THEATRE MOVEMENT BAZAAR'S JOURNEY TO RUSSIA - Day Five

Day 5:

St. Petersburg

Day off-

I woke this morning to moments of last night's performance experience tugging me awake. My gut pulling from the rise and fall of adrenaline. My heart soaring from the roller coaster of so many emotions. But mostly the vision of Tina Kronis, our director, with tears streaming down her face as we exited the stage, stays in my mind. Her return to Russia where all of this was born - the artist has come full circle.

My spirit is full, and I feel an overwhelming gratitude as I slide into my jeans to head down to breakfast at 9 am. The hotel had asked us all to come down at that time because they wanted to present us with something. I am a little unsure as to what the custom or presentation will be and why, but bed head will not do, so I don my headscarf.

After we've eaten our breakfast, they bring out a most exquisite pie-type/filled bread with a gorgeous latticed crust. It is stunning and with my love for baking - I can appreciate the amount of time and effort that went into making this lovely sweet.

It is filled with sour cherries and berries of many kinds, candied ginger pieces and currants. It is surprisingly not sweet but tart and glorious.

There is a young girl, probably 9 or so, having breakfast with her grandmother, who has been eyeing us and the pie. I offer her a slice and she looks to her grandmother who nods and then to us with a ferocious nod. I give her a slice as well and she shares with her grandmother.

Today is our day off.

Vladimir will take us for the day to tour St. Petersburg. So we take our leave with expressions of thanks and race off to get ready.

We have a very busy day ahead of us and will be gone for the whole day, so we pack and dress accordingly.

We pile into a large van/small party bus. We drive across the river and into town. We stop and pick up Vladimir's actress friend, who is a professional tour guide, and who will give us her tour of the town. She jumps into the van, and from word go she clicks into tour mode with her ‘'to your left” this…and “on your right” that. It was clear to me within the very first block that I had a choice. Try to keep up and immerse myself into every single detail or sit back and relax and let the city wash over me.

My favorite is when Vladimir interrupts her. He adds in his own details about the city he grew up in. Every so often the two of them argue in Russian about the path we will take and why their way is going to get us there better.

Such a conversation occurs as we try for more than twenty minutes to get close to the Church of the Spilled Blood. We discover that the streets to it are actually blocked off and two blocks away is as close as we get. It is very big and fancy and looks like the sister to St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. It marks the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt in 1881, hence the name.

We stop at a grassy park area just the other side of the river, where we are reminded to watch our wallets. I walk to the edge of the bridge and look across. The Neva River is about as wide as the Mississippi River, if not a little wider. There is a light breeze that blows through my hair and face, convincing me of it's beauty. With it's taste of the ocean it whispers:

This is a perfect moment.

You will remember it, and for the rest of time you will search for this breath that contains the most ions you've ever inhaled.

There were little tourist carts set up and a coffee hut that was shaped like a giant coffee cup. We only had 15 minutes but I took a look at the Babushka dolls. I had promised to bring one home for my mother.

Now is as good a time as any.

But then you have to carry it…

I end my inner conflict by picking the one that has the 8 nesting dolls.

Every block, there are impressive buildings with sculptures and monuments. Entire bronze brigades of horses carrying Generals or chariots exploding out the top of a shopping center or theater. There was this one horse - the artist used the backside of the horse's anatomy to sculpt the outline of his wife's lover's face - forever cast by betrayal as a horse's ass. That one was my favorite. Between the Summer Palace and the Winter Palace and the American Consulate and the home where Pushkin died, my mind boggled.

We go to St. Isaac's Cathedral.

I've been to a lot of cathedrals, and they are designed to invoke awe, but this place is simply next level. The most impressive aspect is the lapis and malachite pillars. I've never even seen a large piece of either the blue or green stones. I've only seen them in jewelry, and these are floor to ceiling and carved into the shape of pillars. Never seen anything like it. Every inch of wall is covered in a spectacular ode to Russian Orthodox versions of the story of Jesus, but I gravitate toward these tablets in the middle of the cathedral.   They stand about 8-10 feet tall, and, under inspection, reveal a mosaic of tiles that make up the picture.

We head to a lovely modern café with colorful tiles lining the floor and walls and stairs. I have an affinity for masterful tiling. It wafts over me as a feeling of order out of chaos. I have potato leek soup with smoked trout and a salad with pepitas. All is right with the world.

I step out to the bathroom, and when I return, our group is gone.

Aw, come on guys. Again?

(There was a night in Shanghai when we went on a river boat tour, and I was too busy taking photos to notice that the boat had stopped, my group disembarked, and the boat started off again. I ended up getting a cab driver who used his horn instead of his brakes, and I met everyone later at the hotel, so I guess it was fine.  But seriously?)

I ask which way to the Hermitage and start walking.  If I walk swiftly I can catch them. I see Doerr hurriedly walking back and catching up with me.

He asks me: Again?

I shrug my shoulders, and we catch up with the rest of the group.

The city square is massive. There is a giant angel on a spire in the center and the Winter Palace where the Hermitage is housed.

 

The Hermitage is a museum. A world renowned museum.

I could do an entire blog just on the Hermitage and my experience there.

But, suffice it to say that now is the moment when I will have to go off on my own. It's just how I roll. I've got to do my own thing. I sneak into the exit of the museum and go backwards. Somehow I end up going down a hallway filled with art crates. And I find a secret corner of the museum where I spend an hour staring at Siberian horse bridles that were decorated with wood carvings of deer antlers and saddles with the most elaborate inlaid designs ever.  From the 11th Century.  I see only 3 people.

On the way out, I catch up with the group as if we'd been together the whole time.

We go off in search of a river boat cruise.

We hop on a bus which is packed. There is a woman who sells tickets but she is at the other end of the bus and has to navigate herself through the entire bus at every stop to get to everyone who needs to purchase a ticket. This seems like a bad method for ticket distribution.

Apparently I like river boat tours-especially at my favorite time of day. That golden time when the sun is at that angle that makes everything gorgeous. I get to put my feet up and just take photos and feel the wind on my face. The weather couldn't have been more perfect. I look to the rest of our group spread out over the boat and smile at the sight of everyone having their own experience with the city.   As the tour guide continues her tour completely in Russian over a speaker, I can see that her deep melodic vocal rhythm has lulled both Elizabeth and Jesse asleep in the seats next to me.

Somewhere between the warmth of the sun kissing my cheeks all day or the moisture in the air that nourished any part of me that could've been parched, I fell in love with the cracks and spots where the city shows it's age and can't hide it's wear and tear.

After the boat ride I stay behind on my own for a dinner. I go to the Soviet Café where Vladimir had tried to take us the other night but it was too full. It has a red bicycle with flowers in a basket chained to the stairwell that leads down to it. Russian comfort food. I have the Chicken Kiev with mashed potatoes and cranberries. They bring dark rye bread that I cannot eat and I spend a fair amount of time removing the breading on the Kiev. It is worthwhile and there is a Russian War movie from the 50's on the TV. This place reminds me of Gorky's which used to be a 24 hour Russian Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles that I spent a good portion of my nights.

I feel at home even though everything feels familiar but not.   Even though the people look like me, but not. Their clothes, their hair, the way they walk. Like me but not-in ways I simply can't find words for.

This is a riddle that perplexes me. I'm not sure I will ever fully understand how St. Petersburg grabbed a hold of me demanding that I love it. Courting me with all of the riches the world has to offer and impressing itself into my soul.

You don't have to leave tomorrow.

Yes. I do. I have to go to Moscow. Tomorrow.

But Moscow cannot give you what you want. St. Petersburg has everything for you.

I wouldn't have even come if it were not for Moscow. I must go. I must.

You can go but it will not love you the way I can.

You think you must-but remember that I said this to you first.

You will never forget me and I will never let you go of you.


THEATRE MOVEMENT BAZAAR'S JOURNEY TO RUSSIA, Day Four

Day 4:

Show Day

St. Petersburg, Theater Buff

A nerve wracking day.

 

To say that all of us were a little tense would be an enormous understatement. There is quibbling. Our show is so tightly choreographed that the slightest shift can throw off the whole train. We had a chair issue. This chair thing, with up to ten moving chairs in play at any time, can derail everything. A moving oscillation that, if it doesn't land right the first time, it won't ever be right. The stakes are huge and the fears about the chairs are just a representation of how huge.

Why couldn't I have been an accountant? Or have a regular job? One that doesn't require that I stand in front of thousands of people and bare my soul. But sometimes there is a simplicity in it that cannot be found anywhere else but through the eye of the needle. Sink or swim, we were going to do this show.

I've got my headphones and my Dior ultra dark fancy eye make up. I don't have time for perfection - I have time to smudge and breathe and smudge and line and wand and line and spray and jewelry and hose and girdle and dress and spray and blot and wig and pin pin pin…pin--  Good god there are so many pins, but tonight it goes on right and tight and this show is going to happen and we are going to give it to them our way. And love it or not, they will come with us.

The house is packed. 400 plus.

Sold Out.

First bell. I sneak off to the back stage area behind the scrim. Do my preshow ritual in the blue of backstage.

Second bell.

The cast files into the backstage area. We have our huddle. Vladimir comes by with bubbling enthusiasm.

Break your legs!. He cheers to us.

Break your legs!

We choose him for our show mantra. Our prayer to do the show for. But first, we breathe…together. 1, 2, 3 Vladimir!

3rd bell and preshow announcement.

I assume it says turn off your cell phones but nothing about photography because as long as you don't flash you can take photos all you like. Perhaps it says, be nice to the Americans. Let's all be on our good diplomatic behavior. They've had an easier history and as a result feel entitled to be treated special. Whatever it says, they start clapping. Their enthusiasm matches that of Vladimir.

The air is electric as time evaporates and the lights go down and me and my two sisters take the stage and sit as one.  The music starts and…

We are off. I make a little mistake in the opening dance, nobody but me knows…and maybe the pen of our director, and the rest of the cast who just saw it, but it doesn't matter. No feathers no fluff. (Their version of break a leg)

Stick in there.

We finish the dance and there is applause.

If there is applause after the dance, then they want to be with us. And they are.

What transpires over the next 90 minutes is that indescribable ephemeral thing that is exchanged between the performer and the audience. You were either there or you weren't. Me and my castmates and that audience. It is magic.  To try and put more of a name on it would be tantamount to finding words for your first love or the first time you knew you were free. It's sacred. It's an intimacy that is shared.

Come curtain call, I am in tears. I mean, I already am because of the play and it's the end of life as all of us know it. But then comes the clapping - the rhythmic clapping Russian audiences are known for. We have our dance reprise, and then we say thank you to the audience, and then we are joined by our director.  It is a tradition for the director to join us onstage. Tina Kronis, this is your moment. To come home and stand on a Russian stage again. More tears.

And then come the flowers. Patrons come to the edge of the stage and hand us flowers. I've never received flowers from someone I didn't know before.

One woman comes with only 3 roses.

One for each sister.

I kneel down to receive my yellow rose.

I am crying. She is crying.

This woman takes my face in her hands.

She kisses me on each cheek saying:

Spasibo, Spasibo.

I say:

Thank you, thank you.

I have no idea who this woman is, and all I saw of her was her eyes as she kept kissing me on each cheek. I had been so worried that I couldn't comprehend the extent of Russia's history and what it must've been like to grow up there that I had to surrender the whole idea and just speak from my heart and try to touch another person's heart. She was my proof. The language of the heart will always win out across any barrier.

If I never stand on another stage ever again, I will always have that moment.

After the show there is a tradition of being hosted for a reception.

It is just a reception for us, given by the producers and the theater staff and those who worked on getting us there without even knowing us. There are fancy little cakes and bubbly drinks with fruit and mint and perogi-type delicious dough balls encasing meat.

There are toasts. This elderly man who has apparently run this theater for 50 years gives a toast. I can't remember everything that was said, and I'm sure all of us took something different away from the night and his speech but it was something to the effect of how important Chekhov is and the gift of seeing ourselves in his writing and such.

"You could've been Russian with your understanding of the play and its nuances and its humanity. And now we raise a glass to you. You are now Russian and have a place to come back to."

Now to load out the show and pack it up for Moscow.

When we left the theater we discovered a few people who had waited outside for us to come out. This is now at least 2 hours later! There is a woman who doles out flowers and candies to us and then later sends me a Facebook request. We passed the front of the theater and there are 3 or so older couples who say hello and holler "Thank You & Spasibo!" to us from across the courtyard. It appears as if they have been sitting and chatting and waltzing and enjoying the late night dusk and breeze that lightens the evening air.

Some of us stop for snacks at a 24 hour grocery.

We found everything from fresh fruit I've never seen before to cheese and snacks and these weird cookies which were like a strawberry meringue, to crab-flavored chips that were  refrigerated.

Back at the hotel we all converge on Caitlin and Elizabeth's room - they seemed to have the most space - to toast from the vodka that had been given as an opening night gift and to share snacks. There was a giant bag of these chocolate candies of various flavors of cherry, orange and coffee.

We toast and laugh and enjoy. I went to my room to see if I could reach super-hubby Jeff.

The sun is finally at its lowest, and it appeared to be night. For at least 2 hours it will be. Until the sun rises again at 3:30 am.

I will take advantage of this darkness for a restful sleep after a job well done.

 

 


THEATRE MOVEMENT BAZAAR'S JOURNEY TO RUSSIA, Day Three

DAY THREE

Theater & the Theatre

When I finally wake, it is 9:30. Ear plugs are amazing things.   I slept through Kendra getting up and pumping 3 times and showering and heading off to breakfast without waking me up.

I throw on jeans and a scarf around my hair and go down to breakfast. The gal behind the buffet asks me something in Russian. Not only am I barely awake but I really should have learned to speak some Russian before I came on this trip. In very careful English she says:

Room number?  Ah, yes. 202.

Spasibo.  Thank you.

I love a buffet in a different country. I have absolutely no idea what I am going to get. An egg soufflé type thing that I can't quite figure out.  It is fluffy and cut into rectangular squares and for the next 2 weeks I eat it every where - I never do figure it out)

A variety of pork breakfast items. Hard boiled eggs. Yoghurt.

Beautiful cabbage salads of a few varieties, and pastries. Good Lord. Gloriously flakey, unique, filled and topped pastries of many varieties. None of which I can eat.  Save it for the blog about food.

As I leave the hotel for the theater, I am very pleased that I downloaded my Here We Go app recommended in Money magazine. Offline maps - yes! We are outside of the city center but it is still quite bustling.  Giant apartment buildings that kind of look like the projects - but only in their uniformity and size. A cat comes towards me and acts like he wants to be petted and then darts off through a tiny portal into the underground of a building. There are flower pots hanging below the street signs.

All of the streets are marked in Cyrillic only, however the map has the street names in the English alphabet, and they don't match.

 

Theatre Buff

Theater Buff. A large austere building with a beautiful, inviting courtyard.

I go to the stage door and there is a man just coming on shift as he puts on a tie. I point to my Track 3 t-shirt and he motions to wait. I type on my google translate I am here to rehearse and again he motions to me to wait. He hands me a wrapped candy instead and puts on his security guard jacket. The candy is a caramel kind of something with nougat chunks. Tasty. He takes me to the lobby. Shows me the pictures of artists on the wall. “Famous” he says. He takes me to the theater and sure enough I find our crew. I say thank you.

Spasibo. Dasvedanya.

There is a gold mantle on the stage. It is a huge step up from our previous mantles. This one looks like it goes in a house. Off stage right is a giant birthday cake. I wish we could use it but Olga would have to wheel it on stage.

We go down to a rehearsal room that has mirrors and ballet barres. We have a long warm-up. It takes a good full hour before my body, that has spent the previous 30 hours straight seated, wakes up.

We rehearse and work a few spots. Lunch up to the 6th floor.  I have the cold borscht and whitefish with eggplant and rice with dill. There are all of these beautiful fresh veggies cut up to nosh on. Cucumber, red peppers and radish and what appears to be flat parsley.

There is a compote drink that is sweet but I am not sure what the fruit/veggie inside it is. Would taste great on ice with some fresh mint.  I will not have ice for the next 14 days.  For the same reason that you can't get ice in Mexico, or China or many other places in the world.  Because you shouldn't drink the water.

Vladimir is our producer. I met him for the first time at the airport. He sits at the last table that is set only for one. I ask him if I can join him as we at the 3 sisters table have had more than one meal together. Vladimir is originally from St. Petersburg. You can see a sense of pride in this fact. The same kind of pride you can see in the people on the street.

He tells me that he has lived in the US since he had to leave in the 1980's. He was given the option to go to another country or go to jail.  I can see that he misses it.  He has been producing mostly music acts. This is the first play he has brought to Russia. Quite a risk. He will stay on after us to tour a jazz band.

It turns out that the American Consulate is actually the one hosting us. They found the money through grants and endowments.

(When we meet them later there is a fascinating conversation about how it all works and how it has shifted with our current administration. The mandate has become that public affairs and culture aren't a priority and 30% across the board-across the world is expected to be cut by the end of the year. They don't usually bring plays over here but this has been in the works for a couple of years now. Quite a risk.)

I ask Vladimir how people feel about Putin. He says that critical-thinking people have never liked him. But he was very popular in the beginning.   He says that people are realizing how corrupt things really are.  The night before we arrived there were hundreds of people arrested from the square in St. Petersburg and the Red Square in Moscow. People, mostly young people, had flooded the squares protesting corruption. He says the young people don't have any fear of the government like the previous generations do. He hopes that they won't have to and they will be able to shift the tide.

I ask Vladimir how Russians feel about Americans. Do they hate us?

There is a pause. "Wary.  They are coming around," he says. He urges me to understand the massive amount of anti-American propaganda that is spread and has been spread over decades. I mention that our own Cold War propaganda has dominated our view for decades too. He asserts that it is not the same though. Some is warranted on both sides but the tactics and lies on the part of the Russian government are…I'm not sure I heard clearly what the next part was.  I feel keenly aware of my fixed point of view and maybe we all have one of our own country.

We finish and go back to the hotel to clean up. Vladimir is taking us into St. Petersburg to the theater tonight. The Bol'shoy Dramaticheskiy Teatr. The company is doing a version of Dostoevsky's The Gambler. It will be avante-garde and very Russian.

No, you should not have worn the cute shoes, Dylan. You should have worn the flats and you know it.

Yes, you were a genius for bringing a power bar because no, we will not have dinner before the show.

No, there is no Diet Coke in Russia.  Not before the show, not when I am still on California time and it is 3 am to me. No, none for you. And yes, it will be 10:30 pm before you sit down for dinner.

The theater is stunning.  A very well visited palace. Vladimir has arranged a tour of the theater's museum. I am blown away by the production pictures and costume watercolor drawings and the stage dioramas. The level of drama and fervor and specificity in every aspect of production is extraordinary.

While the tour director was taking us through, an entire crew of young women ushers in black blouses with long black skirts assembled in the stairway and chatted until they were silenced by the person who was obviously in charge, who then pointed at us.

During this tour, they pointed to a production they did of the American play “Our City”. Did you mean “Our Town”?

Yes, yes, yes. My apologies. Our Town. We didn't believe it could possibly work. Everyone is seated the entire play. But surprisingly, it did work. Maybe there is something to it.

One of the productions was Three Sisters and Masha's costume was on display. I got goosebumps over my entire body.

