Quote for Today: Nancy Moser

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There is much more to playing the clavier than playing written music. Do you realize with accompanying there is often nothing written out but the bass line–the left hand? There might be a few notations as to a suggested harmony, but it is up to me to fill in the music, at the proper volume, style, and harmony for the soloist–often instantly. I’ve heard it said that Bach questioned whether the soloist or the accompanist deserves the greatest glory.

 
Nancy Moser, Mozart’s Sister

Quote for Today: Twyla Tharp

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Here’s how I learned to improvise: I played some music in the studio and I started to move. It sounds obvious, but I wonder how many people, whatever their medium, appreciate the gift of improvisation. It’s your one opportunity in life to be completely free, with no responsibilities and no consequences. You don’t have to be good or even interesting. It’s you alone, with no one watching or judging. If anything comes of it, you decide whether the world gets to see it. In essence, you are giving yourself permission to daydream during working hours.

Twyla Tharp

Image by inno kurnia from Pixabay

Quote for Today: Tina Fey

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The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, ‘Freeze, I have a gun,’ and you say, ‘That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,’ our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, ‘Freeze, I have a gun!’ and you say, ‘The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!’ then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.
Tina Fey, Bossypants

Public Domain Image via PxHere

Yearning for Catharsis: The Transitory Sound and Movement Collective

When we get caught up in evaluating performance, life, and art, become uninspired. How do we refresh our vision?

I found my seat in the darkened room. A soundless film was projected upon the bare wall and musicians waited in the darkness at the sides of the space. Soon, low electronic sounds began to enter that space, building slowly and steadily, and a dancer began to unfold herself into the light and shadow. The musicians phased in, bathing the room with a matrix of vibrations, living sounds. Something about the way the sound resonated in the room and within my own body reminded me of a session with a friend who plays therapeutic gong. It wasn’t about notes. It wasn’t about narrative. It was about vibration, vision and motion.

The first time I encountered the Transitory Sound and Movement Collective, it took me a solid twenty minutes to slow down enough to shed the excitement and yes, the anxiety and disorientation, that I felt in order to connect with the piece. One is accustomed to a story, or least a framework and purpose that one can perceive. One is used to evaluating the execution of those things. This is a different kind of experience, a physical encounter with sound and how it moves us, not far removed from meditation. I was lucky to have this experience twice last month. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing TSMC again in a few days and enjoying the Zen-like atmosphere these artists create with through the vulnerability of improvisation.

Founder Lynn Lane is an important force here in Houston. He is quite probably the busiest arts photographer in town, shooting performances all over the city: dance, music, theatre. He’s shot me as a member of the Houston Grand Opera Chorus many, many times. But we had never met until my friend Julia Fox invited me to Echoes of Solitude in Grand Central, Transitory Sound and Movement‘s February show at the Rec Room, a new and exciting venue here in Houston that supports local artists with their Artist Residency Program and inexpensive rentals. I didn’t know what to expect, and that always peaks my interest.

Echoes of Solitude featured Ron Kiley’s film of foot traffic through Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Travelers moved through the frame, becoming solid and “real” only when they paused in their walking. In front of this visual offering, dancer AJ Garcia-Rameau and singer Julia Fox moved. Lane provided a matrix of electronic sound and field recording into which Fox and the instrumental musicians could enter, meander and exit, just as the film’s travelers had done physically in Grand Central. Ben Roidl-Ward (bassoon), Emily Nelson (flute/piccolo), Emmy Tisdel (violin/viola) and Caitlin Mehrtens (harp) occupied the shadowed edges of the performance space. The interaction of the aural, visual and physical planes, as well as that of the pre-recorded and the improvised, created a sense of being together and yet being apart, a feeling of loneliness within a group. The work rose and then receded, leaving a feeling of peacefulness, like the calm after a storm.

Echoes of Solitude capitalized on catharsis, the healing element in music and art, which seems often to suffer from our desire to evaluate and sometimes even from our desire to understand. I knew then and there that I wanted to see more. Luckily, there was a private loft performance the following weekend which I was able to experience as well, a different piece with many of the same musicians and familiar, yet different elements. The second time I was swept up immediately. This healing music is habit forming.

