency Program. Check out the opportunities on the website.

Monday, January 19, 2015

To Workshop or Not to Workshop -- That is the Question

It's a beautiful Martin Luther King Day and from my perch at my desk I can see people biking along the bike path. I am finding that an office makes me feel more legitimate than writing at home in my pajamas. 

Today I want to talk about some ideas I have about workshopping and getting feedback from others. In our workshop at Beyond Baroque inVenice, I came up with an idea: I asked each participant how finished they thought their piece was -- on a scale of one to ten. A one meant that had just ripped it fresh from the printer and it had barely cooled. A ten meant that they had done multiple drafts and they felt it was polished and ready for publication. As we went around the room that evening, everyone said where they thought their work fell on that scale.

Trust me, there was a point to it all. I think each writer has his or her own optimal number when it comes to when to get feedback. I noticed that most of the people in our workshop bring in twos or threes. I think this allows you to be more flexible in receiving feedback. I, myself, tend to bring sevens when I workshop. This can be detrimental in that I may have already worked so hard on the story, I’m not terribly enthusiastic about receiving criticism. I should, perhaps, force myself to bring in a three, even a four, so I don’t feel like the piece is set in stone.

Once we started to use this device, it became part of the common language of the group. Someone, would come in and say, “this is two,” a short hand way of saying, “this is fresh, don’t judge me too harshly.” As someone said in our group the other day (and I paraphrase): if something is a little sapling, you want to make sure no one stomps on it and kills it.

These nascent ideas, the fruit of our inner selves, are delicate things and, as much as writers benefit from criticism, they also profit from nurturing. You can get as much out of seeing what you are doing right as from being told what you are doing wrong. The parts of a piece that shine are just as important, if not more so, then the lines that land with thud.  

So, whatever you are doing on this holiday, I encourage you (writers and non-writers alike) to go out and praise someone for a particularly good turn of phrase – or for anything else that strikes your fancy.