Once we finished our tour, the lobby and foyer and bar and common areas were all teeming with people. I noticed some people had bouquets of flowers. I wonder if they have friends in the cast.

The theater itself is delicious - a 500 person seating. We are all the way down in front on house right. The chairs are fancy, like dining chairs with a rococo flair and are individually linked together.

The show is a spectacular extravaganza of movement, dance, song, exploding enthusiasm and very deep monologues with the malaise of all that life's ennui can contain. It is rich and colorful and dark and mysterious and light as a feather. I have no idea what it is about as it is in Russian.

The most thrilling and informative part of the evening was the curtain call. Once it started there were Bravos and the Russian rhythmic clapping. People came down to the stage and delivered flowers to the cast. The cast went off and came back on. This went on for 10 minutes. It was such a beautiful exchange. A relationship.

Afterwards, onward to find nourishment.  To a Georgian food restaurant. Vladimir's family is originally from Georgia - the country, not the state in the US - and he assures us this will be the best food we could ever eat.  "It's just up here and around the corner," he says.

The Georgian restaurant had just closed, but Vladimir speaks to them and it turns out they will accommodate us if we can order just a few things from the menu. So, Vladimir chooses some items The owner shakes his head no. More choosing. More nos. Owner picks. Food on its way. I was happy that Kendra could advocate for my food needs. Chicken skewers as well. Done and done.

Must say it was the best chicken skewers and grilled veggies of my life.  Or perhaps I really was that hungry. All of the spices were so delicate and made the flavor of whatever I was eating come out, rather than the spices being the only thing I was tasting.

At the end of the day, I had walked 8.6 miles, half of which were done in my booties. Yes, Dylan, booties still count as a heels!

As I flipped through my photos of the day to choose a couple to text home - walking along canals, lilac trees in bloom and brilliant sculptures - I wondered about what our show tomorrow might hold for us.

Would we receive an ovation in any small part like the one we'd seen tonight?

Would we receive flowers or will they boo us out of the country because we've ruined Chekhov's crowning achievement and disgraced ourselves in the process?


THEATRE MOVEMENT BAZAAR'S JOURNEY TO RUSSIA, Day Two

DAY TWO

St. Petersburg arrival.  It is now Tuesday night.

Because you lose a day with the time difference.  It's okay, you get the day it back when you come home.

As we drive toward St. Petersburg it is unclear how long it will take us to get to the hotel.

We pass large industrial plants.  Large apartment building complexes. Extensive complexes of housing. And everything is green. Tree lined streets and streets lined with trees in the middle with trains running through the center.

There are swarms of people walking everywhere. Apparently, outside of the city there are very specific spots where the transportation stops. And then you will see people just walking the rest of the way from wherever that stop was. There are paths worn into the grass in every direction. Everyone heading somewhere.

As we near the city, traffic crawls to a stop.

St. Petersburg's traffic is terrible. I am now beginning to understand why the driver wouldn't give us an ETA on arrival. From that spot it takes over an hour to get across St. Petersburg to the other side of the river where we are staying.

St. Petersburg has over 600 bridges.  The canals are all manmade and it is surrounded by islands and rivers. It is spectacular and old. And there is a monument to history around every corner.  A city of palaces.  It feels a little lost in time but only from my eyes-it doesn't feel in conflict with itself at all.

Apparently, Peter the Great was really excited by the French and German stylings so he hired all of the best architects and engineers in Europe to plan out and build St. Petersburg to be the country's capital.  You can see it and feel it in the city's feng shui.  Walls of city blocks that go on and on in a perfect line, until the line is interrupted with something that was a mistake and they didn't want to correct Peter the Great or something was added on as the city expanded.

Once we arrive at the hotel, there is a camera crew waiting for us.  Yes, I have lipgloss handy for this moment exactly.

Yes, liquid eyeliner was definitely the right choice. And yes, eye drops, you are my best friend.

Lights on. They film us unloading our luggage. And I have mentioned before how extensive this process is.  It seems a little strange until I can see that they are filming Aaron's bare feet.  They interview our director Tina while Richard checks us into the hotel. Then they want to interview the 3 sisters, but we only have 2 sisters cause 1 sister stayed behind to wait for a lost piece of luggage and is coming after its retrieval.

Dylan Jones & Mark Doerr.

Okay the Russian man interviewing us would settle for Masha and Vershinin.

Alright Doerr - let's tag team this thing.

I can honestly say this is the first time I've been interviewed in a different language.  Vera, our host from the American Consulate, whom we've just met upon arrival, translates the questions for us.

Do I feel like I might be a little bit Russian after doing this play?

Da. Da, da, da.  Yes. Yes, yes, yes I do.

Do I understand how important the heart of Masha and Vershinin is?   That it is the heart of the people represented in these characters?

Yes. Then I'm sure I say something amazing (my secret internal communication was this: Yes, I treasure how revered and known this is and I promise that I will take the greatest of care with the hearts of the Russian people and the iconography of Masha and Vershinin and all that they represent.)

Da.

Then - hey we knew it was coming - the question is something to the effect of this:

I watched your trailer and there was a lot of movement and dancing and song and was this intentional or just some student approach to find a new way into the work to make it seem like a re-creation. Was this on purpose?

To which I answer:

Yes, absolutely everything in the play is intentional and on purpose and I think you will find that it is a distillation of the play, rather than an outside the box for no reason but provocation exercise.

Da.

He proceeds with:

Well, I mean you are from LA not New York so…

I refrained from my speech about how vibrant Los Angeles theater is and how we have so many incredibly talented people there.

Da. Yes, we are from Los Angeles.

Doerr handles his questions with ease and grace and we have a high five.

I feel pretty proud of myself for not launching into my speech about Los Angeles theater - any restraint at all, being this punchy, is a win.   I mention this to Tina, since they are such a crucial part of this vibrancy. Tina, however has lived in Russia and studied at the Moscow Arts Theatre and provides a different perspective.

Yes, but this is Russia. They have a different relationship to theater. You can't really understand it until you've experienced it. It is an actual relationship.

Speechifying silenced. I look forward to the experience I will get to have and I say thank you.

The elevator is tiny.  Breakfast is until 10 am.

Pure luxury.

There is a step up into not only our rooms but through every doorway. It takes a minute to get adjusted as to not trip over. I remember it being the same in China - something about not being sued all the time and different regulations. The step up into the room reminds me of a cabin on a boat. There is a large, tall French window, two twin beds, a desk and a fridge. Plenty large enough for Kendra and I to room - we've certainly had smaller.

She is my roomie on most of the tours and I am grateful for her friendship. She has just left her 6-month old baby boy for the first time and she is on the floor in the doorway of the bathroom with her iPad.

Do you want me to come back? I ask.

No, I'm going to FaceTime with Doug and the baby just for a minute.

She squeals with joy as they answer and then promptly bursts into tears.

She wraps the call up early.  I give her a giant hug.  We both cry. I can't think of a harder thing to do than what she is doing.  I tell her how proud I am of her.   I make a joke about how it can only get better from here and she won't ever have to do that again for the first time. Now laughing and crying and a fair amount of snot.

We plug in our plug converters and she sets up her breast pump.

Lucky you!

This becomes our joke - the thing she says to me each time she has to pump.

I text Jeff letting him know I've arrived safe and sound and realize I am ravenous.

It seemed ridiculous to even me that I chose to bring food from Trader Joe's and my Nutri-bullet and powdered goat's milk so I could make smoothies with my protein powder. I even took cute pants out of my suitcase because the Nutri-bullet is surprisingly heavy. It is also at that moment that I realized my plug converter is only a plug converter for my Apple items. Another great reason Kendra is my roomie because she has brought an entire surge protected station.

Lucky you indeed!

But I will tell you I was happy as can be when instead of having to go find food I was able to pour some granola into a coffee cup, make a batch of milk from powder and nosh with a coffee stirrer.

It is midnight. The white nights are upon us and it is only dusk outside. As dark as it gets? I am very grateful for my eye mask and this twin sized bed.

 

Originally posted on:

https://better-lemons.com/99-seat-theater-in-la/theatre-movement…russia-day-three/

 


THEATRE MOVEMENT BAZAAR'S JOURNEY TO RUSSIA, Day One

DAY ONE

Flight to St. Petersburg - It's finally here! Bucket-list-dream-come-true day!

We, the cast and crew of Track 3, Theatre Movement Bazaar's modernization of Anton Chekhov's “Three Sisters”, are flying to Russia as the first American company invited to participate in the International Chekhov Festival in Moscow.

The Three Sisters finally get to go to Moscow.  If you are not familiar with this play-I hope you will be inspired to read it.

It will be me as Masha; Kendra Chell as my older sister/spinster Olga; Caitlyn Conlin as my younger sister Irina; Mark Skeens as my squandering brother Andrei; Elizabeth Ellson as Andrei's cheating wife Natasha; Mark Doerr as my lover Vershinin; Jesse Myers as Tuzenbach, Irina's intended; David LM MacIntyre as Solyony, not Irina's intended, but will stop at nothing until he is.

Then the masterminds:

Tina Kronis is our savant director/choreographer and her husband Richard Alger is our savant writer/technical master/everything else.

And last but not least, Loretta, Mark Doerr's wife, and Aaron Francis, our stage manager who never wears shoes.

TMB's tour group ogling an ornate building in St. Petersburg

Tina and Richard are the brains and bones of Theatre Movement Bazaar. This is my 3rd tour with them and with this cast - with the exception of Elizabeth Ellison, who is fresh to us.

