Mystic Ballet

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Morgan Beckwith : Dallas, TX

*photo by Glenn Goettler 
Final Reflection:
I think I am in utter denial of having left the sacred space of the Mystic Ballet creative venture, waking up to the terrifying heat and structure that has welcomed back at school here in Texas. Yet I couldn’t think of a better mindset to find myself, in order to finally reflect over my exploit at Mystic Ballet this Summer.  
I will take time later to formerly assess the findings of my undertakings with this ballet company. But for now I would like to meditate on some more personal observations.
This summer I intended to be someone that conducted research, someone who observed critically, discussed intelligently, gaining a broader and more informed perspective on life in a dance company. What I did not expect to be was someone who wanted to be involved in every aspect of operations, teaching, socializing, making constructive criticism, participating in social media, and genuinely affecting the atmosphere of the company.
As I increasingly projected my efforts to influence and elucidate positivity in the company I found that I was the one who was the most affected. In order to present an opinion, and interact in meaningful ways at Mystic Ballet I was forced to assess my own methods of communication and solidify my point of view on a great range of matters. I was certainly pushed out of my comfort zone in aspects like social media and practical business matters. However, I found that if I simply approached the problem with all that I had to offer (even if applied what seemed to be unrelated skill-sets), while being humble enough to ask for advice in areas I was not familiar with, the results were respect and admiration for my honest work.
I found myself adapting seamlessly (for the most part) from social company settings, to strategy meetings, one on one interviews, and critical performance experiences like Jacobs Pillow. I discovered that it was not necessarily about finding the perfect and clearly identified place (or job description) where I could subsist and thrive in the company settings but graciously establishing my own identity within the fabric of the company. The goal was not to become irreplaceable, but at the conclusion of this summer season with Mystic Ballet I felt that I had been able to contribute to it’s larger vision, even if by proxy.
As I interact with more innovators in the art world I realize that this is where the true entrepreneurs and devisers of the current generation begin. They do not simply look for a position and fill it. There are many ways to go about following a passion. Fortunately I was granted time and resources to integrate and observe one of my passions (dance) in order to combined it with one of many of my other personal intrigues (writing, art critique, personal interaction, and arts management). I am not saying that I have come out of this experience with a grand master-plan. But I have come into a much greater understanding of what I bring to the arts world and that my potential should not have a discernable benchmark.
After a very long and tiresome rehearsal day I received an email from a company dancer. She explained to me that her driving force in dance is the inspiration she garners from others, along with the potential of being the provider of inspiration. Her comment made me realize that many times a powerful instance of inspiration from someone in the dance world can provide a sense of kinship almost instantaneously. I learned this summer that this exchange of charged artistic influence extends in both directions. It is not to be recycled, but to be executed continually.
Last week I sat down with an alum from my boarding arts high school, Walnut Hill. As someone who danced professionally for many years then sought to involve herself into other arenas like theatre production and entrepreneurial adventures she had poignant things to say to me about the current state of affairs in the dance world. She mentioned this concept of ‘influence’ and how instrumental it was to remember those in your life that had affected you in such a way to produce positive outcomes. But she also pointed out how we are challenged to remember that we have the potential to act as that influential individual for another human being. Not out of glory or self satisfaction but a greater understanding of how much we can affect change through influence.
As I remember all of those at Mystic Ballet and how they have positively affected the way that I carry myself, I have been given a new opportunity to continue writing. As a new contributor to the dance blog DIY Dancer ( I vow to continually reflect upon those who have helped me garner the potential to influence more people while writing about the exciting happenings of the Dallas dance scene.
I already miss the dancers and administrators at Mystic Ballet dearly. I wish all of you a successful and fulfilling fall!  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Morgan Beckwith: Southport, CT

