[Works]

Ensmble v0.2

[Pitches]

Ensmble: Masterclass & Installation at Film Gate Interactive Miami

Quick post as I’m working on the install right now: I’ll be premiering my new participatory installation work Ensmble at the Miami Light Project as part of Film Gate Interactive Festival. I’ll also be teaching a masterclass while I’m here. Info & tix on Facebook here.

Friday January 31

Saturday February 1

Miami Light Project, 404 NW 26th St, Miami, FL 33127

[Works]

Jacqueries: The Technician

[Pitches]

Who By Fire at Quartiers Danses

Who By Fire has its Canadian premiere this weekend as part of the Quartiers Danses festival in Montréal. I’ll be around for both screenings.

Showtimes:

Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal

Saturday, September 14
11am

Cinéma Beaubien

Monday, September 16
7pm

Click here for more info or to buy tickets!

[Pitches and Works]

Jacqueries

Jacqueries is a heist story with a political edge — a site-specific live work with a companion iPhone app. It’s got a killer cast (Anisa Tejpar! Luke Garwood! Catherine Larocque! Mateo Galindo Torres! Anastasia Shivrina!), great music by John Gzowski, and video by Electric Square.
It opens in one week.
Get tickets!
If you want to buy tix at the door, please sign up for the production updates email list. We’re only using it for important updates (location changes, weather cancellations, app details &c), not for marketing or promotion.

[Works]

Who By Fire



Who By Fire premiered February 4th 2013 as part of the 2013 Dance On Camera Film Festival at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Full info is here.

Behind-the-scenes / Concept Videos

Study #1
Study #2
Study #3
Study #4
Study #WellThatMostlyWorkedLetsGoForIt

Production Credits

Director & Choregrapher: Jacob Niedzwiecki
Director of Photography: James Sainthill
Music: ‘Who By Fire’, performed by Buck 65 ft. Jenn Grant, written by Leonard Cohen, used with the kind permission of Warner Music and Sony/ATV.

Cast

Gerald Situ, Adrian Anh Nguyen, Mateo Galindo Torres, Bradley Powell, Marissa Parzei, Tyler Gledhill, Sarah Koekkoek, Luke Garwood, Michael Caldwell, Shannon Litzenberger, Jones Henry, Louis Laberge-Côté, Martine Lusignan, John Ottmann, Johanna Bergfelt.

Swings

Simon Jackson, Jenna Savella, Ji Hong Sayo.

Crew

Production Manager: Pamela Steele
Production Designer: Yannik Larivée
Camera Operators: Rafael Giuliano, Ian McConachie, Simon Jackson Still Photographers: Dean Buscher, Holly Thomas
Hair: Alex Creighton
Makeup: Molly Adey
Production Assistants: Michael Brathwaite, Thaba Niedzwiecki, Margie Niedzwiecki

Sponsors

Witz Education
Vistek
i-technique
Canada’s National Ballet School
The National Ballet of Canada
MediaFontaine
John McLaughlin and Kate Arthur.

Beta testers

Ryan Booth, Krista Dowson, Robert Stephen, James Leja, Sonia Rodriguez, Dylan Tedaldi, Aarik Wells.

Special Thanks

Mentors, advisors, and all-round generous people: Rich Terfry, Phil Strong & John Oswald, Danny Hui, Craig McKay, Brad Copeland, Nick Blasko, Shan Du, Melissa Luu, Khoa Nguyen, Emma Niedzwiecki, Linnea Swan, Aeschylus Poulos, Jeff Morris, and Marc Kirschner.

Who By Fire was made with the generous assistance of MuchFACT.

[Pitches]

Chorus and the Ring Fundraising Drive

Jenna Savella

Chorus and the Ring is the working title for the short film I’m currently working on. It brings me back together together with a few artists I’ve worked with before — National Ballet of Canada soloist Jenna Savella, Toronto Dance Theatre alumnus Luke Garwood, and Director of Photography James Sainthill — and features a few new collaborations, with an original score by Jamie Drake and the TorQ Percussion Quartet, costumes by Krista Dowson, and amazing, sculptural 3D-captured forms designed by painter and VFX artist Matt Crookshank.

