Welcome to the SBD Blog!
Here you can find our musings about art, dance, and creative life in today's world.
Here you can find our musings about art, dance, and creative life in today's world.
Photo by Laura Keller
Lighting Design by Kate Ashton
Lighting Design by Kate Ashton
New York City and Me
by Sarah Berges
May 23, 2020
I love New York City - as a source of personal, artistic, and intellectual stimulation. What a pleasure to spend time there touring the neighborhoods in all five boroughs, checking out museums and galleries, watching people in Central Park! I've also discovered that New York suits me as a working habitat where I very successfully rehearse and produce my choreography.
In 2011, I took a great leap (of faith) and initiated my working relationship with New York City. Since then, my foothold in the City has solidified and I'm not shy about telling the world that "SBD is based in New York... uh, yeah, we're also based in Oakland California... we're bi-coastal."
The finest dancers and designers I work with I "found" in New York: they either showed up at auditions or were referred to me by trusted colleagues. Dance is taken seriously in New York; I am considered a working artist creating important works of art. No wonder New York City is the premier dance hub of the world!
You might say that I, personally, "premiered" in New York City: I was been born at the Beth Israel Hospital on May 5, 1955 (yes, that's 5/5/55!) In this vein, I like to say I was born into symmetry, viz.,
Don't get me wrong - asymmetry is, notwithstanding, the greater force in my life as evidenced by the percentage of asymmetry versus symmetry in my work. But this is a detail...
The historical record will show that a significant number of my pieces have, indeed, premiered in New York City. This is important because I can boast a primary connection to NYC, and, in some cases, a premiere in that city rates a brownie point from a funder or presenter. For the record, I've made a list of Sarah Berges DANCE premieres in New York City (see below.)
In the meantime, a nod to the definition of "premiere..." Simply put, it signifies, "the first performance of a work of theater or film." I guess we all know that, but it IS interesting that "premiere" has historically functioned as a noun, and only recently has been accepted as a verb. Clearly, our word "premiere" comes from the French word, "premier," meaning "first," and is spelled like the feminine case, "première," but sans accent grave!
Sarah Berges DANCE Premieres in New York City:
August 2011 - Harlem School of the Arts Theater & Merce Cunningham Studio
"Boston Common" (HSA)
"Night Sky" (HSA)
"Chrysalis" (MCS) - the first attempt
TRUE STORY: "Chrysalis" was scheduled to premiere on August 27 and we pulled off a spectacular Dress Rehearsal on August 26. However, Hurricane Irene was on the approach that week and became threatening enough by August 27 that Mayor Bloomberg shut down our production - along with most activity throughout New York City. "Chrysalis" was finally premiered in NYC in September of 2016.
May 2015 - Triskelion Arts
"Topography of Grief"
September 2016 - Martha Graham Studio Theater
"Allegro Con Brio"
April 2018 - Martha Graham Studio Theater
"Plie de Trois (3)"
The Language Project
by Sarah Berges
April 26, 2020
Choreography for "The Language Project" is inspired by spoken, written and signed languages from all over the world. In 2016, SARAH BERGES DANCE embarked on this multi-year project - a series of rehearsals and performances celebrating language: spoken and written language, prose, poetry, and grammar - the nuts and bolts of language! The endless graphic variation of written language is enough to keep us busy creating 'language dances' for years to come!
"The Language Project" grows out of my lifelong passion for learning new languages, analyzing patterns of language, as well as my abiding love of poetry and live theater. Happily, travel has become an important component of this project. The logic is inescapable: if you make a dance about a particular language - say, Japanese - you'll probably want to experience Japanese as it is spoken and written in Japan. And, when this piece is ready to perform, it's only right to share it with the people who inspired it, that is, to stage a performance in Japan!
Until we can travel and dance again, we remain at home, practice patience, and help when we can to alleviate people's real-life suffering
In 2017, I made a solo for Shoko Fujita called, "The Scribe," that traces the fine filigree of Japanese Kanji and Kana. As she dances, Shoko literally spells out a personal statement about herself as a dancer and why she chooses to dance. We actually made this piece in New York City while dreaming of performing it in Japan! Plans are afoot to produce "The Sribe" in São Paolo where people of Japanese descent have lived and worked for generations. International architect / designer, Patricia Akinaga will create the production design: projections, costume and lighting for this production.
Davonna Batt joined me in Puebla, Mexico to teach contemporary dance as part of our annual SBD Residency at Sisti Dance Place. It was there that we made a solo for her based on the distinctly 'American' poetic expressions of Emily Dickinson. Davonna performed the piece right there in Puebla for admiring dance artists of the Sisti dance community.