I never like saying goodbye to my gorgeous husband Jeff Gardner.  I don't do it often. By choice.  And today was no different.  My husband dropped me at the fly away. We hugged as we waited for the rest of the group to show up. I slipped him a card I'd written. We kissed and said goodbye. Only 2 weeks. I wish I could see his face tonight when he finds the card I snuck onto his pillow. And the one I hid in the fridge. Might be a couple of days til he gets to the napkin that I buried at least 7 deep that says - never mind, that's private.

The first bus is full so we have to wait for the next one a half hour later. Cutting it a little closer than any of us would like. I make a point of chatting with our skycap Emmett.

It is 2:20 when we get to LAX. Our flight leaves at 4:05! Elizabeth and Aaron have been standing in line for 40 minutes already -a line that is still 50 deep in front and behind them. I finagled my way to the front of the business class line and asked if they can help us since we are such a large group with so much luggage. You see we are going to perform in Russia and it is imperative that we get on that plane.

What most people don't understand is the extent of the luggage necessary when touring. The props, the costumes, the shoes - everything needed to take the show on the road. Gaff tape, glow tape, back ups of what is going to break in the trunks during transit that you won't find out about until you are at the theater and can't get a replacement. You get your one personal bag and then you check a show bag and when there are 13 of you plus a bag each that's 26 bags.

We are an extensive sprawling motley crew taking up entire aisles.

This is when I meet our producer Vladimir. In the midst of luggage and all of the global travelers of LAX's brand new International Terminal.

Once we get into the security line, I asked the security ladies if we were going to make our flight and if not, could they help us. She says that our airline never leaves on time because they always wait for everyone. I don't know if it is too early to read some cultural innuendo into this because I've never heard of such a thing.

Once we get through security it is 4:24.

They haven't started boarding yet?  Sweet!

I grab dinner and snacks since I have no idea whether there will be any food served that I can eat.  (My restricted menu-that is an entire other blog)

As we board the plane we are greeted by a crew of delightful, beautiful stewardesses in red dresses with matching scarves and shoes. Svetlana, Anatasia, & Oksana.

I am always shocked by how large a 737 airbus is. 12 seats across separated by 2 aisles-50+ rows deep…they are really big.

Our section of the plane consists of us, a group of 50 Russian school girls probably junior high school age, several groups of families at least 3 generations wide and at least a dozen infants and toddlers.

An hour or so in, Doerr can't find his glasses and while helping him look for them an Armenian woman in broken English asks what we were looking for. She had seen the glasses and placed them in a seat pocket for safe keeping. I get up to retrieve them and the flight attendant scolds me in Russian and points to the seatbelt sign.

Turbulentnost. Turbulence.

Several hours into the 11-hour flight, we fly over Antarctica.   On one side of the plane, the sun has been setting for hours. On the other side, it is a mostly still full moon and below I can see ice floes. I wonder about the separation of the ice floes and how much it's grown due to global warming. I wonder if Jeff has found that card on his pillow yet.

4 movies and 3 magazines later, we start our descent.

First sight of Moscow through the clouds is forest. Trees and lakes. A whole forest of birch trees and rivers. Then these houses. With terracotta roofs and painted green roofs and bright orange roofs.

The airport is a little confusing - customs is always perplexing. I don't like the sensation of having to be on my good behavior. Makes me feel like I did something wrong.

The signs are written in Cyrillic, English & Mandarin.

We have to go all the way to the end.  Of the airport.  And downstairs.  And then to the other end.  To wait for the bus that will take us to the tarmac to board the plane.

Funny that we had a 5 hour layover and our flight is leaving in 15 minutes?

Luckily we get on that plane too.

 

 


Choreographer/Director Keith Young On Working W/The Best & Sharing His Craft W/The Masses

SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! will be opening July 26 at The Pasadena Playhouse under the slick choreographic vision of Keith Young. Amidst running his SHOUT cast through his distinctive dance routines, Keith managed to find a spare moment to answer a few of our questions.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Keith!
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was the first to combine gospel with secular music and became a big crossover hit in the 1930s. Was your family or you growing up aware of her music?
No, I wasn't aware of her or her music; not sure about my family.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe caught a lot of flack for taking gospel music out of the church and into nightclubs. Did your family have any opinions on that matter?
Yes, it wasn't really acceptable to combine the two.
So what styles of dancing can we expect to see in SHOUT SISTER SHOUT!? What was popular or indicative of the 1930s and 40s?

As always, I will use the movement to nourish the storytelling (gospel-inspired), and this show has various fun styles within that.

Which songs of Sister Rosetta Tharpe will you be choreographing to? "The Train"? "Down By the Riverside"? "Strange Things Happening Every Day"?
There is a little something to all of her songs, and there are many. But my approach has been to allow you to see the music.

With her distinctive vocals and spirited electric guitar playing, she became known as the Godmother of Rock & Roll. Will SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! audience be able to see similarities of movements to later artists like Little Richard or Elvis?
Yes, the likes of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and others.

What aspects of SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! drew you to commit your artistic energies?
I think Rosetta was an amazing and powerful force. As a trailblazer, she really broke down so many walls and expectations. She also was an incredibly vibrant personality, woman, and artist. Having said that, she was primarily looked over, and I hope my participation will help bring her and her artistry to the forefront.
Earlier this year, you choreographed and directed FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE. Did directing seem for you like the obvious next step after choreographing?
Absolutely! For me, it was a natural progression. I also didn't have to tell the choreographer what I wanted, or ask the director to try something - a fun, timesaving fact.
Would you describe the challenges in choreographing in the different mediums you're quite busy in - commercials, television, theatre, Carnival Cruise lines?
I am fortunate to be able to create in so many different mediums. Each one does have unique and specific challenges. But for me, the larger objective remains the same - to make sure that what I create perpetuates the story, and helps bring the overall vision and objective to fruition.

How do you choreograph for a performer cast for their acting chops rather than their dancing abilities?
This is very common. My approach is to embrace what they have naturally and embellish on that, giving them pride of ownership and not discouraging them.

What dance classes did you, yourself, start in (jazz, modern, ballet)?
I was insatiable and pursued them all.

Which style of dance did you prefer when you began?
Modern.

You started your choreography career as Twyla Tharp's assistant on Milo Forman's Amadeus. Please tell us what Twlya first recognized in you and what lessons you learnt from her.
I can't really speak on what she saw in me, but I was determined. Regarding the lessons, that list is too long. But I will say she is a remarkable visionary and can stand proudly in the pantheon of the greats. 
Would you consider her your first mentor?
No, that honor would be my mother.
Can you briefly describe your experience as rehearsal director for the American Ballet Theatre's staging of The Sinatra Suites with Twyla and Baryshnikov?
Having been an original member of her NINE SINATRA SONGS, I knew most of the roles, so when Twyla and Misha condensed it to create The Sinatra Suites, I was asked to be the rehearsal director. It was such an honor. I was humbled by the opportunity to engage with these legendary artists.

Have you ever been awe-struck by the performer you're hired to work with?
I wouldn't say AWEstruck by anyone, but there have been many that have amazed me with their focus, talent and work ethic.

Your professional resumé contains so many name-dropping gems, we'd be here all week discussing them all. Sooo, allow me to name a few and you say a word or a sentence about each person or show you choreographed, OK?

The 78th Annual Academy Awards' production number of Oscar-winning song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp"-
This was an extraordinary experience. I felt as if I was on the front line of a cultural mash-up.
So You Think You Can Dance -
Am so glad shows like this exist, and have brought dance into the living rooms of people who would not normally get a chance to experience it. Was happy to be part of it.

Dancing With the Stars -
Again, I like the accessibility to dance these shows provide, a fun one.
Kristen Chenoweth in Pushing Daisies -
A divinely charming, hard-working and talented artist.
Emmy nom for The Drew Carey Show -
Having done many episodes, I feel this was instrumental in changing dance on TV at the time. They worked really hard which I really appreciated.

Naomi Campbell in the  SuperBowl SOBE commercial -
She was willing, and beautiful.

Jane Krakowski in Trop 50 commercials -
Such a pro, and so full of willingness and talent.

Meryl Streep & Alec Baldwin in It's Complicated -
Really love the director, Nancy Meyers, and was really taken by Meryl's phenomenal ability to be in the moment, and her consistency. Alec was a lot of fun and willing.

Mel Gibson in What Women Want -
Simply loved his work ethic. He worked so hard, and never gave up.

RENT, the movie -
I'd have to say this was the most meaningful, in that the content, objective, and message were aimed at compassion, kindness and tolerance - virtues I cherish and prescribe to.

So what's in the near future for Keith Young? Any more directorial gigs?
I certainly hope so. I really love the opportunity to affect life through my art, and will hopefully continue to have the chance to honor my craft. I am in the process of creating a show that's been on my mind for a bit .

What dance steps would you love to see your SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! audience attempting as they leave Pasadena Playhouse?
I'd like to see them dance their way over to the box office to get tickets for them and their friends to see SHOUT again!!! 
Thanks again, Keith! I look forward to seeing your dancing feets SHOUT.
For tickets and schedule of SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! through August 20, 2017, log onto www.pasadenaplayhouse.org


Inside the Creative Minds Behind MEMORY 5D+ - A Harmonic, Yet Explosive Experience

I had the pleasure of sitting down with four of the creatives of MEMORY 5D+ - AN IMMERSIVE MUSICAL ODYSSEY TO A DISTANT PAST at their satellite production offices in Alhambra - from China, its creator Ulan Xuerong, musicians Erkin Abdulla and Lucina Yue; and from California, writer John Hughes.

With the wonderful assist of Eileen Cheng who translated for the three Mandarin artists, we were able to get noteworthy insights into the makings of MEMORY 5D+, which will be having its world premiere at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium May 26 and 27.

