The Creative Thread

Gift Bag

I quickly throw down my yoga mat in the front row, having just made it in time for class. With the best intentions to arrive early, the NYC subway had other ideas.

Facing my teacher Ali, I sit elevated on my blanket, folded over so my tight hips can release and my knees rest. I sweep my hair into a ponytail grabbing the tie from my wrist, and settle just as she begins to speak.

I need this today.

“So, I cleaned out my closet, which is great, but now all the bags of clothes are in my living room…”

She recounts the story of her mother coming over and trying to find a place to sit, compassionately saying, “You will move these things all in due course.”

As Ali looked at her mother unable to fully relax in her home, her answer came clearly.

“No”

Ali knew in that moment there was one thing she could do. She could take one of the bags that was set aside for a friend and deliver it to her. Or she could take one of the bags that was set aside for Salvation Army and drop it off.

So she did.

And she felt so good about accomplishing this simple task, she went to the grocery store to buy some rice, and smiled at another shopper who was having a bad day.

What happened for that shopper?

Maybe she went home and hugged her husband, or called a friend, or sat and played with her dog. She took the kindness that was shown to her, and passed it on. Ali not only touched a stranger, she touched all who the stranger came in contact with, and a chain was begun.

All this from a bag of clothes.

 

I remember sitting in the audience for the Tony award winning play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I was with a close friend and during intermission, we turned to each other, almost too stunned to utter much more than,

“I LOVE this…”

Curious Case w Ali

I was at an artistic buffet of collaboration, ensemble work, brilliant staging, and focused storytelling. I witnessed the bare stage turning into a grid the lead could literally draw on, sitting at the edge of my seat, giddy with discovery.

I felt I was seeing not only the creativity of the original author, but what each member of this production had brought forth.

The ensemble played different roles and created the environment. They were the chairs, the doors, and even the emotional states for the protagonist as he progressed through his fears. They lifted him and turned him upside down.

I walked out inspired. I walked out with a visual playing in my head, and a desire to create.

 

Months after, I was hired to choreograph the Zarzuela El Laurel de Apolo for Repertorio Espanol, and when the director began to speak about how we were going to turn Daphne into a tree, I felt myself sitting on the edge of my seat again.

The little seed that had been growing since seeing Curious Incident was planted in the minds of my director, lighting designer, and set designer. As I began to throw out ideas, their eyes lit up, and soon we were all throwing water and fertilizer into the pot.

It began to grow and take shape.

Our first rehearsal with the ensemble on forming the tree, I shared my vision, and invited the cast to play. They accepted with glee and gratitude, and their energy was high.

Now they were a part of the process too.

Our closing night of El Laurel de Apolo, we had to turn people away. The show was sold out, and the audience stood with vigor and joy, clapping at the end.

Daphne Tree

There was a brightness in the theatre, from the stage to the seats, a thread from the bowing of the cast and creative team, to the patrons.

I stood, looking out from the stage, acknowledging the audience, but also remembered clapping with the same vigor months ago at what began this journey for me.

I wonder what the audience members did when they went home?

 

We have a great opportunity as artists, to reach an audience with our stories, our songs, our paintings, and dance. We have the opportunity to connect and create a thread.

What if we approached our art this way, with one simple step?

What if we looked at the seed in order to create the whole?

Sometimes, it won’t be linear, and in fact may be a map going out in all directions, but the effect will be the same whether it’s what we receive from a smile or from the lights lowering as we settle into our seats. And the possibilities of how many lives it will touch is endless.

You actually possess a great power. Did you know you set so much in motion with one action?

You choose the beginning.

So, what is the one thing you can do today, and what can you receive as inspiration?

IMG_9394

Antigona

Antigona Church

A dark stage, save one white light, shining like a beacon from above, casting a circle onto the black wooden floor.  Silence echoes off the stain glass windows, the rows of seats, and paper fans beating in anticipation, held by sweaty palms.

Then she steps in, and her heel drops.

The first beat, resounding in the cavernous space, then the second, and her face looks out asking,

“Why?”

As her fingers slice the air, breaking up the spotlight, she beckons us to join, surveying the dark, and lifting her skirt to reveal her voice.

The voice in her shoes.

Her song begins, and her call received as the spotlight widens to three guitars, singers, dancers, and a drummer, answering in kind as the music builds and all join in.

Welcome to the Story.

Welcome to Flamenco.  

 

This week I sat in absolute awe, witnessing Noche Flamenca’s production of Antigona, playing at the West Park Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  While I am familiar with Sophocles’ Greek Tragedy, I have never seen this company, nor a stage production of the tale.

Their inventive storytelling, and powerful imagery sent shivers through my body.

“The themes in the work include catharsis, issues of dictatorship, repression, loss, the strength of family and female empowerment; strong themes not only in Sophocles but also in flamenco.”

I found that there were two main items that moved me to my core as I sat in the wooden pew: the total integration of all the artists on stage, and Antigone herself,

Soledad Barrio.

This was my first time witnessing her perform.  I have read about her several times in dance reviews, and as she turned and commanded the stage, I began to fully understand the words typed out in magazines and newspapers.

Soledad, born in Madrid, has appeared as a soloist with countless dance companies, winning awards from over 15 different countries, including a “Bessie” for Outstanding Creative Achievement.  Tonight her role wasn’t just as the lead, but also as choreographer.

As goosebumps rose up my legs, and I leaned forward in my seat, I knew my engagement was reflected by her commitment.  She strode onto the stage, a Goddess alight, with one intention,

To tell the story.

And all were with her in this intention.  All 18 bodies, whether creating from their hands, their heels, their guitar strings, their wailing voices, or their tapping fingers, all joined to create the world at the gate of Thebes.

They spoke
They sang
They played

And they danced.

At times, I felt I could do no more than just take in the whole, as each artist’s mastery filled the sanctuary.  I marveled at the singer’s soaring breath control, the guitarist’s intricate picking, and the director’s creative staging.

Elements intertwined in fabric, masks, levels, lighting, language, and movement.  I saw influence of traditional Greek tragedy to contemporary communication, jumping between chorus, duet, and solo.

If I isolated each of these things in the moment, I was lost.

The power was their integration.

 

I went from sitting forward, to exhaling back throughout the 90 minutes, slowly sipping a spicy ice tea and holding the sweating plastic to my skin to cool me down.

I was entranced.

Antigone entered the stage for her final solo in a long black dress, her exiled dance in a rocky cave.  In a semi circle stage left, sat a line of men, awaiting her cue.  Their intent and focus narrowed into her feet, her breath, and when she gave the signal, they exploded in song and rhythm, accompanying her dance.  The timing was flawless.

There was complete connection.

 

Upon the final moment I leapt to my feet to clap, hands raised in appreciation as I shouted out, “Bravo!”  My friends and I stayed rooted in our spot, even as the actors exited, and the audience left.  The energy was buzzing through our bodies.

The energy of inspiration.

We went for food and drink, our impressions and observations spilling over like sprinklers in a summer backyard.  The fire created now burned within our minds and planted seeds, wanting to emerge in our next projects.

What had we just experienced?

 

As I road the subway home in the urban July twilight, I read the program, and grabbed a pencil to underline the small black type:

“All aspects of flamenco – dance, song, and music – are interrelated and given weight creating a true communal spirit within the company: the very heart and soul of flamenco”

Each element indeed, all related to the whole.

So, in this moment of communion, what are you bringing?  

I’ll see you at the sprinkler.
Antigon Soledad