Sharing a Stage, Saying Goodbye

It was a pop-up performance, outside, in a courtyard at a hotel in Phoenix. I was dancing by myself that Saturday. The piece started in silence but moved into music. Guerilla style, I brought my own stereo, I had no sound person. Nor did I have childcare. On top of all this, my dad had died the Tuesday before this Saturday performance, losing his four-year battle with cancer.

I originally choreographed the solo, “Ojos Negros,” in 2013 as an ode to my great-grandmother who passed away two days shy of her 101st birthday. The piece used a voice recording of her talking about death. The recording was from an oral history I did with my great-grandmother thirteen years earlier as research for a senior project that later evolved into my master’s thesis. In 2015, knowing that my dad was nearing the end, I dusted off the piece and prepared to perform it again. I wanted to hear my great grandmother’s voice and her wisdom about death as I said goodbye to my dad. I wanted her strength and the strength of my ancestors to get me through this time of transition and letting go.

SafosDanceTheatre_NDEO2015_AZDanceCoalition

There I was under the bright desert sky with wispy white clouds, dancing outside, my preferred stage, looking up for my dad, missing him, scattering the holy dirt of my homeland all over the flagstone of a hotel in the Valley of the Sun. Buddy was with me, just seven years old, and he was the one who ran the music for me that day. I trained him before the performance, during all those days when I would bring him to rehearsals with me, no childcare. He started and ended my music right on cue. When the piece was over, he joined me on “stage,” grabbed my hand, and together we bowed.

It was the first time I shared a stage with my son, performing a piece honoring our ancestors, a piece saying goodbye to my dad, his Grampy. And it was the best performance of that piece to date.

* photo by the Arizona Dance Coalition

Dining Room Compositions

My son is in piano lessons. When Buddy practices piano at home, he is usually struggling to learn a new piece. However, on days like today, when he has practiced enough so that his assigned pieces are memorized and he has very few mistakes, we turn our dining room into a stage that rivals Carnegie Hall or the Kennedy Center.

Buddy will set up his favorite toy Doggie Meh* as the conductor. Perched on top of the piano, Doggie Meh directs the show’s star pianist and musician, Buddy. Buddy also plays the role of lighting designer, choreographer, and artistic director. Using what he calls “color lights,” a gift he received from Santa last Christmas, and a strobe light that he bought with money he earned doing extra chores, Buddy sets the mood by carefully crafting his light design. Between pieces, he will coach me: “No Mama, not like that. Do this one,” mimicking my improvised movements. He tends to prefer my improvised ballet-esque moves more than my more modern and comedic movements. I do my best to be a good dancer and compositional improvisationalist as well as props master. I dance around the dining room and kitchen areas with various props (anything lying near or on the dining room table is fair game – backpacks, lunch boxes, utensils, the newspaper, etc), trying my best to capture the musicality of his short pieces as he practices his staccatos and legatos. Different movement qualities. Different music qualities. Mama and Buddy studying the same things. Staccato. Legato. Buoyant. Laughter. Frivolous movements. Nonsensical theatrical ideas. Our dining room, our home, becomes a true creative space. Buddy and I have a piano practice quite unlike any other. Piano practice becomes a blessing–allowing me to create and play and rehearse with my child all at one.

*Doggie Meh is featured in “Reflections” the MPA Project dance film.