We’re heading into the final stages of post-production, and we’re asking for a little help to get this project across the finish line. Your donation will allow us to get the most out of our 3D rendering, sound mix, and colour grading — putting the best final polish possible on the film and supporting Luke and Jenna’s amazing performances. We welcome donations of any amount; even ten or twenty dollars will help. All our supporters will receive a “Special Thanks” credit and an exclusive animated GIF of one of the dancers’ 3D forms, as rendered by Matt Crookshank. Donors of $75 or over will receive a framed and signed production still. So hit that button and give what you can!

Donate

We’re really excited to get this project out into the world. Thanks for your help! As a treat, there’s a few more stills below the jump. Continue reading ‘Chorus and the Ring Fundraising Drive’

[Pitches]

Jesse Cook’s Blue Guitar Tour

I made video to accompany a few songs on Jesse Cook’s Blue Guitar Tour. I’ll have samples online in a bit. The songs were amazing to work with; if you have a chance to see him, don’t miss it. He’s playing Massey Hall on November 22nd.

[Pitches]

Meet Cute at the Global Cabaret Festival

I’m back in the Distillery District! I’ll be performing my solo Meet Cute at the Young Centre on Sunday, October 15, as part of the Whirl Dance Cabaret. Tickets are $20. The show also features the fifteen other nominees for the first annual Young Centre Dance Awards. I was pretty excited to be nominated, given that the other artists in the Multidisciplinary Artist Category are William Yong, Heidi Strauss, and Marie-Josee Chartier. The show will close with an awesome dance party featuring DJ Serious, so it should be a great night!

[Works]

Meet Cute (aka Canadian Tuxedo)

Meet Cute is a short, Dadaist romantic comedy. It was first performed at Fresh Blood 2012 at the Enwave Theatre in March 2012, and will be presented for Nuit Blanche 2012 as part of ‘Dada Reboot!’ at the Distillery District.

[Pitches]

So, What’s Going On?

In the interests of boring people less when I see them in person (since I have the bad habit of talking too much about my work), I thought a bit of an update might be in order.

2012 has been a bit of a whirlwind so far. February saw the premiere of Always Be Closing, my first (but definitely not last!) time collaborating with Montreal’s ferocious Catherine Larocque. In March, I worked with Yvonne Ng to create video for her show Frequency, and then in April I worked for a second time with Esmerelda Enrique, to create projections for her Dora-nominated show Aguas/Waters.

Also in April, I was lucky enough to be asked to create a short trailer for James Kudelka’s new work for Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie, From the House of Mirth. May, I spent all but cloistered, writing code to use 3D video captured by the Microsoft Kinect in a short film.

In August, Val Calam, Luke Garwood and I launched F/, an eclectic, adventurous event series focusing on movement and physical performance. You can read all about it (and check out our rather nifty website) at www.fslash.net.

As far as what’s coming up: two short dance films, a longer version of Always Be Closing, and a brand-new live promenade work. If you’re curious, you can always check out my tumblr, where I am letting some of the more (potentially) interesting bits of my process accrete; or follow me on Twitter.

[Pitches]

Always Be Closing – Next Week!

I’m premiering a new work, Always Be Closing, next week as part of At The Wrecking Ball V.

Always Be Closing is a bruising, physical, virtuosic solo for Montreal dancer Catherine Larocque. It takes the form of a hardcore sales seminar, putting the audience in the middle of the action.

It has a double musical accompaniment: Alec Baldwin’s testosterone-drenched monologue from David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, and the virtuoso Presto movement from Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto.

At The Wrecking Ball is happening at the Lower Ossington Theatre, at 100A Ossington Ave. There are four shows: Thursday February 9th through Saturday February 11th at 8pm, and a matinee on Sunday February 12th at 4pm. Tickets are $15.

