Each of us has our own specific way in which we feel we best communicate with the world around us. I, being a writer, am rather comfortable using words -- most often written, but I do a pretty good job speaking, as well.
Attempting to get dancer and choreographer Nina Madsen to convey information about Tulsa Modern Movement's upcoming production of her "Confessions" by using words instead of the dance that is her native language -- well, it's a bit like asking me to dance the information conveyed in the next 1,000 words. And nobody wants to see that.
"I have a really hard time explaining myself verbally, which is why I'm a mover," Madsen said. "In fact, I feel like my dancers never understand anything I'm saying, but then I show it in movement, and they're always like, 'Oh, yeah, I get it.'"
However, given a few minutes to riff on who she is artistically and what she's doing with this show particularly, Madsen spins some pretty good stuff.
The genesis of "Confessions" goes back to Madsen's days at the Laban / Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York, but this piece has been growing for a good, long time.
"At Laban, you're taught to observe people and watch how their movements tell so much of their stories. It's not people-watching, but kind of observing what's going on around me," Madsen said.
This eventually brought her to conceive of a piece called "Between Us," itself a work that helped "Confessions" make its way into the world.
"I've been thinking about this piece for a couple of years, but it really started with this piece I did last year called 'Between Us,' and I wanted to build on that. This is kind of an expanded version," Madsen said. "'Between Us' was 12 minutes long, and this is kind of an expansion. It was in two parts, and the first part opens this show, and the second part closes it."
"Confessions," then, looks at our lives and how much or how little of those lives we honestly, truly share with those around us. Madsen said that "Confessions" is about the spaces that exist in between the stories we tell to the world around us.
"It's basically about the fact that in life, we have all these people around us that we think we know, and there's this whole life going on with them and in their heads that we don't even know about," she said.
She went on to express an idea that perhaps what is missing in what we say to each other says more about ourselves than the stories we tell each other about who and what we are.
"The main reason for creating this piece is because I feel like the things that we don't say to each other are revealed in our everyday lives. The things we don't say to each other are there in the space and affecting relationships and life and each other, even though we're not talking about them," Madsen said.
So how, exactly, does something like this get conveyed via dance, without any dialogue, soliloquies, monologues, or narration?
Madsen said that the abstract-ish nature of modern dance lends itself to telling these stories that are, by her own definition, incomplete.
"In modern dance, particularly with my work, I usually hint at things. There are movements that allude to a certain confession, but you'll come away maybe not knowing what everyone's individual complete story is, and that's kind of the point -- that the stuff that happens to us is not the real story. The story is the change," she said.
"It's not like you're going to see eight complete stories. There are eight dancers in the piece, and three other dancers that are sort of representing a triad," she said. "You'll see two of the dancers' stories in full. Kind of like in life, even with your close friends, you don't see every part of their lives."
As for the other six main dancers, we will only see parts of their stories.
"You know, just like how you only get parts of the stories of the people in your lives," Madsen said.
Tulsa Modern Movement presents "Confessions" Saturday, June 9 at 8pm and Sunday June 10 at 3pm. The performances will be held at Tulsa Ballet's Studio K. Tickets are $15 and available at tummdance.org or at the door.
Art at 2,100 Degrees
It's hard to swing a dead cat in Tulsa without hitting some sort of art display. At the same time, most people in town would be hard-pressed to direct an art-starved visitor to any one of the myriad exhibitions dotting our cultural landscape at any given time.
The Tulsa Glassblowing Studio is the latest entity to put its art up for all to come and see, and this time, it's eye candy at the Performing Arts Center downtown. And Cindy Wilson, who serves on TGBS's board of directors, is glad not only of that, but also of the fact that this is the third year for this exhibit.
"This has become an annual event that we've done with the PAC where they've allowed us to bring in student art in the month of June," she said.
Lest one think this is all kid art better suited for a mom's refrigerator, Wilson is quick to dispel that on several levels.
"The art on display is by students, and most of them are high school and college aged kids, though we do have some adult work on display, too, because we do have some adult classes," she said.
And then there's the actual nature of creating art out of glass. When you think about it -- what with its 2,100-degree temperatures -- this ain't exactly art that your average preschooler dabbles in.
"A lot of this is fused glass, which is glass that's paired with other things," Wilson said. "You can incorporate different colors of glass or whatever, and you put it in a kiln."
While a kiln is another source of additional (potentially dangerous), sky-high temperatures, it doesn't instill into the uninitiated the faint fear of molten glass. After all, red-hot anything gives me the willies because it reminds me of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Major Toht pulls that poker out of the fire and holds it up to Marion's face, saying, "Yes, I know you weel." Anyway, this makes glass art a little less frightening and a little more accessible, according to Wilson.
"We're adding a fused-glass program here at the studio, because it's a kind of process that younger students can get involved with, but also older people who might be intimidated by the furnaces can get into this as well," she said.
All the glasswork on display has been donated to the studio by the artists, and this means that art lovers will have the opportunity not only to take some of the works home with them, but also benefit a worthy cause at the same time.
"Many of the pieces on display will be for sale, and all of the funds will go back to TGBS. We're a nonprofit, and our primary goal is to serve underserved kids," Wilson said. "We work with Street School, Phoenix Rising, groups like that."
And this provides many kids who -- underserved or not -- aren't getting access to an education in the arts that is anything more than cursory. The cross-curricular benefits are abundant, as well.
"We work on communication skills, listening skills, how to deal with failure, how to adapt," Wilson said. "When you first start glassblowing, there's a pretty high rate of failure, so this is something we can help them learn how to deal with."
The studio's programs, like pretty much any artistic program worth its salt, often identify abilities in its students that would never otherwise have been even remotely tapped, much less awakened and nurtured.
"In the course of these programs, we've discovered kids who are really gifted. We're finding kids who are learning so much and gaining so much in terms of self-esteem and things like that," Wilson said.
And that's pretty important because, let's be honest: You can say what you want about opposable thumbs or the ability to reason, but what really sets us as human beings apart from the animals is our interest in the arts.
"Art at 2,100 Degrees" will be on display in the PAC Gallery from June 6 through June 20, 10am to 5:30pm and during Chapman Music Hall events.
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