Why Do We Go Away? So That We Can Come Back: an Accademia dell’Arte Newsletter
Every semester it’s a surprise how fast time flies. There are three weeks left in the Spring 2019 semester and the students are caught between the excitement of going back home to places and people they know and the sadness of what it will be like to say “goodbye (for now)” to the Accademia dell’Arte.
Since our last newsletter, there has been: an Afro-Contemporary Dance intensive for the dance students; a Butoh intensive for dance students and One Year Physical Theatre Program students; the Experimental Lab, which calls for students and faculty from all three programs to work together collaboratively; and two student-run, student-created CABLAB performances. All three programs will present their final working demonstrations to the Accademia dell’Arte community in the last week of the semester.
Creativity and collaboration abound in the halls as students work tirelessly soaking up every moment and experience that they can. Scroll down to hear more from Spring 2019 students and faculty!
Here at the Accademia dell’Arte, the students are challenged inside AND outside of the studio / classroom to work collaboratively. Whether they’re working on a project for one of their studio class or creating a performance piece for the student-run CABLAB, the students are regularly exploring and experimenting with how to communicate productively in a creative space.
Below, Physical Theatre students Ariana Starkman (University of Pittsburgh) and Lucy Purnine(Vassar College), and Dance students Kayla Cardenas (Gustavus Adolphus College) and Elise Miwa(Muhlenberg College) tell us about their experience collaborating to create work this semester.
In what ways are you responding to Nhandan’s or Sabine’s collaborative approach to leading classes? How has this changed for you since the beginning of the semester?
ARIANA: I’ve always loved collaborating with other artists because it gives me an opportunity to see how other people work. Here at the ADA I’ve been reminded that collaboration is really hard and comes with a lot of questions. In the beginning of the semester we started with mainly collaborating with one other person to create a piece. I got along well with my partner but our pieces weren’t collaborating well, so it was a process trying to fit our work together, but once we figured it out by trying a bunch of different techniques it opened up doors later on, once we were collaborating as a larger ensemble. Now that I’m almost at the end I think collaborating has gotten a lot easier in some aspects, but harder in others. It’s good now because everyone knows how each other works and what each other’s creative outlets are. So now rather than figuring out how to collaborate with fifteen or twenty-nine people the question is how to collaborate with and acknowledge the hundreds of ideas that everyone has. It’s exhilarating and exhausting but I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.
LUCY: I think that I’ve definitely become more aware of it [collaborative atmosphere] later in the semester because earlier on Nhandan was a guiding force, but there were pretty clear instructions and we were improvising within a much stronger frame, whereas now that we’re creating individual actions I’ve become much more aware of both the space we have to create and responsibility we have to create. Right after spring break was a pretty strong switch for that for me, so it’s taken me a little bit to get adjusted and find my footing again, but I’m interested in going back to the individual actions and the collaborative approach after the experimental lab intensive we’re having right now. These couple days of experimenting have been kind of a crash course in what we’re capable of, so I’m excited to go back to Nhandan’s class and create in a space that I’m familiar with, with a little bit of a new lens. And less pressure after a little break.
I think the term collaborative is interesting in that question because we’ve been having our collaborative classes with Dory and Giangiacomo and Nhandan and so when you say “collaborative” that’s where my mind goes. Also even in Nhandan’s movement class we’ve been encouraged to use voice more and do some Commedia, and it makes you realize how easy it is to sit in the separate categories of movement, voice, and commedia and not question it. I’m really not comfortable with my voice particularly with words, but I’m very comfortable with movement, so I’m trying to use strengths to get into other lenses. We did an exercise with Nhandan where we just had to be “evil”, and one person was movement evil while the other person was vocally evil and we influenced each other, and that was great because it was someone else’s movement influencing my voice. There’s just so many different ways to structure things and it’s just funny what works for you or not.
