2012 Chime mentee Sheetal Gandhi with her mentor Cheng-Chieh Yu. Photo by Manu Narayan
What is Criticality? And why is that idea on the minds of a highly skilled group of modern dancer/choreographers participating in the 2012 CHIME of Southern California year long dance mentorship program? At the Live Arts-LA space in Glendale, CA sunday night, I found it interesting that the topic of conversation revolved around the desire for a more vocal giving and accepting of criticism as being a healthy part of the creative process. Being the son of a Nuclear Fuel guy, I should have known the scientific definition of Criticality : a nuclear reaction becoming self sustaining…but I didn’t- sorry Dad. Criticality on the minds of these movement artists in Glendale clearly had a different definition. To them it meant allowing and hearing ANY criticism of one’s work by those trusted but even by those unknown and possibly uninformed. The gathering of 150 or so, were encouraged to practice being critical with their fellow colleagues and unknown artists. Being a stage arts guy myself and continually trying to keep random criticism at bay, the idea of this Criticality created a myriad of questions and some concern for me.
My friend and colleague Sheetal Gandhi, with whom I shared the stage with on Broadway in Bombay Dreams, was one of the three mentees this year in the culmination presentation performance. From the program: “CHIME is a unique mentorship program for self selected pairs of professional choreographers – mentor and mentee- to receive financial support for 12 months in order to establish and explore a working relationship that includes and is not limited to work in a studio. The evening program seeks to formalize the exchange and feedback mechanisms between established and emerging California choreographers. Conceived by choreographer Margaret Jenkins and administered by her San Francisco based company, the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company (MJDC), CHIME’s primary goal is to encourage and enrich the development of choreographers. Since its inception in 2004, more than 90 artists in California have received funding and have established new relationships with fellow artists.”
Margaret Jenkins, the creator of the program, said a few words on how CHIME has created a community, an elaborate figure 8 of artists creating a lifetime of artistic relationships fostering rigor and care.
2012 CHIME mentor Julie Tolentino with her Mentee Jmy James Kidd. Photo by Manu Narayan
Jmy James Kidd and Julie Tolentino, two former New Yorkers who were the first of the three mentee/mentor pairs, obviously enjoyed working together immensely, and introduced the work-in-progress that Jmy had been choreographing. As they were talking, a troup of female dancers slowly entered the performance area, sliding on their backs one by one with a musician playing this wonderful ethnic instrument with effects pedals. I am not a dancer, so I probably cannot explain the technicality of what I saw, but it was twenty minutes of wonderful whirling, dancing, and lounging women, dancing so serenely as individuals one moment, and then picking up on a different dancer to follow as a group. Each one being the leader and follower at different times and simultaneously. Then finding a wonderful group stillness and then at once starting up again.
Next came the team of Gregory Barnett (mentee) and Stacy Dawson Stearns (mentor).
2012 CHIME Mentee Gregory Barnett with mentor Stacy Dawson Stearns. Photo by Manu Narayan
Gregory was actually dancing before any words and did a seemingly simple ritualistic dance with handkerchief and a 50’s Rockabilly type song about love. He was dressed in panties and a sheer negligee. As he explained later his work deals with sexuality, shame, and this piece in specific about unrequited love, the feeling of leaving your heart on the floor at your prom. He said his work was about performing archetypes without shame. He also talked specifically about the archetype of the lonely housewife. How in the ritual of life, for dancers, dance is our life, dance is how we process. He then got everyone who wanted to learn the ritualistic dance on their feet with their own hankies a.k.a. hearts, and taught them the ritual. It was beautiful to see how the ritual was different on different bodies. At the end, he had everyone leave their hearts/hankies on the ground and danced the ritual once more over the hearts of many… Very moving.
Last was my friend Sheetal Gandhi and her mentor Cheng-Chieh Yu.
Both ladies talked about the similarity and stark difference of the two Asian cultures that they or their ancestors came from. That the idea of teaching and learning are the same word in the Chinese language that Cheng-Chieh speaks, so therefore the mentor and mentee are constantly switching roles throughout the year. They also talked about how difficult scheduling time together was during the course of the year. Sheetal, being primarily a solo artist, found it wonderful to have a collaborator. She shared, “Cheng-Chieh allows me to see space in a different way… informed conversations with her start to ripple through my work, in ways I wouldn’t have thought of.”
