Saturday, July 12, 2014

Guest Blogger Alert: Jorge Andres Villarini writes about "Surreal Survival"

Surreal Survival 
By Jorge Andres Villarini 
I would like to start this blog post by apologizing to Blakeley White- McGuire for the delay in my delivery. I was invited to participate in this blog while we were still in Gardone, the second city in our tour and it is now that we have arrived in Athens for our performance at the Herodes Atticus Theater that I am able to condense my thoughts. Thank you for the invitation Blakeley, and please understand my reasons for such a prolonged delay as I find myself being a first time international traveler. 
Warming-up before the show in the beautiful Gardone.
With that out of the way, I would like to introduce myself; my name is Jorge Andrés Villarini and this is my first time traveling with the Martha Graham Dance Company. This experience has been exciting among many other things, yet the entire team has been unbelievably welcoming through the whole process. I am genuinely humbled for having the opportunity to work with these true mavericks of dance and because of them, this experience has been transformative to say the least.

What I've been able to take from this experience thus far is that no matter what the environment may be, one has to make it work. Survival is the name of the game.

For a dancer, space is a crucial part of everyday life. Movement artists possess a unique understanding of the space within the body, the space enfolding the body and the space surrounding the body. While touring, a lot of the challenges derive from the unfamiliarity to space.

I like to think of life as a constant performance; therefore I enjoy translating these key elements of performance into my day-to-day life. In New York City space is so limited that one needs to cope with what one is given. While on tour, I have come to find this practice of spatial awareness quite helpful. I have to admit that as a 6'4" man it is never easy to deal with space restrictions. I do not fit in most European elevators, rooms, beds, dinner tables, and, last but most certainly not least, stages.

Adapting to the different venues is imperative in order to give the best performance possible and not take away from the work being presented. We have encountered every type of stage; big/small, deep/shallow, roofed/unroofed, sticky/slippery, flat/raked, etc. One thing all these spaces share is that they are all outside venues. Due to time restrictions, I'll be limiting this blog entry to the first two stops of our tour in Italy.

The first stop was Tivoli where we performed at the Festivale Internazionale de Villa Adriana. What a place! We got to perform on sight at the ancient ruins of the estate. Quite the surreal venue for performing such iconic Graham works as Diversion of Angels and Rite of Spring.

Backstage at Villa Adriana. Great spot for warm-up!
The day started with pouring rain so company class onstage was canceled and tech was pushed back for an hour/hour-and-a-half. The crew did their best to dry the stage, yet the area in the wings was completely drenched. We spaced Rite and as we started running the ballet it began to rain once again. As you may have already guessed, the run-through was also canceled.

Once it stopped raining, the company returned to the stage to tech the rest of the works in the program. No time to go back and run Rite, so, as the professionals we are, we had to roll with it. The performance started with a few casualties here and there, nothing major, even though the stage was extremely slippery. Afterwards I had the great surprise to see a good friend Amedeo Amodio, choreographer and dance director with whom I had the great pleasure to work with prior joining Graham. 

Post performance dinner with the one and only Amedeo Amodio.

From Tivoli we traveled on bus to Riviera del Gardo or Gardone Riviera, a curious little town right by the river in the region of Lombardy. We performed at the Teatro del Vitorale, a venue that has housed performances by some of my favorite artists such as Lou Reed, Buena Vista Social Club and Damon Albarn, among others. The estate was donated to the Italian government by a famous poet as a tribute to the country's own heroes of WWI. The stage is a bit raked making it quite challenging for the male chorus of Rite in the many instances in whichever we have to balance on one leg for prolonged periods of time.

The company spacing Diversion of Angels in Villa Adriana.

We had company class on stage which allowed me to keep working on my almost non-existent Graham technique crucial for my survival on the tour let alone for my time in the company. Afterwards we proceeded to tech the whole performance under quite an extreme heat. The performance started sometime around 9:30pm with a breathtaking performance of Diversion of Angels (Graham), Echo (Fiodonakis) and Errand (Graham/Veggetti). No casualties in these first three works; then there was Rite.

In the first few minutes we struggled with normal things; acclimating to the stage, remembering last minute changes for exits/entrances and not having a crossover. Halfway through the ballet it started to rain. Although the stage was covered, the rain poured through the sides of the stage. The wings became puddled and the marley felt as if we were dancing on soap. People were slipping left and right and the dancers who play the priests were pretty much standing under the rain for most of it.

Pretty chaotic situation, right? Well no one stopped dancing! Our energy stayed at the same level and it was this collective focus that saved the rest of the show. The entire team delivering towels off stage and even our Executive Director was backstage covering the dancers with plastic bags. A truly striking thing to witness.

I will never forget how the audience stayed with us anxiously under the rain, hungry to see the piece through its exhilarating culmination. This show allowed me to see the collective energy that makes this company so incredibly special. The magic within this ephemeral chaos led to the understanding that even when every dancer is so unique in the movement ideals there is something bigger than us that unifies us and that is the Work itself. Being a part of Martha Graham's legacy is something I'll treasure until the day I'll die, no matter how long my stay in the company may be. 

Teatro del Vittorale.

It is highly unlikely that one can find the comforts of home in every place one visits. The concept of home is often held to too high of a pedestal, yet the only way to survive a tour is to feel at home with the space that is given. My personal survival in the company has had little to do with my technical prowess and my muscle memory. I owe my fellow dancers all the success I may achieve while with Graham.

As much as I have discovered myself in this trip, I have come to understand that for a dancer to be successful on tour, he/she needs to be able to feel at home while away from home. A courageous act that demands a hunger for growth, love in order to conquer selfishness and faith in the work. Without these there is no survival, however surreal it may be.


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