ELISE: A lot of our stuff that we’re creating both for the butoh show and the final performance is made up of a lot of our own movement. It’s similar to stuff I’ve done before, even one of my dance teachers in high school was very much like a college dance person who somehow ended up in a competition studio, who knows, and that was the way that she built dances, and that’s the way that we do a lot of stuff at muhlenberg as well so it’s a familiar process. Here it’s more like a lot of different things that we’re working on within the space of one semester than usual. Usually, back at home or at Muhlenberg, it would be that one of the pieces that I’m in this semester is doing that or one dance in high school. But this semester we’ve made movement for two different things that are going in our final, and the butoh show, and then also in Laban class as part of an exercise a couple different times. There’s a lot more just creating a short phrase in ten or fifteen minutes and then playing with it. I feel like in school usually you build one thing and then you work with it for a while but I feel like this is a bunch of different things, some of which we stay with and are part of the final, but some of it like for the butoh week or the LJubljana week you make it, you play with it, you mess around with it, and then you let it go. It’s different and it takes some of the pressure of of building things.
KAYLA: For me one of my professors does this back at Gustavus, and so this is not something foreign to me in any sort of way. I think it’s really nice because she [Sabine] takes what we create and gives us parameters. For example, for “Lei”, which is a piece we’re working on, she said “what are five movements that you believe represent you as a woman?” Then we put our movements together in this piece along with her choreography and we learned each others’ choreography. I’ve become more aware of how I work and what I need and it’s nice to have Sabine’s direction as an outside view because it helps me think about what I have to do internally for myself. She directs really well, which is something that reminds me of my professor at home, and think it works well when she consults with us of what our intentions are with our movement that we’ve created, and she fine tunes it. I think it’s a nice mish mosh of collaboration. I think it’s a nice even amount of direction and self awareness/being your own director, not always needing an outside eye. I’ve become more aware of how I move and what directions I can go to and critiques I can give myself.
In what you’ve experienced so far this semester, can a performance – and the creation of it – be collaborative? If so, what examples do you have from the semester? How does this differ from your past performance experiences?
ARIANA: Yes. Collaboration is always possible I think collaboration can have a bunch of different definitions. It can be during our core rotations [chores around the villa] of figuring out and assigning jobs throughout the week, regular tasks. It can be collaboration with your roommate in terms of keeping up your space, collaboration in a teacher student relationship in terms of mutual respect and understanding and a willingness to participate and help each other. Those are all creative collaboration in their own way. Within classes we’re asked to collaborate every day and it doesn’t happen every day; sometimes it’s more piling ideas on top of each other or a bunch of individuals all in the same space. I think it’s a constant push and pull and stacking and asking each other to grow in ways that aren’t always comfortable or ways that we haven’t explored before. Here performances are mainly driven by who’s in it. There can be outside questions and guidance, but the creative responsibility is really that of the performers/creators, so sometimes I take notes and I’m not in the piece but I’m still collaborating with it. Whereas back home at my university my voice is much smaller. I can still give the same input and ideas, but they’re not always listened to, and they’re not necessarily always listened to here but here there’s an expectation of the performer to collaborate. Other productions I’ve been in it’s more of a surprise if the performer wants to collaborate. Sometimes coming into a space of collaboration makes the process a lot more difficult or time consuming, but it really depends on the goals of the creative space, and here it’s definitely encouraged for everything to be done collaboratively.
LUCY: Yes. I think a performance can be collaborative, I think that’s a really general term. I think some people are always going to have more ideas than others and some are always going to play different roles in a collaborative process and I think finding that balance and not asking everyone to be in exactly the same place is important. We’ve been doing a lot of collaboration the past couple weeks with our movement piece and CABLAB in particular. I’ve been part of a CABLAB piece that Georgie’s been heading, which I feel has been a collaborative process even though she’s the one who proposed it and she’s the one who’s giving us the improv scores. Within those improv scores we have the freedom to put our own ideas in our expression of them and I think that is also collaborative. In Dory’s class we’ve been doing three person voice orchestras, yeah I don’t know how many people you need to consider it collaborative, but I think that’s group work and it’s collaborative and just naturally has more space for us to try things that don’t work whereas once you get into larger groups direction becomes more important. This is different from my past performance experience in that I’ve done some collaborative work, but I don’t think I’ve ever been given enough time for it. One of the things I’m realizing is that collaboration just takes time. You need time to have so many ideas and so many opinions and then either address or consider all of them. I’ve also done a lot of less collaborative work where it’s a show and it’s the director’s vision. I also think CABLAB in particular has been really interesting because we’re not being asked to collaborate for an assignment. Even in classes on collaboration sometimes we’re collaborating with the person in charge, while they’re not collaborating with us, is still having an input, whereas with CABLAB it’s just collaboration for the sake of collaboration. This can lead to freedom and new discoveries, and it’s been really great to have the space to make those discoveries and not feel like you’re going off track.
