Singers n the shade

Singers in the shade

Just this past June a very interesting email crossed my desk. I work at a university teaching nonprofit management (the day job) and am the fore or artistic director of a local dance team (Renegade Rose Morris). It was in this capacity that the email caught my attention – it was a request for proposals (RFP) from artists to propose visual or performance pieces for the inaugural celebration of a new transit line – the Orange Line.

Well, that sounded cool. And doable. And came with a bit of funding.

How hard could this be? My famous “last words.” I could develop a performance piece for my dance team.

Some elements would come together pretty easily such as securing team interest. In order to have a substantive performance, the next brainstorm that occurred to me was to combine the dance team with the university’s community chorus into a kind of “people’s performance” celebrating both transit/travel and the history and nicknames of our city.

June was thus spent drumming up interest and developing a proposal – did I mention I was about to go out of the country for 3 weeks?

I actually was not overly optimistic about being awarded a grant. I’m not teaching performing arts and my background is in counseling but I was excited about the opportunity to join two community groups together in celebration. But about two weeks before I left town, we received word that we were funded.

I got a bit scared. Terrified really. Could I pull this off.

August 1 we returned – 6 weeks til due date. I had a tentative outline of the performance and a very, very tentative idea of dances and songs. For the chorus, I was able to draw on songs we had performed the previous term, a good thing as it turned out since we had a somewhat unexpected transition in music directors.

But the road here didn’t get automatically smoother. The twenty or so members I expected when I polled in June had dwindled. There was even talk from some about pulling the plug but I was determined that this was a great opportunity for the chorus and got permission to add “guests” – friends of mine that could fill in quickly.

On the dance front I had much more to do. I had promised a newly composed dance – Orange Line in Bloom – for the performance. I also needed to link up dances with the nickname themes at least in some plausible way. Oh and compensate for the fact that eight of my dancers, including some of my most experienced, would be at another rehearsal.

It was easy enough to match up dances with some of the nicknames. But what about Orange Line in Bloom. I had absolutely no idea what this dance was going to look like. I knew what I wanted – something additive/subtractive, like people getting on and off the train, a dance that might change directions (again like the train), and movement(s) that had the sense of blossoming outward. And I had a tune. but solid ideas were not forthcoming for days.

I can’t really pinpoint then, the most important “how” of how this dance came to me. I had two parts of the framework set the blossoming and the direction change. I also had a sense of the movements and space orientations. Now I just had to tackle the additive/subtractive element — to begin with one person, then to get 8 people in and out of the dance, ending with only one.

The final program got solidified in the last two weeks. Of course I was a bit nervous.

It was 90 degrees and we danced and sang over the noon hour resplendent in our orange shirts and bandanas. The train even tooted at the appropriate time during “500 Miles” (what luck!). I think we put the bloom in the Orange Line.