Posted by admin | Filed under dance
Staff Writer: Maro Guevara
Most students at USF are probably already familiar with Tandy Beal’s work, whether or not they’re aware of it. If you’ve ever marveled at the elegant way Jack Skellington, the protagonist of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” moves, you’ve enjoyed some of Beal’s work. The choreographer and artistic director of the Tandy Beal Dance company has had an incredibly varied career working with animators, multi-media stage creations and circuses. Her latest endeavor brings her right here to USF, where she’s working with students from the USF Dance ensemble for the upcoming spring show, “Traces.”
San Francisco Foghorn: So the piece that you’re working on is called “Here after Here”
Tandy Beal: The section that we’re doing is called Compass Rose. This is kind of the celebration dance in [Here after Here].
SFF: It’s within “Here After Here?” I was reading a description about it that said it’s about the afterlife or what happens after we die.
TB: That’s part of the larger nature [of the piece]. This is kind of the celebration dance in there. This section is called Compass Rose and it’s with seven dancers. It’s a very kinetic dance with original music by Jon Scoville.
SFF: You’ve been working with a group of seven dancers who are all USF students?
TB: That’s correct, seven wonderful USF students
SFF: How did you come to be involved with this project and what has it been like working with students here?
TB: Well I got involved because I’ve known your department chair, Professor Gallagher for years and we’ve had a wonderful friendship through the years and she invited me to do this dance. The students at USF are so intelligent, very focused..very purposeful. I love working with them. We have loved [working with them]–because there’s been this wonderful woman working with me– teaching the dance to them. I’ve been coaching and she’s been teaching the counts, the steps. Her name is Rebecca Blair. The students have had two very different teaching styles with us. Rebecca used to be the ballet mistress for Chicago Ballet. She came in with a very clear and wonderful professionalism to teach your dancers and they received her information very cleary, very rapidly and very richly. They’ve been great to work with.
I feel very privileged, not only with these choreographers and these dancers, but also with the faculty–some of who are choreographing and some who have supported, nurtured and trained all of these beautiful dancers. You’ve got a wonderful faculty there that is due a great deal or respect and admiration for all that they’ve accomplished. Kathi’s certainly been a beacon in the dance world.
SFF: What’s it like having created something and then handing it over, and sort of losing control over it?
TB: That’s an excellent question. It goes into the heart of much of the process, because I think dance-making is always a collaboration. In many ways you are always adjusting the intonation of what you are doing depending on who the people are. The tricky thing is when a piece is already choreographed, it’s this body of knowledge that you’re then imparting but I still find that with the solo sections or the duet sections I will change them so that it fits the accent of that dancer, so that they can speak it with the accent that [has] the most clarity for them, to help them find their way in. It’s a very different process than doing a straight shot choreography. Also, this is a very different kind of space [Studio Theater on Lone Mountain], and so we had to change a bunch so that all three sides receive information in a way that is elegant and purposeful.
SFF: How has having to work with the three-quarter view informed how you’ve adapted this piece?
TB: It was originally made for what we call a proscenium stage. It was intended to be seen from the front. Finding out that we were going into that three quarter round, I tried to change spacings on a number of things. I think that the most difficult thing for all performers is that when you’re performing with someone one foot away from you, as they will be there, that’s a unique performing situation. There’s no privacy in a way.
SFF: I was looking online at some of the circus work you’ve done in the past. Even outside of work you’ve done with the circus, it seems like there’s a move towards thatriciality and spectacle. Is that something that still influences your work today?
TB: On that website it’s mostly about corpproate events and thats why they push on there the more flashy things, on that particular website. I think that my work has two strains or two threads to it and one is about wonderment on every level. I think that there’s the celebration piece which is the circus, the Nutrcracker, the work I’ve done with Bobby McFerrin.They’re celebration works, they’re joyful. The work I’ve done with children is celebration work. It’s about wonder. I think the reason why I got very thrilled in working in circus–I thought I’d only get asked to only make one circus work and then suddenly I did fifteen years of it– it’s a way for adults to come into a state of wonder and I think that’s something that we–you know our cynicism or our culture, or whatever it is, we feel that it’s not an adult attitude towards life, to have wonder. But I think you lose your capacity to experience life if you lose your sense of wonder and I find that however you can initiate that wonderful… (laughs) I used that word again, that “wonderful wonder,” you bring people back to that state of experiencing things anew. We experience that astonishment of being on the planet or being full of joy–just being here in this crazy life. So I think it’s celebration work, and then there’s more poetic investigations which the whole work that Compass Rose is taken from is definitely about It’s looking at what people think happens after we die and I’ve done works on insomnia and there’s a lot of other different works that I’ve done that are much more poetic speculations or ways where you’re looking at it in in a quieter more internal sense of questioning. But I think it’s still coming out of a state of wonder: “Why are we here on this planet? what is going on?” I think we forget about it as we daily get involved with the necessities of life, getting food on the table and who said what to whom and all these things that we get distracted by when I really think we should be always in a moment of wonder and just astonishment and gratitude.
SFF: Do you feel that with this piece, Compass Rose, that even though it’s not on a huge theatrical scale and it’s in a small intimate space, that you can still create a sense of wonder or approach things in a more investigative way?
TB: This dance has more of a kinetic vitality: An expression of the forward momentum of our being and kind of a joyful movement through time and space. A Compass Rose is that little emblem on every map that shows you where North, South, East and West are and I named it that because partly the dance has a geogrpahical [element] in it and it has a sense of directionality in there. It’s also about, “Well, where is your true North? Is it infront of you? Is it above you? Or is it between two people?”
SFF: I’m a really big fan of the Nightmare Before Christmas, so I have to ask you what your involvement with that was. It seems so interesting to me that they would bring someone in to, I guess, choreograph clay?
TB: I was a fantastic project I completely loved doing it. What they did was they gave me the initial drawings of who they thought the characters were going to be and the would give me the initial music sketches and the script. So I choreographed each of [Danny Elfman's] songs with a character in mind and then after a while they had me go in and talk with the animators and then I’d improvise each song and I improvised who I thought the characters [were with]. I found out towards the end that they had a whole reportoire of.. you know, these are ’sad Sally’s hand gestures, ‘this is ‘Oogie Boogie’s walk’ and there were just different ways, where, apprently, I had done them and it was a wonderful experience. The animators were amazingly inventive and had a kind of vivacity about them that I adored.
As a closing thought, Beal shared a thought from Rabbi Nachman, “If you are a melancholy person, persuade yourself to dance, for it is an achievement to struggle and pursue that sadness, bringing it into the joy.” Beal added,
“The quality of sadness is a part of everybody’s life, but it takes enormous courage or dancing or art-making to transform it.”
“Traces” will be performed Friday and Saturday, December 5 & 6 at 8:00 p.m.
Studio Theater on Lone Mountain
$5.00 with USF ID / $10 General Admission
For more information, call the USF Dance Program at 415-422-3888