Going to Work: a self-interview on dancing for David Gordon, virtually, in the midst of a global pandemic by Megan Bridge
What was it like, creating work in a pandemic? When I saw the audition notice for David Gordon’s The Philadelphia Matter, I thought, yes. I have to do this. I needed the work, and I knew I needed the structure. I had resorted to creating hand-drawn spreadsheets with colored pencils, making these elaborate color-coded daily schedules for my family, just so we wouldn’t all drive each other crazy.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, I had worked with David before, and he really challenged me. I grew as an artist in very particular ways because of working as a performer and rehearsal assistant in a project he created in Philly in 2014: Political Shenanigans: Dancing with Brecht and Eisler. David modeled a kind of confidence and clarity in the rehearsal room–qualities that helped him make work quickly. He wasn’t precious about the working process. He was skilled and razor sharp in his decisions, cutting away what didn’t serve the work. Looking back I credit David’s rehearsal process with giving me the chops as an artist to make my first large-scale successful work, Dust.
So, I was excited about working with David Gordon again. But from the beginning of the process, I definitely felt removed. It was virtual, I would be working alone, and I would be learning material from video. All things that are very difficult for me. The instructions and collaborative process all happened over email, and in the videos that were sent back and forth. There definitely wasn’t any kind of group dynamic to tap into, which is what I thrive on. But, as I like to say, I’m a professional! And this was a great gig. Dancing is my job, and just to go to work and feel normal was a very important thing for me in summer 2020.
Another major challenge for me was having to video myself, and consider my setting, costume, background, etc. Yes, I’m an artist, and you are probably saying to yourself “but you’re so creative, I’m sure it was no problem for you.” Nope. Film is definitely not my medium! I also really shy away from staging myself in videos…I’m not even on Instagram! This kind of thing isn’t fun for me, and doesn’t come naturally. I wonder if this is partly because of my age (42). I really admired some of the younger dancers’ choices, like Amalia Colon-Nava’s sublime solo in the rain. For me, I didn’t feel so inspired. I dutifully made my videos and sent them in, and I think what I sent was all decent material (I hope). Again, I’m a professional, so I know how to get the job done. But I have to admit it didn’t feel like a juicy creative process for me. It felt like going to work. Which is okay. Sometimes making art is that way.
And I am absolutely certain that this was a juicy creative process for many of the artists involved, as evidenced by the final product. And as evidenced by some of the dancers’ breathtaking choices. I think The Philadelphia Matter is a really strong piece, and I’m proud to have been a part of it. But I really, really missed being in a room together with David and the other artists.
Did you have a favorite section of the project to work on? I enjoyed all the material…I feel really at home in David’s postmodern, pedestrian style. I think maybe Chair was the most fun for me to learn. I absolutely love watching Valda Setterfield perform, so the repetition of watching the material over and over again was satisfying. I also really enjoyed learning how to manipulate the chair, and treat it like a partner. Towards the end, I scheduled two long rehearsal days to finish learning and shooting this piece, and that was a huge mistake. With all the repetition, I could barely move the next day, I was so sore!
Song and Dance was challenging in a very different way, and I think ultimately I made it harder for myself than it needed to be. At the beginning, I obsessed over getting the song lined up exactly with the dance, in the way that David was humming in the rehearsal video. It took forever! I finally eased up on that when I discovered that the point of the humming was to make the dance feel relaxed, maybe playful. That opened me up to the material a lot more, and let me really dance with it.
I also loved learning Close Up…being able to hug and touch another person outside of my family was really meaningful. And it was a relief to connect with another dancer in this process. I wish that there was more of this.
Was there a favorite location that you shot in? I shot a lot of the material at my work space, Fidget, in the studio. Then my family went to Maine for a couple of weeks, and I got to shoot Chair there, in front of the ocean. I also shot in some really green spaces, in Maine and in my backyard in Germantown. But ultimately my favorite shooting location was the handball courts on the Towey playground, in Kensington. The ground is kind of springy, and it’s painted with these big geometrical swaths of color. I had the traffic passing by in the background. I also used a really low angle so I looked really tall, and I had some cool closeups of my feet. I’m pretty sure this was the last thing I shot. It was so simple. I guess I finally got inspired at the end.
Major support for The Philadelphia Matter – 1972/2020 has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.