Wednesday, February 9, 2011

An Interview with Dana Ruttenberg

Reflections on Dana Ruttenberg’s Creative Minds in Creative Bodies Workshop

Israeli born dancer and choreographer, Dana Ruttenberg trained at the Bat-Dor School of Dance and the Thelma Yelin High-school for Performing Arts before coming to New York to attend Columbia University. While living and studying in New York, Dana was the artistic director of her own dance troupe, The Red Hill Project. She returned to Israel in 2003 and has since been teaching, giving workshops, and choreographing. Currently, she is also finishing her MFA through ADF and Hollins University’s low-residency program, designed especially for mid-career artists. We were privileged to have her come teach a workshop at Peridance this January. Unable to take her workshop myself because of an injury, I instead talked to Dana about her work and was able to watch her showing at the end of the week.

How is the workshop going so far?

It is rather condensed because of the short time slot, but we make it work. The first hour is a warm-up based on what I have learned in my own career, particularly when working through serious injuries. I bring in aspects of Gyrokonesis® and yoga as well as using spirals within the body and imagery. I find that sometimes if you give dancers a new name or image for a frequently utilized movement it can become fresh again.

In the second half we work with exercises and games I have created to aid inspiration. When dancers are inspired they do not need a teacher, but we cannot control when inspiration strikes and it is not always while we are in the studio. Sometimes inspiration strikes in the subway, but once we are in the studio our minds are blank. So, I have borrowed from other worlds like mathematics and poetry to play with old, stuck material.

For instance, today the puzzle we worked with involved telephone and social security numbers. I taught them all some of my material and then split it into the digits 1-9, so that each digit corresponded to a part of the phrase. Then the digits where divided into upper and lower body. Each dancer then organized their upper body movement according to their telephone number and their lower body movement according to their social security number. They then worked through this new material with a randomly assigned partner.

This is just one example of an exercise I might use. They are tools for when you are stuck in choreography or find yourself repeating particular movement patterns. It is meant to challenge coordination and rewire your body. I think it lets you come out of your self and see what you are doing, that way you can clear up what you like and what you do not like. It sharpens the body and mind.

How did you create this method of working?

It comes one part out of my love of crossword puzzles and one part out of all those times I have been stuck and wanted to move in a way I never have before. I found that if you shift one little thing suddenly you have a whole different movement, phrase, or piece. To change you do not have to collapse your whole world rather you can alter one little thing.

I hear so many dancers who say, “I want to move in an exceptional way.” Movement exercises like the ones I have used in my workshop are a great way to find your way of moving and of pushing your movement. You have to travel to know where home is, if you are there then you are just there. If you travel though you may find a new “home” you never thought would be yours. It is the same with a movement style, you can discover that you can or enjoy moving in ways that before you would have said were not you.

You mentioned earlier that you have had some serious injuries, what happened?

I first started having trouble with a spine injury while I was a student in New York. I found that I needed to reimagine the way I though of my body. I think that you have to reimagine your body everyday. A while ago, I read an article about POWs that discussed the three kinds of mentalities that appear. The first do not believe they will ever get out of the camp and they ended up dying there. The second believe they will get out, but they put a timeline on it and they too ended up dying in the camps. The third believed they would someday go home they just did not know when and they were the only group who survived. I found this to be a good way to think about being injured as well, you cannot put a timeline on it rather you must live with your body day to day.

Have you enjoyed working with the Peridance students?

I have had a strong core of about ten people in a class of twenty. It has been a challenge to keep giving the returning students room to progress while allowing new students to join us. Working with them has re-energized me rather than draining me. I think that creativity and humor stem from the same place and all of the students I have worked with have had a good sense of humor and are open to the unexpected which I appreciate.

After I watched the studio showing at the end of the week:

Immediately I saw how the dancers I had watched at the beginning of the week had lost their inhibitions. They seemed comfortable with experimenting and not phased that they were being asked to dance in random couples and then random groups of four. The energy in the studio was palpable and I have rarely been so inspired watching material in a classroom. It made me wish that I had been able to take Dana’s workshop, but after our conversation I both have ideas for how to work on my movement style when I have recovered and a new outlook with which to approach my unwelcome “break.”

Watch excerpts from Dana's Workshop:

Dana Ruttenberg @ Peridance Capezio Center, NYC from Dana Ruttenberg on Vimeo.

For more about Dana and her company visit:

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