As promised, we will continue to share notes on our creative process to give you a peak behind the curtain & right into the way we think about creativity at GroundWorks DanceTheater. This series of posts focuses on our new work – House of Sparrows – due to debut as part of EJ Thomas Hall’s Stage Door Series on March 5th & 6th, 2015, followed immediately by the Cleveland premiere at The Breen Center for the Performing Arts on March 20th & 21st, 2015.
In this week’s edition, Executive Artistic Director David Shimotakahara shares his thoughts on how he began to approach a topic as vast & complex as the American Civil War.
“Where to begin? This epic topic – how do we begin to address the scope of this history?
This excerpt from Somebody’s Darling (chapter “The Real War: Essays on the Civil War” by Kent Gramm) has captured my imagination:
The real war was a nightmare – a nightmare is not a function of the rational mind, though all the props, tools and trappings of our everyday rational mind might appear in it.
Whatever connects the American waking dream – (there are) strange things, dreamlike things, things (that) lead us now and then to an unresolved nightmare.
A vast and towering force has spun the American waters down to their darkest depths, and the eddies, ripples, shadows and slow currents are not yet spent – like a day that follows an appalling nightmare – we are horrified and injured and we do not know why – we should be able to understand something from this terrifying dream but we do not know what – meaning is there but we cannot seem to discover it.
Lincoln steps toward us and smiles; we know he is dead yet he reaches out and hands us something – what was it? But it is raining there is a bandage and runny blood; an army, so it seems, is marching somewhere for a repetitious song is in the air, yet the sound of muffled drums follows behind. Here in sunny Washington everyone is strangely, fiercely, undeterably excited, and a peg-legged soldier in officer dress raises his brilliant gold and silver sword and shouts, reviles and curses – and here on the silent farm, sister stands hooded in a black bonnet and we smell the strange, sweet fragrance of lilac.
Steven Snowden and I have talked at length about various starting points for this project. One idea was to research archival photos from the Library of Congress. The vast majority in the collection document military personnel and ordnance. There are, however, a number of images of civilians and places that I was particularly drawn to. Maybe it’s the formality of how they are composed or something about the photographic process from that time, the tone and textures of the prints themselves…there is an almost surreal quality in certain images. I have selected a number that to me evoke different kinds of dreamscapes. Symbolic settings that inspire me to think about how people experienced that time, and their circumstances.
Do we begin our dream in this hospital? This image, for me, although seemingly peaceful also conveys a much darker unsettling quality. This place is haunted by what is has witnessed. How many lay in these beds surrounded by the horrors of the war, and utterly alone in their suffering, forgotten?
I begin to think about the movement of the dance, with this place as inspiration: A lone figure, walks, drifts, slithers, between corridors. She watches patiently, observes, appears, fades, reappears. Is she a nurse, a lizard, a memory, a messenger? Why is she with us in this house of pain? If we follow, where will it take us?”