Known Once: Listening to their stories

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Known Once premieres this week! Get your tickets HERE (early bird discount of $10 per ticket until May 15).

From artistic director Liss Fain:

Known Once is about personal stories, memory and perception. The students and seniors we worked with dove into this project with openness and energy, letting us into their hearts and giving us stories that we treasure.

The piece is in part choreographed directly to their stories and movement, and in part I worked with broader concepts of memory—what remains important to us over time and how these deep undercurrents and fragments of images shape the trajectory of our lives. The installation for Known Once, with a wall behind and a moving wall in front, represents a life expanding and contracting. The choreography reaches into the past and enfolds the range of emotions and experiences we carry forwards.

Known Once developed through a deeply collaborative process with the dancers, in which they individualized phrases and created movement from prompts that are designed to be interpreted liberally and personally. Through the movement, the dancers brought their own memories into the piece.

Hear the voice of Walter Kanat, who is 93 years old and one of our senior collaborators, get a peek of Known Once in rehearsal, and hear a little preview of Dan Wool’s score in the video below:

Known Once: The working process – always surprising.

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Pictured: LFD dancer Sarah Dionne Woods-LaDue, Charles Carey, Walter Kanat

We had the final workshop at The Redwoods on Thursday. I asked them to talk about their parents; I thought it would be interesting to hear people in the 90’s reflect on their parents. It was that and much more. Walter described unlacing and taking off his father’s shoes when he came home from work; how he felt it was an honor to do that. There was so much caring and thoughtfulness in all their voices.  Here is one of the many very moving things they talked about—Letty told us that her husband had to help her get out of bed because she had had a stroke. Once he had taken her hands and pulled her up, he put his arms around her and slowly danced and sang the Tennessee Waltz.

Here’s Patsy Cline’s version of this iconic song:

In rehearsal now, we are grappling with how to use the final story in the piece, told by Walter, one of the seniors. His story begins descriptively and energetically, then reaches into my heart. His voice has energy, warmth and cadence. It is a wonderful problem to work on—how to convey his appreciation and joy, frustration and sadness in movement that is only slightly representational but also not overwhelmingly dancey.

There is a lot of gorgeous dancing in Known Once—thanks to the remarkable dancers. And we are nearly finished, with lots of detail-oriented work to do in the final weeks. Now I am thinking about how to make clear, when there is no spoken voice in the score, that the stories and movement we gathered in the fall underlie and inform the choreography. This is partly in the score. Dan Wool has brought in his first version of the first part of the score, and we realized it needed more of a sense of time and more voices to establish the human elements anchoring the piece.

I really like the back and forth of different points of view that happens all the time with a group of opinionated and assertive individuals in a rehearsal. Sometimes what I thought would work does not work at all; and I am not clear about the path I think the piece should take. With this last story, we are at that indeterminate place.

Known Once: Update #5 – Thank you to our seniors!

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Update #5 – Thank you to our seniors!  You can catch a glimpse of our work with the seniors and hear LFD dancer Sarah Dionne Woods-LaDue talk about the experience in the short video below:

From Liss: We had no idea how moved we would be by the openness and thoughtfulness of the seniors who we worked with at The Redwoods in Mill Valley, by their stories and images that have deepened over decades.

Charles telling us about living with his family on a boat and taking the night watch—the darkness, the rocking, and the water surrounding him with peacefulness. He lay on the floor and rolled side to side as he described the joy of lying alone on the deck. He told us about the chores involved with living on a boat, and how he wished his own children had experienced that.

Walter shaking his hands non-stop and taking small tentative steps when describing his family’s neurotic, nervous dog. This 93-year old gentle and sophisticated man became his dog. Later, in telling us the story of how he met his wife, he asked me to dance the story with him—he sat on the floor and improvised her movements from 65 years ago and I improvised his. How wonderful for me to be invited to join in his story.

Letty with her hands up as if pressed against glass as she told the story of looking through a window at her mother teaching dance to children, not being able to go into the studio.

Katherine recreated living in Saudi Arabia, where she taught Saudi girls in the 1950’s. The desert sand was worn by the wind into perfectly spherical grains; she danced this, bending low and swaying side to side while moving across the floor.

A few of the 90+ year-old seniors talked about the limited time they have left. Their vigor and depth belie that. It will be so interesting to show them pieces of Known Once as we build it, and so wonderful to have them see the performances in May.

Charles, Letty, Walter, Maria, Katherine, Joyce, Toba—you are so spirited and gracious. Thank you so much for sharing your lives with us.

If you would like to follow along as we create a new evening-length performance installation for spring 2017 inspired by our work with the seniors and middle school students at 826 Valencia, please sign up for the LFD Email List and follow us on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. We’ll be sending news to the folks on our list and posting updates when we return to the studio in 2017!

Known Once: Update #2

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After our second session with the seniors at The Redwoods and our third session with the students at 826 Valencia, here are some words from Liss and some videos of our inspiring collaborators:

“This project gets more and more fascinating and surprising. We’ve spent three weeks sharing the worlds of middle schoolers at 826 Valencia and seniors at The Redwoods through stories and movement. The seniors, who in their 90’s we thought might be afraid to move much, are just the opposite. Last week, they all brought in objects and photos to describe and move from. Their memories, decades-old, are filled with detail and feeling. Charles rolled to the floor and described the serenity of lying on the deck of a schooner, moving with the ocean. Toba made the most lovely, fluid motion with her arms and torso when describing her beautiful grandmother, who had a duel fought over her. There is so much to tell and so much movement waiting to unfold that we’re extending the workshops for two more weeks.”

