A.O.’s Production Blog: the project starts


I’m back, and ready to dive in with you and bring you up to date on this new project/piece/film/thing that i’ve been working on.  To give you a little context about the piece as a greater whole:

I’ve been working with my company, the A.O. Movement Collective, since the beginning of September on a new piece.  Through Dance Theater Workshop’s Van Lier Fellowship, i was awarded 100 hours of free rehearsal space at Topaz Arts in Queens (an awesome studio, if i may say so) which we’re just finishing up this month. We’ve been through a lot already – cast additions and subtractions (and additions and subtractions), improvising, brainstorming, making, editing, throwing out, remaking, renewing – the works. The piece in itself (and i’m going to talk about it broadly here, but you can find more on my blog) is comprised of many small sections (“spots of time”) that will eventually all be connected by a non-linear narrative.  Rather than working on a section at a time (which, we see very clearly now, would have been much easier to schedule and more economically viable) we’re making all of them at once, inch by inch and layer by layer.  Working on them in this way means that they all continue to inform the others and continue to grow.  I’ll be talking more about that process, and other Epic Work at my program at Chez Bushwick this Wed. night at 7 (come!!!) but that’s clear enough for now. All of this is to say: there are many sections (“13 variations on a car crash”, “Muerte Chiquita“, “fat fingers”, “Rock Solo”, “Slow lift evolving”, “eyes closed”, “gun to face”, etc) and this one is called “Glass Tree in Harlem”.

At first, we weren’t sure whether we wanted to be making a piece for the stage, or for film.  I’ve done both, loved both, and at this point, really feel like (especially for this piece) i’m not ready to let go of either. So, we decided that we’d make the film version first (which i’m hoping will be feature-length when all’s said and done) and at the same time be thinking/making about how it would work on stage, and then present it on one (we’ve applied for the Joyce SoHo 2010 season – fingers crossed!).  There are three main reasons for this:

  1. it’s EPIC. and that’s what i’m interested in right now.
  2. (as i’ll talk about on wed) I believe making a work bigger and utilizing it more to be an extremely effective way of working in this economy.  By committing to two visions of this piece (film and then stage) we are giving ourselves more time (i plan on working on this piece through 2010) and focus.  By presenting it in two mediums, we are also able to afford that focus, as we’re exporting two different marketable and revenue-generating entities.  Additionally, because we are filming the film one “spot” at a time, we’re hoping to release each one (as an event, online, and perhaps to purchase) as we finish them, making serials leading up to the “big release”.  This not only generates more opportunities to market the piece, but also generates an audience that will become more and more intimately attached to the piece as it grows.
  3. the dialogue that is going to happen between the film and the performance version of the piece will be interesting, and will push me as a choreographer.  How do i take something that is beautifully real on film (such as the ability to go into slow motion, or edit, or change locations) and make it come to life on the stage? For the film versions, i am adamantly refusing to “set myself up” for the stage version (quite the opposite – the films utilize slow motion, reverse motion, etc).  “How will she get out of this one?” the audience wonders.  The choreographer wonders too.

So. Now that we’ve established all of that. The film.

Sketches for "Glass Tree in Harlem"

Sketches for "Glass Tree in Harlem"

The first film that we’re going to shoot is (for now) titled “Glass Tree in Harlem”.  If you’ve ever come into the city on the Metro North (as i did quite often in my 4 years at Sarah Lawrence) you see a tree just after you cross the bridge that’s COVERED with plastic bags.  They’ve accumulated quite a bit over the years, and I always thought it was a beautiful and fitting welcome to the city to see something composed of such trash and lack of care be so nonchalant and stunning. So that’s how the piece started.

I’ve always had a fascination with “the aesthetics of mess”, particularly with large amounts of simple white objects.  At Sarah Lawrence, i did two films, Eggshells and Flour, and then also made a piece featuring large amounts of white envelopes.  I’ve always wanted to make work for Julia (she was a year above me at SLC), and for some reason when she asked to work with me, the tree stuck out in my head.

Since then, it’s developed quite a bit.  After a few rehearsals playing with bags (what are the different ways to throw them? how can we dive under? what sounds do they make? etc) we came up with a structure for her solo.  The average throw of a plastic bag through the air last somewhere between two and four seconds – I was intrigued by the idea of making a solo that used the bags as a time-keeping device.  Going on this idea, we decided to make a bunch of short phrases (twenty to start) each no longer than a toss of the bag.  Some phrases interacted with the bags and they floated down, some just used the bags for timing. We’re now up to forty something phrases, and probably have a few more in us before we’re done.

Now, the concept. I have it all planned out in my head, and am in the process of story-boarding. Here’s the quick and dirty: every phrase will start from the moment the bag leaves julia’s hand, and end the second it touches the floor. So you never see the throw.  The first part of the film is a string of these phrases, one after the next after the next.  The shots are varied, but generally the camera is pretty stationary. About midway through the piece, Julia finally gets a full throw, in beautiful slow motion that decelerates as she throws it, finally showing it at the tips of her fingers, and then accelerates into space, then catches back into slow motion. We then get a few more phrases, and a lovely ending shot of her looking straight into the camera as bags (hundreds…okay…a lot) fall around her. That’s the really simple version anyway.  I hesitate to describe it too much, because there’s a side project i’m working on (which perhaps i’ll talk about next week) and no one’s supposed to know my version of the piece.  But i don’t think they read this blog, so it’s okay.  And if they do, and are reading this right now, then how do they know i’m not tricking them.  So there.

I’m being long about it (as always) but i wanted to give you the general overview of the project and the first film so that you can delight with me as it comes to life.  As always, questions and comments welcome.  I’ll keep you undated as i go. And come see my program at CB!


Sarah A.O.

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