Katie Montoya patiently worked with me over a period of two years (2017-2019) as I slowly came to terms with a new dance about the Spanish language. I am interested in all the ways that Spanish is spoken in the world, so it took time to decide in which Spanish language, and in what region of the world, this dance was to root itself. More time passed as choreography was created strictly in response to the music I'd decided to use - an utterly stunning track performed by Flamenco guitarist Michel Camino and vocalist Tomatito.
Several months intervened before we could rehearse again during which time I had the good luck to catch exhibitions featuring Spanish painting, including Picasso's "Guernica" and Goya's "Third of May 1808." Lightning struck! Didn't some of the movements that Katie performed in "Spanish" remind me of implied movement in these two paintings? Indeed, some of Katie's gestures and postures precisely mimicked gestures and postures in the paintings! (Not so surprising, really: I attribute this linkage to the fact that I've seen the paintings numerous times over the years and am conversant with their imagery.) From that moment, there was no question in my mind that our "Spanish" dance was in fact about the paintings I had seen, and so, by extension, the dance was also about Goya and Picasso's larger subject: the horror of war as depicted in two distinct but equally horrific moments: for Goya, the massacre of Spanish freedom fighters by Napoleon's soldiers, and for Picasso, the bombing of the city of Guernica by the Nazis. It was a short journey from that realization to determine that in the larger sense, my piece, having begun life as a dance about the language - Spanish - had evolved into a dance about the 'language of painting!'
Dancing Through Quarantine
by Melissa Weber (Company Member)
I always knew the dance world was a tight knit family. During this time, it’s proven to be even more true. Dancers have been offering classes virtually, helping distribute needed supplies to keep training and dancing together. A lot of creative work has also been offered with new videos being made all the time. It’s fun to virtually dance with friends while being apart. Just another way that dance brings things together!
I am using this time to really nail my technique. Since I don’t have the luxury of a big dance space, I take 2-3 classes a day of all different styles. I listen to all the wonderful insight and work on my weaknesses. Basically, I'm going back to basics! I know that I will come back stronger, smarter and a lot more appreciative.
A Glimmer of Hope for Live Performance in Freehold, New Jersey
by Richard Philion (Company Member)
The future of live performance in New York City and environs remains unclear for the rest of this year and into the next. Despite this forecast, a few weeks ago, I was treated to a glimmer of hope in an unlikely place . . . Freehold, New Jersey.
In Freehold, I had the pleasure of serving as a judge for a dance competition featuring pre-professional dancers. Dance competitions have become staples of the American dance studio culture, offering a predictable fare of mid-level to outstanding performances. Emphasis on “predictable.” So, I was surprised that in this venue I would discover a glimmer of hope for the future of dance – our beloved performing art form.
While the current pandemic provides us with a multitude of opportunities to rethink how our art can connect with audience members – and stay relevant in a rapidly changing technological environment – I believe it needs to be said that nothing can come close to the effects of live performance on both audience and performer. Live performance is fundamentally an exchange of energy between performer and audience member (in both directions) and cannot be replicated with technological media.
After months of living without access to dance performance, in Freehold, I had the opportunity to watch dancers performing live, onstage. I was aware that many in the audience were experiencing this beautiful exchange of energy for the first or second time in their lives – and they were very enthusiastic! This reminded me how precious and important our art form is. And, it was uplifting to witness such generous support for live dance.
Most of the dancers performing in the Freehold competition were students. One can only guess that their parents have decided that dance enriches their child’s life and provides more positive benefits than any of the risks currently facing us. These families were willing to jump through all the hoops (not that there aren’t enough hoops to jump through for dancers . . . try adding a pandemic to the mix) to experience a few minutes of dance – performed by sons and daughters. And, I was amazed that all this could be achieved within safety and health guidelines.
I finished the weekend feeling hopeful for the future of our art form. If, at the entry-level, where training begins, there is such enthusiasm for live performance, then I’m confident we will return to the stage in full force. I am optimistic – I believe we will emerge from these trying times into a renaissance of performing arts. I also look forward to a newfound appreciation for genuine connection – not only connection from performer to audience member, but connection from person to person within our society.
Company Dancer Richard Philion teaching and judging in a dance competition before COVID.
