Recital in Review: face the mirror and its process
Wow, what a crazy first half(ish) of the semester. I’m spending the weekend sleeping extra and getting back on a somewhat normal schedule for, well, everything. I’m still a little shocked that I spent two months working hard on an intense show about sexual assault and victimhood and somehow it worked. We had a great run last Sunday—my dancers were superhuman and my chops were happy with me—and now I’m diving deep into footage, thinking critically about the next steps for face the mirror. I’d really love to take it on the road in California and the Southwest, so if your school or venue wants to host a night or two, give me a shout. For the time being, though, I just want to take a few moments and expound a little on what this show means to me and how it came into existence.
I’ve wanted to make some of my sexual assault stuff into a cohesive show pretty much since I started writing it. I’m always really happy to present the work within the scope of a larger concert—that’s where most opportunities to play new music live—but I wanted to challenge myself to take these somewhat-disparate pieces that each told little stories and fit them into a larger arc. It’s important to me that my audiences have some access to my thoughts on how all these things go together, and the easiest way to do that is to mash them together on the same evening of music and performance. This wasn’t an easy process, and I didn’t expect it to be. I’d actually planned two or three more pieces of my own for face the mirror, including one with a sweet title I’m looking forward to putting together this year, but time constraints and the need to maintain my mental health kept those from coalescing.
The limits on my time (and ability to compose massive amounts of music) turned out to be a blessing, because it allowed me to program a couple other works by awesome composers, and because this first iteration of face the mirror was my graduation recital, I jumped at the opportunity to add some Pauline Oliveros, some Marks & Simons, and some (more) Cecilia Arditto to the mix. Haydn and Patterson had always been in the plan, as well as Arditto movement three, but I was able to add more repertoire that showed off my performance chops in more diverse ways than I probably would’ve if I’d used my own music. (It also let me bring the specter of jazz into the room. I didn’t want to dig deep into it, but by putting All of Me on the program in the way I did, I was able to approach the genre with honesty and leave it in a place where it couldn’t do too much to my mental health.)
The program got tweaked, life went on, and I spent five weeks in serious dance rehearsals with my wonderful crew. The rehearsal process itself was one of the most comfortable spaces I’ve been in for a long time. We were all dedicated to putting this work together in a way that was respectful of the end result’s enormity and gravity, and that was a really special thing. We knew from the start that a lot of the movement was going to be improvised (along with a lot of the music), and that allowed us to shape moments that were structured but still different every time. The most set choreography we did was during Don’t Tell, which had always been planned to be pretty consistent across runs. Even then, though, we had a couple little moments during the show that made it a unique run.
The single most difficult thing to fit into the last month was time for my own practice. When you’re spending time staging and learning choreography and making sure everyone understands character arcs, you’re inherently spending a lot of time thinking about your show. I was in and out of two sets of rehearsals (one with the full group for act 2, one with Sofia for act 1), and I was doing this while a full-time student with two jobs. Getting myself into the practice room just to work on the music in acts 1 and 3 was difficult, especially when my brain was telling me I should’ve had all this under my fingers weeks before. But the music got done.
My goal with face the mirror was to make a show that looked at victimhood honestly, but the best side effect of the effort was finding a way to blend my lifelong love for dance (seriously—I started when I was three) with the career I have ahead of me as a composer and trumpeter. Am I only going to do concert theater/dance theater from here on out? No. Definitely not. But is it going to remain a valuable, intrinsic part of my creative practice? Absolutely. Is it going to inform how I write for primarily-musical performers? Absolutely. Does it give me new paths to follow and new experiments to try? One hundred percent, absolutely.
I might not be a professional dancer, but movement has informed my performance since I started playing music. I’m so glad I got to combine the two for this last grad school recital, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here. ♦
Watch stories/walk free from act 3 of face the mirror: