A Postcard from Laura Peterson: The Impossibility of Making a Solo

A Postcard from Laura Peterson: The Impossibility of Making a Solo

By Choreographer Laura Peterson

Published on August 18, 2015
courtesy of the choreographer

Be Sure To See Laura Peterson's Latest Work Atomic Orbital ( see description below) and share an Audience Review on The Dance Enthusiast. Atomic Orbital premieres with Nicole Canuso's Midway Avenue at HERE Arts Center August 27-30, 2015 for info click Here.org  For tickets to the show click Tickets


I haven’t made a solo since 2005.

Sure, I’ve created solos that were parts evening length dances (I’ve been choreographing for groups for eight years) but never a stand- alone piece. I have trouble figuring out the rationale.  Why would anyone make a solo? What does it matter how I feel? Although I am filled with emotion and political viewpoints, I certainly don’t want to relive any of those passions in a distinct dance for myself.  Of course, I know a solo doesn’t have to be that personal, still this idea was a definite block.

As an angst-y teen, my father, a philosopher and professor, said, “Why are you worried about how you feel all the time?” My adolescent  answer was, of course, “You don’t understand.” But his words still resonate with me. I took him to mean that I might spend a little more time concerning myself with what I do, rather than how I feel.

Over his long career my father published works in the areas of philosophy of language, epistemology, semantics, and logic. When I was six- years- old he taught a freshman logic course and instructed me simultaneously with his students. The influence is clear. My work is abstract, never narrative, and frequently employs patterns, geometry, and mathematics as a means of developing the choreography —the pure logic of a concept explored and developed.

So, why would I make a solo? I spent six months trying to answer this question.

In 2014, I received a fellowship from the Bogliasco Foundation to live and work in Italy for one month. I forced myself to address my resistance. It was simultaneously glorious and terrifying. Working alone felt terrible. I was insecure. How could I be in this wonderful supportive environment and not make something worth looking at? It took weeks to figure out a concept.

Laura Peterson Dancing Beside the Ligurian Sea; Photo by Ale Vulcano Courtesy of the Bogliasco Foundation

In 2014, I made a work entitled The Futurist. The idea of infinite possible outcomes was a starting point for this piece.  What happens to a person’s body when they think about the future and are forced into a state of not-knowing? I researched the Futurist period in art and although I didn’t connect to the artwork itself, the ideas of dynamism, a sense of rushing and the body’s relationship to the machine became major themes. What if I used this lens to look more closely at myself?  What did I think about my own future: my future body, future mind, and the inevitable changes that come with age?

I improvised for hours lying on the floor and thinking about the possible futures then allowing movement to manifest.  I wrote, using stream of consciousness methods to help uncover possible content then rearranged the words to use as prompts for improvisation.

How average these methods were. It reminded me of a beginning composition class. I became angry and frustrated. All my devices seemed to lead to boring dances, and when watching the video from these work sessions, I could only see what was wrong, not what was right. I was fighting myself, and losing it seemed.

Laura Peterson's Atomic Orbital; Photo Courtesy of the Choreography

After a couple weeks, I had the idea to scrub my working video backwards, searching for something I could use. I noticed that the sounds of my footfalls and impact of my body played backwards were interesting. Using another microphone to record these elements, I made them into the soundtrack I would use for my next step.

I ended up playing with improvisational dancing at various times of the day, early morning, daytime and even at night, on a cement platform overlooking the Ligurian sea as my husband and sometimes collaborator, Jon, filmed.  I taught him how to use my Go-Pro camera as I directed and later edited the shots. The result: what looks like just me on camera, is really a duet with Jon. Together we are exploring a relationship of pathways and proximity.

Perhaps my father’s instructions came back to help me escape myself.  “Don’t worry about how you feel all the time, concern yourself with what you do.” Seems like good advice for anyone faced with the impossibility of a task- not just a choreographer.

My new work Atomic Orbital is back in the formalist world.  Atomic Orbital premieres at HERE Arts Center August 27-30, 2015. This dance for 7 people is about the areas in an atom where electrons are most likely to be found. This area is called the atomic orbital. The dance employs the formalism of mathematics and a choreographic structure that expresses the unknowable location of some of the smallest particles.

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