Ulan, the founder and current general manager of her production company China Film HuaTeng Movies & TV Culture Company (CFH) shrewdly sought out contributors familiar with Western tastes in entertainment to introduce the Yin-&-Yang-rooted, classic Mandarin arts to non-Asian audiences. Quite evident in the round table interview, just in first-impression appearances, the cultural mix from traditional Mandarin to blended Chinese and Western to Americanized Western - a perfect example of Yin & Yang in everyday life. Ulan (the total female Yin) carried a lovely air of guarded formality dressed most stylishly from her striking jade jewelry to her shiny silver oxfords. Lucina and Erkin possessed a open ease in their respective smart, fashionable attire. John (the total male Yang), accustomed to working behind the scenes as a senior visual effects artist at Dreamworks Animation, attended in comfortable casual jeans and a Oakley-logo-ed tee. The words 'harmony' and 'love' (and the ideas behind them) were brought up repeatedly in their descriptions of MEMORY 5D+.

The Tao philosophy of Yin & Yang serves as the basis of MEMORY 5D+, with complementary opposites, that when combined, fuse to form a stronger unit of cosmic strengths.

Yin's attributes include qualities of darkness, softness, femininity, being cold and wet; and is associated with water, earth, moon and nighttime. Yang - hardness, masculinity, being hot and dry; and is linked with fire, sky, the sun and daytime.  Results are harmonic against the background of universal creation, the opposing forces combining to form the mountains and rivers and other harmonic elements of nature.

The title itself MEMORY 5D+ refers to Ulan's recollections of her beloved Chinese cultural heritage, presented in five dimensions via creative designer Tom E. Marzullo's multi-dimensional, immersive, state-of-the-art concert production techniques (including high-def digital video and lighting, surround sound, lasers and aromatic sensory technology). Don't worry, no 3-D glasses needed to be worn. But do expect show-stopping visuals from Tom (whose own impressive resumé includes designing and directing international tours for Justin Bieber, Prince, Luther Vandross and KISS).

Ulan trained as a child to become an actress. "Acting is in my blood."The beginning seeds of MEMORY 5D+ came to Ulan decades before, but she finally started working to realize her vision just three years ago. Ulan wanted to share her centuries-old Chinese tradition via music, dance and visuals. Ulan founded CFH to implement her worldwide delivery of her proud, creative histories. Ulan chose the specific musical instruments in the show with their very distinctive sounds as to how they fit into enhance the MEMORY 5D+ story line. Ulan's hoping the Pasadena audiences like the show. "It would mean we did it right!" Afterwards, CFH plans to tour MEMORY 5D+ internationally.

John credits yun-qi (Chinese for 'luck') and networking (between friends and friends of friends), that put him together with Ulan. One day, John came home to find his wife (who's Chinese to his Liverpudlian lineage) chatting with Ulan in their living room. After hearing Ulan's passionate, very clear description of what was to become MEMORY 5D+, John made the easy choice of signing on to script and shape Ulan's vision. "Although it's a show focused on traditional Chinese music, it's also highly visual in a way that I haven't really seen before." John has sharpened his experienced eye for visuals working on big Hollywood productions (including Kung Fu Panda 2, Moana, I Am Legend, Spider-Man 3). Actually, the choice wasn't that easy as he had to decline work on the Wreck-It Ralph sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2.

John describes MEMORY 5D+ as immersive. "You're in the environment embedded in the visual performance of the show, a visual experience that's larger than the stage, surrounding you, above you, behind you, filling the auditorium." In the process of adapting this unique Chinese show for Western audiences, John changed as little as possible, instead adding visual touches throughout to clarify the communication of the eastern Taoist philosophy of Yin & Yang for Westerners' more accessible comprehension. In MEMORY 5D+, Yin and Yang transform into competing characters for the affection of a young maiden. The 'good guy' and 'bad guy' don't 'win' in the absolute sense. In MEMORY 5D+, love and harmony remain the prominent through-line with no winners or losers. John commented, "My job was quite simple." He made simple adjustments to the order of the twelve segments of the show. "Lots of the elements were already in place and worked very well." Despite also being the visual effects artist for Oscar-winning animations Frozen and Big Hero 6, John left all visual effects decisions to Tom and his live concert expertise.

Ulan credits John with making her original ideas more dramatic, more striking; making the storyline more consistent in reaching the hearts of the audience.

The 43-member cast of MEMORY 5D+ will most skillfully demonstrate examples of Chinese performance arts - Chinese acrobatics, Dolan Muqam (an integration of ethnic group Uygur's singing, dancing and music), Khoomei (Tuvan throat singing), Shadow Play, Suzhou Pingtan (storytelling and ballad singing), Tibertan folk songs and Urtin Duu (Mongolian Long Tune).

As part of this four million dollar production, seventeen of China's revered musical performers (considered national treasures) will perform their artistry on rare traditional instruments. Test your own musical instrument acumen on how many of these musical devices from Chinese history you have heard of. MEMORY 5D+ will include guqin (Chinese zither), ‘cowboy' flute, gijak, guzheng, konghou, morin khuur (Mongolioan horsehead fiddle), pipa (Chinese lute), Tuva drum (Shamanic drum), and two chordophones - Topshur and Yekele.

Lucina Yue will be playing the Konghou (Chinese harp). Lucina has mastered four different types of harps - the modern Konghou, the old Konhou, the western harp, and the triple harp. A former actress, Lucina's virtuosity of the contemporary Chinese Konghou has led her to many firsts - performing at the Lincoln Center, at the United Nations headquarters and at New York Fashion Week.  Lucinda also has the honor of being the first Konghou performer to appear on Chinese stamps.

Guitarist Erkin Abdulla will be performing his original compositions in MEMORY 5D+, combining his Flamenco proficiency with the essence of Uygur's Dolan Muqam, Turkish folk songs and hints of Brazilian samba and Southern American Blues. Erikin continues striving to make folk music more inclusive, more modern integrating additional international musical elements and ancient Chinese musical forms into western styles. Erkin entertained with a sampling of Turkish folk songs at the press round table.

For an insight to where in the Yin & Yang scale you yourself might fall in, come with an open mind to MEMORY 5D+ - AN IMMERSIVE MUSICAL ODYSSEY TO A DISTANT PAST at the Pasadena Auditorium May 26th or 27th and let it be filled with new knowledge of a culture you might have thought you've known all about. For an unique exposure to centuries of Chinese culture, concise and abridged, combined with an immersive light and sensory show experience, log onto Memory5D.com and all Ticketmaster outlets for available tickets.


Not Man Apart's Passionate Jones (Welsh) Talmadge - The Perfect Artistic Conduit for the Current Times

Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble (NMA) and the Greenway Arts Alliance will join creative energies to produce PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY at Greenway Court Theatre, beginning March 3 10, 2017. NMA's multi-hat-wearing Co-Artistic Director Jones (Welsh) Talmadge took time out from his company responsibilities and his PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY rehearsals to enlighten Better-Lemons readers with NMA philosophies of entertainment.

Thank you, Jones, for agreeing to this chat with Better-Lemons and myself.

What initially drew you to John Milton's poem Paradise Lost over ten years ago?

I was initially inspired by the visual imagery that the original poem evoked. Through Milton's eloquent descriptions, I could see the battle in Heaven and the torture of Hell, the beautiful movement of the serpent, and the anguish of Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden. I think I envisioned this show because of the possibility of seeing a celestial battle in the air, and knowing that we live in a day and age where this is possible on stage, as well as creating the actual imagery through realistic digital rendering, both of which we have accomplished! 

What have been some of the major tweaks you've made through the years to arrive at its current state as PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY?

First, I saw from the original text how imbalanced the roles of Adam and Eve were in the story. I thought this was perhaps typical of the time it was written in the 17th century, only to learn later that Milton was actually considered a Proto-Feminist just to give Eve a voice at all in his version of the story.  The most striking example of this imbalance in the text is that Eve almost never interacts with the celestial characters. It is always Adam that communes with the spirits and discusses the “important” matters with Raphael, Gabriel, or God Himself. Meanwhile, Eve is either sleeping, serving, or away. 

We live in quite a different time now, where gender roles are transforming and rebalancing in some unexpected and inevitable ways. I don't think we can rely on the traditional roles that masculine and feminine have been assigned in the past, but a rebalancing is happening, starting with the roles of masculine and feminine inside each person, which then diffuses into the culture. Men are now expected to be more emotionally sensitive and know how to run a household. Women need to have a career and also be strong leaders. The potential of a well-rounded human emerging is very exciting to me.

So, the twist I've added into PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY is to show that this version of humanity is actually what God intended, where we are going is how we began. In our version of the tale, Adam and Eve start out perfectly balanced and equal, although different and unique, it is only the eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that separates them from each other and from God, and allows them to judge which is better and worse, which is not at all the love and acceptance that I know God to be. 

Second, the idea to adapt the poem into a workable script was fast-tracked by the fantastic and opportune relationship with the Greenway Arts Alliance, as well as the enthusiastic prodding of my artistic co-directors Aaron Hendry and Laura Covelli. Also Founding Director John Farmanesh-Bocca was quite generous and helpful to work with me one-on-one to find the core of the story and trim it down so that it could fit within two hours.

After many, many sessions of working with the text, we finally came to an understanding that the best way to present the words of Milton on stage, was to use NO words at all.  The story I wanted to tell could certainly be done without speaking, and led me to focus all my energy as director into creating the dance, acrobatics, aerial, and martial arts, which were the parts that really excited me anyway. So, the twist here is the translation of ten thousand lines of verse into an all-movement story.

