On Working with Vicky Shick
While watching Vicky Shick’s Everything You See recently at Danspace Project, I was reminded of a Robert Altman film, a work full of well-known faces performing stylized naturalism along multiple threads for us to follow. It was something I would have liked to return to again and watch for different individual journeys and from alternate perspectives. It was rich, subtle and lush at different moments, but very often just delightfully passing me by. The moments of detail or when a dancer landed right in front of me felt like the camera lens sharpening its focus, while the gathering and running and rounding of corners felt like the rush of a fresh water stream. The multiple currents would sometimes converge into rapids and then channel out into brilliant little pools of dancing.
Knowing this was a much larger group than she usually works with (and that she only assembled the whole cast close to opening), I was struck by Vicky’s ability to move so many small groupings in and out of one another and across two spaces with such delicate skill. It was exquisitely organized, beautifully danced and, quite simply, a model of craft and style. I wanted to know how she did it and how it felt from the inside. In the way that Altman is sometimes called “an actor’s director,” I felt the generosity of Vicky’s process with her cast in each dancer’s individualism. As I said to the cast, it just looked so “yummy” to me. I wanted to be in there dancing too. So, I asked Vicky and her cast about their experiences with the process.
Wendy Perron had already offered a first person perspective in her blog for Dance Magazine, but with so many individual streams, I expected that the solo experience inside of the strong ensemble would have some variance. As a prompt I offered some questions. What follows reminds me that we should ask dancers about their place inside the choreographic work more often. The standard dialogue of choreographer with audience (or critic) and back again sometimes excludes the material reality of the primary instruments of the work – the humans that inhabit and execute the larger vision.
From DONNA COSTELLO:
It looked like one of those works that would be so yummy to be in. The material and tone seemed very generous to the dancers. Does it feel that way from the inside?
The movement was very precise and Vicky has an incredible eye with details of the body and how to find the right nuanced timing of it all. She also always wanted us to be dancing fully as ourselves and I got comments in the beginning of the process to dance to my true volume and not disappear within a duet or trio. Each night in the dressing room before the show began she would quote Deborah Hay and remind us to “invite yourself to be seen.”
What was that like, once you all gathered in the space?
My experience is that Vicky built the piece incrementally with dancers in the studio. I first began with her one on one in the studio for a good amount of time as I know she did with most. This was intimate, fun, exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. I had to write notes on the volume of material we made together as well as the editing and refining she would do immediately while I was still working on sequence and/or mechanics. Then there were times with one or two other dancers in the space and duets were created, then there was a solid chunk of rehearsals with four of us and then it kept growing. Vicky was working with everyone simultaneously (if not in the same studio) and so this was my own personal trajectory in the process, others may have had a different sequence. When we all came together, what happened so naturally was the way we all worked together and were a connected group in a seamless way. Wendy in her blog spoke of the intimacy that happens dancing together even when you don’t know someone, which is so true, connections are made and they are deep as you share in this kind of process. I also can’t help but think Vicky sets a tone in the studio that also allowed for us to come together naturally. I don’t think she would admit to doing that but I believe she did in her natural way. It may have even been the simple act of setting up a snack area in the rehearsal space that acted like the kitchen at a party where we could gather and chat during breaks.
There was a shift as we began rehearsals in St. Marks and I could tell that Vicky could finally “see” the work. I craved for more time in the space with the set, the lights, the sound and the dancers as I know Vicky shared. It all happened quicker because it needed to and I was fascinated with how Vicky worked the week of show making the necessary changes and tweaks that were big and small. They always made sense to me even when I may not have seen the need before.
How do you relate to the material and your progression through the work?
It was funny, the first time we put it all together from start to finish, I remember noticing a movement that kept reappearing. I am high on a forced arch, knees bent, tucked together and I am hunched over. I am sometimes balancing, sometimes scurrying in varying directions and sometimes wobbling them in and out. I came to really own this repeated movement pattern that turned into a little something.
I also had this moment with Olsi, where I don’t see him at first but towards the beginning of the piece we really see each other and I put my leg through his arm. It feels like an intimate moment only because we are face to face for a good amount of time and this then repeats at the end of the dance. It became such a marker for me, like here we are at the beginning and I see you and now here we are at the end…are we different? I love this kind of personal discovery in a work.
