5 Questions with Jessica Miller Tomlinson on re-staging ‘Berseluk-Beluk’
It is common for dancers and choreographers to spend months in the studio creating, crafting, and polishing a work of art, just to see it grace the stage for a short weekend engagement. While this process may be fulfilling on its own, but there is often no greater gift than the chance to delve further into a work and extract finer details. This is the case for choreographer Jessica Miller Tomlinson of JMT Choreography, who is resetting her work Berseluk-Beluk, which originally premiered in July 2017 at Thodos Dance Chicago’s final installment of New Dances. DancerMusic’s Kristi Licera caught up with Jessica as she prepares to present this work this coming March to learn more about the origins of her work, and what it’s like to reset with a different cast of dancers:
Kristi: What was the original inspiration for your piece? Can you describe the relationship between the dancers?
Jessica: In June of 2016, my husband and I celebrated our 10 year Wedding Anniversary with an incredible two week trip to Bali, Indonesia. The natural, seemingly untouched-by-society beauty of this country was breathtaking. When stepping outside you are first hit with a strong, dense, humid air that causes you to almost immediately perspire. Once the shock of this wears off you notice the intoxicating smell of incense and flowers which is present almost everywhere you go. The beauty doesn’t stop with the natural side of this amazing place. The attention to detail, and intricacies of their artwork, especially the wood work and stone work is out of this world . I found myself staring at and taking pictures of almost every door that we passed.
Berseluk-Beluk brings focus to the small, intricate details which often go unnoticed, but when fully realized, can ultimately shape the entire movement vocabulary of a work.
My work Berseluk-Beluk, was loosely inspired by my personal experience of Bali itself, as well as by one of the sculptures made of bronze and stone which we saw at the Neca Art Museum. The sculpture entitled, DUET by Balinese artist I Nyoman Nuarta, was created in 1945. This small but powerful sculpture could easily be either a duet or a single figure in two poses, like a photograph with double exposure – two figures dancing together amidst a swirl of bronze. The metal appears to be full of spontaneous motion, almost like a blurred photograph. The hair and dresses are also caught in the dynamic movement of the metal. This kind of detail in this medium is insanely hard to create. Berseluk-Beluk brings focus to the small, intricate details which often go unnoticed, but when fully realized, can ultimately shape the entire movement vocabulary of a work. It is an exploration of complex, intricate movement that seemingly comes out of nowhere. The dancers become these entwined figures that are connected through their attention to the meticulous details. They are a physical representation of the music.
Kristi: What role did your cast of dancers play in creating this piece? Was this a highly collaborative work?
I enjoy utilizing both my curiosity for movement exploration and development, as well as watching the energy of the room unfold as a spectator.
Jessica: I am fascinated by working with different energies and the multitude of possibilities that can emerge from collaboration . I enjoy utilizing both my curiosity for movement exploration and development, as well as watching the energy of the room unfold as a spectator. My exploration for exciting, engaging, unique, thought provoking movement, subject matter, creating new environments and ideas never ceases to exist. Each process of creation is different for me. However, for this work I chose to take very much an assertive role as sole creator. I have the utmost respect for my dancers and their observations and thoughts, however, I had very specific ideas on the shape of this work and the intention behind it. My original cast duet dancers, Cole Vernon and Ela Olarte both possessed qualities as artists that spoke to me and that in turn helped shape the work. After the blueprint of the work was complete, I definitely allowed my dancers to take some artistic license and liberties as performers. Cole in particular spent a lot of time fine tuning his performance of the solo.
Kristi: Now that you are re-setting the piece on a cast of two females, does it change the meaning of the relationship between the two? How does having a same-sex cast affect the relationship between the dancers?
The work is a study on intricate details and I as a choreographer chose music that is highly detailed and meticulous on its own. Having a same sex cast has only made the relationship between the two dancers richer and more organically connected.
Jessica: I believe this work is extremely gender neutral. It is most definitely an abstract interpretation of Paganini’s incredibly detailed music, which was chosen for that reason. The work is a study on intricate details and I as a choreographer chose music that is highly detailed and meticulous on its own. Having a same sex cast has only made the relationship between the two dancers richer and more organically connected. Shelby Moran (dancing the role of Cole Vernon) is extremely powerful herself, but does not possess the same strength as a male dancer. Therefore, the two women must rely upon use of breath and coordination of timing to accomplish some of the more physical partnering. This in turn makes their connection even stronger.
Kristi: Are there any significant changes to the choreography that you have been made? Have the two females affected the way you reset the work?
Jessica: We definitely have remained true to the original choreography during this re-staging process. Because both of my females were a part of the original work, they were both involved in the creation process. Shelby was my unofficial cover for Cole during the process of creation, so she has a strong grasp on the movement vocabulary and intention behind it. We have made some small changes in the solo, just to make the movement and the feel of it tailor-made for the dancer that Shelby is. The duet for the most part has remained the same as well. I am blessed with having two very different dancers who can quickly adapt to working together and understanding the need to really be in tune with each other every step of the way. There is a lot of mutual respect and trust that goes into this process of re-staging and I feel my ladies are knocking it out of the park.
There is a lot of mutual respect and trust that goes into this process of re-staging and I feel my ladies are knocking it out of the park.
Kristi: Can you talk about the process of creating a work versus the process of resetting? What (aside from creating the original work) is significantly different? How much does your cast affect the way you reset a work?
Jessica: Creating an original work is a long, taxing process. It’s about coming into the studio and playing around with ideas and movement and pretty much a series of trial and error until you get just the right combination. I personally like to work in the moment and vibe off the energy of the room, rather than coming in with exact movement already created.
Creating an original work is a long, taxing process. It’s about coming into the studio and playing around with ideas and movement and pretty much a series of trial and error until you get just the right combination.
Re-setting a work is a totally different beast. This particular process has been very smooth because both of my ladies were a part of the original cast and Shelby was the cover for the role in the duet which she will be performing this March. The movement has already been created and now we just have to focus on getting it back in our bodies and smoothing out the connections and intention behind the work.
JMT Choreography will present Berseluk-Beluk Midwest RAD Fest in Kalamazoo, MI. Saturday, March 10th at 7pm. For more information, visit www.midwestradfest.org/schedule_of_events.