The show also features work by eight of Toronto’s leading dance artists. It should be a great night!

[Pitches]

Call for Dancers & Traceurs

Dancers: all ages (9 – 99), male & female, contemporary experience preferred

Traceurs: 18+, male & female

What’s the upshot?

I’m shooting a short film set to Buck 65’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Who By Fire’, and I’m looking for performers. Read this, watch the video, and if you’re interested, email me and come to the open rehearsal this weekend (Oct 15 / rain date Oct 16).

What’s the concept?

Something based on this concept: http://vimeo.com/30174940 (password is ‘jacob’). There’s a fair bit more info about the concept in the video description.

When?

We’ll be shooting either Saturday Oct 29 or Sunday Oct 30.

Is this a paid gig? How much?

All performers will be paid. We’ve got a bit of support from MuchMusic’s MuchFACT (to make a ‘viral web video’, not a high-budget music video). The plan is to split the funding evenly among all performers and crew, so the exact amount depends, but performers can expect to make between $150 and $200. Like Bravo!FACT, we get the funding upon submission of the finished film, but because it’s a web video, there’s almost no editing; performers can expect to be paid within 30 days of the shoot.

What’s the time commitment?

A half-day shoot (about four hours) and two rehearsals, for a total time commitment of 8-10 hours.

I’m interested. What do I need to do?

  1. Contact me at jake@jacob-n.com and tell me so. If I haven’t worked or trained with you, please tell me a bit about your training and experience, and if you can, include a link to some video of yourself performing. I’ll send out an email in the next day or two with a time & location for the open rehearsal call and any other details.
  2. Come to the open rehearsal call this weekend. You’ll need to bring:
    • an iPhone / iPod touch (if you don’t have one and can’t borrow one, let me know; I may have some extras). We’ve built a custom microapp to make this concept possible.
    • earphones (that will stay in your ears if you move)
    • dark-ish clothing that you can move in (sweats are fine, please no capital-D dancewear). Make sure you’ve got a safe pocket for your phone / pod!
[Signs]

Admiring the Pipes

Peter Brook, writing about opera in The Shifting Point: “You come to Mozart and find a perfect marriage between the artificial and something that’s fully alive — here’s an example of the rigid pipe and the water flowing through it. But gradually the attention begins to go more and more to the artificial until suddenly you’re into sclerosis. Suddenly that pipe is taking all the attention and less and less water is trickling through it. Finally you get a fundamentally unwell and crazy society in which people forget that pipes were put into buildings for the purpose of letting the water through, and they now consider them to be works of art. People knock the walls down and admire the piping and totally forget its original purpose and function. This is what has happened in many art forms, and opera is the clearest example.”

The anorexic aesthetic at some ballet companies is a fabulous example of admiring the pipes.

[Works]

Ego Echo (beta installation)

Ego Echo Installation – beta test from Jacob Niedzwiecki on Vimeo.

Continue reading ‘Ego Echo (beta installation)’

[Works]

Spike Solutions #3 – Diptych

Spike Solutions #3 from Jacob Niedzwiecki on Vimeo.

This is the third in an ongoing series of short, focused screen tests of generative compositing techniques. In this diptych, the left and right halves use the same video material and grid; the left crops each instance of the source to a grid square, while the right shrinks it.

In other words, the video in any given zone of the left half is sampled (from that same zone) from the video in the corresponding location on the right half. In this screen test, each clip begins almost in sync, with a slight offset, so you can see movements in the grid ripple from bottom right to top left. A stochastic (fancy word for ‘random’) process occasionally jumps individual clips forward, out of sync. The perspective slowly fractures from a hard grid to shifting shards.

[Works]

Spike Solutions #2 (Diptych)

Spike Solutions #2 from Jacob Niedzwiecki on Vimeo.

This is the second in an ongoing series of short, focused screen tests of generative compositing techniques. In this diptych, the left and right halves use the same video material and grid; the left crops each instance of the source to a grid square, while the right shrinks it.

In other words, the video in any given zone of the left half is sampled (from that same zone) from the video in the corresponding location on the right half. In this screen test, each clip begins almost in sync, with a slight offset, so you can see movements in the grid ripple from bottom right to top left. A stochastic (fancy word for ‘random’) process occasionally jumps individual clips forward, out of sync.

[Works]

Spike Solutions #1 (Diptych)

Spike Solutions #1 (Diptych) from Jacob Niedzwiecki on Vimeo.

This is the first in an ongoing series of short, focused screen tests of generative compositing techniques. In this diptych, the left and right halves use the same video material and grid; the left crops each instance of the source to a grid square, while the right shrinks it. The video in any given zone of the left half is sampled (from that same zone) from the video in the corresponding location on the right half. In this screen test, each zone of video begins at a random point partway through the source footage.

[Games]

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Revised)

maslows-hierarchy-of-needs

[Signs]

Why We Have A Union

More delicacies from the Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes:

I am reminded of the anecdote told by Wellington to his confidante, Mrs. Arbuthnot, on the methods Napoleon wished to employ in order to distract the Parisian public’s attention from the appalling losses in the Russian campaign then in progress. He ordered that the ballet dancers at the Opéra were to appear sans culotte [without underwear]. The order was given, but the dancers flatly refused to comply. ‘Wellington added’, says Mrs. Arbuthnot in her journal, ‘that if the women had consented he did not doubt but that it would have obliterated all recollection of the Russian losses. Wellington was categoric. “This anecdote,” he said, “he knew for a fact.” ’

[Signs]

Sylvester & Tweety, Meet Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan besieges the Tangut Chinese city of Volohai in 1207, but can’t break through the city’s heavily-defended fortifications. From the Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes, attributed to Gabriel Ronay:

He offered to withdraw if he was given by way of tribute one thousand cats and one thousand swallows. The startled Tangut complied. But instead of withdrawing Genghis set them alight and released them in one great rush of living fire. The hapless cats and birds set the city on fire in hundreds of places and, while the garrison fought the flames, the Mongols breached the walls.

[Reflections]

Theatrical Projection with the Kinect

So I’ve just finished up my first attempt to use the Kinect in a theatrical environment (The Fleck Theatre @ Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre) and thought I’d share some of what I learned…

  1. Pick your framework carefully. It’s inspiring how fast Kinect support is getting implemented in things like Processing, openFrameworks, and Cinder; combine that with low-level system driver support across platforms and this means you’ve got a major choice to make, right off the bat. I’ve used Processing for ages, but I’ve been starting to chafe a little at its performance issues, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to try something else. I had a run at openFrameworks, and while I was impressed with the versatility, the amount of work to bodge all the pieces together gave me flashbacks to the first time I tried a Linux install. Then I found Cinder. All I can say is it’s a fantastic next step from Processing, retaining enough of the structure and philosophy to smooth the transition from Java to C++. Robert Hodgin is some kind of genius and there’s great forum support. Seriously recommended!
  2. Assume the worst. You’ve got a maximum range of 15′ – 20′. Shiny things cause huge problems. You’ve got a field of view of 57°. There’s a time-lag of about 30ms built-in. All of these things are described in the Kinect documentation; take them seriously. Things not mentioned in the documentation: IR interference from theatrical lighting didn’t seem to be much of an issue, but don’t assume it won’t be. Scrims cause the Kinect to go into epileptic seizure, but you can improve the situation by getting something solid close behind the scrim (i.e. a traveller curtain). The longest USB extension cable that worked from the Kinect to my MacBook Pro was 15′; you may need an amp to get much past that.
  3. Get under the hood. A solid understanding of how the device works is key to developing interesting applications. It’s not just the hardware, either. There’s tons of history behind this software that’s behind the lightning pace of Kinect development: the amazing work on structured-light scanning paved the way for everyone who’s experimenting with the Kinect now; all the frameworks make use of OpenGL; OpenCV is an incredible library, created by a seriously talented community. Dig into the history and the development of this stuff.

Photos & video of the show to come!

[Games]

Lazy Mashup — Chingy + Bowie

I really don’t have the energy skills to take this all the way, but the amazing Q-Unit got me thinking. So: Chingy+Bowie (’Chowie’?):

Famous Balla

[Games]

Busby Berkeley Goes Mad, Pt. 1 (wave test)

I’ve been playing with harmonic / wave motion passing through an ensemble. This test imagines a hundred dancers, each fed a separate audio signal through (let’s say) a wireless earpiece, with the pitch corresponding to some axis of movement (in this example, vertical) and each dancer constantly adjusting to match their unique pitch. The fun thing is that it could be overlaid on existing choreography (whether set or improvised) as a sort of guide layer. Apologies for the horrible slide whistle, I’m not much of an electronic musician. Future directions: the dancers should be able to move about at will, and have their pitch track their position…

Live sketch is after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Busby Berkeley Goes Mad, Pt. 1 (wave test)’

[Signs]

Oh, Uncle Aldous, That’s Lovely

Aldous Huxley: “…there is no form of contemplation, even the most quietistic, which is without its ethical values. Half at least of all morality is negative and consists in keeping out of mischief.”

[Criticism]

Wingéd Review Roundup

NOW Magazine on the show: “Tomlinson takes the audience on a journey that begins with a stomach-churning fall and ends with transcendence…The design provides an added lift, with Sharon DiGenova’s lighting and Jacob Niedzwiecki’s video and imaging lifting us out of our everyday world.”

Eye Magazine: four out of five stars.

Plank Magazine: “Tomlinson’s insight into the damage love inflicts is piercing…”

Mondo Magazine: “The ceiling-video projections created by Jacob Niedzwiecki successfully enlarged the stage to include a sky and create a space for Tomlinson’s characters to fall and fly.”

Props to the whole amazing team I got to work with: David Tomlinson on lead bass & vocals, Diana Kolpak conducting, and Sharon DiGenova pushing photons like it was going out of style.

[Pitches]

Wingéd — Running Now Through May 8th

A few months ago I got an email from Toronto director Diana Kolpak. I’d heard of Diana’s amazing 2004 clown show, The Gorgonetrevich Corps de Ballet Nationale in “Bethany’s Gate”, though I was unable to see it as I was performing at the time. Diana invited me to collaborate on a show she was working on with actor David Tomlinson, creating video imagery and projections; the connection came through their lighting designer Sharon DiGenova, who I worked with on Bastard Fugue. The script hooked me instantly: it was sexy, contemporary, and brilliantly written.

The last two weeks have been a blur of preparation, as we worked to turn the DeLeon White Gallery (1139 College St. at Dufferin — not on Queen West anymore, despite what Google will tell you!) into a fabulous performance space, with a specially curated exhibition of art from residents and special guests complementing the show. David blogged the process at No Rest for the Wingéd.

The show is a set of three linked monologues based on characters from different mythologies, tracing an arc from falling to taking flight again: Icarus, Lucifer, and Phoenix. We run every night from now ’til next Sunday, May 8th, except for Monday May 3rd. You can get tickets at the door ($20 / $18 students or Equity) or online at Brown Paper Tickets. Tix for next weekend are going fast so come early next week for best availability. It’s hilarious, inspired, and stunningly performed. Come and check it out!

[Works for Hire]

The Video, It Moves

I don’t often post about freelance work on this site — it’s more focused on my own projects. But once in a while I get to do some pretty cool stuff, and this is one of those times.

Over the winter, I had the chance to work with actor and producer Martha Burns to design and create a website for her short film anthology Little Films About Big Moments. I’m really happy with how the project turned out — I got to combine a couple of my obsessions into one piece of work, and the site feels like a really natural extension of the films.

I want to thank my friend Khoa Nguyen for acting as technical mentor on the project, and Martha and her production team for their support and great ideas throughout the process.