With your adaptation of Paradise Lost and an ensemble of performers as your base, can you describe how the creative elements came together? (The choreography, the aerial rigging, the digital animation and the video installation) 

The base of Not Man Apart's ensemble is an important one, because at heart, we are an artist collective. A group of colleagues that like to work together, so we work our tails off to make inventive physical theater.  My vision for PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY, just so happened to include collaborations with many other kinds of artists: lighting, costumes, set designers, rigging, choreography. We even have custom designed and beautifully constructed weapons for each angel.  All of these collaborators have been colleagues of mine, and have just jumped right into the process willing to work for free, or at least for significantly less than what they're used to, just because they believe in me and the vision too.  I am incredibly grateful and blown away by everyone's contributions. What really moved this project to the front of the wagon for Not Man Apart was the relationship that I was able to form with J-Walt Adamczyk, who has worked as a professional animator for Disney and has won Academy Awards for his original designs.  With his talents and immediate passion for the project, I truly saw that the rest of the elements would fall into place around the dramatic and gorgeous 3-D worlds that he is able to create and interact with the performers in real time.  I'm excited to show everyone what we have done.

Do you have to be aware of each element's limitations to attempt to go beyond them?

I think it's more that you have to be aware of each element's “potential” to experiment with how they interact with each other. If I focused on limitation all the time, nothing would be created. We call upon the choreographers and performers alike to invent movement based on text, or a feeling, or even images, and when we add in an element like a rope swing, or a rock wall; we have to play even more to discover what can be done and how it fits into the storytelling.

What was your initial vision for Not Man Apart – Physical Theatre Ensemble when you became its founding managing director?

Meeting John Farmanesh-Bocca in 2007 and working with him on PERICLES REDUX, it became instantly clear that we had the same concept for creating performance work: combining all different genres of movement, music, drama, dance, to fill the senses for a visceral experience that the audience could ride like a wave. He is a brilliant director, and it was an easy choice for us to combine the non-profit business model that I had developed with the powerful artistic brand that he had developed.  We continue this legacy and aesthetic with PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY and every NMA show.  The other part of the vision that I stand for, is for our art to make a real and lasting impact, not just for those who attend the shows and engage in the material with us as audience. We always try to take classics and make them culturally relevant to today's issues. We also involve outside organizations and social action groups for talk-back sessions and opportunities for audiences to get involved outside of the performance.

Our Outreach programs have become increasingly extensive, with many in-school arts and physical programs at the elementary level, and also our university workshops and college curriculum for physical theater at Pepperdine, Cal State LA, and many others. The last production of AJAX IN IRAQ centered on veteran affairs throughout time, and we had partnerships with organizations such as New Directions in the VA and the Los Angeles Warriors Chorus. Now, PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY has found several partners for gender equality and female empowerment that we are working actively with - teaching arts empowerment workshops with MOSTE (Motivating Our Students Through Experience), a young women's mentorship program in South LA. Also, we teach a weekly theater and self-defense program at Thomas Riley High School in Watts, which serves solely pregnant teenagers and single mothers trying to finish their diploma. We are proud of the impact and the art we create simultaneously.

What new responsibilities and challenges did you acquire now as NMA's Co-Artistic Director (with Laura Covelli and Aaron Hendry)? 

Having three Co-Artistic Directors is a unique model, but having a clear and established company vision to stand by has made it easy to coordinate and make artistic decisions together. The added responsibility of being an artistic leader for our company members and directing a full-length show are not as challenging as I thought. I think Laura and Aaron and I balance the responsibilities so well.  For the most part, my job has gotten easier. I used to run all aspects of the non-profit, but now Laura steps in to help with finances and budget. Aaron sets up a lot of community relationships, programs, and logistics. I'm a big proponent of co-leadership and I think we are going to see more of it in the arts community as a model for performing arts organizations.

What type of training did you undertake to begin your performing career? 

My training is very diverse, which I highly recommend to any performer these days. I started with sports and gymnastics when I was a kid, which made me fearless. In high school and college I focused on theater and choir, which made me sensitive and present and gave me a powerful voice.  Throughout college and then two years into my New York era, I focused on dance and contact improvisation, which made me flexible and lithe. And then finally into my adulthood, I continued my training with everything in Los Angeles, and added Capoeira and advanced tumbling and tricking. I feel very prepared for any role that comes my way, and I do all my own stunts.  You'll see in PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY that I dance in the air hanging from my arms. I fight with a giant spear and spin a 10-foot long chain around my body. I sing, I yell, I cry, I partner, I manipulate bodies and puppets. This kind of diversity in performance is what Not Man Apart demands from all our company members, and what you will certainly see in this next production.

You toured five seasons with Diavolo and then became its Associate Artistic Director and the Diavolo Institute Director. What lessons did you learn from your Diavolo stint that you're applying to NMA? 

I think the biggest lesson I got from Diavolo is how to stand in my artistry in the face of adversity. Diavolo is a crucible of growth and development that I am very grateful for. Many aspects of my artistry were forged in this company and under the direction of Jacques Heim, one of my greatest mentors.  The creations of Diavolo take on an intensity that is unmatched, and demand the highest level of focus, fitness, skill, innovation, creativity, and after operating in this state for five years straight, it becomes second nature. I take this work ethic with me wherever I go now.  The administration I did with Diavolo as Associate Artistic Director and Institute Director were very prolific times for me. I created programs and performances with Diavolo, set pieces at universities, elementary schools, and community organizations, operating almost independently from the touring company. I created many new part-time jobs for a second company that we worked with in Los Angeles.  I am very proud of the legacy of the Diavolo Institute that I left behind with Jacques and the company. My programs raised over half million dollars for Diavolo and are still operating and growing today.  I have turned my focus to building a strong educational outreach and Los Angeles-based arts program with Not Man Apart that is both sustainable and impactful.

What aspects of a possible piece do you look for to turn into a NMA production?

When we have creative meetings with the Not Man Apart Artistic Co-Directors, we consider projects from criteria straight from our mission. Does the piece bridge literature with current events? Can it be done in a visceral interpretation? Does it follow an epic style or timeline? Mostly we consider projects that the three of us are interested in creating, because likely one of us will direct it, and on occasion we will hire a guest director, or consider original scripts. But they still must stand up with and support the litmus test of the NMA mission.

You wear many hats in PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY - adapter, director, choreographer, set designer, performer. Does one particular hat give you the most joy?

Right now, the joy is directing. To set a vision in motion and to gather the team that can accomplish it. The shaping and crafting of moments in the rehearsal room with a talented cast is an almost indescribably high, a sense of community and belonging housed inside of a creative presence that moves and shifts before your very eyes. I am often surprised at what we come up with in rehearsal. Even though I was so clear about my vision for this show when we first set out, it has evolved for the better in many ways that I could not have anticipated, just by having great minds in the room and a collaborative environment for everyone to shine.

Are you able to enjoy another company's dance performance as a 'civilian' audience member or do you get analytical about its choreography or other technical aspects?

Ha, ha, no! I'm actually able to pull my brain into a place of enjoyment and appreciation for what another artist is doing. I actually love to lose myself in the performance and go on a ride that the director or choreographer is guiding. Notice when and why I get “pulled out” and jump right back in, because it is usually something about me gets disconnected, and I can learn from that. However, if somebody asks me for notes on their piece, I can flip the switch and analyze every detail.

I have seen hyphens or quotation marks used in the spelling of people's name, but yours is the first I've seen with parentheses. Would you explain your use of parentheses in your written name?

That's actually a story I love to tell, because it is so appropriately within the themes of PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY. I've been Jones Welsh most of my artistic career, and a name that people have grown to recognize in the dance and theater community of Los Angeles and on our NMA mailing list. I got married last July and took my wife's last name (Anne-Marie Talmadge). Now that I am Jones Talmadge, I still wanted people to know that it was ME directing PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY, not some other Jones, so I threw the (Welsh) in there as a transition until people get used to the Talmadge. Taking my wife's last name is just one example of how my art and my life are connected. PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY embodies the divine feminine and masculine alike, and I want my life to be a part of the cultural rebalancing that is happening right now. The social tradition of last name change at marriage is a perfect and simple example of unexamined beliefs, and how we can get closer to Eden, where we no longer have to point at each other's gender differences, but we can celebrate a shared humanity.

What audience reactions are you striving for with PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY?

PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY is shaping up to be quite a ride. Each moment calls to the audience for something different: beauty, pain, empathy, disgust, awe, amazement.  Really, I just want people to run wild in their imaginations with us and enjoy the show.  Translating Milton into movement has been quite a challenge and a joy, we hope the audience can connect to the stories in Heaven and on Earth, and be carried away by the stunning visual imagery and movement.

What was the biggest surprise reaction you've received in past NMA shows you've choreographed or performed in?

We typically do a lot of partner and group lifts, and send people flying in the air. We rehearse these moments a lot, so that they are safe and dynamic. I think if you can get an audience to fear for our lives on stage, in a consistently secure movement sequence, then we are on the right track to keeping them engaged in the action of the play. I remember getting comments like “How are you still alive right now?” - that spells a job well-done.

What would you like your audience to leave with after your PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY curtain call?

For me the message of PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY is simple and straight forward. We are just delivering it in a powerful visual package with a lot of action, but I hope that people walk away empowered. They are going to witness the beginning of time and spiritual interactions and also the first human choices that have led us to our current social and political climate. I want people to notice that we are not stuck with what we got.  That our everyday choices can lead us closer to building a Heaven on Earth, if we are conscious and intentional, because it can be so easy to choose building a Hell, simply by how you treat your family when you get up in the morning, how you greet a stranger on the street, how you honor yourself. It's up to us, and I want every audience member to walk away committed to creating Eden again.

Thank you again, Jones, for this interview. I look forward to experiencing your creative flag fly!

