I recently performed in the Temple University faculty concert. I was performing an improv piece that noted New York artist, Ishmael Houston-Jones created on a group of Temple students during his January residency at the school (the group included BFA’s, MFA’s, and a PhD). During the week that we worked together we did our best to understand his vision, but because it was an improv piece the vision remained nebulous. When reflecting on the performances there was no yard-stick against which the performance could be compared. A successful performance wasn’t measured against mistakes. The difference between good and great wasn’t an accounting of mistakes but whether we had embodied his vision and created magic in the process.
Unlike with set choreography where I had a better sense of the piece when I was on stage, I had a better sense of the piece when I was off-stage. Standing in the wings was no longer a passive act, waiting for the proper time for one’s next entrance. Standing in the wings was instead an active act of watching and thinking.
I had the freedom to be onstage or off. This meant that while watching from the wings I was constantly asking myself the question of whether my presence would add to the piece. I was constantly asking myself the questions of composition. Questions regarding positive/negative space, dynamics of energy, diversity of movement. I asked these questions of myself continuously, whether onstage or off, but was able to get a better sense of the whole piece, and therefore make a more informed answer when I was watching from the wings.
Watching in the wings is a different experience from watching from the audience, because of the different perspective; from the wings I am usually watching at an angle perpendicular to that of the audience. This means I only have an approximation of what it looks like from the audience, but my dance and choreography training means that I can fairly accurately transform the side view into the front view in my head. Even still, standing in the wings gives me the distance to allow that transformation to occur. That meant that when a friend asked me how the performance went my answer was “all I can tell you is that the parts I wasn’t in went really well”. There was a reason I had decided to stay in the wings, and that’s because magic was already being made.
All in all I learned a lot from this special opportunity to work with an established New York choreographer. The piece itself was co-created during a one-week residency at Temple during the winter break. Temple dance students of all levels were invited to audition for the residency. The opportunity was then provided for free. We had the opportunity to taking the residency for credit, but it wasn’t required.