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Rehearsal for Untitled: Darkness and Light in Eight, photo credit: Lynn Lane            

I wholeheartedly recommend Untitled: Darkness and Light in Eight, the next show presented by the Transitory Sound and Movement Collective at the Rec Room on Tuesday, March 14th. TSMC is presenting a new piece there each month and I can’t wait to see where they will go next. Please follow these artists on the group Facebook page.

 

Quote for Today: Patti Smith

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When we got to the part where we had to improvise an argument in a poetic language, I got cold feet. “I can’t do this,” I said. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Say anything,” he said. “You can’t make a mistake when you improvise.”

“What if I mess it up? What if I screw up the rhythm?”

“You can’t,” he said. “It’s like drumming. If you miss a beat, you create another.”

In this simple exchange, Sam taught me the secret of improvisation, one that I have accessed my whole life.
Patti Smith, Just Kids

Image: Paul Goyette with CCLicense

Quote for Today: Anaïs Nin

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Jazz is the music of the body. The breath comes through brass. It is the body’s breath, and the strings’ wails and moans are echoes of the body’s music. It is the body’s vibrations which ripple from the fingers. And the mystery of the withheld theme, known to jazz musicians alone, is like the mystery of our secret life. We give to others only peripheral improvisations.
―Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5: 1947-1955
Image © Joel Nilsson with CCLicense

Comfortable in Her Own Skin: Tradition, Modernity and the Dancing of Irina Akulenko

The society we live in shapes our understanding of body image and self. How does dance influence that understanding?

Video via WorldDance NewYork. Irina Akulenko plays the blindfolded character of Justice as pictured in the Tarot.

Irina Akulenko bases her life as a dancer, teacher and choreographer in New York City, touring both nationally and internationally. As soloist and collaborator, she has been part of Bellyqueen Dance Theater, Bella Gaia, Alchemy Dance Theater and  BALAM Dance Theater, to name just a few of her credits. Her style is a fascinating blend of several traditions with its foundation in belly dance. As a child, Akulenko was already exploring ballet, piano and voice, as well as drawing, when she had her first taste of belly dance. She was quickly addicted and sought out teachers who could show her the intricacies of this expressive art form which originated in the Middle East. Her background lies in Egyptian Cabaret and American Tribal style belly dance.

 Photograph of a ghaziya (1906)

Photograph of a ghaziya dancer in Egypt(1906)
TIMEA with CCLicense

Egypt has one of the oldest traditions of belly dance, stemming from social folk dances that were performed by men, women and children. These were later refined and embellished to be performed for Ottoman rulers, who kept troupes of dancers, both male and female. There were actually periods of time in which the Ottomans banned women from dancing and men, known as zenneskept the tradition going. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, dancers supported themselves by working cabarets or night clubs, donning sequined and revealing costumes that showed off the impressive torso and hip articulation that is the hallmark of belly dancing. It was at this time that belly dancing became an almost exclusively female profession, since there were no clubs catering to women and homosexuality, which was fairly common among the Ottoman nobility, was no longer tolerated. Much of the seediness and stigma attributed to belly dance comes from being relegated to night clubs in Cairo, where the women who danced were seen as little more than prostitutes.

The Egyptian Cabaret tradition persists, although there are tensions in modern Egypt. Dancers, singers and performers in general are not considered respectable in conservative Islamic society. Bare midriffs have been banned since the 1950s and women who show their bodies are considered haram, mortally sinful and abhorrent. I recommend this article from Daily News Egypt to anyone who desires to understand the challenges and intimidation belly dancers face there. Egyptian Cabaret style is much less restrained in the West than in its homeland.

Dance has a way of speaking clearly without language. Even without the historical stigma, it is understandable that some people, westerners and easterners, religious and non religious, find fault with the sensual movement of belly dance and the empowerment women find in it. This reaction probably has more to do with the viewer’s lack of comfort with their own sensuality than with a lack of modesty on the part of the dancer, who has simultaneously become powerful and vulnerable. Thoughts can be scary, even when they don’t lead to action. How do we learn to simply allow something, or especially someone, to be authentically and naturally sexy without becoming possessive?