I have to admit it was not always a joy walking into an 8:30am class to teach Paquita or attempting to keep the focus of energetic children for extended periods of time (even with a steaming cup of coffee in my hand). However, the exuberance, the commitment, and the unrestrained passion that I witnessed on stage this past Saturday was certainly worth every early morning trip to Mystic School of Ballet.
When the dance teachers and crew (made up of entirely Mystic Ballet staff and company members) arrived at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum Auditorium I was pleasantly surprised by the high caliber nature of the theatre space. While I imagined that a stadium-seat performance venue would not cater to a dance performance, this was in fact a perfect set up. Every parent would be able to see his or her child’s expressivity and significant presence on the stage.
In order to accomplish this pleasant experience for the audience we began working immediately to set the spacing for each number. In a twenty minute block every piece was set and run twice. The entire staging process was operated with all of the proficiency of a professional program. The dancers were responsive, the teachers both concise and realistic, and the technicians (Mystic Ballet Company members) running the lights and the music were speedy and efficient. As we continued running through the diverse compilation of pieces in the show I could already see the girl’s excitement bubbling to the surface.
On the other hand it was extremely strange for me to be correcting spacing, and fixing mistakes in the dances while talking through a microphone. I have spent such a long time perfecting my ability to absorb criticism and correction that I have never taken the occasion to imagine myself as the instructor giving explicit directions. But consequently, getting to be on the other side of this performance experience was remarkably educational and satisfying.   
As I talked my girls through their jitters and apprehensions I felt myself being useful and proficient as their teacher and as their adviser. The girls in my Jazz dance (“A Little Party”) declared that they had used a whole bottle of glitter on their eyelids in order to dazzle the audience. “Do we look like we’re going to a party Miss Morgan?” I could only smile and reply “you girls look like you will be attending quite the soiree this afternoon.” The fact that they truly cared about the way they would be perceived on stage out of their own desire made me incredibly proud.
And then when it came time, I was able to watch almost the entire show backstage. Having taught every level except the “fairies” (3-6 yr olds), I found myself beaming for the duration of the performance. I had played a role in this production and I could call some of the elated energy on stage “my” creation. But my happiness was not a possessive one. In no way did I see myself reflected back at me on the stage. What I saw were girls as individuals who were proud of what they had accomplished, possessing the confidence and the respect to perform in front of an audience.
This summer I began teaching the school summer program as a part of the responsibilities that were included in my internship. But I greatly underestimated the possibility of artistic and scholastic fulfillment in being an educator. I witnessed and experienced so many moments teaching these children that made me question my own approach to dance and instruction. I will take this unique exposure to teaching with me as I return to the University environment, thinking about tackling my own learning experience with the same energy and perseverance as the students at Mystic Ballet School.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Morgan Beckwith: Southport, CT

Lauren Edson returns to Mystic Ballet to rehearse her work Imaginary Love before its premiere at Jacob’s Pillow this Thursday at 6:15pm as part of the Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out series! This North Carolina School of the Arts and Juilliard graduate danced with the accaliamed Trey McIntire Project in Boise, Idaho before choreographing for major companies and and participating in festivals all over the country. 
After rehearsing this piece for weeks with artistic director, Goran, I am excited to see how a quick three-day session with choreographer, Lauren Edson, will get these dancers and this piece stage ready. 
*photo by Mystic Ballet's Alejandro Ulloa  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Morgan Beckwith: Southport, CT

