A Happening on Melon Street with Get What You Need

by Gina Palumbo for The Dance Journal

On Saturday, January 18th, Silvana Cardell invited artists of different trades in her expansive space to take part in a sacred experience on the elusive Melon Street in Philadelphia. In her studio, wooden floors and white voile curtains are illuminated by natural light. A refuge from the storm that raged outside, Get What You Need was a safe space, conducive to learning, idea sharing and unruffled conversation.

Zornitsa Stoyanova is the curator of this series, and she began this project in 2014 with the objective to offer artists a platform to introduce the bare bones of choreographic concepts, with the expectation that inquisitive thoughts and initial reactions from audience members will permit their work to take shape.

Get What You Need was a way for me to connect with others,” Stoyanova said, “but I soon realized how needed it is and how grateful people were to just have the opportunity and space to practice performing and get feedback.”

The first artist to present her work was Janna Meiring. Her research was on the significance of language and the general ignorance that some Americans have when meeting someone who speaks a language other than English. The first exercise enabled Meiring to capture her own anatomical response to language during improvisation, and how rapid-fire questions influenced her movement decisions. An example of an exchange between Meiring and an audience member went as followed:

“When you say ‘I love you’ in Spanish, does it change the way you feel?”

“It’s layered,” Meiring said, as she stacked each hand on top of the other.

I thought of my bilingual mother, who thinks and counts in Italian, but communicates in English.

In sharing her personal goal to learn Spanish, she expressed her elation as well as her reduced determination by turning a smile into a frown. Her movement was minimal but fashioned the proper representation of her internal conflict, as well as drew from the audience what had to be felt in order to understand her tussle with bilingualism.

For the second half of this work, Meiring played a recording from a thoughtless adolescent and her misunderstandings about America. The speaker begged people to speak “americanish.” and she was appalled to be living in a place where people speak any other language. The video is so outrageous that it is suspected to be a spoof. Regardless of that possibility, it is not unusual to catch individuals who share in her sentiment. Meiring then replayed the recording, only this time, it had been edited to sound like it was reverberating off the walls over and over again. This crass, but honest recording, mirrored the distressing dialogue so often heard in public and in viral videos of xenophobic folks instructing bilingual folks to “just speak English.” I am eager to see this work’s progression, as its internal message could change the world.

Mira Treatmen,was the second artist to present, and what followed for the next 20 minutes was an experiment between her and her fellow cast members, Vitche-Boul Ra, Joel Chartkoff, and Irina Varina. There is another collaborator in the ensemble known as Party Steve who could not be there that day, perhaps because of a party. Whatever was created there in those 20 minutes was filmed. It would then be picked apart within the next few hours and performed later that evening. Risky, yet inventive, and a new way of reforming old ideas.

“The work is who is in the room,” Treatman said. This modest statement reaffirmed the need for partnership among artists, particularly in the infancy of a work.

A rainbow slinky, a book called How To Marry The Man of Your Choice by Margaret Kent, a few different pairs of shoes, soulful singing voices with the aptitude for harmony, a yellow rain poncho and cool jams created a soundscape for the next twenty minutes. The wide windows catered to the act perfectly, offering each artist a look at the snow from a safe distance and the audience, a spyglass for the thoughts of each artist. Ra made a vocalization like clearing his throat. I chose not to ask for clarification and instead, let my imagination run wild. This was not yet a work of choreography, but of pure action, and therefore, had lots of room for alteration.

A few frenzied moments, where the various objects listed above were being thrown about the room were coupled with sedate moments. The whole ensemble’s congregated by the window to talk, sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and sway to the music, but they were all doing this independent of one another. It was like being a wallflower at a party; I had to stay vigilant or else I could have missed something.

After seeing Get What You Need, I firmly believe that all audiences should witness the choreographic process from start to finish. It offers insight into a work that may not be fully grasped at a live performance, and allows the artists to tell their uncut stories. I could see in their eyes how important stories are to Meiring and Treatman, and what they want is so simple – to be able to tell them.

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