Letters from Rehearsal: A Meditation on a Rite of Spring (working title) Day 3

[From Leon Ingulsrud]

Really hard to believe it is only day three on this project. I know I’m echoing Akiko, but it seems like we have been working on this much longer already. This seems to be a function of two things.

The first is the ease these two companies have found with each other. The chops on these dancers are scary beautiful, but they are SO completely open and human in the room. So far, it augers well for the long road we have ahead together.

The second is this amazing music we’re confronted with. I don’t think I was the only one who came away from Cafe Variations with Rachel’s amazing Gershwin arrangements running CONSTANTLY in my head. I reached a point yesterday where I was very aware that it was GONE! Completely GONE! Every bit of me is now trying to deal with the mind-pretzel that is Rite Of Spring. And if I close my eyes now and let my mind wander… I hear the Auger Chords!!!

For reasons having nothing to do with us, we had to start our day 30 mins early today, so we all gathered to board the vans at 10 am instead of 10:30. For me this was after a delightful breakfast with dancer Jenna, who was at the hotel breakfast buffet at the same time as me. There is something so nice about meeting and getting to know this company “on the road.” It is an an environment both SITI and BTJ/AZ know well.

Once at the studio, Stephen takes us through our Suzuki paces with characteristically open-hearted rigor. The dancers had been given the Dante text that we use in training, so this was the first opportunity to take it out of garage and drive it around a bit. We began by speaking the text in a circle a couple of times. Then we worked very simply and hard. Basic up and down, and side sliding. Adding the text into the up and down. Feeling the difference between the text as a string of words and meanings, and a physical event in the body/room. It is such an amazing thing, how quickly and clearly the Suzuki work puts that issue right in front of a performer. It was deeply inspiring to watch these masters of expressive bodies explore this new arena. It puts the bar for us SITI Folk’s training in a great place; High.

We then jumped straight into statues. Stephen skipped over most of the preliminary explanation that is usually needed for statues and went right for the meat of it. It was not a problem. These cats grabbed on to it. It was perhaps not an exercise that they knew, but they knew exactly what to do with it as soon as they got the basics. Not that there isn’t work to do, but they’re already working on such a beautiful level, and it allowed us to focus on the voice and text. We did both standing and sitting statues before taking our socks off, put post-modern-dance-pants on, to switch gears into viewpoints.

I began by taking us through The Flow, and then I talked a bit about what the Viewpoints are as a system. Real-time deconstruction of the phenomenology of performance performed by the performers without killing the performance. It is a bit tricky to know what is useful for this group as they are so advanced in both their intuitive and conscious facility with this material. There is a lot of shared DNA here. So I went through the words that we use in SITI just to solidify a shared vocabulary, and we worked on focusing on one idea at a time inside of our improvisation, and then expanding to more than one at a time… Or more accurately: One at a time VERY VERY FAST! Because I wanted to continue the exploration of speaking we included speaking and sound in this work.

After a short break, we were back in Janet’s capable hands for some work on the Augers Of Spring. We are now getting to the point where we all are getting pretty damn close to being able to count this thing without our noses buried in our notes. It’s still precarious because if you fall off the train it’s nigh on impossible to get back on, but we’re actually getting better. Eloquent proof of neuro-plasticity! After working it a bit we broke into partners of similar size and did some weight exchange work. I always feel like my partners draw the short straw with me in weight exchange, but both Dwayne and Talli, who I worked with, were generous, strong and clear partners.

This led to us coming together into two groups and Jennifer talking us through the proper technique for circle trust falls. It’s potentially such a cheesy, corporate retreat, kind of thing, but in the hands (literally) of this group, it was a deep, trippy, terrifying experience. It becomes not about stopping the falling person’s fall, but redirecting their energy. Letting their weight flow around the circle rather than blocking it at any point. Letting the fluid of the energy move…

Sorry. I got a bit crunchy granola there, but I have to out Ellen, who in Suzuki on Friday said: “The space is cheese, and your body is the knife!”  T-shirt anyone? I’m not even going to bother with the obvious fart joke.