ELISE: A lot of what we’re doing is comprised of our own movement and then organized by someone else, although the “Hide and Seek” piece that we’re working on in Modern class has gentle guidance in a certain direction, but it’s really all on us how we organize it within the rules that are set. So that piece is pretty much whatever we want to make it is what it will be, and Sabine has just put on us the rules and the impetus for it. Another example is that I created a piece for first the CABLAB where everyone made their own movement for it and I didn’t really do a whole lot, honestly. I assigned each person to an instrument in the song and said, “when that instrument is playing you’re dancing it and when it’s not you’re not.” So that was very much that everyone had their own part of it that they made and we worked collaboratively to create it. Oh also I was in a CABLAB piece last time, which was directed by Kayla and it was contact improv but with one person, that was the idea of it. So that was an interesting experience in terms of collaboration. We built the whole thing as two people but it wasn’t really set, we would improv together and then we tried to remember it. Then that became choreography that I had to do with by myself without having the impulses from the other body that I was responding to originally, and without having someone actually holding my weight, which was tricky. So that was really interesting to go from something that was created so organically and have to set it and reproduce without half of it.
KAYLA: When we were in Butoh that was a good example of collaboration. We were given prompts like “find your fish and remember that feeling” and then we collaborated and learned others’ movements. So yes you can collaborate with others. Listening to each other is a big thing, if you have two dancers or a group and you’re working together, it’s a collaboration between choreography and dancer. With my first piece for the first CABLAB I worked with Elise as a dancer and I was there as a body, it was based off of contact improv. What I like to do as a choreographer is I have the dancer improv, but I also direct and choreograph within the dancer’s movement. I placed myself as the prop, but then I took myself away and Elise had to find and remember the feeling of me being there. We used the idea of this structure. There was a nice even collaboration of us together making this piece and both of our energies were there in the piece.
We sat down with Physical Theatre Program Director, Nhandan Chirco, and Dance Program Director, Sabine Fichter, to learn how this semester’s students have worked within the atmosphere of collaboration in their classes.
How have this semester’s students responded to (or embraced) the collaborative approach in your classes
NHANDAN: The group seem to have a natural drive within it. They respond very well to the exercises that cross the border between all the courses and combine the principles in a new creative perspective. They also seem quite able to balance the challenging group dynamics that present themselves while approaching collaborative creation, and when they are invited to work independently on proposals of ensemble creations. The work is unfolding in a flowing way, and creating quite a positive atmosphere. The exploration of the collaborative processes among students run in a tight relationship with the development of the faculty collaboration on the creation of their final working demonstration, which unites all the core studio courses.
SABINE: Students have responded extremely well to collaborative situations in my class. They mostly enjoyed the moments where they were not only collaborating within their own group (of dancers) but when they were able to work with theatre students and One Year students together. It is very obvious to me how students inspire each other, how they learn and can grow with each other. I think that approach is hugely valuable.
Have you had any discoveries or challenges unique to this semester?
NHANDAN: This group was able to create a special atmosphere of support and intimacy that allowed them to naturally reach a high temperature in their emotional involvement with the material they created, and the improvisations they shared. Because of this they felt safe and accepted by their peers. Sometime the process was very intensive. It requires them to activate a deep sensibility and intuitiveness and the same from me in order to help each one of them process and elaborate something very personal and turn it into creative and artistic fuel. It is a fascinating challenge and a very fulfilling exchange from which I, as a teacher, will never stop learning and discovering new dimensions.
SABINE: What strikes me every semester is the fact that the students are taking an important personal journey in these 3 months. Every student has his/her own timing and rhythm for that kind of physical, mental, artistic and personal development. Studying abroad on such a very intense and demanding dance program is not always a pure funride. Ups and downs, physical exhaustion, pain and frustration are part of that journey as well as highlights of inspiration and creation, exuberating showcases, moments of overflowing joy and great energy in the dance studio. In fact with every new term I am grateful to witness and guide the students through their journey of discoveries, change and improvement that happens for them on so many levels. It is a challenge for all of us and a wonderful discovery at the same time.
