Cucalorus 2015

Posted in Uncategorized on November 6th, 2015 by harperpiver

I’m excited to be included in the Cucalorus Film Festival this year. I’ll be premiering a piece of choreography accompanied by a film that I made. I had the opportunity to set the work on old friends and make new ones. Here’s a link to a description of the piece and ticket info from the Cucalorus website.

I’m Back.

Posted in Uncategorized on November 6th, 2015 by harperpiver

After a blogging hiatus, I am back. As I am reorganizing my websites, I am shifting the purpose of these posts but I kept a few oldies that still speak to my beliefs about art. Look for more in the near future.

PHX Experimental Arts Festival

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17th, 2011 by harperpiver

Saturday night my dancers will be performing in the Phoenix Experimental Arts Festival at Paradise Valley Community College’s CPA, 7:30 PM. Tickets are $10/$8 adults/students. The show includes the Lorkas Laptop Orchestra, Conder/Dance, Mary Fitzgerald Dance, and others.

Dancers on Stage

Phoenix Experimental Arts Festival

Dance and Martial Arts

Posted in Uncategorized on February 16th, 2011 by harperpiver

Recently I had the honor of attending Master Ray Fisher’s test to become a 7th Degree Black Belt in the Goju Shorei Weapons System. I have briefly dabbled in several forms of martial arts including capoeira, aikido, and t’ai chi, but never for long enough to consider myself a practitioner. It was exciting to get a glimpse into the practice of an elite martial artist and discern the commonalities and differences between martial arts and my own practice in dance and yoga. The obvious one is a sense of purpose: martial arts exist as a form of self defense, even if one is taught to only use these deadly arts in a life threatening situation. In dance we aren’t trying to beat each other, though we often do so unintentionally to achieve an elusive creative idea. As moving meditations reliant on movement memory, all three forms require extreme mental and physical discipline to attain and retain one’s abilities.

As is my nature, I left with a plethora of unanswered questions. The master giving the test encouraged us to ask anything, but after seeing Soke McNeil attack someone by placing a cane around his opponent’s neck and flip him over I thought I’d save my inquisitions for later. I do hope to interview Master Fisher soon, but in the meanwhile here are some things I took away that can relate to any practice.

  1. Internal Drive

As someone testing for a 7th Degree Black Belt, Master Fisher could have stopped a long time ago. He could have taken classes recreationally for years without striving for more, or he could have decided that a black belt was enough. From what I know of him, he is the kind of individual that doesn’t settle for less of himself. More importantly, he is driven by an internal desire through doing to know more about his body and his capabilities. As a dancer, I very much appreciate this. The more I learn, the more I realize there is to learn. The attainment of knowledge only leads to more questions, which in turn offer the opportunity for more discovery. The belt system, much like dance training and yoga asana, provides a framework for learning about one’s body and self.

2. Humility

This test was for weapons training specifically, meaning that while Master Fisher is training to be a 7th degree black belt in this area, he has done the same thing in several other systems. Since none of these overlap, he has started at the bottom rung on each and worked his way to the top. As adults, most of us hit a certain stride with something we excel at doing. The humility of being a black belt in one area and a complete novice in another is like the humility we all have when embarking on something new as adults.

By fearing things that are new, we deny ourselves the opportunity to expand our capabilities and extend our perception of the world. New activities and demands open our capacity to think in novel ways. The phrase “think outside the box” has been overused, but divergent thinking is valued and often missing in most every profession, creating institutions, individuals, and teams unwilling to make important changes to help them move forward. On a personal level, being willing to try something new and fully commit to it creates richness in our daily lives. It makes us less likely to fall into ruts of boredom.

To be an artist, performing or martial, is to be humbled every day. There is the work of masters who have come before, the continual attention paid to craft with the hope of a payoff in meaningful process or product, and there is the general lack of understanding in our culture about what being an artist entails. I feel certain that Master Fisher’s prowess as a martial artist is met with equal ambivalence as most dancers outside of his martial arts circle. I know him to be very dedicated to the internal practices. These combine with equal weight to create the sum of martial arts. Much like the fortitude it takes for a dancer to keep a straight face when met with another imitation of a music box ballerina, Master Fischer remains resolved and strong every day in his craft in the face of the layman’s purely physical interpretation of karate.