Provocative and beautiful, belly dance has traveled all over the globe, fusing with other forms, evolving and preserving itself. American Tribal Style (ATS) was created by the fascinating Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman, inspired by folk dance from the Middle East, North Africa, Spain and India informed by modern flourishes and sensibility. It has a heavy emphasis on group improvisation and communication through dance, returning belly dance to its roots while also taking it somewhere new.

Irina Akulenko at White Sands, New Mexico, USA © Irina Akulenko from her website

Irina Akulenko at White Sands, New Mexico, USA
© Irina Akulenko from her website

Irina Akulenko’s desire for inspiration has led her to study and integrate other forms of folk dance into her style as well. Flamenco, from Andalusia, in Spain, is a bold, expressive and modern form, famous for its powerful, percussive elements and use of props, while Odissi is the oldest form of dance in India, characterized by delicately stylized head and limb gestures. Belly dance, Odissi and Flamenco all use well articulated body movement to express emotion in an improvisational format. By using all three, she widens the emotional and technical range of her work. What an exciting thing to be so comfortable with your own body!

Video via WorldDance NewYork. Akulenko reveals a gentler sensuality in this performance which recalls the Odissi tradition of India.

Akulenko also holds a degree in Political Science and is drawn to women’s issues and visual art. If you like, you can learn to belly dance from her series of instructional videos at Howcast on YouTube. Her talent for blending styles reveals an openness to finding similarities between cultures and a need to express herself to a wide audience. Anytime we express something, we risk being evaluated and judged. True artists like Akulenko know that the expression is worth the risk. Brava!

As the Clouds Roll By: Future Projects at Synkroniciti

We’re excited to announce our first ventures outside of cyberspace! Synkroniciti is bringing three projects to life in Houston, Texas.

microphone-298587_640Open Mic Nights

Especially geared for poets, storytellers, and singer-songwriters, these intimate evenings give creative people a chance to perform original work in a supportive environment. Each guest brings either a $5 cover charge or an original poem, short story or song.

Submissions must be pre-approved and will be performed either by the author or by a synkroniciti representative, depending on the author’s preference and personnel available. Multiple submissions from a single artist will be considered and programmed as time allows. Some pieces may be selected to be featured on the synkroniciti website after the event.

Each evening will feature a theme. Light hors d’oeuvres will be served. BYOB. Invites are by invitation only. If you are interested in attending, please let us know. We are currently scheduling the first of these events for September 2014.

Nurturing Creativity Workshopsworkshop-171099_640

Are you interested in becoming more creative or in finding new outlets for your creativity? Whether you would like to broaden your horizons or overcome roadblocks, synkroniciti has strategies to improve the quality of your artistic vision and enhance the flow of inspiration you are experiencing. We focus on playful, gentle explorations of the creative impulse through improvisation and empathy.

Details TBA. We hope to offer our first workshops sometime during the Fall of 2014.

Euridice Revealed

Orpheus is well known for his epic journey to the land of death and back, but what about the shadowy woman who embarked upon that journey before he did? She must have been a true force of nature to inspire such devotion, and yet little is said about her, save that she was beautiful. What lies hidden away beneath that beauty? Based on a cycle of six poems by Katherine McDaniel, this collaborative project will engage a number of creative people to explore, create, and share the story of Euridice with an audience.

Synkroniciti is currently designing a crowd-funding campaign for the project. We will be accepting applications for creatives interested in working on Euridice after the first phase of crowd funding has been completed.

 

All images used in this post are public domain images from Pixabay.

When the Spirit Moves: Creativity and Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech

403px-Martin_Luther_King_press_conference_01269u_editFifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and uttered words that continue to reverberate in the American consciousness and beyond. That speech, delivered August 28, 1963, was not the speech King had prepared. At the prompting of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, he began to speak extemporaneously about his dream and the foundations of power shook. The following video speaks of the power of those moments.

Video via WSJDigitalNetwork on YouTube.

We are still striving to meet and surpass Dr. King’s beautiful dream. You can hear the “I have a dream” speech in its entirety here. Listen for the pause at 12:03 in which Dr. King makes the decision to go off-book. Powerful.