Over the past two weeks I have been trying to put into words my trip to Muskegon as Production Manager for Jessica Fogel, Shawn Bible, UM Dance, and GVSU Dance’s “Into the Wind.” Conducting the activities of 30+ collaborators, artists, facilities staff, and performers was a huge task that was challenging, interesting, and different every single day of production. All set in the beauty of a West Michigan summer, the week producing music and dance on the beach was picturesque.

(Ann Arbor Previews: Betty Pease Dance Studio, June 11th & 12th, 2014; Muskegon Performances: Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center, August 22nd & 23rd, 2014)

Conceptually, this dance project was meant to be a catalyst for conversation about renewable resources and wind energy on Michigan’s west side. Bringing together collaborators from the Visual Arts, Dance, Music, English, and Science Departments at UM and GVSU – “Into the Wind” sought to use the visual and performing arts as an access point for the sometimes controversial subject of wind turbines and the renewable resource/”green energy” movement in West Michigan.

Actually and aesthetically, this evening of music and dance was so much more than a catalyst for conversation, it provided an example of how powerful multidisciplinary work can be. Beyond providing a context for conversation, “Into the Wind” showcased a surprising and creative use of scientific method – throughout most of the evening the dancers moved through sound, science, and wind.

The performance was separated into two pieces, “H.A.W.T” and “Circlings.” In “H.A.W.T,” choreographed by UM Alum and former GVSU Faculty Shawn Bible, the dancers moved to the sound of air moving under a wind turbine. Nate Bliton, a fantastic sound engineer from GVSU, composed and recorded strings to the sound of the wind turbine, creating an almost eerie industrial sound. (Bliton was brilliant to work with, by the way; helping me problem solve all through the week.) Along with Shawn Bible’s choreography, the piece was poignant, transforming the dancers sometimes into the turbines projected behind them, sometimes into Don Quixote’s giants against the horizon, and sometimes into powerful horses harnessed by the wind. The first time I saw the piece in rehearsal Bible instructed the dancers to “entertain” – and while they did, a better word for my overall experience was awe.

"H.A.W.T." Choreographed by Shawn Bible, Photo by Kirk Donaldson
“H.A.W.T.” Choreographed by Shawn Bible; Dancers: Bonnie O’Rourke, Camille Frye, Shelby Gigliotti; Photo by Kirk Donaldson
"H.A.W.T." Choreographed by Shawn Bible; Photo by Kirk Donaldson
“H.A.W.T.” Choreographed by Shawn Bible; Dancer: Bonnie O’Rourke; Photo by Kirk Donaldson

The second dance, “Circlings,” was choreographed by Jessica Fogel, who was also the Artistic Director for the entire evening of dance. I followed this piece from Ann Arbor previews to the final performance in Muskegon; making arrangements along the way for transportation and lodging, set transport, facility reservations and setup, and I even designed the program for previews and the final performance. “Circlings” really begins with the massive banners hanging from the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center (MAREC) in Muskegon. Created from Sara Adlerstein’s painting Schwush, and recreated by scenic designer Kasia Mrozewska, the banners created a backdrop of visual wind for the entering audience. They also were one of my biggest challenges to install as they whipped in the wind coming off the lake. Thematically, fantastic. Technically, challenging. After a rough storm the first night they were hung they were torn and in need of repair. Sandbags (provided by Nate Bliton and GVSU), zip ties, nylon string, a needle and thread, me up on a scissor lift, and a little bit of duct tape did the trick.

At the conclusion of “H.A.W.T.” the audience is escorted outside by flautist Ashley Stanley and UM faculty soloist Robin Wilson, depicting the spirit of wind and the personification of Hughie Lee-Smith’s painting “Apres Midi“. Taking a site specific journey in dance through the site of former Continental Motors Factory first, the dance educated on the history of the site, and the spirit of the city that surrounded it. Then we follow the dancers down a wood chip path, watching their “breath solos” all the way there. In these solos the dancers propelled themselves through space with their own breath – making music and their own wind. Finally we reach a beachy site, with the Cobb Coal Plant in the background. Here the spirit of wind dances us through the four directions of wind and then company of dancers join. There are so many more elements to this production: composition and electronics by Dave Biedenbender, flute improvisation by Ashley Stanley, percussion improvisation by Chris Sies, costumes by Patricia Branam, scenic design by Kasia Mrozewska, sound engineering by Nate Bliton, poetry by Keith Taylor, and a whole list of other collaborators. Placed at MAREC, “Circlings” punctuates the space between our energy past and our energy future. With three more moments of dance, this thirty minute piece covers too much ground to fully explain, so I encourage you to catch this piece if it ever is remounted in Ann Arbor! (I’ve also included a PDF of the program for your perusal if you’re interested.)

"Circlings" Choreographed by Jessica Fogel; Dancers: Alayna Baron, Patty Solorzano, Nola Smith, Chloe Gonzales, Amy Guilmette, Maddy Rager; Photo by Kirk Donaldson
“Circlings” Choreographed by Jessica Fogel; Dancers: Alayna Baron, Patty Solorzano, Nola Smith, Chloe Gonzales, Amy Guilmette; Photo by Kirk Donaldson
"Circlings" Choreographed by Jessica Fogel; Dancer: Nola Smith; Photo by Kirk Donaldson
“Circlings” Choreographed by Jessica Fogel; Dancer: Nola Smith; Photo by Kirk Donaldson
“Circlings” Choreographed by Jessica Fogel; Dancer: Patty Solorzano; Photo by Kirk Donaldson

As the Production Manager for this event I keep returning to the word, “incredible.” According to the dictionary it means, “impossible to believe.” And I really think it’s the perfect description for this event. It’s almost impossible to believe that so much talent and knowledge gathered together to produce this piece. It’s totally impossible to believe that the Michigan weather humoured us long enough to run this performance outside both nights. It’s almost beyond belief that we were able to find a practically silent generator with enough power to run two different outdoor sites. It’s also difficult to wrap my head around the fact that the dancers battled gracefully, and without injury, against a variety of surfaces including asphalt and sand in a variety of weather conditions over a week. And it’s totally impossible that we produced two evenings of dance and music to audiences of 100+, who were so generous with their time, feedback, and discussions. I’m proud to have been a part of this performance and grateful to all of the faculty, staff, and artists who helped make it possible. It turned out to be more work, and more fun, than I ever imagined, but the product was totally… incredible.

“Schwush” by Sara Adlerstein, recreated by Scenic Designer Kasia Mrozewska; Photo by Kirk Donaldson
Me, working with the company of “Circlings,” Photo by Kirk Donaldson
Company photo of “Circlings,” Photo by Kirk Donaldson

Media Coverage:
MAREC Website
UM Into the Wind
UM Press Release
MLive Into the Wind
The Republic Into the Wind
GVSU Press Release
Grand Valley Lanthorn Into the Wind
Michigan Quarterly Review Interview with Jessica Fogel
Michigan News Into the Wind Preview
Miami Herald Into the Wind
Michigan Today Into the Wind
The University Record Into the Wind
ArtServe Into the Wind
WCBN Radio Show: It’s Hot in Here

Download the Into the Wind Program

UPDATE: “Into the Wind” has been installed as UM’s homepage image and article! 

Into the Wind Homepage