For ticket availability through April 2, 2017 and further info on PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY; visit  www.greenwaycourttheatre.org/paradiselost


The 7 Fingers' Shana Carroll on Jumping Through Hoops & Hanging From the Rafters To Make the Tastiest Banana Bread

Montreal-based Les 7 Doigts de la Main (The 7 Fingers) will be appearing at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage February 16 through 18 with their latest creation CUISINE & CONFESSIONS. Better-Lemons and I had the opportunity to chat with Shana Carroll, the co-founding artistic director of The 7 Fingers. We touched on The 7 Fingers' beginnings from Cirque du Soleil, some of her and her husband Sébastien Soldevila's most memorable creative moments, and, of course, CUISINE & CONFESSIONS.
Shana, thank you for taking the time for this interview with Better-Lemons and myself.
What inspired you to create CUISINE & CONFESSIONS?
My husband and I co-created the show. Prior to creation, we were in our own kitchen, brainstorming on possible themes for the show. He was cooking as we were speaking — he is incredibly passionate about food, cooking — so I looked at him and said, "What if we do a cooking show?" We laughed, wondered if that was even possible, to cook on stage, to combine circus and cooking. I remembered a book my grandmother wrote called Young and Hungry. It was a memoir and a cookbook, marrying recipes from her childhood with accompanying anecdotes. I thought this could be an interesting approach for our show. So often, our shows have these strong autobiographical angles, as it's a big part of the vision of our company to humanize the acrobatics, to ensure the audience really gets to know the performers and care about them. So, we thought of this notion of food memories: combining confession-like moments of storytelling, both physical and verbal, with childhood recipes.
Acrobats and dancers are not known for indulging in sweets or desserts. Do you all work out so much that you can eat whatever you want?
Hmmm… I can't say I notice any across-the-board difference in an acrobat's approach to food. It is true that the physical work is so intense that there is less “weight-watching,” and more assuring their bodies get enough sustenance to do what they need to do. There are peculiar things of timing — very hard to eat before the show, which is often standard dinner time. So they tend to eat large meals very late at night. But other than that, I would say their relationship with food is, in general, just like non-acrobats. 
What can your audience expect to experience in CUISINE & CONFESSIONS?
It was interesting, when we created the show, we began with intense storytelling sessions with the cast. They went up, one by one, took the microphone and told extensive biographies of their parents, grandparents, linking them to food memories, etc. It just happened, with this particular cast, there were so many really tragic stories! Many of them had lost one or more of their parents, had grown up in harsh environments… We really wanted to share these intense stories, but it's true at one moment I thought: My god! This show is gonna be a downer! Partly for that reason, we put a lot of effort on also capturing the joy and beauty and humor and love that also characterize our kitchen memories, and our joy and love of food and cooking… In the end, I find the overall tone of the show is quite light, joyful, playful; but embedded within are these very deep, intense stories that sometimes catch you off guard, and (without revealing too much!) make you contemplate some more pertinent social and political issues.
Also I'd add, circus is, by nature, celebratory, empowering, even triumphant. By its very nature: we are attempting to do seemingly impossible “tricks,” and then (hopefully :)) succeeding! So that is inevitably a factor, and theme, as well: the life-affirming power of circus.
You co-founded Les 7 Doigts de la Main in 2002 in Montreal after seven years as Cirque du Soleil's original solo trapeze artist in SALTIMBANCO. Were all seven of you (Isabelle Chassé, Patrick Léonard, Faon Shane, Gypsy Snider, Sébastien Soldevila and Samuel Tétreault) originally members of Cirque du Soleil at one time or another?
Yes, all seven of us at some point worked at Cirque du Soleil, for varying durations. Faon and Isabelle, for instance, began performing there when they were children! (At the time we founded the company, Faon was the artist to have worked longest at Cirque du Soleil, having started at the company's inception as a young child). However, some of the “Fingers” I originally knew more through my years at circus school, or in the case of Gypsy; we were childhood friends from San Francisco. (I started at Pickle Family Circus, and she is the daughter of the founders.)
You performed with San Francisco's Pickle Family Circus when you were 18 years old. What initially got you interested in performing?
I was a theatre kid, and at the age of 18 wanted to pursue an acting/directing career. My father was a columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, and he wrote a book on the Pickle Family Circus, and subsequently, became quite involved with them, was on their board of directors, etc. He had been encouraging me for awhile to come check it out, but I was a serious theatre kid. 🙂 However, I did need a day job while I was pursuing acting and, again he suggested I work at the office at Pickles. At least it was arts-oriented, and I would learn valuable lessons about administration, non-profit, etc. But then I walked into work and saw a trapeze artist 15 feet away from me and everything changed on a dime. I instantly fell in love with it, abandoned everything else and said, "That's what I'm gonna do!" It was certain in my mind; there was no turning back.
What type of technique classes did you first take - Ballet? Gymnastics? Trapeze?
As I mentioned, I did mostly theatre. Within my various theatre programs, I had some minimal movement classes, stage combat etc., and I tap danced for many years as well, but other than that was completely un-physical. I couldn't touch my toes, or do a pull-up, when I first decided I wanted to do trapeze. For everyone who knew me, it was the most shocking and incongruous career choice. But I was so passionate and driven about trapeze, I just trained and trained and trained sometimes not really knowing what I was doing! I left my office job at Pickles to become an apprentice. Paid $300 a month to basically do whatever it is they decide they need you to do, on stage and off (often jumping on the other end of the teeterboard while other people flip into the air), but you get to learn alongside them, in every respect. How to tie knots, how to set up bleachers, how to stretch, tumble, sell t-shirts… I set-up a mini-trapeze off the boom of the bleacher truck and would just play around on it until it was too dark to see anything. That's pretty much how I learned.
When did you decide you wanted to be a choreographer?
Well, it was funny that kind of came by accident before I really understood what choreographing was. I think because I came from theatre, and that it was the artistic qualities of trapeze that drew me to it. From the start, my main interest was in creating pieces, finding arcs and characters and storylines, alongside learning the tricks. When I got to National Circus School in Montreal (when I was 20), I discovered this was more of a rare thing, and I started creating acts for the other kids at school. There was our end-of-the-year show, my first year at school, and for that one year, it was student-directed. I was on the “choreography” team. I ended up choreographing 90% of the show, and realized this was something I loved. So I always tried to maintain that side of my creativity. When I was at Cirque, I was hired also as Dance Captain, so was in charge of maintaining all the choreography in the show. Sometimes, if there were new numbers joining the tour, I got to choreograph them. Then I would do little side projects, cabarets and things, to have the chance to create new pieces. So by the time I left Cirque to start The 7 Fingers (at 30 years old), choreographing had begun to eclipse trapeze as my main passion.
Do most of the troupe have ballet training, as well as acrobatic?
Most of the cast went to circus school. Professional circus schools, particularly the one in Montreal, have very good dance programs the students are required to take. It is, of course, only for a couple years and not every day. But since it is so similar to acrobatics — physical expression — they tend to assimilate the dance very quickly. Because, in school, a circus artist is working towards creating one act, quite often their dance vocabulary is really individuated and limited. They are very expressive in one certain manner, but would have a hard time walking into dance class and just picking up a choreography.
Jumping through square frames is quite impressive. Does looking at common-day objects inspire you to think up interesting visual challenges?
Yes, definitely! It's one of my favorite exercises, I even have my students do it when I teach. I tell them to just look around and find ten items and then brainstorm on how they could use them creatively/acrobatically.
What would a typical pre-show warm-up be for The 7 Fingers?
Actually the warm-up time for CUISINE & CONFESSIONS is fantastic! They need to stretch and warm up certain tricks, also play around with each other to relax and bond and get centered. AND they have to cut vegetables and grate cheese and preset all of their props and food items. It's so great to watch people tumble and chop just inches away from each other, alternating which activity they're doing!
The 7 Fingers have performed all over the world? Would you share a memorable story you remember from some of your many cities you visited.
For me, my most memorable moment was when we performed in Wellington, New Zealand. It was with our first show LOFT, which I was still performing in. We did our final bow and then the audience broke out into a “Haka,” the traditional Maori tribal dance they do. It's like a kind of percussive war cry, but also used to show appreciation. So we were just standing there on stage and then, suddenly it was like the audience was performing for us. So much energy. And it went on and on, tears just streaming down our faces… incredible!
Do you gear or tweak your show according to your different regions or nationalities of your audiences?
Yes. Well, most of all, we always try to perform in the local language. In the case of CUISINE, we're fortunate as the cast combined speaks about eight different languages, so we can reorganize who says what lines. And the others study the lines they have. It is quite a feat — we even performed the whole show in Russian — but really worth it. Also, there are small jokes here and there we try to adapt to the cultures we're in. 
In 2014, your husband Sébastien staged one of the three scenes of the Sochi Olympic Opening Ceremony. How much of his creation excitement did you get to experience? It must have been pretty spectacular, yes?
I was involved in the initial stages of creation of Sochi, so it was a great deal of fun, brainstorming and attending those meetings. When it came time to the on-site creation, Séb went to Sochi alone (I was involved in another project then), though I was brought over for one week just before the opening to tweak. It was exciting!
How did that feeling compare to you choreographing a number for the 2012 Oscars? 
Oh, the Oscars was maybe one of the best memories of my life! It was just so much fun, and such a great team. I can't even express what a fantastic memory that was. One of the moments that stuck with me… When our number was going to perform, they brought me to watch from the centre “island” where all the cameras are. When the performance was finished, one of the cameramen in the aisles high-fived me. It was kind of surreal.
How about for choreographing Cirque du Soleil's IRIS in 2011? 
IRIS was also a great experience. Actually, I think what was most special for me about IRIS was the chance to live in Los Angeles again. I grew up in Northern California, but after the divorce, my dad lived in Santa Monica for many years. So they did the joint custody thing, and I had a double life down there. I had a strong sentimental attachment to LA, but hadn't really been back. So living there for four months, with my 2-year-old daughter, and so close to family, was just wonderful.
Your troupe must be a close-knit family, always being able to second-guess every move, every jump, every catch. How did the idea of living together in a renovated convent in Montreal come about?
Well, we all reached the same point in our lives at the same time: wanting to settle down, grow roots, have families, tour less. We all were hitting our thirties, and the nomadic life-style was starting to wear thin (which was incidentally also one of the reasons we founded the company). So we were all looking to buy a house at the same time in Montreal. Patrick found this crazy convent and had the idea we could all buy it together, renovate, live communally etc. Now we spend so much time together, between company and home, that we live less “communally” and more like very, very close neighbors. It's really great for the kids, they have this crazy fluid expanse of houses they can run through, neighbors that are like siblings.
Aside from leaving The Broad Stage with a tasty morsels of banana bread in their stomachs and banana bread crumbs on their hands, what feelings would you want your audience to leave with?
To feel transformed! That it was cathartic. That they cried, and laughed, and ooh-ed, and aah-ed, and got to know these nine people like new nine best friends that they will remember forever! That they will think about their own food memories, their own parents. That they will go home and cook a family dinner, call their parents, share with their children some childhood memory. That they will decide to go swing on a trapeze or whatever risk-taking life-affirming equivalent, having had the glimpse that anything truly is possible if you just work hard enough, care enough, put enough soul into it. That they leave a little more hopeful, hearts (and bellies!) full.
Merci beaucoup, Shana! I look forward to tasting your banana bread and being wowed by The 7 Fingers' acrobatic visuals.
For tickets and curtain times for their February 16 to 18, 2017 performances at The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, log onto www.thebroadstage.com