Gabrielle Lamb

*photo taken by Alejandro Ulloa*
When a choreographer is invited to set a work on a company it is always interesting to think about how the dancers relate to the “finalized” composition of dance. I say this because in the case of Gabrielle and her choreographic process the dancers – their brains and their unique bodies - are integral to every aspect of the work’s inception.
It is incredible to see what has been done in the studio these past four days just by working intelligently within the parameters of the human body. It all begins with Gabrielle charging the dancers to explore the capabilities and limitations of their individual bodies during class. Rehearsal begins and they hone this skill proceeding to use these cultivated instincts when Gabrielle starts to generate and manipulate the phrase material.
Then are multifarious ways in which Gabrielle approaches the shifting and rearranging of established phrases while simultaneously generating new substance to place in her back pocket. Gabrielle began by working with three men. She asked Aleks to look at a sketch of seventeenth century land surveyor tools and create a string of movement based on the idea of using these tools in a confined space. Alejandro was asked to repeat a phrase while thinking about himself partnering an (invisible) individual executing this phrase.  While those two were thinking about their tasks Gabrielle worked with William, manipulating the phrase to include different qualities, accents, and intent.
I consider the way that Gabrielle approaches work with her dancers as an ultimate collaboration. They try in tandem to replicate and revise phrases of improvisation, connecting ideas that register in the body rather than through any outside emotional element. There is no ego involved in this practice, the dancers act as open-minded and fearless artists while Gabrielle facilitates the process by creating certain sources for inspiration and impulse. She often asked “where does the movement want to go?” Gabrielle empowers the dancers to be makers of their own physical destiny. If they are truly focused, responsive, and open to her process it shows that they are able to make decisions with their own bodies that clearly fit into the programmatic material Gabrielle is constructing.
After observing this process reoccur throughout the week I believe the success of this approach can be accredited to a combination of Gabrielle’s ability to recognize when the connection of movement ideas truly resonate and her articulate and highly accessible instructions. She uses an interesting combination of dance vocabulary, simple colloquial language, and evocative visualizations. In order to have her dancers successfully translate something as simple and elegant as performing a task ( like what Aleks and Alejandro were asked to do) into redolent action in space they first need to be able to register a strong idea about the movement and its intended direction internally. It is only after accomplishing this that the dancers are able to convince any observer of the movement’s truth.
Eventually this phrase material becomes pervasive enough to be used as vocabulary to establish relationships with the other dancers in the space. After the first few days of fostering material Gabrielle began creating interactions with the dancers, starting with something as simple as Coco performing a certain phrase on the floor and Alejandro entering into the space to lift and manipulate her at certain moments. This is where I saw Gabrielle make the most distinct and intriguing chorographic choices. She was extremely precise yet experimental with where and how to place the connections between the dancers. Each moment of contact was carefully deconstructed in order have a particular force of impact for the audience while still transitioning smoothly into what came before it and what was to transpire after. When taking time to create these moments of physical communication between the dancers Gabrielle would persist in unearthing the connection between the physical movements and their qualitative value. She would not move on if a gesture or transition did not encompass the evolving organic thematic material of the piece.
It was only after this meticulous process of the conception of the relationships between the dancers that Gabrielle began to incorporate music. During rehearsal time Gabrielle had been playing music on a loop. It appeared the music was playing for inspiration and a general sense of dynamics during the birthing of the phrase material, something for the dancers to pull from in order to discover levels of nuances and depth in the movement material. Things changed when she placed a phrase alongside a piece of music with the intent of creating moments of synchronization and significance. Gabrielle would then discover where to begin the music, often having the dancers start in silence before playing the music on a fixed gesticulation. Throughout this trial and error period Gabrielle tries to highlight the elastic feeling or the “influence” of the movement through its alliance with the music. The idea of this is to accentuate and feature the internal motivation or an impulse in the phrase of movement that the dancers had created for themselves in the beginning stages of this process. Once again Gabrielle observes creative license with when and how to do this according to her artistic own methodology for this piece.
One may think that this type of piecing together of movement and music can ruin the invigoratingly animate nature of the movement. However, the movement material is already made from an organic process. So even if they are what some may call “synthetically” attributed to the music they will still feel and appear organic in the space. At this point in the process there is a fine line between happy coincidence and manufacturing spatial and human relationship. Gabrielle has to make decisions about how to keep the vitalized consistency of the piece. This entails being absolutely certain there are no dead moments or instances of neutrality in the space. It was here that she began filing the sections of dance in order to establish the ability to recall the material as it was at this point in the process when she returns to Mystic Ballet in September. But ultimately the dancers who Gabrielle worked with have a knowledge of this choreography that no one will quite ever be able to replicate. An approach to this type of original material is not necessarily the same way one would approach revisiting a ballet variation from Paquita. The movement was generated uniquely from these dancers, this choreographer, and the specific creative environment that was established during that one week.
I was fortunate enough to see these intriguing dance vignettes being created from an introverted internal period of exploration, to the clearly established development of succinct ideas and into actual movement that an audience could respond to. It is fascinating how Gabrielle allows the audience’s psyche to absorb the ironic gestures of every day physical labor and social relationships through her extremely fast yet seamless transition of ideas. I am extremely intrigued to hear about the next step of adjustment before a live performance that I will hopefully be able to attend later on this year.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Morgan Beckwith: Southport, CT

