My minds eye for Dance Photography was to capture that moment of form. Following Mary Miller & Charles Hall as they created a new performance for the Nandanik Dance Festival. I witnessed talented professional artists building a performance.
Creative collaboration is a dynamic process especially when the artists involved have known & worked together for 20 years. Mary has danced professionally since 1967. Her work in Modern Dance doesn’t mimic what others do. In Charles’ career as a musician, he has had many opportunities to work with Mary as an accompanist at classes, with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Civic Light Opera & many site-specific theater performances.
The essential musical talent Charles brought to the development of this work was his drumming. However, his presence on stage & interaction with the drums became an integral part of the choreography. Mary was the motivator of movement. Their ideas merged & evolved as I experienced more than just a few chances to capture some photographs.
In the rehearsal studios of Point Park University, where Charles is an accompanist, Mary guided the staging & basic flow of the piece. Charles was nurturing not only the live voices of the drums but a soundtrack he would record to add another musical layer. Watching the free flow of ideas between these professionals as they cultivated their options during run-throughs was intriguing.
Mary likes working with people who don’t take themselves to seriously because they are more open to what they will experiment with. During her career, she has worked with poets, fiber artists, sculptors & other artistic partners. Talking with Charles about the collaboration he immediately remarked upon the importance of trusting the other people. They must be invested in working together & listening to all ideas.
Mary’s interaction with the drums & music developed into a vehicle for Charles. As the design of the piece came together, his character observed her & the drums with trepidation. Until, with her enticement, he became comfortable with making his own music. Their combined interaction added emotion & character to the work now titled “Friendship”. The resulting music at the hands of Charles unlocked the movements Mary had been walking thru. In true Miller style the performance with a live musician was much deeper than possible with just pre-recorded music.
With opening night a few days away the Tech Rehearsal at Carnegie Library & Music Hall, they went over the props, audio & lighting with stage manager Joan Greenwood. With as much combined experience as both Mary & Charles have they realize the importance of coordinating with “the house” to put the final details on their work.
The difference between the rehearsal studio & the tech run-thru on stage is significant. It isn’t just because of the lights, audio & space. This is where the final decisions are agreed upon while defining positions in the actual environment. Their movements in their final rehearsal became even more precise as the performance was almost at hand.
It is difficult to say if it was decades of experience, self-confidence or the diversity of her career that leaped out as she began polishing the final touches on “Friendship” during the Tech. It was obvious Mary was headed for a new crescendo I had not yet seen. Even though I had watched the piece develop I was anxious to see the final result.
With the background soundtrack complete Charles was confident in what they had forged from their ideas. He had channeled his initial reluctance to be moving around on the stage into a motivation for his character.
“Friendship” had become more than contemporary dance. It was a musical performance. It was theater. The drums weren’t just instruments & props. They played a supporting role. The collaboration of vision, experience, talent & trust was now what I was seeing.
The night of the performance the dancer, the musician & the drum ended the work by exiting stage right as they had done in rehearsals. This time they had a little more spring in their step. The culmination of all of their work & molding of ideas had reached the inevitable conclusion with style.
After returning to the stage for their bows they each stepped back gesturing to the now static & silent drums acknowledging the role they had played. They had not done this in rehearsals but I was ready & got the shot. Not what I had originally envisioned but I captured my moment of form for a scene that was part of a very human story.