Do you all dance with each other or do some of you never engage directly?
In Everything You See, I never saw Vicky and Wendy’s duet on the floor. I know where it happened and when it happened, but due to what I was doing at the same time on the opposite side and how rehearsals played out, I just never saw it. I don’t feel disengaged from that floor duet, knowing it was happening was enough and I saw the ends of it when we made the long dance line far downstage and when it happened again I noticed when Wendy left it and exited off stage. Selfishly I would have liked to see it, but it was just that the piece didn’t allow me to and that was okay. I also decided on my own that I did indeed have a duet with Jon even though we never created something together. It was when he was on one side dancing a solo (that went before his duet with Marilyn) and I was on the other side facing him through the fabric. I was circling my arm and playing with timing based on his own movements and then Lily and Jodi’s movements which were on the same side of me. Maybe then it was a quartet?
Usually as I am reflecting and remembering the experience of a performance I think about moments I performed, danced or inhabited and the relationships that manifested with the other dancers, the audience or myself. As I thought back on Everything You See I realized I also have the moments I watched and realized they were as present as the times I was moving. Watching Vicky perform her solo and watching the audience watch her through the fabric. Watching the end of the table trio and then seeing Marilyn cross side A in movements that made me think of her tracing her movement residue left in the space like a Fourth of July sparkler. Resting in what we called Rock Garden and watching the audience watch what was happening behind me, between me or on the other side. And then there were the moving parts that I think back to, like when Elise’s music stopped right at the moment that Lily and I went into what we called Pony and all you heard was the rhythmic pattern of our feet against the wood. Vicky each night giving me a wink as she exited from her solo.
From OLSI GJECI:
What was that like, once you all gathered in the space?
There was individual movement, there was the individual moving into the space, and there also was the individual moving into groups as groups moved in the space. A myriad of simple and complex movements. I felt I was always moving even when I remained in one spot on stage or on the sides of the space. The coming together of all small duets, trios, solos into this cohesive whole was as ‘crazy’ as it was mysterious, revealing of a great mastermind behind this work, hugely fun and a real aesthetic treat for the eyes, body and soul.
How do you relate to the material and your progression through the work?
I missed Vicky’s class during these past few years. That attention to detail, to small movements, that breath and fresh air of everything moving and the awareness of it all is fantastic. You enter in the process in ‘pieces’ and you become one magically. Somehow, Vicky extracted whatever she needed out of me and I took whatever helped me realize myself physically and mentally into Vicky’s vision. It is very hard to be feel individuality in the process of materializing someone else’s vision, but with Vicky it is so easy to feel unique on stage.
Do you all dance with each other or do some of you never engage directly?
Not with everyone. With Vicky I had only one moment when we walked toward each other as she exited the dancing space and I entered. We looked at each other and depending on the night, we’d either smile at each other or we just see each other. For me moments like this (because of the person and the attention every little thing gets in this piece) are meaningful moments and they count as much as direct movement exchanges do. I feel that somehow the essence of this piece is related to this little example.
The material and tone seemed very generous to the dancers. Does it feel that way from the inside? What’s happening for you on the sidelines? How much do you get to see?
I delighted in finding myself within this complex world of sensibilities. The experience changes as I observe from the sides. There’s a lot to see. A blink can direct your attention somewhere else every night and the piece changes accordingly. The more I got comfortable with myself in it, the more I could see. It was like my eyes were getting bigger, my attention was becoming sharper, or my ability to memorize and see was increasing somehow.
Do you have personal favorite moments?
Hard to select. All the duets, trios and group moments were great! I could select the ‘soulful’ men’s duet w/ Jon after the swirl and another duet with Jon on side A during the women’s Rock Garden on side B, but that’s because others commented on so much about these to me.
What did you learn from observing Vicky in this process?
How to value the person, the individual, the artist as a unique individual before anything else and how the individual and whatever we create are so intertwined that if you forget and ignore one, you are ignoring the other.
How calmness, patience, respect, and artistry of a high caliber can make the work what it is without too much fabrication or arbitrary FORCE.
How one should let the piece become what it becomes once one has given it a place to live in!