3. Focus through Distraction

The test itself was incredibly difficult on both a physical and mental level. Master Fisher knew 28 fighting techniques, each of which he had to perform bare handed, with a cane, and with a knife. He also had to perform a kata, a long series of fighting movement, with an imaginary opponent. Or two imaginary opponents. Or three. The master giving the test could demand anything at any time and he did. The need for mental focus increased throughout the ordeal. The master attempted to disrupt Master Fisher’s performance with loud Polynesian drum music. He then chose 3 novices from the onlookers, one of whom was a white belt, and required Master Fisher to teach each novice one of the techniques on which he was being tested. During the kata, the master threw a baseball bat underneath him, poked into his space with a cane, had someone circle him in close proximity, and distracted him with questions that he wasn’t allowed to answer. If he answered the difficult task had to be restarted with more distractions than before.

Life continually throws us distractions and we must maintain our focus in order to achieve what we have set out to accomplish. To do so we need to be able to adapt in the present moment. Maintaining our focus and being in the moment now means that small changes accumulate over time and help us reach our goals. Master Fisher didn’t walk off and complain that he couldn’t test under these conditions, he went with what was happening in the moment, knowing that he had prepared well enough to handle the challenges out forth. The kata prepares a martial artist for potential situations, but it is understood that, like in theatre, anything and everything can happen on stage.

4. Movement Memory

When he finally made it through the lengthy kata sequence, Master Fisher identify the places where he did something incorrectly and what he should have done instead. These moments were quite small and compounded by the fact that he had performed the kata about five times before the test giver let him stop. As a dancer, I am very curious about how martial artists use movement memory, particularly since it seemed as though he often trains alone. In dance partnering sequences are difficult to envision let alone rehearse without one’s partner present.

When I take ballet class, there are moments that feel almost surreal because I have done those movements at the barre so many times. Each day that I do them feels different, but even on a bad day, there is a wonderful feeling when I realize how many movements live in my body, quietly waiting to be used. Like Master Fisher, a large number of specific actions are as much a part of my physical being as walking. I wonder how they live in his body, how and if they rest, and if his muscles twitch on days he doesn’t use them enough. I hope to soon hear his perspective on the body mind connection in martial arts and open a dialogue about the things we share.

What will I find on this blog in the future?

Posted in Introduction on July 16th, 2010 by harperpiver

The short version:

-Interviews and profiles of independent artists working in non-traditional centers of dance

-An exploration of creative process in terms applicable and relevant to artists working in both dance and other genres

The longer version:

As an art form, dance is perhaps the one least understood by those who don’t participate. Dance as entertainment is all around us. It’s at basketball games, on television shows, and featured in popular movies. Dance as an art form is a different story. Often the brunt of jokes, contemporary dance is simply not on the radar of many art patrons. Budgetary reasons, declining arts coverage in newspapers, and other factors are impacting dance coverage nationwide, ultimately relegating the field even further to the periphery.

It is my desire to address the need for dance advocacy and education on a grassroots level. I am doing this by profiling independent artists working outside the traditional centers of dance. I hope to learn what drew these artists to where they live and what connects them to their communities.

I want to investigate about the place itself and how the landscape, culture, and people influence their work. How has the place been changed by their presence? How has it changed them? How does the community receive their art? How has this relationship changed over time? I want to know about the challenges they have encountered in order to help others working solo to address their own challenges. How do they stay connected to a wider world? What sustains and inspires them?

As a contemporary dancer, I will focus primarily on the above, but I will also look at inspiring ideas, books, and images. I will use dance in a metaphorical way to explore the creative process in terms that are applicable and relevant to other genres.  My secret subversive dream is that through these profiles I will map the tremendous energy and progress being made in expanding the scope of dance.  I will bring overdue recognition to isolated artists, which will help bring more audience members dialoging with the work they see.

The idea for this blog emerged last fall. My Introduction to Dance students at Arizona State University asked me to tell them about my career as a dancer and choreographer. The question followed on the heels of a unit about contemporary dance, and in particular on a lesson debunking the myth of dance as a career of fame and fortune. To these students, many of whom have only experienced dance on popular TV shows, the statistics about the harsh reality of life in the performing arts was revelatory, The students wanted to know how I fit into what they had been learning.

