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Earlier this summer I was contacted by choreographer Laurel Jenkins, asking if I would be interested in performing in her new work to be performed at the Getty Center in late August. Having seen Laurel’s work, I was indeed interested. Given my age (70 and change), however, and the fact that my last performance was in 2012, I was dubious. Laurel was not bothered by these facts, so I agreed to think it over and give her my answer when she returned from her performances in France.

After much thought and with encouragement from my partner Martin, I agreed to join the project. Laurel Jenkins had studied with my long-time dance partner, Viola Farber, at Sarah Lawrence College, and her former partner studied with me at CSU, Long Beach. Although we shared this personal history, our paths did not cross until after Laurel began presenting her work in Los Angeles.

Laurel described her new work as a “durational rule game” and she had titled it B A S E. She said depending on who was available, that there would be between 15 and 20 of her favorite dancers in the dance. Because I am retired, the rehearsal schedule was not a factor. What did concern me was that all but two of the rehearsals were in Los Angeles. I live in Long Beach, which meant sitting in the truly awful LA traffic traveling to and from rehearsals. It was not nearly reason enough, however, to dampen my desire to step foot on the dance studio floor once again. The rehearsal calendar was set and the cast was told that we should attend those that fit our schedule. The rehearsal period would last just under a month, so I wanted to attend as many rehearsals as possible. Personally, I needed as much time as possible to get my body in shape and to get back into the mindset of learning and remembering someone else’s choreography.

B A S E was set up for each dancer to take part in the rule game or to choose not to join in on certain moments. We were also instructed that we could, within reason, break the game’s rules. Each rule was given a name or command word: Walk, All Walk, Arrow, Pivot, Drifting Pivot, Middle, and Flocking, to list just a few.  Laurel taught us two movement phrases and then asked Tamsin Carlson and me to choreograph a phrase that we then taught to the others.  Laurel’s phrases were given the names Line and Square Dance, and Tamsin dubbed our phrase Waltz.

B A S E opened with the simplest command, Walk and built up to include more complex commands, and developing even further to include solos, duets, framed duets and improvised mirroring duets. Each phase of the dance had an approximate time duration and a definite set of rules. In order to perform our solos, duets and trios, we had to be dropped off by the lines traveling through the center of B A S E. Once inside, we could not leave until we were gathered up or absorbed by another moving line. We could perform the phrases as choreographed, or incorporate them into our solos, and encouraged not to set the material. Laurel asked only that the movement be performed with definite weight and clarity; paying great attention to the geometry of the lines, our surroundings and to time. To accomplish this, it was very important to her that we turn our heads to look at one another. Laurel would sometimes began rehearsals with a simply walking exercise, turning our heads to look at, and truly seeing, each other and the space around us. This became crucial inside the Getty Center galleries due to our close proximity to the numerous priceless art objects.  A misjudgment of where one’s arm or leg was traveling might cause contact with a Monet painting, a chair that Maria Antoinette sat in to brush her hair, or a Greek statue. For example, a group of us were walking back to the Green Room after a rehearsal run when I almost ran into a Giacometti sculpture.  I do not have enough insurance to cover the cost of ruining such a beautiful piece of artwork.

The Getty Center was open during our final rehearsal run and we experienced a multitude of reactions from the people visiting the museum. One woman got very angry that we were in her way, but the majority of people smiled, asked questions, looked confused by what we were doing and why we were doing it. Laurel asked dancer Arden Plank to paint a single symbol somewhere on our body. Mine was a large white arrow located next to my left eye. During rehearsal a woman stopped me and asked where she could get her face painted like mine. She appeared a tad disappointed when I explained that it was part of my costume for the Friday Flights performance that night.

This was the third year that the Getty Center has presented Friday Flights. It has brought together “a wide range of Los Angeles-based artists working across mediums for a vibrant evening of sounds and sights. An interdisciplinary series of happenings spanning contemporary classical music, artist-made interventions, electronic music, sound-based installations, poetry, dance, film, and more spreads out across the Getty Center from galleries to gardens.” The participating artists are encouraged to take inspiration from the Getty’s architecture and, of course, by its incredible collection of art.

B A S E map by Jessica Watkins
B A S E map by Jessica Watkins

On August 29, 2016 at 6:30 pm we began performing at B A S E in the Getty’s Central Plaza. This section, the rule game, lasted for approximately 20 minutes. We then split into three groups and traveled through three different galleries, converged in the gardens (I did not take part in dancing through the gardens) and then returned via three different paths back to the Central Plaza to repeat the rule game. The entire performance lasted about 2 hours and our audience seemed to grow as we traversed through the buildings and grounds of the Getty Center. The musical from groups performing simultaneously became our accompaniment and it differed depending on which gallery a group was performing in. One beautiful moment occurred while my group was performing in the French Gallery. Suddenly we intersected with fellow Friday Flights artists Archie Carey and Odeya Nini striking a large metal bell while chanting tones that sounded like they originated from the bowels of the earth. To those following us it probably appeared planned. It was not. For me, it was magical and somewhat spiritual.

Life and Art have their mystical intersecting moments. To Laurel Jenkins, her title B A S E also meant home; the Los Angeles dance community helping her to feel at home in her newly chosen base city. For me, this was returning to my personal base, a lifelong love of dancing. I was returning to the art form that saved my life, helped me see the world, opened my mind to see and think with compassion for others, and which continues to give me a joy and freedom that many people never find.

The incredible dance artists whom I had the great pleasure of getting to know, rehearse with and share this amazing experience with were: (in alphabetical order) Tamsin Carlson, Jamie Carr, Bradford Chin, Erin Crawley-Woods, Doran George, Enrique Herrera, Jennifer Hong, Laurel Jenkins, Sarah Leddy, Carol McDowell, Arden Plank, Haley Richartz, Alexandra Shilling, Stacy Dawson Stearns, Joe Small, Margaret Teran and Devika Wickremesinghe.  B A S E was recorded by Videographer Mathew Seidman and photographer Roger Martin Holman. The other artists on Friday Flights included Martin Syms, David Horvitz & Xiu Xiu, and Odeya Nini & Archie Carey.

Thank you Laurel for asking me to perform in your beautiful work B A S E, inspired by Trisha Brown’s early choreography. I personally knew Trisha Brown and am certain that she would be so proud and honored by this piece. Thank you to the wonderfully talented and caring dancers who inspired and carried me along with them. And, a special thank you to the Getty Center for presenting Friday Flights and allowing us to perform amongst such beauty. Laurel Jenkins assured me that a video of B A S E will be available in the coming weeks. I, too, look forward to seeing it.

Friday Flights returns in the summer of 2017. For more information, please visit their website.

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Jeff Slayton

Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, “The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber” and “Dancing Toward Sanity”. For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

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