Letters from Rehearsal: A Meditation on a Rite of Spring (working title) Day 1

This is the first in a series of diaries from members of SITI Company and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company as they dig into their new Rite of Spring collaboration. They are currently in residency at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.


Hi all,

Barney here writing from Chapel Hill where it’s sunny, warm and a little humid. We are all ensconced in the Marriott Residence Inn, in glorified hotel rooms meant to feel like an apartment with all the amenities, but it works…strangely. And I know pretty much all of us have been in these kinds of places more than once, a kind of home away from home but not really. However, they do have the Food Network and HGTV on the Telly so I am SET!

Those of us who just closed Cafe Variations in Boston I think were teased by a couple of nights back home in our apartments and our lives in NYC, only to pack again and hit the airport. A routine all of us know pretty well. It was particularly hard for me as my partner and I just adopted and dog and we were just starting to bond and then I have to leave again. But that’s ok because I’m here and have met amazing people and artists who, after only one day, totally inspire me and make me laugh and are awesome.

The Bill T. Jones folks are the BOMB! I think we are going to have crazy fun. Who knows what we will make but for me the interaction with these people and this company is ultimately more interesting.

Who are we as individuals? Who are we as two wildly different companies and who will we be together? It’s a very cool prospect and the journey began today.

Most of us hooked up and met at the airport yesterday, Janet Wong from the Bill T. Company being the conduit for introductions as many of us have known Janet since our first interaction in Saratoga Springs MANY years ago. I could sense the energy and play from the Bill T. folks on the plane and I thought, YEE HAW, we’re going to have some fun!

We all piled into a big bus to take us to the Hotel from the Airport and more introductions were had, plus more laughs, another good sign!

We got to our Marriott, checked in and then did the standard grocery run. I LOATH doing a grocery run on tour, particularly after having just done it. Do I really need to buy a bottle of Olive Oil and Balsamic again? Why didn’t I bring the leftover one from the previous venue? Because I can’t PACK IT!

Inevitably I forget something important as we all do, coffee filters, cooking oil, salt, or some staple.

But back at the hotel there is “social hour” three nights a week with some food, wine and beer, all free. Last night was pulled pork night so many of us partook. We found ourselves, both groups, together by the pool drinking the free (headache inducing) wine and eating the lovely food and getting to know one another. It was great!

Today was the scary moment of beginning. We decided we would begin each day with SITI training alternating with the Bill T. technique class. SITI training was up first so Ellen lead that. She was so clear and beautiful in guiding us through Suzuki training. Having only 45 minutes to introduce each training is not an ideal circumstance and Ellen rocked it! Then I was up to lead Viewpoints.

As I am a postmodern baby having been in NYC since 1984, going through NYU/ETW, and seeing and performing in many downtown dance venues since the 80’s I am well versed in Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and have seen many shows over the years and have always been a big fan.

I knew these folks already spoke the Viewpoints language as it is a post modern vocabulary so I actually had to say very little and within minutes both companies were in a full blown improv, everyone knowing how to work with everyone else. It was stunning and for me joyful, we could all just do our work and we could read and understand and respond or not to each other.

Then we sat and Anne uploaded us on thoughts about the piece just as a way to begin, and Janet also fed into that conversation from Bill T.’s end. Knowing Anne as I do for going on 26 years now, I know she will want to make a lot of material in a little time. This has how it has always been and I think that is a beautiful thing and I love that about how we’ve been working lo these many years. But personally, I hope we don’t rush this. I hope we can take as much time as possible and not land on things too quickly. I have a feeling the ebb and flow of this process and the artists involved will be the thing to pay attention to as opposed to feeling the pressure to make something. I hope we start with things and then toss them out and try new things…

Bill could not be here with us at this juncture but I have a feeling when next we meet we will already have some material and he will then respond to it and do his amazing thing and be a force! I for one can’t wait for that moment!

After that, Janet from the BTJAZ Co.  gave us an assignment to create 7 quotidian gestures that you could repeat. She then gave us a sheet with a numeric breakdown of the counts for a particular part of the Rite of Spring. We then played with those gestures with the music using the numeric structure. We then screwed with that completely and phased it so it became a wonderful math problem with different physical accents happening not logically in the music. I thought it was cool. Actually I love that kind of thing!

Next Anne gave both companies a sort of composition assignment. Each Company was to do a talk-back/q&a for the other company. The stage being divided into downstage, the executive part of the brain where the q&a would happen, mid-stage which was more of a poetic, mid-brain space, and upstage being limbic, animal space. There was a little bit of structure suggested but essentially each company took her ideas and ran. Most of it was improvised with enough structure so that it was very clear.

The work was amazing and beautiful and personal and we really got to know each others companies very quickly. The idea was to find a form to express what you can’t actually say in words about why your particular company works, what is unsayable about it, but each of you knows what it is.

I think each company got at that so beautifully. If nothing else, the q&a idea was a fantastic window into each of our companies and our processes and personalities.

We then were given an assignment to blow our individual 7 movement phrase out and loop it so that if you had to do it over and over it would be completely exhausting and you would feel as if you would die doing it.

So we did that. Then a SITI Actor was paired with a Bill T. dancer when possible and we taught each other our phrases and then showed them. It was very beautiful and very cool.

I was paired with Eric/Rapido/Consuelo. His phrase was fairly full-bodied including going down to the floor. I kinda sorta got it, it’s been years since I’ve learned someone else’s choreography so I was slow, but it was fun as hell to do! And Eric is awesome and generous. I felt well taken care of. I purposefully asked to learn his phrase first as I knew it would take more time for me to learn his phrase than him to learn mine. As it turned out, we didn’t get time to teach mine but he got it anyway.

We all loved watching each other. There is such a sense of camaraderie and openness and generosity already and this has only been day one!

In fact, I took a break while writing this journal entry to hang out with everyone by the pool. MANY laughs were had!!!

Despite the fact that we’re a theater company and they are a dance company we have and share SO much in common and yet are still beautifully different.

Frankly the hairs on the back of my neck go up when I hear talk of the actor and dancer split. I know each discipline excels in a particular way for obvious reasons, but I come from a time in New York where those lines were being blurred and that’s my tradition and I think it is also true for many others of us in that room. I dream of a time where I don’t hear, ” OK, actors…” or “OK, dancers…”
I don’t think that division will be particularly useful or fruitful in this process. But that’s my two cents!

Anyway, I’m having a blast already and our companies get to be together in Saratoga. If the beginning is any indication, this is going to be crazy fun and hopefully crazy amazing!!! I’m leaning towards both crazy fun and crazy amazing and good old fashioned hard, but pleasurable work!

As I said after our Viewpoints improvisation session this morning I feel like I’ve already worked with everyone for a long time!

And I mean that in the BEST way!


Barney O’Hanlon is an actor and choreographer with SITI Company. He has been a SITI Company member since 1994 and collaborator with Anne Bogart since 1986.