In sharing my story, a theme emerged. I realized that the choices I’ve made about where to make work reflect deeper beliefs I hold regarding the role of place in art making. In our time, some spaces are perceived as more central to ‘good’ ideas than others. It’s true that a core of individuals working in close proximity to one another are able to create more excitement, or a movement if you will, that allows them to weave a wider web as a group then they would alone.

I love visiting big cities, taking dance classes, and staying in touch with what is happening in those places, However, it excites me to drive through New Mexico and stop at the one restaurant for miles to be greeted by a poster for a contemporary dance event happening in the middle of the high desert. I like people making things happen where they are with the resources they have available to them. From nothing, something emerges, drawing out of others (sometimes long shelved) artistic talent making more art and creating a nicely knit artistic community.

Who thinks the world really needs another blog?

Posted in Introduction on July 16th, 2010 by harperpiver

As long as I can remember, dance and my life have been intertwined. Whether dancing underneath myself in line at school or spinning in the yard until I got dizzy and fell down, I was always moving. Rather, I am always moving. My adult self is a choreographer, performer, educator, and dance filmmaker working primarily in the field of contemporary dance. These days I consider myself a multidisciplinary artist as my work takes many forms.

When I am not dancing I play violin, write, read voraciously, and travel. I chose to channel my desire to make things into dance as a profession for several primary reasons:

1.  I realized that I could not sit still enough to play music or stand still enough to paint on an all day basis.

2. After being exposed to contemporary dance, I fell in love with the stage as a blank canvas on which anything could happen. I found a place where all of my artistic interests could collide into something all my own.

3.  Dance is the hardest thing I have ever done. I love the demands it places on the body and the mind simultaneously. I love that it is impossible for me to take dance class and do anything productive with my body when my mind is not clear.  I enjoy flying through the air and hurling myself through space.  Sometimes when I am doing so I think of all the work that I invest to make that “effortless” moment occur.  I appreciate the wisdom inherent in the body that I am aware of as a dancer. I appreciate what my body tells me about my whole self when I take the time to listen.

I love all aspects of making choreography, from allowing the first sliver of an idea to float around, to playing solo in the studio, to working with dancers, to seeing the piece through to completion and missing the process of the process.

When I ask others about their creative process, the answer is always fascinating, regardless of whether the artist in question is a young student or a seasoned professional. I like knowing how people internalize and frame what they see and experience in the world. I spend a lot of time wondering what makes people tick, which might be why I make a lot of pieces about psychological issues.

As I’ve grown older, I have become more and more enthralled with this part of art. I often prefer the rough draft to the final product of the works that I see, whether pencil sketches or choreographic work. There’s something raw contained in these unedited moments that I find captivating.

I can get lost in writing as much as I can in dance. I have many ideas about dance, art making, and the creative process that I wish to explore on these pages. In my capacity as a dance educator at the University level, I have been known to write academic papers about various topics. Lately I have decided that this format would be more appropriate for my current interests. A blog feels less formal and more immediate. Instead of spending months on one paper, I look forward to sharing my thoughts in a more continual format and having a dialogue with my readers. The part of me that likes to make things relishes the sense of completion that comes with hitting the complete button a more frequent basis, something creating long-term movement and media projects does not allow me to do enough sometimes.

I invite your participation on this journey. I hope these posts to be the starting point of a conversation. Please share your comments, ideas of artists to profile, creative food for munching (books, images, etc.) Is there a question I should be asking? Is there something obvious I am neglecting?

If you enjoy what you’re reading, please share my link with others.


Posted in Introduction on July 16th, 2010 by harperpiver

What is Homegrown Dance?

Homegrown Dance is:

a) The belief that good art, particularly dance, happens where good dancers and dance makers are, not only in places commonly recognized as artistic centers.

b) Interviews and highlights of choreographers and collectives working in those off beat places.

c) ‘Dance’ as a metaphor for the act of being inspired, finding a way, taking a leap, making something happen, creating work, and reflecting on the process.