Rehearsal Report: TIDE from Scrap Performance Group

Musings syndicated from the Philadelphia Live Arts & Philly Fringe Blog
blog entry by Nicholas Gilewicz

It’s early (for me, anyway), and I’m sitting in the theater at the Painted Bride. The dancers for Scrap Performance Group are warming up on stage. From semi-scripted verbal monologues, the dancers – Katharine Livingston, Marie Brown, Lindsay Browning, Shannon Murphy, and Sara Kamara Yassky – are playing with improvisational contact. Even this warm-up is cool, and eases me into what’s going to be a three-hour rehearsal. Myra Bazell, the choreographer (and with Madison Cario, the co-creator) of TIDE, turns to me and says, “I love my job.”

I tell her that I love mine too, and it’s true. Today I get to spend the morning with Myra and her dancers, watching them develop a new movement for TIDE, which will premier at the 2009 Live Arts Festival.

If you’ve been paying attention to dance here in recent years, you’re probably asking yourself: “Didn’t I see this at UArts a while back? Or at last year’s Fringe?”

To this I reply, only sorta. The section they’re developing today, “Boat 2,” doesn’t exist yet. A commission from the University of the Arts launched the work on TIDE, which was initially produced in a 14’x14′ box surrounded by video of the ocean. Then they went into the Magic Garden for the second iteration of the piece.

“It was like the shell of a broken past, congruent with [TIDE] because it looks at the ongoing slow decay that we’re instrumental in,” Myra says.
Working in the Magic Garden helped them to examine their values in the face of the concept, and perhaps the fear, that everything is disposable. Now they’re taking what they’ve generated so far, integrating some new elements, and putting it all together in the ICE BOX, a fairly blank and cavernous white space at Crane Arts Center.

“The camaraderie is spectacular,” Myra tells me. “We’ve been working together for two years, dramaturgically trying to drive this piece through its birth canal. There’s lots of material, and we’re trying to develop the story without spoon-feeding the audience. It’s important that the intentions are clear with this piece. It’s grueling because we have to excavate the material and rebuild, from that, the story.”

Just in this one movement of TIDE, here’s some of what’s at issue, as articulated by the performers:
“It was unavoidable . . .”
“The first piece of rubble . . .”
“Where did it come from?”
“The rusty pipe in your house or something . . .”
“You can ignore it for a while until it comes through the ceiling on the floor below . . .”
“And then there is disaster . . .”
“Collectively crumbling . . .”
“The flood . . .”
“And it’s not stopping . . .”
“It’s not too late to put the pieces back together . . .”
“It started with this drip . . .”
“This unavoidable drip . . .”
“Everybody heard it . . .”
“And it was too late . . .”
“Soon the drip became a pool . . .”
“The pool became a lake . . .”
“Disaster . . .”
“There’s nothing we could do . . .”
“A large puddle . . .”
“It wasn’t a large puddle, it was a lake . . .”
“Hurry up, I said hurry up . . .”
“I don’t have my bottles . . .”
“We try to decide what’s really important . . .”
“It’s never just a puddle . . .”
“We started collecting everything we wanted to hold on to . . .”

Myra loves the line, “It wasn’t a puddle, it was a lake.” She says, “It reminds me of these huge tragedies, these annihilations of whole people that come in small ways. It’s getting to the essence of what this piece is all about. Destruction is happening now, but we’re fine the way we live. But it’s showing up in small ways, like as the predators of plankton start to go extinct, the plankton can get so thick on the water that it blocks out the sun below.”

“The flood here is both destructive and cyclical. Even in our most tragic and pessimistic view of what’s going on, there’s still a sense that Earth will take care of itself. You can’t kill energy, it just transforms.”

“[This section] is very slow and measured right now, but it will get very condensed and fast and hot. The process is grueling – there are 38 rehearsals left. Right now the scene takes about 20 minutes. The final movement will take eight.”

As the rehearsal goes on, Myra gets more focused, offering more direction, more detail, more blocking, more everything. And the performers respond, comfortably and collaboratively, with questions that help push along their development, and the development of the movement, quite quickly. Over the three hours I spend with them, even my untrained eye can see the bones of the movement start to come together.

One of the more finished sections involves the dancers spinning around the stage, singing, barely controlled. It had a deeply anarchic feel, as if the end of the world has come so it’s time to freak out and dance like crazy people. Actually, a good night out in Philly doesn’t necessarily feel that different, although, unlike TIDE, our parties are usually free of cannibalism and annihilation.

But Scrap’s nowhere near done. There’s still one big element to overlay: they are, after all, on a boat.

“We’ll do the whole scene rocking and it’s fucking crazy.”

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Photos by Mara Miller.

More at 2009 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe

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