Lesson Learned | Alison Holland

After eight months of planning and few months of dance rehearsals, art making, and composing, L.A.-based Composer Paul Fraser, Visual Artist Mary Johnson of the Twin Cities, and I spent last week in residence at my local rural Minnesota school district.  In addition to working with students across the district that week, we set high artistic goals as a trio experimenting with “Chance Dance” theory, trusting our three separate works, created with the same theme, but in isolation from each other, would come together harmoniously on Friday night.  The performance was to include student-created work, and also planned to conclude with a Q & A session between the audience and artists moderated by Jessica Fiala of the Walker Art Center’s SpeakEasy discussion program in an effort to provide a greater understanding of the artists’ work.  We were sure we’d thought of it all.

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Photo Credit: Trevor Cokley

But Friday came and, after freezing rain sent four different school buses in the ditch on the way to school, the district closed at one o’clock and canceled our evening performance.  With the composer, who had designed many components for the piece to require his on-the-fly sound mixing, heading back to California, we knew we’d never see the piece come together as originally intended.  As we stood together on the stage of the high school that afternoon talking about next steps, someone quite eloquently said, “The students learned a tough lesson: Focus on the journey because the destination isn’t a guarantee.”

It was important lesson for me as well.  I’d known the whole time that our product really wasn’t a guarantee.  It was developed with “chance.”  But I thought, at the very least, we’d have the opportunity to see our final product, to share it, and to explain it.  I spent the next several days assuring everyone it was okay, and that I truly believe everything happens for a reason.  Today I feel I can finally say it: It broke my heart to have the performance within reach and then completely impossible within a matter of minutes.

While I’d been focusing for the better part of a year on that performance, I’d learned so much along the way.  And that reflection has helped sooth the heartache.  The project grew my confidence as a grant writer, taught me a lot about coordinating the details of a large project with a school district, and allowed me to stretch my wings as a choreographer and teaching artist at the same time.

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Photo Credit: Trevor Cokley

There were many lessons learned throughout the whole process, but I grew the most while teaching third grade students about chance dance choreography last week.  Surprisingly, I grew more as a choreographer while working with the students than I did as a teacher.  My third graders and I used simple movements to experiment with the many aspects of a movement that can be determine and changed with chance methods.  Playing with movement order, levels, facing, speed, etc. with the most basic (and even silly) movements reminded me of the building blocks that can serve to deepen a piece without fancy or complex dance steps.  This only grew my love of choreographing with chance methods and inspired me to utilize it to greater lengths soon.

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On stage Friday after cancelation: Mora Band Director Linda Parson, Choreographer Alison Holland, Composer Paul Fraser, Visual Artist Mary Johnson, CAPP Director and Mora Art Teacher Judy Broekemeier.  Photo Credit: Trevor Cokley

It’s still unclear how or if we will be able to wrap up our residency and share our work with the community of Mora, Minnesota given the musical score planned is not producible without the L.A.-based composer present.  Coordinating an opportunity for Twin Cities based dancers and local students to come together again has proven challenging enough.  We may simply present the choreography with the costumes and visual art in silence.  If we do, I’ve considered, among other things, recording the silently performed dance and, inspired again by Cunningham’s methods, propose a challenge to composers, musicians and sound designers on SoundCloud to produce a sound score for the length of the dance. Perhaps the silver lining to this experience is the opportunity to expand our chance-inspired collaboration and share the work with a wider audience.

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