It’s been five days since I’ve returned from the USF Dance in Paris Program, and I’ve continually put off writing this last blog post. Finishing my personal series of updates not only means finding a way to summarize my experiences in coherent sentences and paragraphs, but it also means the official end of the program. I may be excited to be home with my family and friends, but I’m not ready to admit that this amazing program has come to a sudden conclusion. How do I discuss with people how this program has changed me if it is still continuing to do so? How do I get people to see past the Eiffel Towers pictures and see how my artistry is being developed? It may impossible to delve into the ways that each and every moment has affected each and every part of me, but I choose nonetheless to undertake the task of explaining the biggest areas that have changed in me as a result of the illustrious USF Dance in Paris program.
The USF Dance in Paris Program included creative time in the studio with various choreographers, teachers, and dancers, a derive, which was a personal Parisian path mapped out for us by the program director, Michael Foley, the chance to create our own choreographic work, and critical feedback from our faculty and fellow dancers. All of these aspects together served to change my choreographic process and and how I see the art of making dance. In some of our dance classes, teachers encouraged us to challenge ourselves in terms of what we knew to be, “dance steps,” and to examine all of the possible ways that the bodies we were given can move. In this exploration, I found it so fulfilling to switch the usual process of dancing, to stop dancing from the outside in and begin to dancing from the inside out. Additionally, the sights on my derive showed me things about Paris that I wasn’t expecting. I saw the enormity of the Notre Dame, the serenity of the Seine, the commercialism of the 5-story underground mall, Forum de Halles, and the mundane streets of residential Paris. The first time I went out on my derive, I travelled alone to see all of these large and beautiful landmarks. As the usual tourist in Paris would have it, it was only the large and beautiful landmarks and environments that I saw. My second time on my derive, with a second set of eyes, would reveal to me the smaller, lesser-known, and maybe not-so-pretty parts of Paris. When I saw these things, I started to let myself be upset with Paris, as if the city were a person who put on a pretty mask and accidentally showed me the ugly things underneath. The more I thought about it though, I realized the fact that everyone and every place works this way. There are are attractive and unattractive characteristics about people, and about a place. One may be well-liked over the other, but it serves no purpose hide either one. I soon started to implement this principle in my dancing and choreography. When I started my solo, I wanted to be all over the room, using grand movements and big jumps to get people to see what I had seen on my derive. After repeatedly coming up with phrases that didn’t satisfy me, I learned that, just like in spoken conversation, constant loudness is not always- if ever, the best way to get a point across. The way I danced and the way I choreographed found a new serenity, a comfort in the small, almost imperceivable moments of a dance. One of our faculty members, Catherine Denecy, always told us that good speeches are never just filled with podium-pounding, mic-dropping declarations; they’re built slowly from humble statements, rising into grandeur from the smallest of sentences. Being in Paris taught me to see the beauty in both the big and the small, the pretty and the ugly, and how to use both together to make something worth watching.
In the course of one month, my fellow peers and I got to attend twelve professional dance performances. In addition to those, we also got to see and critique each other’s solos in class. One considerable difference I saw between American and European dance theatre is their way of communicating with an audience. Here in America, if a dance piece is supposed to be a narrative or a retelling of an incident, I can usually follow the ‘storyline’ from beginning to end, clearly pointing out which things happened before what and what the final outcome was. Here in America, you can also very distinctly tell the difference between what is meant to be theatre and what is meant to be dance. None of this is true of the performances we saw in Paris. In Paris, I found that their way of sequencing a dance stayed more true to how humans actually interact with each other when we recall events to other people, which confused me more than fulfilled me at first. They way people- well, me, at least- speak isn’t perfectly chronological, it jumps from instance to instance, tracking back to tie things together and rewinding to create context and ensure understanding. This is how most of the performances we saw in Paris were organized. Even though this style was more confusing to watch at first, I eventually found that the close relationship to the true human experience, sporadic speech, unorganized emotions, and unidentifiable feelings, made the performance that much more relatable. Even when I couldn’t readily point out what a piece was supposed to be about, I could identify with the dancers on a level that I couldn’t bring words to. Dance performances in Paris also offered more in term of theatrics within the dance pieces. European choreographers looked beyond mere dance steps to explore and implement theatrical components into a piece, sometimes adding onstage musicians, elaborate costumes, and even dialogue between dancers. The choreographers we saw in Paris knew just how to use the grand and the petite to make work that, in my case, spoke directly to the human condition. In short, the performance experience in Paris changed me for the better. Rather than search for the eloquence in how a story is told or a point is made, I now search for the eloquence in what is being said and how it subsequently makes me feel.
Finally, seeing Paris through the eyes of the authors featured in the assigned reading for the term, Paris in Mind, by Jennifer Lee, had a lasting impression on how I viewed Paris and any other “big thing,” that people deem important. In many of the passages, authors deemed Paris as the “it,” place, implying that there was some, “je ne sais quoi,” about the place that made it better than any other place in the world for artistic inspiration. For some time upon my arrival, I wanted so much for Paris to be that place for me, but I eventually grew tired of seeing the world through the eyes and opinions of other people, forcing myself to be in awe of things that I actually couldn’t care less about. Being in Paris, and especially not always being with a group of people, allowed me to see things for myself. While I certainly found Paris to be a place of great inspiration, at the end of my time there, I still have a hard time believing that it’s the absolute best place in the world. There were popular things about it that I did love, like the way the Eiffel Tower glitters in the evening, or the gigantic pyramids in front of the Louvre, and the way the French keep their gardens well-manicured, but there were also things about Paris that everyone seemed to like, but I just couldn’t get on board with. I wanted to look at the Mona Lisa, but when I got there, the minuscule polaroid of a painting disappointed me greatly. The frequent stench of urine in the metro and on the streets, and the constant influx of second-hand smoke into my lungs made me want to stay inside. I don’t say these things to discredit those who do think the world of Paris, but as an acknowledgement of my development into thinking and forming opinions for myself and not for others.
Final verdict: I loved Paris and this program not for the material things that it showed me, but for the people it brought to my world of influence and the knowledge those people have imparted upon me. Paris may be in the past, but its impression will forever be upon me, and I hope to one day return for the same reason I went- to dance!
Á plus tard!