HOLD STILL while I figure this out
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About the Show
HOLD STILL while I figure this out has been developed over the past two years. Its structure is determined by what precedes the present: Each time we enter the work, we begin from scratch. An image is chosen as a starting point – along with a piece of text. A movement solo inspires text, inspires live sound generation, inspires spatial design, inspires costume choices, inspires character development, inspires interaction, inspires relationship, inspires community. The piece lives within a self-contained system of sound and lights operated by the performers. Everything unfolds in front of us for the very first time – the choices are endless but we find structure in the system which helps us steer the course each time. HOLD STILL plays with the complexities of creating the world anew and the challenges of interaction, relationships, and building community with all its unforeseen components.
Subcircle is a dance, theater, and video installation company that values surrealism, improvisation, and architecture, and makes work that inspires alternative ways of existing in the world. Founded in 1998, by Niki and Jorge Cousineau, Subcircle’s work transforms theatrical and site-specific spaces. The work aims to convey to audience and performer alike – an inseparability of performance from environment. It is through this process that the goal remains – to test people’s ideas of where they see dance and theater, how and most importantly, why; and while doing so challenging them to be more than a passive audience member. In 2014 choreographer and performer Scott McPheeters joined the Cousineau’s as a co-director. Along with their artistic work in Philadelphia, together they have purchased a farm in Biddeford Maine which they will develop into an artists’ residency and retreat center over the next five years.
With collaboration at its core, the company has worked with choreographer/director Carol Brown (London/New Zealand), creator/performer Geoff Sobelle, composer Toby Twining, choreographers Darla Stanley and Gin MacCallum among others. Past works include Crevice (2003), Somewhere Close to Now (2005), Still Unknown (2006), Only Sleeping (2010) and SEED (2011). Subcircle’s work has been performed throughout Germany in Potsdam, Berlin, Dresden and Broellin. In Philadelphia, they have been presented in DanceBoom, the nEW Festival, Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, the Annenberg’s By Local series and third bird’s Blindspot. Subcircle’s dance films have been presented by the Michener Museum, WHYY, PDP’s Motion Pictures, Dances made to Order and this year’s Oscillation Transia Film Festival.
Created and Performed by Niki Cousineau, Christy Lee, & Scott McPheeters
Live Sound Design by Jorge Cousineau
Subcircle creates interdisciplinary performance that imagines alternative ways of existing in the world, placing emphasis on authenticity and sustainable collaboration. This trio, comprised of an installation artist – video and sound designer (Jorge Cousineau), and two performers/choreographers (Niki Cousineau + Scott McPheeters) share a love of urban decay, surrealism, and improvisation. They construct imaginary worlds both from the inside out and outside in; at times following impulse and desire in the rehearsal room to unearth subconscious, shared questions, and sometimes beginning with a concrete idea and developing scores based on investigative research. In a society that privileges normalcy and capitalist systems, they choose a more radical existence that celebrates and promotes the authentic body.
Niki Cousineau is a Philadelphia based choreographer and dancer. She is co-director of Subcircle, a company she founded with Jorge Cousineau in 1998. As a performer she has worked regularly with Headlong Dance Theater, Nichole Canuso Dance Company and Group Motion. In theatre, Niki has served as choreographer on Arden Theater productions of The Secret Garden, Parade (Barrymore nomination), and A Little Night Music, among others. Niki is a recipient of a Pew Fellowship in Choreography and was a Fellow at Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography in Florida (MANCC). Next up this season is Peter and the Starcatcher (Theatre Horizon), and Fun Home (The Arden Theater Company).
Scott McPheeters is a Philadelphia-based performer, choreographer, and educator. He co-directs dance and video installation company, subcircle (www.subcircle.org), and is the resident choreographer for Enchantment Theatre Company. He has collaborated and performed significantly with companies and individuals including Nichole Canuso Dance Company, Enchantment Theater Company, Bearded Ladies Cabaret, Kun-Yang Lin / Dancers, and Gina Hoch-Stall. In 2016, he received a Barrymore Award (Lead Actor in a Musical) for his portrayal of Warhol superstar, Candy Darling, in the Bearded Ladies Cabaret and Opera Philly production “ANDY: A Popera”. He is an adjunct faculty member within Temple University’s Dance Department and, in January, will be starting an MFA program in Interdisciplinary Arts at Sierra Nevada College in Tahoe.
Jorge Cousineau is a Philadelphia based designer of sets, lights, sound and projections for dance and theater productions. Over the past twenty years his designs have been seen and heard internationally in Germany, France, and Poland; regionally in New York City, Denver, Louisville, Minneapolis, Seattle and all over Philadelphia. Jorge is the recipient of two Independence Foundation Fellowship grants. He was awarded the F. Otto Haas Award for Emerging Theater artist and in 2011 he received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. He has been nominated and won several Philadelphia Barrymore awards as well as a Lucille Lortel Award in NYC.
Christy Lee is a Philly native. She is a licensed massage therapist who graduated from Owen’s Institute of Massage & Holistic Medicine with a certification in Swedish massage in 1996. Since then, Christy has continued to train in Deep Tissue, Myofascial Release & Craniosacral. She melds all of these modalities in her work as she sees fit for each client. Her bodywork practice is highly informed by her dance practice. Christy has performed and choreographed professionally since 1995. She was cofounder of MOXIE Dance Collective, Company member of Headlong dance Theater, Group Motion and Karen Bamonte Dance Works. Christy has choreographed for theater at Yale School of Drama and the Yale Cabaret. Her choreographic debut for Opera was for the pulitzer prize winning Angel’s Bone by Du Yun.