I hope you check it out: www.littlefilms.ca!

[Signs]

Left Brain, Meet Right Brain

Today’s recursive Google search: “plays featuring a ‘play-within-a-play’”. Thank you, Wikipedia.

[Callouts]

Signifying Nothing, Part I

What happens when the academe takes to the stage? You tell me — this is from a description of an upcoming seminar series, at an unnamed Center for Contemporary & Digital Performance Research:

Within the super-saturation of virtuality and technological reproductions in contemporary digital culture are established zones and terrains of indistinction and disappearance (digital kamps). These electronic environments I would nominate as examples of the bio-virtual (perhaps a post-virtual) and model the fields as a space of bio-politics par excellence. For the virtual is not simply virtual anymore as its affect within us is haptic and somatic and leads us to identify the phenomena as a taking place (within the non-place) of the (bio)virtual. The (bio)virtual or post-virtual is no longer a problem of the desert of the real, of representational illusions, but an entrance of a new biopolitics of techno-performativity of doubles and debris veiled through indistinction, confusion, excess. The subject’s role in these digital kamps is one of disappearance: a public denial and a private deferment. My research considers the aftermath of the digital revolution and the resulting bio-political zones of indistinction constructed of bio-virtual doubles, avatars and digital debris.

Apparently the first casualty of the digital revolution is clear writing. I feel like I just won post-structuralist bingo.

[Works]

Bastard Fugue

Bastard Fugue features Naoya Ebe of the National Ballet of Canada, and live camerawork by yours truly. It premiered at Fresh Blood, a group show of work by young choreographers hosted by The Chimera Project, on October 29th at the Enwave Theatre in Toronto. The piece is set to a Bach fugue for organ, arranged instead for mixed percussion, and uses live projection to explore fugue structure with a single dancer. Special thanks to Naishi (Kamen) Wang for his valuable participation in the creation process. More credits and special thanks after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Bastard Fugue’

[Pitches]

Upcoming Premiere: ‘Bastard Fugue’

I’ll be premiering a new work at The Chimera Project’s Fresh Blood at 8pm on October 29th, at the Enwave Theatre. Bastard Fugue features the National Ballet of Canada’s Naoya Ebe (at right) and is set to the Fugue from Bach’s Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major, arranged for mixed percussion. Including cowbell. Bach + cowbell is like chocolate + bacon: two great tastes that go great together! You can buy tickets here.

Bastard Fugue fuses live performance and projection to explore fugal composition with a single dancer. The Bach fugue, originally composed for organ, is stripped of melody and becomes a propulsive rhythmic fundament for a powerful performance. Some preliminary special thanks:

  • Naishi (Kamen) Wang of Toronto Dance Theatre for his valuable participation in the creation process;
  • The National Ballet School and the National Ballet of Canada for donating rehearsal space;
  • Malgorzata Nowacka for the opportunity to show this work;
  • Jeff Morris and Robert Stephen for participating in the technical workshop which spawned some of the ideas explored in this work.
[Criticism]

Eye For Film Reviews Helioscape

The UK website Eye For Film offers a review of Helioscape’s premiere at DANCE:FILM 09 in Edinburgh.

This is a beautifully composed work. Beautifully danced. Beautifully photographed. But what I particularly liked was there was neither an absence of cinematic technical innovation nor an excess of it.

Thanks to Chris for the thoughtful review.

[Games]

Film Festival Bingo — Print It Out And Play

Click for high-res version

 

Update: blogTO highlighted TIFF Bingo in their annual TIFF Film Schedule post.

Instructions: use with your film festival program guide’s film synopses or descriptions. Click for high-res print version. Inspired by yesterday’s release of the Toronto International Film Festival program book. Designed (hastily) by me, written by Pam Steele, Margie Niedzwiecki, and me. I’m going to see if the boys at TIFF will offer any prizes…

[Works]

Love in Vain (TBA:48)

Entry for the Dance Films Association “What Moves You” 48-Hour Challenge. Link changed to higher-quality version uploaded Sunday morning; the original is here.

Cast: Robert Stephen and Cristina Tucciarone. Special thanks to Pat and Cathie Dwyer, Aryon Elmers, Barbara Lane, Simon MacIntyre, Bev Peat, Jenn Stephen, John and Jane Stephen, Teri Worthington, and all our other donors.

[Commentary]

Love in Vain: The Exclusive Making-Of Post

"Two days is forty-eight hours. That's a six-day work week, if you don't sleep."

So my entry for the Dance Films Association’s 48 Hour Challenge got in on time and on budget. I owe a huge thank-you to everybody who contributed to said budget; I will be contacting everyone who made a donation to check if I can include their name in this post.

The film was made possible by the incredible team of people who jumped onboard this particular crazy train. Robert Stephen and Cristina Tucciarone were fantastic in the studio and in performance; I have to thank Robert—who has just been deservedly promoted to second soloist at the National Ballet of Canada—especially for putting attractive flesh on the bones of a very quickly-set piece of choreography. Elena Lobsanova (also now a second soloist) acted as rehearsal director and did wonders clarifying character in the choreography as the paint dried. Jeff Morris acted as my technical Yoda, and managed to remind me of various applicable laws of physics in time for me to figure out how to bend rather than break them. Pam Steele combined Stalin’s logistical talents with the grace and kindness of…well, not Josef Stalin. The miraculous John Webster got me thinking about the blues and shared much of his incredible collection of music. None of my work would be possible without Ryan Fontaine.

Two days is forty-eight hours. That’s a six-day work week, if you don’t sleep. And I didn’t, much. Friday night from midnight to three I bought and read newspapers, blogs, and tabloids; I came across the Sheela Ward Friendship Club, a syndicated classified column, in the Sun and the Globe and it hooked me immediately.

NY. 112-089. Correctional Institute Inmate. Tall, handsome Black gentleman. Romantic, compassionate, understanding, soon released. In search of a special lady for LTR. Age 40-60, race not important, a warm heart is.

TX. 112-088. Gentleman, financially secure looking for poor woman for wife. 50-55, very healthy, 5′ tall, under 140lbs, non-smoker.

IL. 112-094. Correctional institute inmate. I’m lonely, 28, handsome. Seeking a nice lady to write. Prefer if your over weight, unattractive, and older than I. Non greedy of course. Smile.

OH. 112-091. Correctional Institute Inmate. Smile. Promise, honesty, a lot of mail and smiles, a real friend, someone you can believe in. Implicitly on your time, allow me to earn your trust.

FL. 112-098. Correctional Institute Inmate. SWM 32. Good-hearted badboy. Been in twelve years. Shed a thousand tears. Love play, lots to say. Enjoy writing, studying, thinking, and laughing. Please respond.

The connection to the blues and specifically to Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” (the recording of which is in the public domain) happened almost automatically when I read the above ads. I slept for two hours and then literally shot from dawn to midnight (with some rehearsal time in the middle in a studio donated by the National Ballet of Canada). Saturday, I got a couple hours sleep and then hunkered down and edited.

The one disappointing part of the experience was the upload near midnight Saturday to dancemedia.com. I don’t know if their site was getting hammered with other entries, but it was sluggish and kept dropping the upstream connection. I’m sure there are promotional considerations involved, but I would suggest that the DFA use proven infrastructure like YouTube in future events.

I’m very happy with the finished film. Good music goes a long way, and this was: as Robert said, none of us got even remotely tired of it despite it playing on repeat for about twelve hours. Much of the tone emerged during editing as I watched Robert’s performance. I storyboarded the piece pretty carefully (if illegibly) and ended up sticking pretty closely to the plan in the editing.

Crucifixion Checklist

This is one of the many lists I scrawled before the shoot. You might think I was heading out to crucify someone; if you can’t read the chicken-scratch, it reads, “BRING: staple gun, hammer/driver, screws, dance stuff, advil, hacksaw, cell numbers, MUSIC.” I think that says it all.

