In February and March I was an Artist in Residence at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation’s Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva, Florida.
I spent the month with nine other artists, of all media, at the late artist’s overwhelmingly beautiful estate. Four whole weeks of diligent work and deep engagement with my craft in a dance studio that was literally 18 steps from the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond my personal artistic endeavors, there was an abundance of wildlife and native plants to familiarize myself with, Robert Rauschenberg’s personal library to peruse, sunshine, beaches, and every evening I had dinner with intelligent, caring, creative people.
The Rauschenberg Residency gave me the invaluable gift of uninterrupted TIME, and a SPACE that was entirely my own. I could have worked 24 hours a day if I had wanted to! There were many days when I would begin dancing at 9am and not stop moving until dinner—but to my surprise, not every day was like that.
I found that with the luxury of time and guarantee of space, I was able to maintain the rigor of my practice while it expanded and evolved to be more holistic and sustainable. Some rehearsals consisted solely of reading or free-writes, and oftentimes I gave myself permission to sit and stare at the wall and daydream—letting my subconscious make connections between my various modes of research—pushing my concepts into new territories.
For many artists, studio time is a non-negotiable.
As a choreographer, my task is to utilize my movement practice to generate specific movement vocabularies to serve my choreographic work. Though I certainly do small investigations in my apartment when need be, they are just that: Small, and therefore not always satisfying.
Rehearsal space is generally rented out at an hourly rate, so I can’t afford to work many long days consecutively. Even when I manage to find space that is available and affordable enough to rent for several rehearsals in a row there is often a three-to-seven-day gap between my studio rehearsals (because I have to work my day job, or the studios are all booked, etc.). These erratic hours put a lot of pressure on the rehearsals I do manage to book. God help me if I’m hungry, cranky, sad, or just unmotivated for those precious three or four hours!
I can’t afford to pay $10-$20/hour to sit around and think about doing something, and that kind of pressure leads to self-deprecation and discouragement when things don’t go according to plan. With 24-hour access to the studio at the Rauschenberg Residency, I gave myself the permission to “take breaks.” I found that the synergy between my desires and efforts developed more organically when I wasn’t forcing it, and I learned the value of stepping back, letting things simmer, letting the dust of activity settle.
At the end of each day, I could leave things exactly as they were, and after a good night’s sleep and the nice long walk to the studio, I was able to see the past day’s work in a new light. Ideas and choreography from the day before would still be fresh, buzzing, and inspiring. I left that residency feeling confident in my craft. I finally believed that I knew “how” to make work. That isn’t to say that there weren’t bad days, or that I’ve never felt insecure since, but it was revelatory. I learned that choreographing and making dance is what I do. It’s what I want to do, and it’s something that I’m good at.
So how do I maintain that sort of immediacy and richness in my typical practice?
Back here in the real world I still pay for space, and I still try to balance my creative work with my day job, and there are still gaps between rehearsals. How can I bridge those gaps so that the fire and spark in my experiments don’t die before I can dig deeper? I keep a notebook with me at all times, and I try to be as diligent as possible about writing down thoughts, considerations, experiments, or questions about my current project, no matter how trivial or random they seem.
I have also noticed that conversations with my peers/fellow dance-makers has become increasingly important to me. Dialogue is a practical way to engage with my working process even when outside the studio. When I do get to the studio, I place greater importance on my ritual of beginning rehearsal. My warm-up it is how I convince myself and my body that I am ready to begin/that I have begun. Usually, no matter how sluggish or frustrated I’m feeling, once I’m a few minutes into this ritual, I am committed to the work ahead.
For me, it is all about striving for consistency. And though it’s sometimes hard for me to justify the cost, I make the effort to get to the studio even when I’m not working toward a specific deadline or performance. The honing of my craft is a necessary pursuit, and it is crucial to the success of my future projects. So until I can get back to beaches and sunshine, I’ll keep hauling my computer, books, camera, and tripod to one of several studios two or three times a week.
On my bike.
In the rain.
Going slowly, but never stopping.
Photos by Laurie Lambrect.