Shetal discussed how she wanted to explore a character that she had created for a piece in 2011 based on “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. The character is a small boy, the protagonist of the book, and in preparation for a stage tour, she was working to explore certain characters more fully. She mentioned that her nephew Rohan had recently started using his hands in a specific gesture to express himself. Sheetal created an entire dance improvisation, with the gesture, creating the body language of the boy, all of the things that the boy might do, like fist fight, or draw, or just walk, or play with a yo-yo, or many many other things. This was delightful to watch, not just because Sheetal is my friend, but because she is a really great storyteller. Through her improv, she captured the feeling of a boy who has a lot of emotions running through him – at play, reacting to his circumstances and his loneliness… Probably because of me being an actor and of course being a fan of Sheetal and her work, it was my favorite.
Finally back to the idea of Criticality. From what I heard at the talk-back and then in my conversation with the really nice Julie Tolentino, she and her colleagues are advocating for a dance community that would hold itself to higher standards and would be able to better accept criticism to grow. That I actually agree with. But the ability to accept criticism from trusted sources as opposed to anyone and everyone is where Julie and I differ. From what I understood Julie doesn’t see a difference in where the criticism comes from or what the critics intent is, but I do. Critics have agendas like everyone, and shouldn’t a creator of any art form- writing, dance, music, acting- be protective of the fragile nature of their creation especially in the early exploratory stages without giving equal weight to every person with an opinion? Doesn’t that stop the artist from finding his or her unique voice in the name of being pleasing to the masses?
It was a lively discussion at the bar, and among certain members of this crowd I am in the minority, but in the end, what a fun night.
The 2012 CHIME in Southern California Artists (Mentors listed second):
Jmy James Kidd and Julie Tolentino
Gregory Barnett and Stacy Dawson Stearns
Sheetal Gandhi and Cheng-Chieh Yu
Stacy Dawson Stearns: (Mentor) is a Bessie Award-winning interdisciplinary performance artist, teacher and scholar investigating symbolic language and the sensory experience of subjective reality. Her work has been presented nationally at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, The Yard, P.S. 122 (NYC), Town Hall (NYC), MassMoCA, The Dance Place (D.C.), The Southern Theater (Minneapolis), RedCat (LA) and The Getty Villa (LA). A principal member of Big Dance Theater from 1993 – 2001, Stacy continues to collaborate with the company through video performance in their internationally acclaimed Commes Toujours Here I Stand, and choreography/movement consultation for Supernatural Wife (premiered in December at BAM). Other creative collaborations include duet project, “The Outsiders” with Tim Cummings, David Neumann and his Advanced Beginner Group, and Blacklips Performance Cult. In 2012, Stacy is choreographing the finale for the National Theater of the United States of America’s piece, Chautauqua! at the Segertrom Art Center’s Off-Center Festival, Jan 12 – 14.
Gregory Barnett (Mentee) is a performance and visual artist in Los Angeles, California. Utilizing encoded imagery and gesture through mimetic choreography, comprehensive objectively ritualized criticisms of contemporary sex practices, and inherently kitschy Americana-centered idealizations of suburban archetypes, Gregory and his interdisciplinary performing experiment, “DANCEGOOD.DAMNIT!!!”, have created various acclaimed works since 2006. His works include the evening neo-musical, DIE MUTHAFUCKAH DIE!!! (a eulogy) – an inevitably failed attempt towards accepting love’s relentless persistence through the embodiment of pop culture love songs and amateur pornography; and I Will Reapply This Lipstick Until You Give Me A Reason Not To/(going to put a bow on it) – BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND – YOU LOOKED SO HAPPY., Barnett’s five-hour solo exploiting Betty Hutton’s biography and insufficient parameters. As a visual artist, Gregory is currently touring WHORACLE, a propaganda bomb focused on re-assimilating the Sacred Whore into Christianity.