[This is Charles describing the feeling of lying on the deck. He had already rolled on the floor, beautifully, several times, so he chose to sit down this time.]

“At 826 Valencia, the kids moved to ‘texture’ words before writing to individual prompts. They each had a texture, then taught the group their movement. Natalie made an astonishing switch when she used the movement she had created for ‘burning,’ and changed it from a frenetic movement into a joyous one to reflect her story. There was something wonderfully genuine about each story which translated into movement. And there is so much energy.”

[This is Natalie working with the movement she made for the word “burning.”]

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Help make Known Once: we’re fundraising to support this project that brings together storytelling and dance for kids and seniors. Make a tax-deductible donation of any size HERE.

Known Once: Update #1

 

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For the past two weeks, Liss and the LFD company dancers have been visiting 826 Valencia in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood and The Redwoods in Mill Valley to work with middle school students and seniors on creating personal stories and movement for Known Once (if you haven’t heard about our Known Once project, check out the details HERE). After one session with the seniors and two with the kids, we’re sharing some thoughts from Liss and each of the dancers.

Sarah Dionne Woods-LaDue (LFD dancer):

I am fortunate to be in research and process with the generous and fascinating seniors at The Redwoods and youth at 826 Valencia. Something happens when a young person gets to interact with another person over 90 years old… I have no living grandparents myself and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to share in the exchange of histories and memories, and ideas about art and expression with people of that generation. It’s been a missing piece I didn’t know was missing. And what a beautifully odd situation to be thrown into! I’m discovering so much after just two brief hours spent with this community.

Working with the kids is a totally different speed. They’re just as willing to dive in as the seniors (and have just as much to share!), but we better keep things moving. The young ones seem to enjoy being thrown into idea after idea, while the seniors have a knack for leaning back into a moment and letting it play out without any expectation as to what might be coming next.

Sonja Dale (LFD dancer):

I had a wonderful time working with Maria, who told me about living in Argentina during the time of Los Desaparecidos. Her daughter met an American Marine while on vacation in Italy, and went to the US and stayed with his family, saving her from what could have been a terrible fate, and beginning the slow migration of Maria and her family to The United States.

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Shannon Kurashige (LFD dancer):

On working with the kids at 826: One of my workshoppers had a memory that she couldn’t remember but was a story that her mother had told her about when she was around 2 years old. It is unbelievable  (it involves swinging an iguana like a lasso). It is set in an exotic location. It was full of detail and humor and has been shaped overtime into a story perfect for telling. I imagine that it is very much a part of who she is and who she thinks she is, but she doesn’t remember it. I started thinking about my own “genesis stories” and how they could very well be works of fiction but they are so important to who I believe I am.

On working with the seniors at The Redwoods: Listening to Marge was fascinating. She was describing a time when she was scared. She told me a story she has probably told many times before. In the telling she surprised herself with little details because she was telling it to a stranger who doesn’t know when to laugh or when to pre-empt the anecdote. Somehow upsetting the rhythm of the familiar story opened the door to details she thought she had forgotten. It seems funny that we can tell our stories so many times that you can forget what was actually there. It’s like when someone asks you to draw a $1 bill. You think you can until you sit down and try to. Which way does George face? Are there number ones on each of the four corners? I don’t even know what is on the back… But, maybe these are two separate things.

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Megan Kurashige (LFD dancer):

There were two moments that struck me hard in our sessions with the seniors and the kids. Walter, one of the seniors who I worked with, told me the story of how he met his wife, Doris. “She was working at an organization for progressive politics,” he said, “and I was walking past and saw this beautiful young girl sitting on the floor by a mimeograph machine and she had ink on her face, black mimeograph ink, and I must’ve had this look of awe on my face. How do you make a movement that means ‘awe’?”

Anna, one of our 826 kids, was working on a description of the bedroom she had when she was six. She told me that it was a tricky thing to do because “I have the room in my head and I know what it’s really like, but I can’t control what happens in your head when you read these words, no matter how many things I tell you about it. It might be a different room for you.”

Liss Fain:

On working with the kids at 826: The kids always begin shyly and end with exuberance.Viva’s story about allowing her little sister to smear Vaseline all over her hair, which her mother then cut really short, was a movement comedy; and Rachel had all of us jumping off chairs. I love gathering everyone at the end in a group activity where we share what was created.  We played the name game, with each kid doing one of the movements they had just made and all of us repeating it. I love watching and listening to their take on their worlds.

On working with the seniors at The Redwoods: I did not expect to be so moved and excited. What a trove of memories–the seniors took us back decades to glimpse their lives. Lette, writing and talking about college, said “You remember the intensity of the 30’s”! I think she still has that intensity and energy. One of her movements was an explosion.

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Help make Known Once: we’re fundraising to support this project that brings together storytelling and dance for kids and seniors. Make a tax-deductible donation of any size HERE.