This One’s For Friendship

One of the things that is shifting in me in response to the recent death of my friend Sharon Mussen is a re-prioritizing of friendship.

I had a professor in grad school tell me once that I should never direct my friends in my projects–that the roles become too confusing. Even though I respect this professor very much, that advice somehow confirmed for me how much I operate from exactly the opposite view. I love creating experimental performance precisely because I get to do so with my friends.

Most of my closest friendships have developed through working together in Dandelion Dancetheater. Even if some of those people aren’t able to work with our ensemble on a regular basis anymore, the ways that we bonded while creating and performing together run very deep. 

I don’t socialize much outside of rehearsals and performances. When I have time off, I usually want to spend it at home with my partner or alone. There’s so much to process from all of the artistic adventures I engage in. I find I need lots of down time just to catch up with myself. Therefore regular rehearsals are my social lifeblood.

Yes, the roles in a performance company are complicated–especially the power dynamics and issues around money, schedules and decision-making. I sometimes get confused about being the “boss” of my peers who are the same age and sometimes older than me. But all friendships have issues. These just happen to be some of the interesting ones we have to wade through.

Many of my collaborators in Dandelion have been important people in my life for 10 – 20 years now. And I’m loving the friendships that are developing with the newer ensemble members.

However, I sometimes lose touch with the friendship part of my art-making and get caught up in the less fulfilling parts.

Yes my career, and everything that goes along with it is important to me. Professional recognition, financial support and growing opportunities for Dandelion to create and perform work are all things that I want to see develop. But these are not the heart of my artistic life. Rather they are supports for what I see as the “real” work at hand, namely a journey towards wholeness.

I’m finding that our Friend project is serving as a reminder to return to the deeper currents of my art-making. I started this piece as a kind of tribute to Sharon, and an exploration of friendship. I’ve realized that in my relentless striving for success I missed out on a lot of opportunities to be with Sharon.

She was my one close friend who was a regular in my life but with whom I didn’t collaborate on artistic ventures. Sometimes that meant we didn’t see each other for months. I had a hard time slowing down enough from all of my work to connect with her, especially when her brain tumor forced her to speak and act extremely slowly.

I don’t know if I’d call what I’m experiencing “regret,” (as I prefer to think of all the choices that I’ve made as the best I could with the information I had at the time) but rather as a wake-up call.

I don’t want to get so immersed in grant proposals, social events, meetings or things that I think might advance my career, that I forget about my precious time with my friends. I don’t want to turn my art-making into a bunch of goals and achievements. I don’t want to get as stressed out as I’ve been in recent years over what people will think of the work that I do. I don’t want to get too serious about my work.

Yes, my career is as an artist, but I don’t have to adopt the attitude that my career has to be something separate from my love and connection to spirit, or from my friendships. I’d rather that the majority of my time in rehearsal and performance with this amazing collection of friends is spent with a sense of joy and gratitude.

In this Friend project I’m looking for as many opportunities as possible for prioritizing friendship over any kind of external marker of success or validation. In this spirit I asked my CounterPULSE residency partner, Kegan Marling to dance a duet with me in the work-in-progress showing of Friend yesterday.

I didn’t know how this fit in aesthetically with what we are doing, or whether it was the most interesting and innovative direction to go in. But I knew that I feel great love for my friend Kegan (who I’ve known and interacted artistically with for many years) and that I wanted a chance to “hang out” with him within the magical realm of the stage. I wanted to celebrate our friendship in one of the most powerful ways I know how to celebrate anything–through performance. It became a ritual marking our friendship, and through that invoking the power of friendship universally within the piece.

I’m so glad that we took this risk. It gives me faith in the transformation and re-prioritization I seem to be in the middle of–and excites me for what discoveries are around the next bend. Ironically it felt like a perfect compliment to the piece’s aesthetic.

Here’s a look at our first draft of this duet from our showing today:

(You can also view it at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIXupqAzsQs )

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