Go Deeper

Le Grand Rehearsals

Posted September 9th, 2012

In addition to talking with rehearsal director Sarah Gladwin Camp earlier in the week, blog contributor Marina Kec also chatted up Le Grand Continental rehearsal assistants Jacelyn Biondo, Gabrielle Revlock, and Rhonda Moore about working with the motley crew of awesome people who will seize the Art Museum steps with dance one more time today, at 4:00 pm. After the jump.

Nick G’s daughter, rapt by “Le Grand Continental.”

How did you find yourself involved in this project?

Jacelyn: A few years back in the Live Arts Festival I had the opportunity to work with Austrian choreographer, Willi Dorner, in Bodies in Urban Spaces. Willi was going to return to Philadelphia to set another work on some dancers; those of us who were in Bodies in Urban Spaces were invited back to dance with him again. Unfortunately, due to medical issues, Willi was unable to return. Live Arts reached out to those dancers by offering this opportunity to work with Sylvain, which, of course, I accepted.

Gabrielle: I was supposed to be in the Willi Dorner piece that was canceled.

Rhonda: I found out about Le Grand Continental through a connection with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP). Previously, I helped organize flash mobs in addition to creating my own projects. I was also the choreographer and lyricist for Mural Arts Program’s Random Acts of Dance.

Have you worked on such a large scale before? What do you find unique about this experience?

Gabrielle: In a dance of mine, I Made This for You, I work with a large group of performers. Not quite that large, but each time it has been performed, there have been between 24 and 47 people–both trained and untrained performers.

Jacelyn: I haven’t worked on such a large scale before. It’s pretty wild! What is so unique about it is that most of the participants are not trained dancers. The amount of energy and commitment they offer to the project is commendable…They are so proud of their work and really want to do the best they can. They are so willing to accept feedback and have this never-ending bounty of energy.

How do you approach teaching choreography to so many people?

Rhonda: Working with untrained dancers has been a blessing. They contribute a lot of movement and spontaneity. Professional dancers can run the risk of getting caught up in the repetition of their training. Untrained dancers, however, act in the moment. They have a special passion, spirit, and openness to embrace the experience.

Jacelyn: When we all learn the choreography together from Sylvain, the Dance Captains all stand on the outskirts of the group so there is always someone to look at. At times, we break into small groups and work on specific sections. The movement clinics, which are generally held one hour prior to each rehearsal, are really helpful for really learning the choreography. In Movement Clinics, groups will come up to me and ask to review a specific section. As soon as we start, a bunch more people will run over and join our group for review. I find it helpful to create stories to go along with the dances to help the participants remember the sequence: “Then you have a secret, and you do a little, tiny secret dance . . . Then you take a bow . . . Thanks for watching my secret dance . . . Then you give yourself a hug for doing a good job!” I always have stories for my own dances, so I figure other people might need stories too.

Have you encountered any unforeseen challenges through the rehearsal process?

Jacelyn: The only challenge that I have seen is a few injuries. I injured my knee along the way somewhere between these rehearsals and rehearsals from my own show that opened last week. A few of the participants have also sustained some minor injuries. Dancing on concrete can be tough on the body. But everyone is so caring of one another, checking on those they see with a knee or ankle wrapped, offering kind words and lots of energy for healing.

Rhonda: There have been no major challenges throughout the rehearsal process. On the whole, the organizational staff has been very organized. Finding a place to rehearse with so many people is always interesting, though. We started in a rehearsal space on 5th and Spring Garden and then ended up at the University of Pennsylvania’s skating rink. Finding stores that were open at 9pm at night was probably the hardest aspect. In terms of choreographic challenges, our problems mostly related to staying in formation. Aside from the group, individuals faced unique personal challenges, but many seemed to surprise themselves. They became comfortable with making mistakes and learned from them. Many of the lessons they learned from the rehearsal process can be applied to life in general.

What has it been like working with dancers who have no formal training?

Jacelyn: I think this is one of the most amazing parts of the piece. As a professional dancer and a dance therapist, I know how dance can positively affect people. I love that 160 people came together and put their fears or insecurities and stage fright behind them and just get to experience the love of dance and the energy created by dancing with 159 other people. There is no ego, there is no competition, there are just a ton of people laughing and dancing together.

Gabrielle: It takes longer to learn things but they have a lot of style.

What advice can you give those who have an interest in dance but never found an outlet?

Gabrielle: Being a dance audience is very important and rewarding. Taking class is fun. You don’t have to give up on dance just because you realize that you will never be a professional. I enjoy working with non-professionals a lot so send me an email!

Jacelyn: I think everyone should dance! Even if it is in your home by yourself. I do tons of slow dancing in my kitchen with my husband when I’ve had a bad day. We all need to dance it out. Come over, dance in my kitchen with me.

What Live Arts or Fringe performance are you looking forward to the most?

Gabrielle: Untitled Feminist Show.

Rhonda: It is hard to say, but I would love to see Tourettes: A Dancing Disorder.

Jacelyn: I am definitely looking forward to Headlong’s This town is a mystery. I love the risks they take and how they make their own rules. And the video on Marina Abramovic. I couldn’t be more obsessed with her. Marina Abramovic has been one of my biggest influences throughout my artistic career.

Le Grand Continental runs September 8 at 4:00 and 8:00 pm, and again September 9 at 4:00 pm, Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, 26th Street at Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Free!

–Marina Kec