Sunday, July 15, 2007

I thought I lived in Amsterdam by day 5. I'm not sure if it's just a survival technique or reflective of some subconcious longing, but I cut all ties with San Francisco by Friday. On Sunday I had fully accepted my new life as a dancer in the Netherlands, living in between the Vondel Park and Leidsplein, riding around my salmon pink cruiser (matches my scarf) and shopping regularly at Albert Hein. My community is a hodge podge of dancers from all over Europe, Austrailia and North America. Our main goal is to acnowledge that the butt is part of the torso, not the legs.

I think the ease of transition was helped along by these unlikely Amsterdam and San Francisco similarities:

1) Houses in layers. Tall homes with extravagant ornamentation and facades that extend well over the structures as if to create an even better fortress for the quiet gardens behind.

2) Fast clouds in the summer. It was stormy almost the entire time I was there but unlike a marine layer that rolls in around 5pm, we're talking tall thick thunderclouds that clap over the few minutes of sunshine and dumped rain (and sunshowers) on bikers with cell phones and umbrellas in hands. The first week I stayed in a little glass garden house in the back of my host's home and thought one night I was going to swept away in a hurricane.

3) Trolleys, bikes, car unfriendliness, and different languages being spoken all over. Everyone is from somewhere else but they are not necessarily trying to get somewhere.

4) It's easy to get lost and found.

5) Scarves

6) Stoners

The Workshop Forty dancers from well over a dozen countries met in this new warehouse turned arts center for 10 days of learning what is known as counter-technique. I was the only person not making most of my living from dance and proceeded to get schooled in both counter and classical technique. Our instruction went from 9:30 to 6:30 and was almost always followed by a going to a dance performance (The Juli Dans Festival was going on at the same time--so incredible!). This is dance immersion at it's best.

Dance in the NL

The difference in attitude about art in Europe (especially western europe) vs. the United States is astounding. Modern dancers make a living from dancing, training happens full time, performances are well-attended and international, it's as much of a study of science as it is of art. I'm blown away. What I expected to be physically exhausting was much more mentally and emotionally so. I didn't realize this until taking a modern class at another studio on one of my days off and realized that it was the first time I had really sweat. In all other classes I was thinking so much about anatomy, about this amazing thing called alexander technique, about where the counter points of energy were in movement, and about how to reprogram my approach to dance away from "end gaining". . . I was in my head the whole time.

To the benefit of dancing in the states, I'm so appreciative of the compositional focus of the training I've received. I may not be able to do four pirohettes but I do know something about when a piece needs stillness, text, a timing shift, etc. I didn't learn anything new about improv or composition at this workshop. It was much more about learning a movement technology or ideology rather. How geeky and awesome.

I also feel like whereas in the Netherlands I have seen virtuosic "dancers" dance in well funded performances in beautiful theaters, with works by choreographers who aren't afraid to tackle edgy or racy subject matter-- (with no disclaimers on programs, yay!), I contrast that with my experience in the US where it seems you get to see the "people" dancing, and in good work, you see that the dancer's personalities are critical to the choreography. I appreciate that we use these odd little spaces where you have no choice but for dancers and audience members to see one another and be in a different kind of negotiation with one another. Of course both of these things exist to some extent in both countries. . . There's just more money for it in the NL.

So that's it really. I turned in my pink crusiser to the bike rental shop, crossed 6 canals, spent the last of my euros on some coffee from a weird machine and got on my plane. The pads of my toes are thankful for the break from the hard marley floors and I'll reluctantly go back to a less cheese-based diet. I think there is more space in my hip sockets now and that I actually can feel where my head connects to my spine now (it's right behind the bridge of your nose! Can you believe it's that high?).