imagery and metaphor

I’ve been thinking about the possible distinctions between metaphor and imagery, as related to dance. I hear a lot about abstraction in dance, generally used to indicate that a dance is not narrative. The truth is, anything apart from lived experience is abstraction. The vocabularies of spoken language are abstract. Though largely agreed on both in content and because of the way a particular language is constructed, words are nevertheless less abstract. They point toward meaning. And while eventually we have the experience of knowing them, not having to stop and define them, they represent ideas and actions, from the simple to the complex. All dance languages are abstract, too. So if I want to “read” dance, a far less agreed upon language, I either “read” it at a visceral level, or I “read” it cognitively. Thus I have been interested to try, in constructing the language of any given dance, to steer (at least to some degree) viewers in one direction or the other.

I am going to use these photos to see if I can explain what I think we are working with as we try to parse how we deliver the ideas of this film.


First of all, as an aside, I love this photo of Alex soaking up the moment before we got started yesterday. It was one of those Maine days that began with sun even if it didn’t end that way. And our state is exploding with color at this point: there is so much joy in the vibrancy we are experiencing here from the landscape. It’s an extraordinary year for autumn and the colors are absolutely saturated.

More to my point above, I can look at this photo and conjure [cognitive] interpretations. My first thought was “Wow, ha! The top of screen door creates a row of snow cones.” (I could “see” them in my mind’s eye in a holder on top the counter of a snow cone trailer.) Don looked at this and immediately noticed the reflection in the door. What looks like continuous green grass, from the left edge of the screen door, over, is actually a double of the yard. Alice Through the Looking Glass! I can see what in my imagination is a parallel universe. And use my imagination to enter it.


In this photo, a view into the backyard, one we plan to visit in various ways as part of the film, I looked at the clothes line and I thought “Those raindrops look like tears.” [simile]


I’m bringing back a different photo of the same curtain. I’ve been obsessed over the past two years watching this curtain move in the breeze, and photographing it. I can feel the fleetingness of the moment in my body; I don’t have to think it. The image moves through me at a visceral level; I sense it. I don’t think it.

That may or may not be someone else’s experience. But these are the distinctions that interest me in the dance making I do.

I have to add one more photo. The geese found us yesterday. The wild goose chase is on….




lasting a very short time

Alex and I have been in conversation and ongoing research for this project for almost two years now. We share a love of literature, a resource for ideas and structures with which we can then map our own pathways. One of our “ways in” to creating a foundation for this film was through Ruth Ozeki’s work A Tale for the Time Being, a novel that deals with notions of time. Here is one of many passages we are holding close. It comes from Dögen Zenji, Uji (1200-1253), founder of Japanese Soto Zen. Do not think that time simply flies away. Do not understand “flying” as the only function of time. If time simply flew away, a separation would exist between you and time. So if you understand time as only passing, then you do not understand the time being. To grasp this truly, every being that exists in the entire world is linked together as moments in time, and at the same time, they exist as individual moments of time. Because all moments are the time being, they are your time being.  A Tale for the Time Being (p. 259).

Alex and I have been in conversation and ongoing research for this project for almost two years now. We share a love of literature, a resource for ideas and structures with which we can then map our own pathways. One of our “ways” to creating a foundation for this film was through Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, a novel that deals with notions of time. Here is one of many passages we are holding close. It comes from Dögen Zenji, Uji (1200-1253), founder of Japanese Soto Zen.  Do not think that time simply flies away. Do not understand “flying” as the only function of time. If time simply flew away, a separation would exist between you and time. So if you understand time as only passing, then you do not understand the time being. To grasp this truly, every being that exists in the entire world is linked together as moments in time, and at the same time, they exist as individual moments of time. Because all moments are the time being, they are your time being. A Tale for the Time Being(p. 259).      

I often work to take less mobile, more heady ideas and turn them into motional investigations. Fleeting is an action-based term – an adective describing the notion of time being – for humans, being. Fleeting describes the nature of time without creating separation between us, and time, or between us and various times. And that is, at essence, where we are heading as we set out to craft an expression of time in dance for the camera.

So we start with research, but we don’t choreograph the research. We distill; we enliven; we set in motion. We also ask questions, like: How might we use a house as the “stage” to show simultaneous time, or the parallel nature of past, present and future? And… How many lives can one place hold?

Heading downeast into our film project!

Working with the amazing Alex Masi to realize a dance for film project. We fly out to Maine on Thursday; start work on Friday. Kelly Todd, the-woman-who-can-hold-a-moment-for-eternity, will join us on Sunday. More posts to come, including information about our presentation next week at Union Hall, via wild goose chase/the landing.

254 DanceFest

Enjoyed the 254 DanceFest this weekend, both for the chance to premier suspended with Reilly Faith and Jaclyn LeVasseur – who performed with such fun – and for the chance to see friends in expected and unexpected encounters, starting with Laura Mobley Vasquez who originated this work with Alex Masi. (Go into “previous posts” to see rehearsal versions of this work with Laura and Alex in Maine!) Also got to see Tiffanee Arnold and her beautiful new company; Asia Waters and her company; Allie Hudak who was there to support a friend, and other artists/friends from the dance world (which is small.) Grateful for the opportunity to show work.