Heather Lipson Bell

Heather Lipson Bell

Heather Lipson Bell is a genuine Los Angeles hyphenate; dancer, choreographer, actress, educator and entrepreneur.  She has carved out a successful career by following her heart and soul, connecting experiences and collaborators and weaving them together to create a tapestry of creativity, artistry, education, altruism and family.

Bell is a force in the world of dance and opera, especially as it intersects with young people and both children and adults with different needs. A quick rundown of her current job titles illustrates her lifelong love of music, dance and activism.  She is the founder and creative director for Performing Arts For All, providing arts opportunities for and specializing in working with those who have special needs and limitations. She is a lead educator and the managing director for KIDS/IQUE, a division of www.muse-ique.com, an organization which provides artistic opportunities for those in foster care facilities, at-risk youth and those with additional special needs. PAFA partners with LA Opera, LA Ballet, MUSE/IQUE, Center Stage Opera and is Fiscally Sponsored by the 501c3 Dance Resource Center. Her programs are unique in that they do not separate nor isolate participants by challenge. Rather, all dancers work together and use their different strengths and weaknesses to create a stronger whole.

Bell has worked with the LA Opera since 2008 as a teaching artist, choreographer and assistant director for their in-school and community programs.  She is a dancer and choreographer who works consistently.  She has performed in over ten concerts with the New York Philharmonic, two of which she both choreographed and danced and which will be kept as part of a new online platform, nyphil.org/ypcplay. She performs regularly and has film and theater pieces in all states of production. Recent work includes dancing at the Ford Theater, at the Pageant of the Masters, choreographing and co-producing the short film Halfway, which she and her partner Christine Deitner (They also created the award winning "Freeze! Try Again) are now developing for presentation at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Finally, with co-artistic director Tom Dulack (www.teatrofilarmonico.org) she is planning on touring their concerts and also in development on 2 other theater projects: Extravaganza (based on the life and work of Vivaldi) and Aphra (a play he's written about the fabulous Aphra Behn that Bell would choreograph).

Lastly, Bell is a mom who home schools her two young children and also serves as their audition chauffeur. Final note: Heather Lipson Bell is busy.

We met for hot drinks on a rainy Thursday morning for a freewheeling conversation that circled around the ideas of art as a source of inspiration, community and service, making it as a freelance artist in Los Angeles and the immense value of the support of friends and family.

The phenomenon of dance as a tool for work with differently abled people is relatively new to the general public but has been part of Bell's career path from early on. Her first major foray was her senior showcase at Boston Conservatory, with a project that involved blind and deaf dancers. Although the artistic director was “completely not on board, she thought it a terrible idea…,” Bell and her creative partner stayed committed to their idea and eventually found an enthusiastic mentor in their Laban professor. They focused on research, teaching classes and small workshops at both the Perkins School for the Blind  and Caroll Center for The Blind.

“For me it was specifically a movement inspired thing. How do different people move? How do they understand movement?" She continues, "it became really interesting because we met people who were born with different levels of disability. Then also those who had lost their vision - one man who had so much anger but agreed to do our little movement class, and he was able to find movement, spacial awareness and comfort in this new sightless world.” Eventually they combined sighted dancers into the project and her path, curvy and indirect though it would be, was set. “It was this huge vast world that I had never been exposed to…..that kind of sparked my interest in movement study.”

Bell and PAFA at The Hard Rock Cafe in 2016

Bell moved to LA in 1999 “not to dance, but following a boyfriend.  I thought I'd hang out for a year and go back to New York.” But she she stayed, “I was lucky when I came to LA - to meet a really good group of people right away who were not competitive in the typical sense of what I grew up with, but really supportive and were like, well if I don't get the job, it's good because you got the job and we all kind of came up together." She adds, "To this day - I find this a really unique group of women and that has been a great support under everything I do.” Her circle of friends and collaborators continues inspire and support her. When casting dancers for a short film she recently choreographed and co-produced, she invited people to simply take part, without telling them exactly what they would be doing. “I expected five or six people to show up and over 25 beautiful dancers came to give of themselves.”

Bell and Gary Franco dancing with City Ballet of Los Angeles at the Ford Theater in a piece that she choreographed.

Bell talks a lot about community and friendship; of the give and take of this industry. She credits much of her success to friends looking out for one another and mentions job after job that she earned after a recommendation from one friend or another. The path to creating Performing Arts for All started with a job vacated by a friend who went to go dance on a cruise. Bell was hired as a dancer by Zina Bethune and Bethune Theatre Dance, a company that created work with both traditional and differently abled dancers. When Bethune later saw Bell's resume, she hired her as an educator which led to 10 years of teaching dance to people with all kinds of challenges. After Bethune was killed in a tragic hit and run accident, some parents approached Bell because they missed her classes. This inspired the creation of PAFA.

What stands out when listening to Bell speak is the fluidity with which she adjusts the focus of her work. There is equal value given to performance, teaching, choreography and activism - all fueled by a constant search for new and inventive ways to create movement stories. Each feeds the other. For example, when choreographing a film scene with Marines who were uncomfortable with the entire premise of dancing, she drew upon what she had learned teaching those who were blind, having them do movement they were already familiar with, then guiding that movement into patterns to create dance. In this way, she essentially allows her dancers to make their own dances. She sums up her philosophy by saying, “there was never a break, I started teaching at 15, following the concept, from an Ailey dancer, of; I am not your teacher, we teach each other.”  She is also vocal in visualizing, setting goals and manifesting what she wants. For example, when auditioning for a beer commercial she asked in the moment if they had a choreographer. They said no. She got the job.

Bell is pragmatic about the ups and downs of the industry. She revealed her disappointment in coming to the realization that she had limits as a choreographer; that creating new movement vocabulary was not among her skills. Initially she mourned what she considered a failing but then turned that liability into an asset. Becoming an expert at research, she studied organic movement and approached her work that way instead. Her work for the NY Phil was based in flamenco, a dance form that she was unfamiliar with at the beginning of the process yet by the time she came to the performance, the world renowned musician with whom she was partnered thought her an expert.

How does she get through the downs? "In regards to fighting depression, a simple thing to do is find one thing, one small thing a day to be joyous about," says Bell. "We all experience depression and feel stuck or powerless. For me, it seems my nature is to be happy - I am drawn to laughter and beauty and stories of strength and resilience like many, and shy away from darkness and evil and blood and guts." For example, "I choose not to go out for roles playing parts of victims, etc." Adding, "I am drawn to other projects and have been lucky to have opportunities that support this. For me I try to always:  Explore. Learn. Play. Move. Connect. I'll continue to set goals, and take on too much, and procrastinate and enjoy my craft and community and family more than I could ever express."

Bell is quick to credit her family for their ongoing support. Her parents, her husband, even her young children all support and participate in her process. “I was a performer when I met my husband. He knows that it is not about the money.” She recounted her dad's reaction when she turned down an opportunity to create a health oriented business when a much less lucrative but much more artistic performance opportunity arrived. “He was like, of course you'll go dance!”

"We seem to all strive for this ‘balance' or even for ‘perfection' - and it is a fleeting thing. If it wasn't I'm sure I'd be bored by the stillness. I have always been grateful for the language of dance, for experiencing and appreciating on a very deep level the impermanence of what we do. And for the voice and opportunities it has given me. Balancing creative work, work, a marriage and motherhood is a dance. I am constantly reminded what a gift it all is and that I'm not perfect - and that is perfect."

"What I'm doing now, who I am -  was present in me as a very young child. I really have always been an artist and activist and as I've been thinking the examples go so far back. I've always loved human movement and storytelling and history and music and art and elephants and trees and collaboration and community and the connections of it all and just the complexity of this world."

Performing Arts For All has a full schedule for 2017.
Two 6 week workshops culminating with a showcase.
Session 1: 1/7/17 - 2/11/17, Session 2: 2/25/17 - 4/1/17
Additional inclusion workshops at Olive Middle and High Schools (Baldwin Park)
KIDS/IQUE outreach visits us: 2/11/17 & 4/1/17
MUSE/IQUE Concert Field Trips: 2/12/17, 4/2/17
LA BALLET Field Trip: TBA
Performing with LA Opera - Community Opera Noah's Flood - shows 5/6/17

To keep up to date on Bell's work, visit her Website

 

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