From the Artist: ShaLeigh Comerford on Re-creating
March 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
To continue our focus on dance in the Triangle, here is a guest post by ShaLeigh Comerford. ShaLeigh and her company ShaLeigh Dance Works toured with the NCDF during the 2013-14 season, and she is currently active in the Durham area.
Here, ShaLeigh writes about her experience recreating an old piece–Dedicated to [ ] because of [ ] (and vice versa)– with a new cast.
We were daunted by the fact that this piece had a full life in 2007 with a mostly different cast. How could we bring it to life when the dancers were all learning it from the outside in? I presented the skeleton. We learned the phrases. We learned it like a map, a series of destinations. But it’s a fragile creature and it begs for more. It cannot just be portrayed. It must be lived but it cannot be defined. With too many words, it leaves the terrain of dance and enters into a narrative better fit for a book. I wondered if it was possible. It was my first time re-staging this work on a full cast of dancers that were not there for its creation. How could I possibly find the details and subtleties? What moved the dancers? It once was risk. With the new cast, it was clarity and understanding. But the questions were very difficult to answer. It had to be discovered. It couldn’t be told. I had to figure out how to create the environment for something new to emerge … something beyond the motions. In response, our ensemble work became stronger. We were able to hone in on every subtlety of physicality … it was admittedly my crutch at the start. It was the sensation that was hard to pin point. I was asking them to live fully inside a narrative that was undefined … a moment of circumstance. Within this lived a great vulnerability … a humanity I had hoped to keep. But it kept vanishing. It wasn’t until our 4th show on the tour in Charlotte that we finally discovered the new life of this piece. In one fell swoop, after a long break and literally working for over a month on a different project in another country, that it all came back. I had to let go. I had to ask more questions. I had to let them own it. I had to see what was emerging beyond my intentions, beyond my expectations. I had to use new eyes. I had to see them: this new family of artists inside this work. I had to give it to them. The work was done. It was finished in 2007, but to be alive it had to become something new. Perhaps none other would see the difference quite as stark as the work’s choreographer … but to me the version born in Brooklyn circa 2007 and the version born in Durham 2013 were worlds apart. And that was not a bad thing. The humor developed in astonishing ways and we were finally getting laughs again. The text took new form. It drifted around its purpose in ambiguous ways but somehow managed to reach its destination in a more poignant manner. The dancers took hold and defined their characters inside of several ever-vanishing mini narratives. They found a character they could not only portray and relate to but could in turn comment on with their movement choices. The transitions became their chance to react to the conditions. And the piece took its first breath of life. For it was not in its telling that this work had anything to say, but it was in its crumbling: a fragile state of ever-shifting perspectives. And we noticed this … upon audience after audience. They tended to hold their experience like a secret. Something even they did not want to define. People would often tell me of their fondness for this piece but one on one and with a whisper.
Did you see ShaLeigh’s work, “Dedicated,” on the NCDF tour? How did it speak to you? If you are a choreographer, have you ever recreated a dance on a new cast?