[Pitches]

Help Us Do Something Crazy

More information about the contest.

[Reflections]

Negative Inspiration

“The most reliable lesson I learn from a success is that it's time to do something different.”

I can’t count the number of times that a lousy piece of choreography or film has inspired me. Part of this is Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap. The corollary: 90% of what’s left is middling. Only one in a hundred things is any good at all. So it’s not really surprising that I’m inspired more often by works that fail, because there are just so damned many of them.

But there’s more to it than that. The inspiration provided by another artists’ failure is more specific and more useful than that provided by a success. I’m not saying that I prefer watching bad works to good; I am always, always, always on the side of the artist in their attempt to create good work. But where a masterpiece leaves me with a happy and excited, but also very general, belief in the worth of creative endeavour, a misbegot (yes, I’m nouning that adjective) leaves me with two specific things:

  1. A motivating anger at the waste, not of my time and attention (I gave it freely, or paid for the privilege of giving it), but of whatever was good in the work, whether it was the performers, the music, the technical crew, &c. I hate to see good work wasted, and seeing it done is an excellent prophylactic against doing it oneself.
  2. An understanding of exactly why the work failed. This sort of autopsy report is often very useful, because the secret of creating work is not to avoid mistakes, but to make novel and original ones.

A work that succeeds does so as a complete thing, as a gestalt, and is therefore very difficult to analyze: as Douglas Adams says, try to take a cat apart to see how it works, and what you’ve got is a non-working cat. That’s not to say that taking things apart is the only way to understand them, but I’m a hopelessly analytical thinker. A bad work, in contrast, is inherently an incomplete thing, less than the sum of its parts, which makes it much easier to see the joins.

More concisely, a work succeeds as a whole but fails in pieces. Watching those pieces—how they fall, what they’re made of, how someone tried to make them fit together—is a sometimes-depressing but always educational process. Learning from my own failures is a special, especially-depressing case of the above. The most reliable lesson I learn from a success is that it’s time to do something different.

[Short Talks]

On Profanity

Profanity only really exists in spoken language, but it’s rare to find someone who uses it well. Most people use it for emphasis. This is incorrect. Your words are their own emphasis. The proper use of profanity in spoken English is for rhythm. For a serious (if somewhat limited) practitioner, we need look no farther than the man himself:

“English, motherfucker, do you speak it?”

Perfect iambic pentameter. That’s how it’s done.

[Introductions]

Hell Yeah! What The Fuck!

Living is a life-threatening situation.”

I can’t believe it’s taken this long. Not to design this blog—that didn’t take too long, it’s pretty straightforward—but to get around to creating it. It’s been a busy, um, few years. Just to make its first few minutes especially exciting, let’s give it the challenge I think all newborns should face upon their traumatic exit from the womb: Justify Your Existence. Aaaaand…go:

In any life-threatening situation, you become more essentially who you are. Your values become clear. Your principles are tested; those that don’t collapse become load-bearing elements. You develop, in a word, character. I might be young, but I’m old enough to know that living is a life-threatening situation, and in the course of doing it, I’ve been seeing one of the cores of my character (and my practice as an artist) more and more clearly.

Risk. Ask any dancer I’ve worked with. On every level of an endeavour and of my life, I embrace risk.

This blog is at heart an amplifier, a multiplier of risk. I learn from failure as much as from success. I learn more working in public than in private. Creating the risk of public failure on the biggest stage possible creates what for me is an optimal learning environment. So from now on, it all has to live online. Stage works, films, code, Processing apps, critical and personal writing, it’s all growing up in public now. The first ever (and currently only) YouTube comment on one of my works autotranslates ambiguously from Japanese as either “What the fuck” or “Hell Yeah”—maybe I’m crazy, but I’m happy with either.

I’ll be writing regularly, posting new works and works-in-progress, and putting as much of my work and myself on here as possible. Keep in touch: the mailing link’s in the sidebar.

 

Jake