Working with the artists of The Bell House

I know humans look for meaning in events and artifacts that arise, seem to actively present themselves on demand. And it may very well be coincidence and not divine plan. But I still have so much stock in those kinds of mysteries.

The weekend with the The Bell House was everything I could have hoped for and more – and – to start: The Bell House. I went to work with a group of women who are already using house as a metaphor to frame and hold their artistic voices, and those of others. We started to cross the threshold here, in these words, in terms of a core idea:

“An action in time and space is done and it is gone. But, taking the larger view, nothing that appears is capable of disappearing and all things come from nothing at all. So, in fact, what is danced remains, affects, alters the landscape forever, actually fulfilling what the more material arts – like architecture – purport to do. Gesture, shape and energy, given form in space and time, rather than being the most abstract of activities is the most real, more real than building a house.”  -Wendell Beavers from Bales’ Dancing the Body Eclectic edited by Melanie Bales and Rebecca Nett-Fiol.

We worked through time in such an involved manner, I took very few photos! But I do have a few to share.

The only section I kept in tact from the original work was this duet with suitcases.

Alicia and Tiffany moved so quickly to embody the ambiguities of departures.

Tyne and Rachel hold, and let slide this section that refers to letters lost, found and lost.

Trying to pin down time, memories, that which dissolves…

We made a new section based on fleeting images of how we are with children in the first year of their lives. You can’t see Tiffany’s face but this photo works for me because it is a consistent twining/re-entwining that reveals those images.

This weekend held so many gifts: gifts of time given – to each other, to the dance, to oneself, and intention, stories shared, conversations that gave depth to the work, laughter, nostalgia lived and shared. I am grateful and moved. And this is why I dance.

On the topic of coincidence, I took a wrong turn on the way to Holland Hall the first time heading there, and ended up in the middle of a park with…. dozens of wild geese. I laughed and thought “yeah, here we go on that wild goose chase again.” I didn’t see anymore of the geese until I walked out of the studio after the last rehearsal – and there they were in the parking lot, circling my rent car. Really. Love those coincidences. Love the chase.

on the architecture of presence

When I was in kindergarten, I already knew I wanted to take ballet. We had finally moved into a community that had a ballet teacher. But I had heard the grownups talking: she was, in their estimation, not an option. She didn’t treat the children well. I begged my father: “I can handle it!” At some point, in dismay, he said “Oh Susie. Why don’t you take piano lessons? You can always play the piano when you are 30 but you cannot dance across your living room!” Fuel for the proverbial fire….

I realize I have been dancing, and making dances framed by the architecture of house and home, ever since then. I have always planned class and generated compositional ideas in the living room. At 25, in the summer between my two years in grad school, I gave myself class in the living room, daily. When I returned to University of Illinois in the fall, one of my peers who had had a professional ballet career, asked me where I’d been studying ballet – I had visibly progressed my technique! At 30, Don took photos of me dancing in our living room, and I framed one and gave it to my father for his birthday. (He was amused.) At 50, with the help of family, friends and colleagues, I produced a concert in my living room: Five Short Dances for Five Short Decades. I danced in front of our enormous 96-paned glass window; the audience of about 100 sat in the front yard. It was BYOC (chair) and we had 8 tables of cake/beer/wine spread around the yard for the party after the performance.

This fall I am headed into two projects – both on the core subject of presence and absence within the structure of a house but very different dances. The first is a re-envisioning of Threshold, a dance I started with the majors at TCU a year and half ago. I get to work with a lively group of women who ground the contemporary dance community in Tulsa. This project starts later this week – we are close! The dance is held together structurally with the floor plan of a house taped to the stage. Several short dances – poetic in nature (building on the challenge that defined my sabbatical project) – move the dance along in space and time.

The second will be a dance for film project – taking place in our home in Maine – with artists Alex Masi (Austin/ https://swngproductions.comand Kelly Todd ( It’s going to be a rich, multi-layered, interwoven-over-a-lifetime journey, one I’m looking forward to with great anticipation.

Isn’t the expression “taking place” an intriguing one…?!

Empty into the Night

Originally made in 2012, I entered the process of making Empty into the Night on faith, with a few ideas, and let the dance reveal itself over time: I did not see the real heart of the dance until I was well into it. I was gathering and culling and assembling, and actually began by following a fascination I had with an exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum: Caravaggio – His followers in Rome. I was drawn to the paintings in this collection for the range of dark colors that defined them, both in the background and in the clothes the figures were wearing – and for the manner in which the light seemed to emanate from the subjects themselves. I asked Roma Flowers, SCCDance lighting designer and maker of magic, if we might use that challenge as a jumping off place in terms of color, tone and the architecture of the lighting design. I am grateful to Roma for the way the light holds this dance.

