Letters from Rehearsal: A Meditation on a Rite of Spring (working title) Day 5

Hello Everyone, Shayla-Vie here from the BTJ/AZ Co.

We had a festive day off yesterday!  The residency completes on the fourth, so we had an early Cinco de Mayo celebration.  We cooked out on the hotel grill, thank you Grill Master Antonio.  Kyle supplied the margaritas, and everyone contributed a dish to share.  It was a true feast!  We ended the celebration with an intense and super fun game invented by Talli.  The player has to descend to the ground on one leg, retrieve the object (bag of tortilla chips, dasani water bottle, styrofoam cup) with their mouth, and ascend with it still standing on one leg.  Seemingly simple, yet crazy difficult.  My calves are still sore!   Anyways, thank you everyone!

…..On with the journal entry

The first of May!  International Workers Day.  Sunny, Hot, and HUMID!   I woke up rested and excited.  I saw the usual suspects in the fitness center on my way to get coffee.  Then a 30 minute sit, breakfast in room, and Democracy Now podcast. I am a morning loner.

10:30 pick up at hotel.  Everyone seems refreshed from the day off.  Our ten minute drive to campus is full of smiles, laughter, and jokes.  I’m already sweating and glad that I remembered to pack deodorant.

11:00 Suzuki class led by Akiko.

we began our warm up jogging through the space, building up heat, waking up our senses.  While running we recited the Dante text a couple times.  Then in a large circle we recited text, assuming the grounded stance as before.  Today Akiko really focused on the breath.  inhale into your core, pause, speak.  Your voice is strongly directed across the space to an object or person.  I had this image of speaking ‘Midway’ text through a long cylinder to the person across from me.  It was very different from letting my words go out and fill the entire space.

Next, Up and Down in 10 counts, 5 counts, and 1 count with text at normal, 50% volume, and whisper.

Basic number 2 adding audible stomp, then silent stomp, point, and high toe.

Slow walking.  continuous motion motion of legs and core propelling you through space.  She separated us into partners, Partner A and B.  Partner A is the slow walker.  Partner B is evil partner interrupting, disrupting, pushing, pulling, tapping, and giving resistance to Partner A.  Partner A wants to remain sturdy throughout the assault and also be able to recite text through it.  Stephen was my partner.  He asked if the upper half of the body could be more responsive to the assault while the lower half, the base remained firm.  Akiko answered that we could do the exercise both ways.  What I took away from it is that there is a certain amount of resistance and release needed.  You have to be able to breathe, recalibrate and recite text from a strong, but not rigid place.

We ended in two single file lines, groups a and b, slow walking through each other and then slow turning around to repeat.  Stay with group, feel group step, turn, always listing and reading.   I love the Suzuki training.  It feels so dynamically empowering and brings the group into this silent symbiosis.

Viewpoints led by Bondo.

We began standing in the space, with a soft focus that allows you to encompass everyone and everything.  That led into walking and eventual flow.  The flow exercise was reflective, I felt Bondo guiding us to listen, initiate, and respond with hyper awareness.  To just notice our choices and experiences in the moment.   This naturally culminated in Flow with narration.  Say what you are doing, what other people are doing, what the group is doing, and describe the effect of the music.  Darren was playing some sections from the Rite.  We were instructed to energetically meet the sound.  It was wild!  I remember taking a moment of stillness seated on my shins underneath Leah. Her pressing the palm of her hand into my head, and listening to her describe that action.  I was feeling the sensation of her pressure and the wet dripping heat in the room; verbally describing the group skipping, crawling, lunging, stomping, and weaving on an invisible diagonal road; hearing the cacophony of the Rite and someone yell out and meet it with a FREEZE or BREATHE; smelling the nature outside come through the window on the breeze.  Ahhh!  It was wild!

We also did a counting exercise during the Flow.  There’s sixteen of us, and we each had to count one number aloud in ascending order from 1-16.  If two people simultaneously say the same number it must start over from 1.  We ended Viewpoints with a short exercise.  We broke into two groups and severely divided the space into 3 sections.  Downstage is the verbal area, where you can speak directly to the audience and describe what you are seeing, feeling, or whatever else is on your mind.  Midstage is abstraction, shapes, space, architecture.  Upstage is movement freedom, working with repetition and timing.

Rehearsal began with work on the Auger’s section.  Janet informed us that Bill was very pleased by the rehearsal footage he saw.  Whew!

We spent time cleaning a few of the lifts and transitions.  This time Jennifer was left behind to do her dance of death. It might be a different person each time.  Anne seemed impressed with how much we had accomplished on Sunday as well.  I thought we were going to spend the time before lunch going further with the section.  Then in pure Rite fashion, that notion of the expected was interrupted by Anne’s challenge.  I want you all to do your Dance of Deaths today (only three brave souls had attempted thus far)!  Who will be our first????   Thank you LaMichael, who responded without hesitation.

It is an amazing gift to watch each person push themselves to their limit.  It is a vulnerable space/state and as the observer I feel myself wanting to create a safe container for each individual.  There was a great conversation about the influence or relationship to the sound.  Whether you are conscious of it or not, the Rite music is entering the body and being responded to.

After lunch we had a short site visit to Memorial Hall, where we’ll be premiering the work.  It’s a beautiful house.  The downstage lip lowers.  We all sat on the edge and did our clapping/stomping version of the Augurs.  We’re getting better!!!

Rehearsal resumes with the Dance of Death.  We have a little time to share more of our phrases with each other.  We are to incorporate Janet’s gesture twice into our looped phrase and however much new material we can remember.  Aye!!!

After our fifteen minute break we start work on choreographing in detail the Talk-Back section.  The thought is that we’re entering in the state of just having danced our Dance of Deaths.  Our entrances are in the same order as the Augur section and while sitting we have to use our quotidian gestures.  We worked with having the text in the beginning.  And also with starting the text once we are all seated or standing at our stools.

Rehearsal closed with a short Question and Answer session with the musicologist, Dr. Severine Neff.  “Why are we celebrating the 100 yr anniversary of Rite of Spring?” “When was the first time you recall hearing the Rite?”  “Do you think today there can be a modern Rite of Spring?”  Thank you Severine for sharing your knowledge and candor with each question.

It was a juicy jam packed day!  I must admit that after my own shot at the Dance of Death, I was a bit cooked.  I think 70% of the information after that went in one ear and straight out the next.  I left rehearsal drenched, exhausted and completely humbled by all of the amazing artists in the room.  I’m grateful for this invaluable learning experience!

Thank you All.

here’s a wonderful shot of I-Ling after doing her Dance of Death.  I call it the Aftermath.


Shayla-Vie Jenkins is a performer with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance 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.