A great artist has courage, simplicity, honesty, love for others and the work, is devoid of the need for certainty, working with the simplest goal of discovering and experimenting.
How human relationships clearly and directly effect the artist’s performance spirit and his/her ability to connect with the piece.
How did you meet Vicky?
She was my Tech 2 teacher here at Hunter. So lucky.
How did you begin working with her?
3-4 weeks before show she asked me if I was interested because she needed another man. Interested? Well, DEFINITELY of course… but I couldn’t believe it!
From LILY GOLD:
Vicky is delicious. The beginning of the process had a few unforgettable months of just us, one-on-one in the studio. There was, of course, the later richness of getting to know and work with the other performers, but one-on-one… what a gift. We spent a lot of time laughing. She would usually throw out a disclaimer like, I don’t know what to do…shall we just dance? I would say, Let’s! After a couple of hours of me dancing around and Vicky saying what was most exciting to watch, we’d repeat that back and forth, collage things together, and then eventually she’d offer direction about timing and specificity in my body. We would have a mini mountain of material that we felt invested in. Sometimes the sequences just grew and grew. Sometimes we would start fresh. Over time, this became ritual. The things that we knew, could return to, grow within, and then perform. Whatever qualitative direction she would give me, once metabolized, would consistently enhance my experience inside my own movement. She was so generous with the freedom she gave to us in performance. She truly sees who she is working with.
From MARILYN MAYWALD:
I started working with Vicky in 2010 in preparation for Not Entirely Herself at the Kitchen (March 2011). We continued working together in the studio in the fall of 2011 through spring of 2012, and what came of that was So be it- Not a Piece- Miniatures for Five, which ended up at La Mama (with you!) in May 2012. We continued rehearsing in the fall of 2012 for this piece, Everything You See. I guess for me these three years have felt like a long continuation of one process, since Vicky and I have mostly been rehearsing together, on rather than off, mostly taking breaks for the summer and major holidays. My main experience is being in the studio with Vicky and working on a movement language or dexterity or fluency, which ends up being channeled through specific phrases or motifs for each specific piece. I know that every process has a ton of discarded or unused material, but Vicky and I joke that we have hours and hours of material that didn’t make it into any dances. I think I really hold all of those phrases or improvisation ideas or duets or solos, etc, in my mind; and it feels like what ends up on the stage kind of holds all of that play time and investigation… so the actual piece feels like a kind of distilled facet version of all of the different movement ideas that we made together.
I think that the studio dialogue and really getting to know someone as a dancer and person is extremely essential to Vicky’s process, and so she sets aside time to do that. She also loves to create and work material really specifically and detailed-ly with individuals or duets, trios; getting a specific rhythm and timing and shape to the material is really important to her, and I think that’s how we spend most of our time, especially in the beginning. I love this. I love having Vicky’s eye on my dancing and receiving her “coaching” because it is such precious insight into the mystery of what makes HER so special. A lot of times I would never have guessed or anticipated the kinds of modifications or edits or changes that she makes to the material itself, or to larger phrases or duet/trio/group dances, and this is so thrilling for me because I get to see what her priorities are. She really really cares about the material, and the way that we do it. I love that because I am fascinated with detail in dancing and why/how a movement and sensibility is achieved through the body. Vicky’s choices really surprise me; I’ll be doing a phrase and feel like, oh those arms are boring, they need to be bigger and then Vicky will make the total opposite edit, a choice I NEVER would have made on my own, and then in doing it I feel how specifically Vicky the movement feels with that modification. It’s like a Vicky lens. She has such history and mastery and idiosyncrasy to her movement, and getting to interface with that is really thrilling.
In this process, she operated that way as long as she could. Donna, Lily and Jodi and I all started rehearsing together at some point in the fall, in overlapping rehearsals. Jon was around on and off, but they had a lot of material already established from La Mama, and I think they have a much longer working relationship too. Jon and Heather joined more intensely in the spring. Olsi joined a bit later. Vicky rehearsed with Wendy on the weekends, totally separate from everyone else. Laurel lives in California and came for a week during her spring break, and then for the week of the show. So it was really a mixed bag in terms of who was at rehearsal when – which was just a much more extreme and inflated version of Vicky’s tendency to work with small groups. In Not Entirely Herself Maggie Thom, Jimena Paz and I rehearsed together a lot, especially for the few months before the show. Vicky had a lot of time to compose and craft that piece as a trio.
