Langfelder’s Complaint: Emily Martin on Why You Should Not be Missing This Week’s Festival of New Dance

Describing her creative process for Dulcinea’s Lament (at the first of the daily Coffee House Chats, each morning after a Festival of new Dance performance, 10am, at HavaJava), Dulcinea Langfelder put weight on time. Not timing, but time itself. Years of time. Long format time. She says she had the title for this piece, and therefore some encapsulated idea of the whole, back in 2001. The world premier of the show was not until 2008 (Tokyo).

She and her company worked on this piece over the course of many residencies. Each of these might last 10 days, two days of which would be filled with just set up and take-down. That leaves 8 day spurts to build an interdisciplinary work of art that not only takes on one of the most significant pieces of literature in the western canon, Don Quixote, and much of the history of the world and the conflicts in it for at least the span of the life of that book, but also incorporates dance, singing, written text, poesía, puppetry, videography, animation, live instrumentation, and a shifting backdrop of silk curtains and screens projected on by mobile and shifting lights and projectors. To give you some idea of the coherent complexity of this piece, at one point in the latter half of the performance, a still image of a whirling dervish is projected behind Dulcinea. That whirling dervish, who is by definition a flurry of circular movement and deep meditation, was the simplest and most linear idea expressed.

Given the layers on layers of Dulciea’s Lament, how on earth could a human, one small human, create it? There is no 3d blueprint program that could handle even the choreography of the physical set pieces, let alone the themes and connections that are filtered through the narrative. That is when we come back to the importance of time. Langfelder emphasized that this took work, rumination, and synchronicity.

Now, if there was infinite funding available for some mythical open-ended residency with all possible technical tools available throughout, perhaps the “work” element could be sped up: longer hours, condensed schedules, exam time intensity. But the rumination? The serendipitous moments?

If Langfelder, and her outstanding (and complimentary and comic and understated) team had not been working, then putting aside, then working, then arguing, then thinking, then abandoning, the re-working this creation for those seven years, would Langfelder happen to have heard, on the radio, George Harrison’s demo version of “While my guitar gently weeps”? The version where he sang so softly that his voice immediately brought to mind that of Danys Levasseur from her crew? Where the lyrics, unique to that early demo, include the ultimately appropriate line, “I look from the wings at the play you are staging”? Stumbling upon, and including, that moment of song did not come just from putting one beautifully muscled foot in front of the other. That came from the invisible studio of time.

Once a piece is built, time still comes into play. Langfelder has been performing her piece “Victoria” since its creation in 1999. She spoke this morning about the life that she feels in that character now that it is so ingrained in her repertoire as to be a sort of physical fluency. When she was first performing it, she was learning it, the movements, the words, the nuances, as a language and thinking of it while she worked. Following this, was a period where some of the life of the performance drained as it became routine and her knowledge of the work was rote. Then, with yet more time, lengths of time and numbers of runs so very very rarely afforded to one artist to pursue one piece, came a new era in her inhabitation of Victoria. Langfelder was revitalized by a complete integration of the work into herself. This is the concept of zen in the flesh. A task performed ten thousand times becomes something on a whole new level.

An artist performing their art ten thousand times is more than just a thousand artists performing their work ten times each. The worth of a dancer’s body who has that body of experience is difficult to encapsulate in a budget line. But it is not difficult to benefit from when sitting in the audience. It is the brush stroke of a master who has made ten thousand brush strokes before this one; a violinist whose brain has mapped itself into a variant physicality by the act of practicing her craft for ten thousand hours. Zen does not mean “a gazillion.” It means “ten thousand” for a reason. It is achievable on a human scale. That work of ten thousand hours can be done, and with it, some creators can take advantage of their resources and their luck along the way to build something astonishing.

… That we then consume in one hour. And then it is gone, at least gone from this town, this venue, this year. The silk scrims folded; the moving sculpture packed into a trunk; the light up boobies, the large books and the handkerchief put back in the precious “props” bag.

There are two “action items” those of us not working towards zen can take from this:

  1. Go see these performances. This means going to many performances to be there for the few that achieve what Dulcinea’s Lament has achieved. We are audiences, we are not experts. We cannot know which, in every disciple of art that comes through our town, has an artist working at this level. So just go. Go. Go to everything you can. Go often enough that serendipity in observation finds you, seated before Don Quixote’s muse, or Robert Chafe’s work turned into operatic theatre, or Leonard Cohen performing nothing but great songs for four hours straight. Man cannot live on “Law and Order” and beer alone. God knows I’ve tried. While my soul needs the comfort of the easy and familiar (and the fizzy and hoppy), my mind and my heart (and my ass) need to be up cheering for new insight. Visual Artists of St. John’s, Writers of St John’s, Film Makers of St John’s, Musicians of St. John’s, Theatre Technicians of St. John’s, Comedians of St John’s, Storytellers of St John’s, WHERE WERE YOU LAST NIGHT? You missed something large and small and visceral and fleetingly present in our town last night. (Well, Story Tellers, we know where you were. You are excused.)
  2. This second Action Item is for the funders: Long format time. Take it into account. Give creators the funding structures they need to use time, not to race it.