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  • Nicole (Johnson) Williams

37. revision – final blog post

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

The final stage of this Artistic Cycle is the Revision Stage, where students are asked to explore and/or revise as much of the artistic experiment as we feel is appropriate. I have taken the past few weeks to try to conceptualize how I might revise my piece and have come away with the greatest writer’s block of all time, it seems. This work began as a revision of a previous work that has been over a year in the making thus far, and still has quite a way to go. As I grow and allow my thinking to evolve, the piece continues to do the same. But much like personal growth, this project also needs time to settle and breathe before it begins to take new shape. After the extensive amount of work and energy put into refining the over the past semester, I have decided not to alter it at all at this time. I do, however, look forward to exploring further explorations of the piece next year in my Praxis II course, when I focus on the pedogeological approach to my artistry. My location ideas include:

  1. Northfield Mount Hermon Junior Dance Company (Northfield, MA) – Students at Northfield Mount Hermon (ages 14-18) have worked with this piece in its inception. This time, rather than working with my choreography, students will be guided through similar choreographic tools to democratically produce their own collective piece. Students will begin the term building community and creating a safe space for sharing. Here, we will gather the information needed to identify a common focus for the piece. We will then spend time (perhaps in collaboration with the English department) identifying a text, or group of texts, the students would like to use to inspire their movement narrative. Simultaneously, I will lead students in ballet, Horton or Dunham, Release Technique, and rooted jazz dance warm-ups and classes, so that students get a feel for each movement style in their own bodies. They will vote on one (or more) movement style that they feel best articulates their vision. After a few weeks of skill building in this style and other improv strategies, students will begin working with me to compose the movement score for their narrative. The project will take place over a 6-week period and will be presented at our end-of-term dance production. This is the most likely option, as it allows me to utilize the students I already work with daily and does not require additional travel or time. I consider this a revision, not because I am revising my choreography from my current artistic Experiment, but because it would allow me an opportunity to deeply explore more improvisational approaches in excavating for stories. This is also what I would like to focus on in my potential field work next year with Urban Bush Women. The next step in going forward with this approach will be to articulate a clear (yet flexible) curriculum for this work. 

  1. Williams College (North Adams, MA) – I will set the choreography from the full suite (five small individual pieces that compose one longer work) on the dancers from Williams College (ages 18+). From the beginning, students will have access to (and discussion regarding) the inspiring material for the work, including video interviews with Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde, excerpts from Beloved and The Black Unicorn, a brief astrological crash course in understanding their own birth charts (as well as mine which inspires the piece),  and a brief overview of African orishas (specifically Oshun, who directly inspires the piece). Along with movement explorations in Release Technique, students will engage in group discussion, written reflection, and self-exploration as opportunities to connect with the piece and each other as an artistic community on many levels. This is also a likely option, as Williams College is only a one-hour drive from my home. This may take place over one semester with one rehearsal per week (rehearsal time is subject to department availability). The next step in moving forward with this approach is to begin compiling all supporting materials for the work, and to be in contact with the Chair of the Dance Department, Sandra Burton, to work out a reasonable timeline. As this request is coming late in the semester, I doubt students would get credit for their participation. However, if students were to engage in this process for credit, much of the reflection work could be built into a homework design, allowing for more intentional participation. 

  1. Collaboration with Obsidian Theatre Festival and Intertwine Movement Collective (Detroit, MI) – With the support of the Obsidian Theatre Festival, I will travel to Detroit for a two-week residency to work with Intertwine Movement Collective (a Detroit-based collective of Black and Brown dancers) in setting the full suite (five small individual pieces that compose one longer work). “The Obsidian Theatre Festival exists to uplift both stories as well as storytellers, and firmly believes in the power of art to change lives” (obsidianfest.org). As the mission of this organization is directly aligned with my personal artistic praxis, and this piece, I will ask that they sponsor the work to be showcased as part of the summer festival. This approach will be similar to the approach involving the Williams College students; however, the timeline will be significantly condensed, requiring longer (paid) rehearsals for professional artists. This is the least likely approach because of the travel requirement for me and the potential for schedule difficulties with working adult artists, but if the organization is willing and able to fully support the project financially, it is completely possible. Because of my full-time employment in MA, this work would need to be done over the summer, which will fall outside of the academic year. 

I am interested in exploring all three of these approaches in the process of refining the work. Working with three groups of dancers on three occasions will allow me to see the narrative and tools for excavating these stories from three different perspectives. I recently work with Urban Bush Women at MassMoCA in their site-specific piece, Haint Blu. This is a piece that premiered this year and has been re-staged so far at three differing venues across the country. Each time the work is performed, the script and movement ideas generally stay the same, but takes on the shape of its hosting site each time, allowing it to show a new perspective of the concept. This is the approach I want to take to refine this piece of choreography. Although I will choose one of these options to pursue in my Praxis II Artistic + Pedagogy Experiment, I will continue to work through the other two options to uncover the fullest story. 

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