An Interview with Niki Cousineau and Scott McPheeters
FringeArts: Do you remember how the title HOLD STILL while I figure this out came into being? Do you remember where you were?
Niki Cousineau: The title came about during the rehearsal process at the Maas Building. There is a section of the piece where we narrate/interpret what is happening on stage. As I was going through my notebook after a few rehearsals I was looking at some of the texts we generated during these improvisations. One of the things I’d written down was “hold still while i figure this out.” It felt both fitting for the piece, art making, and life.
FringeArts: How has the show evolved from where it started? How did you tease out its structure?
Scott McPheeters: The vast majority of material in this work is developed live and in direct relationship to one another. For the year and a half that this piece was being created, we often found ourselves entering the studio in dismay of the state of the world. What had originally been a weekly exploration of various improvisational scores eventually turned into a question:
What if we could start all over from scratch?
We spent a year and a half essentially studying how to begin again, and how to build upon different proposals of a new foundation for growth. We were fascinated by how quickly entire environments could be constructed from a single source of inspiration and that depending on the day and the source of inspiration, the environments would be completely different.
FringeArts: Can you discuss how the various components, from movement to sound to visuals to text relate to each other? What about playing with these various elements is important to you? And what has been surprising to you?
Scott McPheeters: Each time we perform the work, it is from scratch. We choose a starting point – usually an image from a book or online along with a piece of text chosen from a book. This informs a movement solo which inspires original text generation. A new audio landscape is developed nightly from sound bites sourced only from the performance space itself. Set design is constructed live to complement or provide contrast to the dance taking place. The most exciting aspect of the work is that everything unfolds for the very first time right in front of you. Through example, we hope to inspire deep listening, reflection, and action.
FringeArts: What were you (or have you been) discussing most with your collaborators during rehearsals/the creative process of making this work?
Niki Cousineau: We’ve talked a lot about the difference of being inside a performance and a viewer. We’ve worried about whether knowing a piece is largely improvisational is helpful or a hinderance to audience members. Is it fun to figure out the game or do viewers feel outside of it. As we’ve shown this is work in progress showings – this is a question we asked our test audiences. Most liked not knowing. Some think every moment is totally crafted… As a viewer I enjoy trying to figure out the rules. I like thinking I wonder how they made this – what was their process like etc.
FringeArts: What have you worked on most in fine-tuning the show?
Scott McPheeters: Even though the work of building in the present moment requires an intense amount of focus and energy, there is a relatively peaceable, respectable space we hold for one another that, when attempting to relate to a building of community, seems overly utopian and unrealistic. Also, from the audience perspective, there emerges a predictability of structure that leans toward monotony. To combat this, we started talking about the fact that even when building in the present moment, what we build always exists in relationship to concrete past experiences and memories. We are always moving forward, with the understanding that not everything works out for the best. Each of the failures, disasters, disagreements, successes, and celebrations we have experienced in our lifetime we carry with us. Therefore, we decided to infuse the work with choreographed movement material set to nostalgic pop songs that works to interrupt the action, trigger past memory, and redirect the action of the work. In the end, the pop-song dances act not only as an obstacle, but also provide a space for thoughts to catch up with actions so that we can reconsider the “why” of what we are doing. As we continue to perform this work, we plan to keep adding to our arsenal of pop-song dances so that we never become too accustomed to the ways in which these “road-blocks” shift our perspective.
FringeArts: Tell us about your barn!
Niki Cousineau: In 2014 we bought a property in Biddeford, Maine with a huge barn and four bedroom house on 9 acres of land. The property includes a large field, some forest and a creek. Pretty dreamy. Our goal is to create an artist retreat center over the next four years and we have begun raising funds to renovate the barn with a beautiful studio that could be used by all types of artists. Biddeford is a small city about 20 minutes south of Portland, on the ocean. For the past half a century, it has been a depressed old mill town, but is now experiencing a rebirth with lots of entrepenaurs, restauranteurs, craft breweries and distilleries taking residence there and opening up businesses. It’s pretty exciting!
We’re having our second barn raiser this week with a return performance by the inimitable Martha Graham Cracker. We can’t wait to share the space with more Philly artists and connect these two communities.
Subcircle would like to give a very special thanks to: Subcircle’s Board of Directors, Rob Holtzman, Christian Eason, Nick Stucco and FringeArts staff
Year-round programming at FringeArts is made possible through the support of PNC Arts Alive.
PNC Arts Alive is a multi-year, multi-million dollar grant initiative of the PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. In its ninth year, PNC Arts Alive challenges visual and performing arts organizations to put forth their best, most original thinking in expanding audience participation and engagement. A very prestigious grant, only twenty arts organizations in the Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey region are selected.
“Through PNC Arts Alive, we continue to help invigorate local arts organizations while bringing new and exciting programs to our community,” said Joe Meterchick, PNC regional president for Philadelphia, Delaware and Southern New Jersey. “The creativity and collaboration demonstrated by the local arts community is evident in the programs that will be introduced, while enabling new visitors and residents alike to experience a diverse range of exhibits and performances.”
For more information on PNC Arts Alive and the grant recipients visit www.PNCARTSALIVE.com
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An Orbiter 3 Production
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