Original cast, 2012: Photo of a photo by Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Next was music. One of the SCCDance 2002 graduates, Sarie Mairs Slee, had used a work by the composer Eric Whitacre during a senior concert project. Whitacre is well-known for his choral works and 10 years later, I was still remembering a certain fullness. In his work Sleep, Whitacre fills the space and at the same time, often creates space through stilling time. Thus, it was through Whitacre’s music that I started to find the center of this dance, and use as a structure a ride along the continuum of simple to complex. I became interested in trying to get physical intricacies to loop back on themselves and eventually resolve, over and over, in a resonant body of quiet. When I started to recognize that cyclical action in the dance, I found myself transported back in time, once again – to Maine summers on one pond or another, listening to the loons call to each other across the night. Empty. Full. Empty. Full. Hence the pairing of Whitacre’s work with the unusual sounds of these birds.

Original cast: Photo of a photo by Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

The beginning, middle and end of this dance remain much the same as they were in the original version. The majority of this dance is built on some of the same movement ideas but in different configurations. I am happy to keep the final solo, made by Megan (Morgan) Taylor and danced by Ally Shives. The fall that we made this dance, Megan had just returned from a workshop at Bearnstow, Maine, and still had the songs of the loons within easy reach. My thanks to John Hopkins for orchestrating these calls into the night and to Susan Austin for re-imagining the costumes. And, I am grateful to this cast of women, now, in 2019, for handing this dance back to all of us with such grace.

Catherine Sexton and Maryssa Buffano, 2019 cast
Angelica Piña and Michaela Butts, 2019 cast

Ally Shives, 2019 cast

and the new duet…

Three years ago, Blaise Ferrandino, friend and composer, wrote a sonata for cello and piano. It’s lovely for its quiet and for the way it gathers and releases. My plan is to choreograph all three parts and I am starting with the middle section – a meditation on trust.

Working these past three days with Hannah Requa and James Vargas has been pure pleasure. Both are members of Corpus Christi Ballet. They were quick to collaborate and problem solve the questions of shared weight and proximity. The dance is spatially tight. It’s intimate. These two dove in with passionate investment and we put together 5:36 minutes in the little time we had.

I am deeply grateful to Cristina Munro and Alex Trevino, directors of Corpus Christi Ballet, for the space and time to develop this work. There is no greater gift!

And grateful to these two for trusting process into being.

Balenciaga in Black

I am a fan of couture ball gowns, particularly those from the mid-twentieth century prior to the 60s. I find them intriguing as sculpture, and as one who composes dance, I am fascinated by the way designers see the possibilities of constructing these dresses for both the image they create on the human body and the manner in which they move. I am particularly enamored of Charles James’ work after seeing an exhibition at the Costume Institute in the Metropolitan Art Museum in NYC a few years ago, one that was stunning for the quantity and quality of the collection, and for the interactive nature of it (viewers were able to see a gown virtually disassembled and reassembled, in a stream of seaming flight). This particular collection caught my attention, too, for the colors of the gowns – many were in muted browns, greens, golds and burnt oranges. Not your typical color palette for such formal evening wear. While the colors I mentioned don’t show up in force in this link, it is still possible to get an idea of his genius here:   

Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything in the permanent collection on line that quite approximates the gloriousness of that exhibition. You can, however, follow the Met on Instagram – and they’ve posted a few of those gorgeous gowns recently for viewers to enjoy. #metmuseum

Balenciaga in Black

In fact, I got on to this site today to post photos of the Balenciaga in Black exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum. #kimbellartmuseum For those who are living in Fort Worth/the metroplex, or visiting in the next three weeks, it is a must see!

I am fascinated with Balenciaga’s work too – for reasons I mentioned above – and more: this particular exhibition showcases many aspects of his work. I am drawn to the references he makes to traditional Spanish dress, and the accompanying exhibition of Francisco Goya’s work reinforces that connection to these particular designs. What really captured my attention was the play of “black on black” in this collection. In the spring, I am revisiting a work I made in fall, 2012: empty into the night. That work started with a challenge from the Renaissance painters: to create a dance in which it appeared the light was emanating from the dancers themselves. Of course this was in many ways more a challenge for lighting and costume designers of the work. But it did require a rather geometric choreographic construction. I am drawing parallels now because one of the ways I worked with the designers to achieve faceting, to create a dance that lived between shades and textures, was to create costumes made of several different fabrics, all variously sculpted browns. Now, through Balenciaga’s work, I am reminded of how easily and willingly simplicity can turn a corner into complexity, and still retain its underlying quiet.

To see this exhibition is to realize that Balenciaga made his way over a life time as both artist and craftsman, and continued to forefront his ability to design both inside and outside of culture at once.

In true Spanish fashion, there were many capes of varying sizes and styles in this exhibition. I was amused – traveling through the Goya exhibition – to see traditional Spanish wear both clothing subjects and fantasizing them!

Finally, this is perhaps as close as I will get to being inside of one of these dresses! Still….all in all…pure pleasure to find inspiration – and delight – in this masterful work.

on Instagram

On Instagram

A new development in the life and adventures of sdr: an Instagram account. I am still chuckling at a post from Alex “I cannot believe I’m tagging you, SDR.” So – for those of you on Instagram –  susandouglasroberts

[Now I must go catch up…]