by Megan Kurashige
We haven’t talked about Love Songs as much as we should have or wanted to. Not because it felt like something less than our first piece, but because it took us by surprise, I think. We made some big changes in our lives, and that took us by surprise. We moved into an apartment in San Francisco, worked a lot, and discovered that when you tend to launch yourself at projects with blind enthusiasm and confidence, things become much more complicated when those projects involve other people’s time and money and lives. Not that this has stopped us from galloping on, but we are galloping on a moving platform that is running maybe just a little bit too fast, and we must run even faster or fall off.
The project itself was a surprise. In the very beginning, when it was just an idea, Love Songs was going to be called The Anatomy of Love. It was going to be a casual installation, a party, a big mashup of dance and audience and music, preferably involving covers of old love songs and charming local bands and choreography that played with being literally in the viewer’s face. Then, Summer Rhatigan at the SF Conservatory of Dance invited us to present something at this year’s Summer Dance Series (a sort of miniature dance festival that the school produces each year), so it turned into a theatrical piece. Then, a friend (Daisy Phillips, who is a stunning dancer… if you are in Europe, you should try to catch one of her shows) suggested that we think about using an opera singer. Then, one of our dancers mentioned that her sister was actually an opera singer, and that she lived in Los Angeles, and that she might be able to come up to the studio one day, just to play.
So, Love Songs became what it ended up being: a dance to songs about love and a collaboration with Ina Rae, a tiny, stunning soprano who is also one of the most generous artists/human beings that we’ve had the pleasure of working with.
When Ina came to a rehearsal in January, we were nervous. Would she be scared of moving? Would we know how to talk to her? Sometimes, music and dance seem to be two entirely separate things that stand on opposite sides of a very deep canyon and shout at each other. Ina blew us away though. She was daring, game for anything, and her voice was both enormous and warm, entirely human and wonderfully relevant.
Here’s a video of Ina and Carson improvising at that first rehearsal (link HERE, if the embed doesn’t work):
I think we took the easy route and assumed from the beginning that the piece would be about love. Not only about being in love, even though that is an easy way to grab onto people because everyone knows what that is, or thinks they know what that is, and we all have this knowledge or imagined knowledge shored up by stories and movies and songs, as well as our own lives; we wanted the piece to also be about love itself, which is almost more difficult to talk about, when you’re using dance to talk about it, even though it’s a looser, larger, less specific incarnation. I don’t know if we managed it. Dance that is performed always seems to be in conversation. Even when there is only one person moving onstage, they are tethered by the audience. They pull against them or open up to them or shut them out. And when you’re working with a small group of artists, like we do, and when you particularly believe in work that relies upon an emotional reaction and understanding from the audience, there is always an element of considering how another person makes you feel.
Which isn’t bad at all, but it was interesting to see how the project pulled away from the possibilities of love for something (for vocation or art or belief) and toward the specific intricacies of love for someone. It was just easier.
What surprised me the most though was how it went beyond that and became, at least for me, less attached to my own cache of experience and instead overwhelmingly about the exact people in the project itself (Shannon, Carson Stein, Ina Rae, Sarah Woods, Kelvin Vu, Shannon Leypoldt, Megan Wright). We’re all friends, but I don’t know the everyday longings and dramas of all seven of them. We have varying degrees of familiarity. But, we worked hard in the studio together for months and I think Shan and I are lucky to work with people who are daring enough and brave enough to try for honesty, so we all get to know each other intimately within the world of the piece we’re building. That intimacy is enormous. Even if I don’t know their heartbreaks or happinesses, I know and trust each of them as artists absolutely.
I didn’t really understand this until we performed the piece for the first time and, while I felt like we were saying things to the audience, I mostly felt like we were talking to each other about love and trying to make ourselves as transparent as possible so we could show each other all the things, enormous and tiny, that we believe about it.
Our last show was on July 30. We’re already working on our next project. It’s weird to be in a place where we can say, well, that was Love Songs. Finished, the end. I already miss it.