LUNG

A Reflection on Music and Movement

I suppose I always knew I’d end up here. If I had to trace it back, my guess might be the first time I realized that the movement (or lack thereof) was as integral to the piece voiceless [this body] is filled as the music itself. Zac Larson (a wickedly talented classical or otherwise guitarist) and I were to freeze - to not move, to fight against everything we knew about chamber music and “showing the breath” in order to “not give it away” as composer Kevin Baldwin put it. The sound had to appear from nothing. So we practiced our cues to the point where it looked like we were psychically connected - and it became magic.

It wasn’t long after that when Sarah Perske came up with the next challenge. Sparring was inspired by movement, required movement, and demanded acting to the point where Zac and I both were thrown completely out of our comfort zone. I stalked around the stage like a demon, stage-whispering, beatboxing, and playing our instruments all while telling a story. It became immediately evident that our audiences loved this piece, and we loved doing it. Recording Sparring without the visual wasn’t an option - the acting, the movement was as much part of the music and the sounds itself.

Fast forward and Kaley Lane Eaton and I are staring at each-other on a stage while I mumble and yell in gibberish while she looks on, concerned. Kate Soper’s Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say may have been stationary, but the level of theatricality and precision was the same. As I stare out into the audience - frozen - unblinking (as per the score’s demands) I realize that I am no longer uncomfortable by this. I can see the looks of bewilderment crossed with delight, and it fuels my performance. Afterwards, audience members will tell me that they were enthralled, unable to look away as I was unable to blink.

After the first performance (and all following performances) of LUNG by Kaley Lane Eaton, people would ask me how it felt. How did it feel to move so much? How did it feel to play this intrinsically personal character of self-abuse? Are you used to this? My response was unfortunately an automatic defensive reaction: “this isn’t normal for me! I’m not a dancer!” I would blurt out in a panic - but after LUNG my brain had to take some time to restart. I wasn’t really able to articulate exactly how it felt. Upon reflection, it felt like dreaming. It felt like meditation. It felt like ritual. It felt like the culmination of all of the pieces I had focused so much time on in the years past. It felt as easy as breathing.

(Breathing, which I had worked for years and years of my undergraduate and graduate schooling to master and have yet to completely conquer. Breathing, which requires constant and persistent self-diagnosis. Nothing about breathing has ever been easy, and yet…)

For all of the prior works, I developed my own “movement language” for each piece. LUNG was an entirely new experience for me. Working with Karin Stevens Dance meant that the movements were imagined by the incredible movement artist Karin Stevens, and then we workshopped them together. The Indigo/Amelia Love Clearheart and I were partnered together for the work, and I cannot emphasize enough how the synthesis of all these creatives allowed LUNG to have its own unique movement language.

The movements required of the character that I portrayed in LUNG did not come naturally to me. It seems that 12 years of wushu (Chinese martial arts) had ingrained a specific kind of fluidity to my movement, of soft curves and straight lines, rather than the jagged and aggressive attack-like movements necessary for LUNG. After our rehearsals, I would review my cell phone videos and wonder how exactly I could make those changes within my body - while also playing the piccolo in mimicry of a panicked, robotic voice. I would work on the set in my head even when I was not in the dance studio. I stood in front of a mirror and worked on allowing expression to harden, to showcase anger which I rarely outwardly show in my face even when I feel it internally. To say that LUNG felt effortless should not devalue the amount of effort that went into its creation.

LUNG took months of work to create, and it was over in a matter of four days (excluding our LA tour this January, where we’ll bring it back once more). I was overjoyed and humbled. Furthermore, I was inspired.

After each show, once I had given my automatically reply, the question would be asked: “Will you move more?” The answer should be obvious. The path that I am on is not linear, but I find that music, acting, dancing, is all spiralling forward into a genre that can only be defined as performance. Performance - the only thing that I am truly interested in. To steal from Lily - “It’s over, and it’s just beginning.”

© 2019 by Leanna Keith. 

Seattle, Washington

leannakeith@gmail.com