Sarah in rehearsal 2005 - 2018 / Photo credits: Alexei Gerulaitis, Ralph Granich, Marcos Vedovetto
"Locked Down . . . Still Moving Forward" a response to Brian Seibert's New York Times' piece
by Sarah Berges
We artists-of-the-theater who create art 'in company,' whose very material is a human being's physical, psychic, intellectual and emotional self, have this in common: we thrive in social settings and crave the in-person give-and-take between fellow artists. As dancers, daily interactions with teachers, fellow students, also with those who direct and manage our work are integral to our beehive culture. We practice collectivity and cooperation (more or less successfully) at every step, in every phase of our work. My own choreographic process depends on the in-person experience, flow of communication - verbal and kinetic - that happens when interacting with 'live' dancers in a studio. The dancers' presence in rehearsal makes my choreography whole.
Many decades ago, I chose to dance, in part, because I liked the social aspect of dance training, performing and choreographing. Thus it is, in this Time-of-Covid, I've suffered greatly from lack of interaction with fellow artists - from the absence of my "society." Missing people, missing the dancers I love, and with whom I love to dance - this is my particular and acutely felt Covid wound.
Have we finally tumbled to the depths of the Covid disaster? Have we hit the bottom of pandemic angst? I hope so, because, if this is the case, the only place to go is up. Perhaps, at last, it's time to consider the future.
Not to ignore the fact that I have - repeatedly - over the past 12 months tried to plan next steps for my Company. Two of the dancers I work with also help me plan Company projects and in meetings over the past year, we've repeated, many times, a conversation cycle that goes like this:
(Note: intervals of days or weeks pass between each conversation.)
Conversation 1: "Lockdown! No point in trying to plan rehearsals right now. Should be 3 months, right? Then we'll be back to normal??" Etc.
Conversation 2: "Okay! Good news ... people are doing business again, some public places are going to open." Etc.
Conversation 3: "Looks like we might be able to get into a studio and rehearse ... maybe, could be (?) in about 2 months. D'ya think? Is there anyone talking about opening their spaces for rehearsals? Indoor or outdoor?" Etc.
Conversation 4: "Let's get an email to the dancers about their plans for ... let's say, 3 months from now." Etc.
Conversation 5: "Dancers answered the email: they have no idea what their plans are ..." Etc.
Conversation 6: "I guess we gotta wait - maybe people will know what they're doing in a few weeks. What do you think? Wait another month and ask them again? Should we start figuring out how to perform outside?"
Conversation 7: "Covid cases are way up ... Mayor/Governor [choose one] is closing down businesses again! Guess rehearsing is out for a while ... What do you think? Should we talk about it again in a few weeks?" Etc.
Repeat Conversation 1, followed by Conversations 2-7. Repeat.
In the early months of Covid, I insisted on waiting until we could rehearse live and in-person. Hence, the repeated conversations. Finally, something had to give, to move, and I scheduled online rehearsals. This proved to be the right thing to do. The dancers and I were successful getting work done with the added bonus that we re-claimed a general Company esprit de corps.
So, as far as rehearsing was concerned, we did well, catching up with our work on-line via Zoom. However, the other side of our endeavor - live performance - came to a standstill. As it was for other performing artists, a year of production was utterly lost.
Where, now, to find the inspiration and drive to move ahead?
One source of my recently renewed eagerness to push on: Brian Seibert's New York Times article, "Locked Down But Still Moving," published on February 10th.
Mr. Seibert's article, focused on New York City theater and dance, gave me such a rush - of energy and of relief. We were not alone fretting about missed rehearsals and cancelled performances. It turns out our compatriots were with us in spirit as all of us navigated this "purgatory of the holding pattern."
In his article, Mr. Seibert supplies stellar examples of performing artists and arts organizations in NYC who, instead of giving up, fashioned new ways to make dance, create new theater and to perform. And, they did this by sharing resources with each other and with the larger community. In so doing, they accomplished strengthening bonds between performing artists and linking artists to the wider population. For example, New York Live Arts presented dance performances in its glass-walled lobby. Henry Street Playhouse converted their theater into a staging area from which theater staff, stagehands, and artists delivered bags of groceries to seniors and other people in need. NYU Skirball hosted early voting in its lobby. Brooklyn Academy of Music served meals and hosted census worker training.
What an inspiration! Nothing like a little validation of one's hardships to give one a lift. Nothing like examples of persistence and survival to supply one with perspective and the emotional energy to reach for the future. I am so very proud of my profession and the dedication of stalwart, imaginative people who believe in theater: this fragile artifice, this ephemeral construct , sustained by wit, intelligence, spirit and heart.