Now that the students have nearly completed their three month (or one year) journey at the Accademia dell’Arte, we sat down with students from each program to hear what they’ve learned and how they’re feeling now that their time in Arezzo is coming to a close. Below, Physical Theatre student Emily Forster (Muhlenberg College), Dance student Alison Bashford (Muhlenberg College), and One Year Program student MaryKate Korbisch (Coastal Carolina University) share insights.
Finish the sentence: Compared to the first week of the semester, I am ___________
EMILY: …more confident in my ability to do commedia, more released in my lower back, filled with a lot of experiences, beginning to appreciate every person here a lot fuller, still really happy with the color of the walls, getting tired of mensa pasta.
ALISON: …more confident. I feel more confident in my ability to create art and be creative. Rather than thinking about putting art on my body it’s more coming from me creating it, and I was never super confident about creating my own art before.
MARYKATE: …a different person. A more established person. I just feel the most myself than I ever have. Anytime I try to reflect on the whole experience it just blows my mind how much i have 1. Learned 2. Experienced 3. Just gone through. A total transformation. Every day is filled with so much and each lesson that I’m learning as an artist is corresponding to a lesson that I can learn as a person. It’s so much. It really is. It’s mind blowing that I’m doing this right now. I freak out every time I think about it.
How will the training, studies and overall experience this semester complement (or enhance!) your education and training at your school in the US?
EMILY: At Muhlenberg I feel like I was a little unsure of how theatre and dance collided, and here the experience is much more multidimensional in terms of voice, movement, and acting, I feel like everything is playing into each other. My voice work is finally opening me up to different opportunities as an actress and my acting work is opening me up to different experiences as a mover, and the movement work is opening up to both voice and theatrical work. I feel a lot more complete in terms of all my different passions becoming one thing and not just a bunch of separate facets of myself. I feel like the unified experience will bring me back really aware of what my strengths are and where I want to grow at Muhlenberg and what I want to focus on, especially since we focused so much on the body. I’m just a lot more aware of what my body’s doing in relationship to other people and in relationship to my surroundings.
ALISON: I think this semester I’ve worked a lot on improvisation and creating movement seemingly out of nothing, and that’s’ something that I’ve really struggled with at my own school. So I hope to bring back those skills that I’ve learned here in order to improvise better there.
MARYKATE: I think during previous training or training back at school I would just do it, just listen to everything I was told and not think about myself so much. I was just kind of like a dog on a leash back at school, but now I’m one of those dogs that can carry its own leash, I can still walk along an owner, but I’ll have the leash in my own mouth, sorta thing. I know myself now basically. I know what I like and don’t like and what works for me and what doesn’t and I know how to translate other trainings into something that works for me. I’ll be able to stand up for myself when I go back. And that doesn’t mean I’ll purposely be resistant or defiant against all professors and training, but I’ll be able to take a step back and say something.
If you could only take back a single class, exercise, moment or discovery to share with your classmates in the US, what would it be? Why?
EMILY: Either the training with Nhandan or tremoring with Dory. I think tremoring specifically is very strange, but it opens up so many places in the body you didn’t realize were closed off. Like today Caitlin just felt so open emotionally, and I think we’ve all been there at one point just feeling that sense of “wow I was holding back all these emotions and now I’m here and present and able to speak fully and just be.” Nhandan asks us all the time in movement to just exist emotionally available for our audience and not necessarily perform, and I think tremoring gets me to that point.
ALISON: I would say probably just the whole experience of Butoh week. It allowed me to learn how to be more animated, and I think that will help me tell a story while I’m moving more with my face and my body rather than just moving. I think I would share that. It was also a just a really fun week, I really enjoyed it and it was a cool unique experience that I’ve never had before so I’d definitely talk about that.
MARYKATE: I’ve had life changing moments in every class. I just want to shrink Ginevra [One Year Program Movement/Lecoq Professor] and put her in my pocket and take her everywhere. Everything that came out of her changed my world, like most of the professors here. The way she approached everything was just full of so much life and joy. But clowning too! To just live in the shit, enjoy the fun, find the joy. There’s so much! Literally any of Ginevra’s exercises just changed our dynamic and what working with the seven of us was like. We’ve never been so connected than during her exercises. We listened to each other so well through the Lecoq training. When we started with Lecoq that’s when I really noticed the difference of myself and my person. That’s when I really truly stepped into who I was gonna be as an artist. Before this I never really called myself an artist.