Julie Tolentino‘s (Mentor) performance work is instigated by activism, care-giving, high profile organizing, and movement/installation/dance/endurance. Tolentino’s projects have been presented since 1998 – including commissions and notable support from Tramway/QueerUpNorth, On The Boards, The Kitchen, Participant Inc., Spill Festival, In Transit, Pact Zollverein, L.A.C.E., amongst others. She leads international workshops in solo-making, yoga and alignment. She is a co-creator of PRAXIS Mohave Bootcamp for Performance Artists and initiated the Feral Gallery, and an annual performance series in Joshua Tree, California. She has worked with artists including David Rousseve/Reality, Ron Athey, Vaginal Davis, Ibrahim Quarishi, Catherine Opie/Rodarte, Meg Stuart, Amy Pivar, Sondra Loring, Margarita Guergue, Barbara Hammer, Stosh Fila, Tom Kalin, Art Positive, Gran Fury, Diamanda Galas. She is certified in Thai, Watsu, Eastern and integrated aquatic bodywork. Her work points to key inquiries around loss, relationship, sexuality, age, intimacy, love and longing. www.julietolentino.com
Jmy James Kidd (Mentee) works out of Pieter, her dance studio and performance space in Los Angeles (opened January 2010). She lived in NY for ten years where she danced for Luciana Achugar, Walter Dundervill, Neil Greenberg, Stanley Love, Nancy Meehan and Sarah Michelson. She started MGM Grand, a dance trio with Biba Bell and Paige Martin; AUNTS, a performance platform; and CLASSCLASSCLASS, an independent dance pedagogy organization.
Cheng-Chieh Yu (Mentor) began her performance career touring with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. Then residing in NYC from 1989 to 2001, she performed in the companies of Gus Solomons, Jose Limon, Bebe Miller, and as a guest artist for the Ralph Lemon Dance Project. Her choreography has been produced by numerous venues in NYC and LA, as well as internationally in China, Singapore, Germany and Taiwan. Choreographic commissions include from Movement Research, Danspace at St. Mark’s Church (NYC), The Yard (Massachusetts), Beijing Modern Dance Co. and Guangdong Modern Dance Co. (China), Sun Shier Dance Theatre and Creative Society (Taiwan), and the Jumping Frames Dance Video Festival, (Hong Kong). She has received funding from City of LA/Cultural Affairs, the James Irvine Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, the Durfee Foundation, DTW Suitcase Fund, and the Cultural Council as well as the Arts and Culture Foundation of Taiwan. She is an Associate Professor of the the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, UCLA
Sheetal Gandhi (Mentee) is an intercultural, multidisciplinary choreographer and performer. She creates work that is reflective of a life that embraces diversity, observes human experience, and yearns to tell a story. Gandhi’s career has spanned genres and disciplines for the last 16 years and includes her work as a creator and performer in Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion, and a leading role in the Broadway production of Bombay Dreams. She is currently touring her solo tour-de-force dance-theater work, Bahu-Beti-Biwi (Daughter-in-law, Daughter, Wife), which is being supported by an NDP Touring Award for 2012 – 2013. Recent honors include a 2011 L.A. Dance Advance Grant and the 2010 COLA Grant from the L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs. Her work has been presented at The Painted Bride (Philadelphia), The Maui Cultural Center and Kahilu Theater (Maui and Kona, HI), Grand Performances (Los Angeles), The Lab Theater (Minneapolis), Bijlmer ParkTheater (Amsterdam), Highways Performance Space (Los Angeles), The Joyce Soho (NYC), REDCAT (Los Angeles), Erasing Borders Festival (NYC), National Asian American Theater Festival (NYC), and more.
Margaret Jenkins is a choreographer, teacher and mentor to many young artists as well as a designer of unique community-based dance projects. Jenkins began her early training in San Francisco. In the sixties, she moved to New York to study at Juilliard, continued her training at UCLA and returned to New York to dance in the companies of Jack Moore, Viola Farber, Judy Dunn, James Cunningham, Gus Solomons and Twyla Tharp. Jenkins was a member of the faculty of the Merce Cunningham Studio and often restaged his works for companies in Europe and the United States.