Happy Friday! 
Photo of Goran and dancers watching a video of a run of Imaginary Love during rehearsal last night. Only six more days before they perform at Jacob’s Pillow for the annual Inside Out series August 8th, at 6:15. 
see this link for more details :

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Morgan Beckwith: Southport, CT

Goran came to me yesterday with some ideas to boost the activity on Mystic Ballet’s facebook page. His number one priority is to get the dancers of the company involved to facilitate connectivity of their younger friends who are consequently the new generation of emerging artists. I am definitely on board with this idea an am happy to help beginning to manage more conversation on the page.
Even though I (like the a majority of the world) use facebook constantly I am still very uneducated about how the basic mechanics can really be used to promote an organization or Dance company like Mystic Ballet.
My first attempt at sharing a video and a probing question failed miserably because of technical issues. However, I learned tonight that even though my patience with technology is very lacking I am still able to post and comment as an administrator on the Mystic ballet timeline.
The above photo was used in conjunction with the following post as my first topic of conversation on the page:
“Photo taken by Aejandro Ulloa of Mystic Ballet, of
William from Gabrielle Lamb’s class this Monday
Gabrielle’s class is certainly not what you would call a traditional ballet class. With movement improvisation and exploration one finds themselves more in-tune with the way their body moves rather than trying to ascertain specific ballet steps.
Do you think it is important for contemporary ballet companies to have these types of classes/workshops and why?”
I gave a small speech to the dancers (possibly a little preachy at some points) about the necessity of their involvement with the online arts community. Not only is it in their contract to be ambassadors of Mystic Ballet but in order to compete with a world that is growing dangerously close to underestimating the true value of live performance we must use this venue to spark people’s interest in dance. I think this is a huge part of preserving the future of this performing art. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Morgan Beckwith: Southport, CT

What would dancers gain without sight?

The younger “School of Mystic Ballet" dancers began their first week of classes for their summer workshop on Monday, and I have the privilege of teaching this group of young students along with my original two upper level classes. There is one girl in this new class who has such fortitude and pluck that it baffles me every time I teach this level of ballet girls. This particular girl is blind. The trust in herself and in her own body is incredibly powerful, clearly visible for those of us who are witnessing her feat of grace.
Two summers ago I worked with Alex Ketley at San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. Notorious for his strange, yet impactful teaching style Alex taught me a couple things about being thankful and perpetually humble for the basic mechanics of my own body. One day Alex had us close our eyes for the entire class, an hour and a half class that included various improvisational exercises and choreographic explorations. In that short amount of time I stepped away knowing more about the way that my body moved an how it wanted to move, by allowing those stigmas attached with sight (ego, judgment, insecurity) to fall away. I felt that I had to close my eyes in order to express some internal monologue that I would not have felt remotely comfortable exuding with any person (even myself) watching.
While thinking about this super-girl ballet student and Alex’s class I found myself closing my eyes while on the sidelines of Gabrielle’s class today. Allowing myself to enter my own little world to feel and not think or judge with my other available sensations. I found that when I had to repeat phrase material in the center I was able to use this internal focus and exploration to better my understanding and confidence of the material and of my own artistic interpretation.
What would I do for a precious hour without sight?
What would you do for an hour without sight?