For this, I think Vick was very stressed by the lack of cohesion in scheduling and cast, but she really just kept plugging away and making it work with whoever was there. I think that the circumstances really pushed Vicky out of her comfort zone, because she simply wasn’t able to do the kind of composing and detailing that she prefers. Out of necessity she absolutely had to let go of certain desires and work in a different way, and I think she really tried to make the best compositional choices she could, and she pulled it off! I think the piece ended up feeling very much like Vicky because she really does invest so much time and energy into the individuals and small groups, so when you put everything together there is some kind of overarching logic that definitely has Vicky’s stamp on it.
I didn’t dance with Laurel or Wendy, and very little with Olsi. Everyone is seen all of the time, so there was a lot of standing or sitting and watching each other. This happened at La Mama too, and I think it brings forth some kind of seamlessness between dancing and being the “object” and watching, and this feels very whole and complete as a performer because you’re not only responsible for yourself and being “on” but also for supporting each other and enriching the space as a little community. I loved this at La Mama, and I loved it in Everything You See too. It somehow feels generous and undercuts hierarchies of value around who’s on “stage” and who’s not because everyone is on stage and everyone can be seen. I also loooooved the proximity to the audience that La Mama demanded and that Barbara was trying to emulate in the Everything You See setup. Performing close to people allows a certain demystifying of what’s going on, and textures are more available.
Especially in this process, I think Vicky really made room for each dancer to “be themselves” inside the material. If anything because she absolutely had to, it was too much to keep track of, but I think she had her finger on everything and that her sensibilities and preferences informed everyone’s dancing. In terms of favorite moments, there is a part where Vicky and I are dancing together and then we separate, walk in a circle and then pass each other, and she starts her only solo in the piece. I love walking past her as she makes that transition.
Some of the most enjoyable moments in this performance were those transitions between being active and watching. Having three-dimensional placement within this world and not being able to keep track of everything, knowing just enough about what’s going on that you’re “on cue”, but also genuinely discovering new relationships and moments across the curtain, etc. I also loved running around in the big group- being over the top and goofy within that setting, and knowing that it didn’t really matter because it was the larger energetic picture that was the priority.
I began working with Vicky after I took a Set and Reset workshop she gave at Peridance in 2009. I think I was one of the only people there over 21, and we hit it off.
And, finally… a few “basic facts” from VICKY:
Most everyone I met in classes – Olsi at Hunter College, the others through Movement Research or Trisha Brown Company classes- but not, Heather, Jon or Wendy. I had the privilege of being in one of Jon’s pieces – loved hanging around him and
dancing with him and related to his changing the minutest of details a thousand times. I have had a long shared dance history with Wendy and I’d seen Heather in performances and hadn’t connected before due to scheduling.
Working in small bits – solos, duets and trios – is my favorite thing to do – to be in a studio with one or two or three other people. It feels so manageable that way – and definitely easier to see. I love non- sequitors and intimacies between people. I always say try not to do it like choreography even though I damn well know that’s what it is. Or I ask them to suck “dance phrasing” out of the movement. I would love it to feel/seem/look like thought or words or stream of consciousness or just daily action. I would love the performers to find their individual and human phrasing and sure sometimes (probably most often) I force my sense of what that phrasing is.
I would say that is what I care about most – trying to find the phrasing that feels like life or like humans or, just, genuine.
I also love things that are formal and have some sort of cohesiveness or structure. I can’t seem to rid myself of needing some order – getting lost without it – even if that order is invisible to others.
My favorite moments are little accidents, weird gestures that someone might do or a movement I would never in a million years come up with – but even more, the real favorite moments are in rehearsal and feeling the comradery and generosity and support and appreciation and laughter that goes back and forth among everyone. Ain’t nothing like that! Right? And, there’s also the embarrassment/chaos of not knowing what to do or say while everyone is there looking at you, waiting for some solution/answer that you don’t have and then, realizing that’s okay with everyone too.