Evolutions and Inspirations – Lisa Vassallo

Think of your favorite song.  How does it make you feel?  Does it make you smile?  Does it bring you back to a certain time or a specific memory?  Does it inspire you?  Mine does all of those things.  My name is Lisa Vassallo, and I am Chisenhale’s new intern for the fall of 2013.  I am from right outside Boston, Massachusetts, and am studying abroad in London for the semester.  I love London and Chisenhale already, and I feel privileged to be here during the Big 30– such an exciting time for CDS!  Throughout these blog posts, I will attempt to explore various evolutions of and inspirations for experimental dance.

I chose to begin with music and song, because it is an area in which I have personal experience.  I have been singing and dancing for as long as I can remember.  Music has always been, and still is, a very important factor in the world of dance.  It creates a multi-sense experience for the audience, a combination of visuals and audio.  In many classical forms of dance, the music is very structured and specific to each style and step.  I remember when I was first taking ballet classes, each barre exercise had its own song, tailored to the timing and nature of the step we were doing.  This works for the more structured styles of dance.

However, as styles become more free (contemporary, modern, experimental), so too should the music.  Maybe the song does not have a steady beat or definite rhythm.  Maybe the song is loud but the dance soft and gentle, or the other way around.  Maybe the dance needs no audio accompaniment whatsoever.  Whatever moves and inspires the artist, and helps them to create their works.  Music, like the body, can be a vital tool for movement and dance creation.

Overall, the fusion of song and dance has always been integral. However, with the development of experimental dance, music’s role appears to be evolving, with the movement coming to the forefront. Where dance once accompanied the music, it now appears that music is accompanying the dance.

In my last post, I discussed music as an inspiration for myself and for other dancers.  For this post, I decided to research some other, less common inspirations for experimentation in dance.

One such example I found was Surreptitious Sound Play, a project collaborated upon by the Guerrilla Dance Project, along with a composer and an interactive designer.  This 2011 project took everyday items, such a newspaper or a coffee cup, along with everyday places, such as a train station or café, and engaged in spontaneous, experimental performance.  The project was inspired by the simple, typical surroundings and objects in our daily lives.  I found it fascinating that this group made a visual performance out of these situations that we experience every day without a second thought, causing us to take a step back and examine these common situations.

Another project I discovered is called Tentacle Tribe Dance.  This project is a male/female duo.  Their style could be broadly classified as hip-hop, and each member has a wide background of dance styles.  Together, though, their performances are even more unique.  They are extremely focused on the movement of the body and the space it takes up (as are many experimental dancers).  Tentacle Tribe finds their main inspiration through the movement of “earthly creatures”—animals.  Their style is very physical, occupying lots of space and taking cues from the movement of all sorts of animals and creatures.

Finally, I found a third source of inspiration through Chisenhale’s own Dance and the Homemade commissioning scheme.  One of last year’s commissioned artists, Dan Watson, developed a piece called “Jacket Dance.”  His inspiration for this piece came out of the idea of “dancing ridiculously.”  Through the piece, he demonstrates that you must take yourself seriously enough to fully immerse yourself in the “ridiculous.”  Having been fortunate enough to see this piece, I felt a huge sense of joy watching it, and wanted to jump up and join in!

These three projects are just a few examples of unique places where artists can find inspiration for their works.  Where will you find your inspiration?

Over the past two posts, I have discussed various inspirations for dance works, as well as the evolution of experimental dance in general.  For my final post, I will touch on two things.  First, I will share a little bit about another dance organization in the United States, celebrating a birthday like Chisenhale.  The latter part of my post will be my (very sad) goodbye.

Upon doing some research, I stumbled across a small dance group at a university in San Luis Obispo, California.  Variable Velocity is currently celebrating their tenth birthday.  While they are much younger than Chisenhale, it serves as a good reminder that experimental and fringe dance is still alive and flourishing!  Although Variable Velocity’s celebrations did not match the scale of Chisenhale’s Big 30, they did a 10th anniversary performance that brought a unique idea.  The two directors of the group looked back on performances and works that they had done over the past ten years.  They put them together into one performance, and presented them to the current members of the group to perform.  This performance fused dance, singing, and speaking.  The performance proved quite unique, because it took several different pieces, all with different styles, tones, and emotions, and put them together as a single performance that truly reflected their past ten years.

This evolution really got me thinking about how exciting and admirable it is that Chisenhale is still thriving after 30 years.  Interning here has given me an inside look at the hard work and dedication of everyone involved with Chisenhale, and the passion of all of the artists here for the work that they do.  I have learned so much here, both regarding marketing and events skills, as well as the effort and drive it takes to keep an organization like Chis going.  I feel so lucky to have come to this space during the Big 30, and see 30 years of history and art remembered and kept alive for the future.  I have enjoyed performances, attended events, and had the privilege of interacting with many members of the Chisenhale community.  This space is one of the most open that I have ever experienced, supporting any sort of fringe work by an artist that has a passion and is willing to take a risk.  I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the Big 30 and of Chisenhale Dance Space during my time here in London, and cannot wait to see what the next 30 years will bring.   These posts have been titled “Evolutions and Inspirations,” and I feel that the evolution of Chisenhale is in itself an inspiration.