In 1970, Jenkins returned to San Francisco and formed her own company. She also opened one of the West Coast’s first studio-performing spaces at 2005 Bryant Street, a school for the training of professional modern dancers. Viola Farber and Merce Cunningham were frequent guests, and dozens of young choreographers had the chance to experiment and show their early work. This San Francisco rehearsal and performance space also became the “stage” for Jenkins and her Company, as well as a model for subsequent performance spaces in San Francisco.
Jenkins has created an impressive body of work, with over 75 works created on her Company as well as resident companies in the United States and Europe. In addition, she has received numerous commissions from renowned national and international arts presenters and cultural institutions, including a commission for the San Francisco Ballet’s 75th anniversary home season, as well as work for the Oakland Ballet, Repertory Dance Theatre in Salt Lake City, National Dance Project, YBCA, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, Montclair State University, Columbia College in Chicago, Cullberg Ballet of Sweden and Ginko of Tokyo, Japan. Jenkins’ career has also embraced a commitment to training the professional dancer. Over the last forty-five years she has taught at major universities and colleges in this country and abroad.
In spring of 2003, Jenkins celebrated the 30th anniversary of her Company with a unique season of performances and exhibitions at Fort Mason’s Herbst Pavilion, for which she was presented with a special Isadora Duncan Dance Award. She was a founding member of the Bay Area Dance Coalition and of Dance/USA, serving on its first board of directors. She currently sits on the board of directors for the YBCA, and remains an active participant in panels across the United States.
In 2004, Jenkins and her company launched a new program, Choreographers in Mentorship Exchange (CHIME). Now in its 7th year in the San Francisco Bay Area and its third year in Southern California, the notion behind this artist mentorship program is to foster creative exchange and long-term relationships between emerging and established choreographers, and to create an arena for continuing education for choreography outside of the academic environment. When CHIME launched so did the opening of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Lab, a studio with a focus on rehearsals, research and development. In 2010, CHIME expanded to include a cross-national mentorship program, CHIME Across Borders.
Jenkins is a founding member with The Center for Creative Research (CCR) based in New York, which is a collection of eleven senior choreographers who have come together under the leadership of Sam Miller and Dana Whitco. CCR was initiated in 2005 as a multi-year project (funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by NEFA, now housed at NYU), designed to re-engineer institutional contexts for artists.
Highlights of Jenkins’ activities have included a residency in Kolkata, India (2003) to create a new dance at the Ananda Shankar Center for Performing Arts: the premiere of a site-specific work, Danger Orange (2004) in the landmark Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco; a three-week teaching residency in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Beijing, China (2004); the premiere of running with the land (2005) at the opening of the de Young Museum in the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden, commissioned by the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation; and a four-week rehearsal and performance residency to develop source material for the evening-length piece, A Slipping Glimpse (2006). In 2007, Jenkins and her company performed in a poetry and dance festival in Tokyo, Japan, conducted a five-city domestic tour of A Slipping Glimpse, and presented the initial segment of Other Suns, the first part of new trilogy of work inspired by her 2004 workshops in China. The complete Other Suns trilogy had its world premiere in September 2009 at YBCA, followed by a highly successful four-week tour in the US. Highlights of 2010 include the international premiere and Asia tour of Other Suns in China, and a preview of Light Moves, Jenkins next work with multi-media artist Naomie Kremer. Light Moves will premiere in San Francisco in November 2011 and will tour the US in early 2012.
For her unique artistic vision, Jenkins has received numerous commissions and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Irvine Fellowship in Dance, the San Francisco Arts Commission Award of Honor, three Isadora Duncan Awards and the Bernard Osher Cultural Award.
Sights from the 2012 CHIME LIVE in Southern California!
2012 CHIME Choreographer Sheetal Gandhi with choreographers Shyamala Moorty and Ulka Mohanty. Photo by Manu Narayan
Performance Artist/Scuptor Brian Getnick, Dancer/ Choreographer Maya Gingerly, and Choreographer Nick Duran. Photo by Manu Narayan
Dancer Perin Hailey McNelis (with friend). Photo by Manu Narayan
2012 CHIME Choreographer Sheetal Gandhi with Performance Artist Sebela Grimes. Photo by Manu Narayan