ArtSake wants to share with you the thoughts of Alisia L. L. Waller (MCC 2008 Choreography Fellow) about the development of her creative process as a choreographer with physical disabilities.
Choreography As Benediction or: Creating Dances When You Cannot Dance
When I was a child, staring out of the car window on one of our long family trips, I amused myself by watching an imaginary dancer leap and roll and duck, dodge and fly past, over and around the landscape. This was the first of my dancers. The first member of my troupe. Now, as a choreographer with twelve years and over fifty performance pieces under my belt, that same dancer and her friends still show me the way to fly past, over, around and through the landscape of a story.
As a young choreographer in the late ’90’s I had a very clear vision of how a dance was made and it had nothing to do with imaginary dancers. Improvisation, movement, dancing in the studio, trying things out, flow. Dances are made, I thought, on the body. Dances are made by dancing. This did not correspond, unfortunately, with the reality of myself and my abilities. I choreographed everything in my mind, usually without moving, transcribing the movements of my imaginary dancers to paper and then onto a performer. I felt that this was clearly not the way a real choreographer worked: sitting still and writing!
I had been diagnosed with arthritis throughout my body at age 15 and had broken a tooth learning that my body had ceased to be reliable on the dance floor. I was and am lucky enough to still be able to dance, but the level of pain & variability of capability is entirely unpredictable. This was a hard lesson for a young dancer so (taking the elderly Martha Graham as my inspiration) I began to choreograph seriously as a response to this illness. I thought that if I could not be a dancer I could still choreograph from a chair, shaking my cane at my company to a ripe old age. Part of the lesson of this illness was the necessity of reimagining what a choreographer does and how a dance is made.
So I went forward as a choreographer, creating dances instinctively, the way that felt right, but embarassed to be caught making my art “the wrong way.” Then, several years ago, after having begun a rather spotty meditation practice, I found myself kneeling, alone in the middle of the dance studio, face resting on my legs, eyes shut, waiting for the dancers in my mind to begin. And I recognized the open, calm awareness of meditation. Communion. Prostration. Benediction. My spiritual beliefs are very basic and animistic but I still carry some of the language and theatrical ritual of my Christian upbringing within me. I understand the world to be filled with endless benediction from all things and linking that feeling with my creation and my “dancers” — that they were dancing a benediction– was revelatory.
Now, with some care and thought, I view my way of dance-making as a helpful, practical tool and as a gift. I can make dances other ways but the alchemy of calming my mind, turning my vision in and simply watching is an experience like no other. Transcribing my imagination so directly is a joy that does not require much of my often painful body. I have inside myself this endless benediction: to the world, to the dancers, the space, and, importantly, from myself to myself.
Alisia’s work Dancing the Beast: A Gathering of Dancers, Heroes & Other Beautiful Monsters will be performed on December 4th & 5th at 8pm, 5pm matinee December 6th at Mobius. The And So No Sin Performance Troupe, featuring the choreography Alisia L. L. Waller, includes Cat Murcek, Alma Baumwoll & Sunny Hitt, as well as original sound created & performed by Jon Francis Glancy with additional accompaniment created by Bennett Kuhn.
Mobius is located at 725 Harrison Avenue in Boston’s South End (SOWA). Seating is limited, reservations strongly recommended. Call (617) 571-3066 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations. Sliding scale may be available, please contact email@example.com for further information.
Image Credits: All images taken by Alisia L. L. Waller. Picture 1 = Cat Murcek jumping over Sunny Hitt Picture 2 = L-R Cat Murcek & Alma Baumwoll Picture 3 = L-R Alma Baumwoll & Cat Murcek