After we had bonded and revitalized our trust (and I’m not kidding. That’s what happened) we went back to the staging that we’ve begun building for the Augers section. The form that Janet is building with us is strongly related to an image that the huge absent soul in our room, Bill T sent to us. The image is: A man walking. The sun on his back. Perhaps across a desert. Perhaps it is Odysseus.

It is a powerful image. Multivalent and primal. One that would have kept Rodin awake at night. It resists easy analysis or theory. Joseph Cambell is running for cover.

So Bondo walks from upstage center, down the middle of the space. In groups we enter and coalesce around him. All this set to the Augers… We get it into a rough hewn shape. It seems to Anne and Janet that this walking man is going to be a leitmotif that will find his way into our production more than once.

We break for lunch. I finally got to Whole Foods yesterday so I was able to make myself a lunch today. Kale! Wonderful Kale!! I sit outside the studio to eat. The campus is quiet, not just because it is saturday, but because the semester is pretty much over. Exams are all that are left apparently. The cool air amplifies the emptiness of the campus.

After KLP calls us back, Anne breaks us up into four groups and gives us a page of text and a composition assignment. The text includes a selection from Jonah Lehrer’s chapter on the Rite Of Spring from Proust was a Neuroscientist, and more movingly for us a transcription of Talli being heroically open and vulnerable in the moments after he did the dance until he could not dance anymore, dance to death thing yesterday. It’s so odd to see his words on a page less than 24 hours after feeling my heart about to explode as I watched him saying them.

I worked with Bondo, I-Ling and Jenna. We had thirty minutes to put it together and we used all of them plus a 10 minute extension.

We present. Our group went first. One of the composition elements was that we were to evoke at some point the character of our rather distinctively charming musicologist Dr. Severine Neff. In our group Jenna took this on and ended our piece with a rather perfect if hilarious turn as the woman who was now sitting there watching, having entered the room a couple minutes after Anne asked us to portray her. Other notable Neffs from the afternoon were Ellen (who solidified the costume parameters as glasses AND a scarf), Akiko who did an internal Neff without an overstated imitation, and Stephen who did the opposite and did a spot-on voice which put her somewhere between Monty Python and Julia Child. The iconography of Dr. Neff has become so clear to us that both Antonio and Leah were able to evoke her just with the way they sat and looked at us. It was interesting also to see some of the Neff performers go and receive absolution from the overjoyed, if bemused person herself.

Anne spoke between each composition. Pointing out not only what was Vice, but explaining what the hell she means when she says that. Janet reacts as well. We are deep in discussions of if there will be toilets in our production, what does it mean to upset an audience’s expectations, how do we embody this music? Aside from the glimmers of our production that we see in moments of the compositions, it is SO MUCH FUN to just perform for each other, running around making stuff, giving KLP music cues, and then applauding for each other. These are artistic trust falls. And no one hit the ground. Not once.

We finish the day by putting our 7 gesture death-dance phrases into boxes. We literally each got into taped out squares on the stage and adapted our movement to stay inside the lines. This was harder for some of the dancers than it was for some of us actors who, as Janet said, kept things contained. I for one would have to really expand mine to fill that box, because what mine lacks in dynamism and scope it makes up for in containment. We end the day by doing the newly adapted phrases, all together in our boxes. First for one minute with music. Then for one minute with silence.

We clamber into the vans and head back to the Marriott. SITI company gathers in Akiko’s room where she leads a company meeting. Megan and Jed attend electronically.

And then I type a diary entry. A few more things to take care of before I warm up some ice-cubes with a little gin… And yes… An olive or two from Whole Foods…

Cheers y’all!

Good night!



Leon Ingulsrud is an actor, director, and founding member of SITI Company.

This is 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. To view all entries, click here.