By CINDY SHEARER, program chair and core faculty, Department of Writing, Consciousness and Creative Inquiry
I love the minutiae of art-making and recently got to spend the afternoon with it. I was invited to Kerner Studios in San Rafael to get a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of "Triangle of Squinches," Alonzo King’s work that premiered this past spring in San Francisco. 3SAT, a German Public Broadcasting Company, is filming three of Alonzo’s dances—"Dust and Light," "Scheherazade," and "Triangle of the Squinches"—to televise throughout Europe. Lines Ballet invited some guests to the studio to watch, and I appreciated Alonzo inviting me.
At first, the minutiae was all about lighting. A young woman in blue jeans and green T-shirt stood perfectly still in front of the set for the first act of "Triangle of the Squinches." The set is a long line of shimmering cords on moveable stands. Then she took a step over, waited again, got a command and took a step back. She moved up and across stage until every position for lighting was checked. Crew members also fetched a tall ladder and adjusted or changed lights around her. Smoke clouded everything—and when big black fans didn’t blow it through fast enough, a man in cargo shorts took a large board and fanned the space. There were whispers and comments about a costume check—and “she is sewing it” right now. Alonzo sat before a bank of monitors, a microphone in hand—twice he used it to get Arturo and Laurel’s attention. Cameramen adjusted their angles—while a large woman in a sleeveless T-shirt swept and mopped the Marley floor. Dancers stood at the side of the stage—they wore sweat pants and warm-up jackets—one dancer kept a thick scarf around his neck. Then floor clean and tested dry, they picked spots on the stage. They practiced specific movements. A sound track alive in their heads, they focused on being dramatic, precise, unaware of the other dancers, the film crew or a looming audience. The director called out, “I need for you to pull out of there.” No one moved—and I had no idea who he was talking to.
I enjoyed observing details, preparations, techniques—seduced by them into the space. They are often what we think art is—as artists, we want details, preparation, to learn techniques and be able to use them well. We need to practice the steps, know how to adjust the camera, set and re-set the lights. Using words well, solid brushstrokes, strong lines, the correct embouchure, we want to do these things right. We tell ourselves they are the essence of artmaking. But once a clapboard marks the scene and the dance begins—art is more than doing. It is taking doing into being.
That day—more than ever—maybe because I was a spectator, got to sit so close to the dancers and watch them move from preparation to performance, I saw how Alonzo does this—how by requiring dancers to be (rather than do) he makes ideas move. That’s why I believe he calls his dance “thought constructions”. He is physically taking thought and making it be—making it move. Every movement on the stage is an idea or a metaphor in motion. Art is not a technical rendering but an embodying of being through doing.
Take one: A dancer entered—she plucked the strings and then spread them apart, stepping through the opening to the other side. Another dancer silently moved in, stopped, stood tall, still, and watched—fully taking in her experience—watching and listening were a silent movement within him. Then he moved toward her and together they pulled one panel of the radiant string apart from the others.
Alonzo constructed the dance so it replicates our ongoing choices as people—a dancer walked toward the string—engage it or not? Pull or strum it? Separate it and step through or step back? I noticed how often in the dance one dancer moved and another watched—moving us, as viewers, to think physically and emotionally—we are always alone and always with each other. What springs us to action? Often in this dance—sound—children laughing, revving motors—ignite movement. I noted two other things: 1) mirroring—one dancer moves and then another repeats the movement by making it his or her own; and 2) call and response—one dancer moves and the responder’s movement reflects his or her listening to that. I learned from a video of Arturo Fernandez, ballet master for Lines Ballet, that Alonzo does not create male and female roles—he creates ideas that are movement and all bodies do them.
In this dance, the movements build and repeat—so do the thoughts. The more we see the movements, the more the ideas reveal themselves to us. Alonzo constructed the work in this way—as if saying, don’t worry if you don’t get the message the first time, you’ll have more chances if you just keep moving. Moving our hearts and minds as well as our bodies. As the dancers move through takes two, three and four, we are moved too. We break for lunch, knowing that if we have allowed the work to be in us, we are movers, thought constructors too.