What have you learned about yourself or other people outside of the classroom having been abroad for a semester?
EMILY: I’ve learned that I’m an initiator, which I didn’t think I was until nobody else initiated. I’ve learned that I like having lots of things to do, which doesn’t bode well with the space I’m given here. Some people feel really pressured because of the amount of classes, but I feel a lot more free because I usually have more classes and requirements and obligations at Muhlenberg. Everyone has different priorities in terms of rehearsal. Some people want to just be moving and others want to just talk about characters and get the mind behind everything, which can be hard. Also everyone just has such random and unique talents and different skill sets, whether they’re compatible with the program or not they’re welcome and they come out in random ways. Like Georgie with her handstand for an hour and Kristen with her words, just her really witty ability to use words, and so many others. Random musical talents and circus talents, Lucy with her juggling balls, there’s so many.
ALISON: I think I learned that people are more capable than they think they are and sometimes we don’t see that within ourselves but it’s really easy to see it in other people. I think a lot of us are learning that. We are capable of more than we think.
MARYKATE: That’s also loaded too. We’re living with the same people we’re working with and obviously stuff is going to happen between us. We spend all of our time with each other, which can be great. Some people know themselves better than others at this point in terms of what they need.We learn a lot about listening to what you need and asking the ensemble for help or for what you need, but some people have a better sense of that than others. I’ve learned more than ever how to just surrender myself to the ensemble and be open and listen first. To be quick to listen, slow to speak. It’s interesting to see, some people like to bring in personal relationships into their work relationships and some people don’t, and it’s a life long work of figuring out that line and where you want to be in that spectrum.
With a few weeks left in the semester, what will be your main focus in the classroom / studio?
EMILY: I personally want to work with other people and just focus on how everyone works together and everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. I feel like I’ve done a lot of internal work and now I want to bring that into the space and just connect with people when I only have a couple weeks left because I don’t know when I’ll be able to connect and see these amazing artists again.
ALISON: I’m working on my solo a lot right now and that’ll be finishing up in the next couple weeks before the show. I think just really personalizing it and making it something that represents who I am, and not being afraid to really dive into that because it’s really hard to be on stage alone, being vulnerable in that way. I think just taking pride in what I’ve made and really going for it. I have never personally performed a solo in my life. This will be the first time.
MARYKATE: It’s literally the last month, that is crazy. Obviously I just want to soak it all up and be present in each moment, which is a natural feeling when you’re ending something. I’m thinking, “I just want it to last forever and make the most of each moment”. I guess a less go to answer would be that I can embody that idea by just creating as much as I can, whatever I want just going balls to the walls essentially, and share my ideas more. At some point I think maybe a high school teacher said to me, “you should leave the stage feeling like there’s nothing left, like you left it all out there.” I want to do that in these last performances we have and each exercise and in the studio I just want to do it all the way, but I know there will be stuff left because I’m going to take a lot away from this experience.
“The end is near.” What does this mean for you?
EMILY: I’ve been coming to terms with end being near for a while because I knew it was coming and I knew I would be sad, but seeing it come close, it’s like when you trip over something and just see everything in slow motion because you just start noticing all the little things that are happening around you a lot more. Like the sunsets or like “wow this might be my last time in this space.” And that happens when you’re travelling in general because every place you go, you might not ever return which is always sad, but it’s been nice to come home to Arezzo and it’ll be really sad to leave. I can’t imagine I won’t be back in Italy.
ALISON: I’m definitely going to be really sad to leave here but I know that all the experiences that I’ve had were valuable and I don’t ever feel like I need to go back and change something. Everything that I’ve already done is done and it’s important and it really helped me and changed me. I don’t wish for more time, I miss home and I feel prepared to go back but I know I’ll really miss this place.
LAST CALL for the 2019 Summer Physical Theatre Intensive & Fall 2019 Physical Theatre Program!
We’re past the application / registration deadlines for both of these programs, but you can still claim one of the final open places. Submit your application or registration form before it’s too late!
REGISTER NOW for the 2019 Summer Physical Theatre Intensive
APPLY HERE for the Fall 2019 Physical Theatre Program