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TDE Asks The Equus Projects About “Grazing Gracefully,” A Wacky Tea Party For Humans And Horses

TDE Asks The Equus Projects About “Grazing Gracefully,” A Wacky Tea Party For Humans And Horses
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By Sammi Sowerby / Follow on Instagram
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Published on June 23, 2015
Photo: Bates Dance Festival, 2011 © Arthur Fink

Co-presented by Snug Harbor Cultural Center

Grazing Gracefully is part of the Snug Harbor Culture Center ‘Summer Dance Series.’

Performance Details
When: June 27, 2015 @ 4PM 
Where: On the large lawn at Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island, NYC

Choreography: JoAnna Mendl Shaw & Company; Choreographic Assistant: Kacey Katzenmeyer
Dancers: Larissa Gerske, Molly Levy, Maya Orchin, Jenna Pollack, Audrey Rachelle Stanley
Composer and Live Cellist: Chris Lancaster

More info about The Equus Projects:

Vashon Island, WA 2010 © Rex Holbein

Sammi Lim for The Dance Enthusiast: Tell us about the Staten Island ponies! How many of them will be staring in this month’s performance?

JoAnna Mendl Shaw, Founder of The Equus Projects: We are working with two Staten Island ponies from the Seguine Equestrian Center. Our two ponies, Josh and Charlie, are on lead lines and move with the dancers throughout the piece. There are no riders. Charlie and Josh each have two dancers who accompany them throughout the piece. A soloist frames the entire piece as a choreographic spectator, a visitor inside the equine landscape and ultimately the hostess of the tea party.

The ponies are cooperative as they are school horses and used to being ridden by lots of kids. As school horses they like to know their job and these set patterns seem very satisfying to them. It feels as if they are say “Yes, I know how to do this… Let me help you!”

TDE: Have you collaborated with the Seguine Equestrian Center prior?

JAMS: This is the first collaboration with Sequine. Sequine is an historic mansion, a landmark on Staten Island, which dates back to the mid 1800s.

Sweden 2013 © Kajsa Lindqvist


TDE: Why is the event described as a tea party? Is it because it’s outdoors? Or because refreshments will be served?

JAMS: There is a feeling of ‘Alice In Wonderland,’ because the Snug Harbor lawn suggests this lovely pastoral scene. The dancers are, in a sense, all Alice, but borrow characteristics from the Mad Hatter, The March Hare, The White Rabbit, The Door Mouse…

The tea party will culminate with the dancers and the horses all at a downstage table sharing snacks and tea. Horses will be fed grain while the dancers nibble at biscuits and sip tea.

It would be fabulous to have refreshments served. Great idea!

Maine 2008 © Nancy Halsey


TDE: What inspired the movements for Grazing Gracefully?

JAMS: Several elements inspired the movement language we are creating for Grazing Gracefully:

Firstly, there’s the performance site: The Snug Harbor lawn suggests a pastoral environment that might have been the setting for a lovely summer tea party. I imagined the performers as all variations of Alice - curious, adventurous and at times a bit of a romantic.

The ponies require very clear and specific directions in space. For example, it works best if the dancer sights a specific patch of grass and then takes the pony to that exact patch. Working with horses requires one to think in the horizontal. We set phrase material that is practiced a lot so the horses learn the patterns. They learn very fast. The trick is to keep the material fresh enough that the horses do not begin anticipating!

Lastly, the ponies are not serious show horses or prize winning equine athletes, but Josh and Charlie are almost humorous in their immense commitment to eating… So our challenge has been to create choreography that energetically invites them to graze so that we have some control over when and where they graze. So the choreography is assembled using a progression of choreographic scores: Grazing When Invited. The dancers have learned how to up their energy when “asking” and soften their energy when “allowing.” This enables us to work with highly structured improvisation scores that alternate moving through space with grazing duets that are performed in unison. The entire piece must be situated in a feeling of Real Time…a very different feel from a staged dance on a stage with all human performers!

TDE: I know it’s diplomatic to say you like a dance in its entirety, but which is one of your favourite parts of the performance thus far?

JAMS: I love the opening grazing section. As it moves closer to the audience, it transforms into set phrase material. The progression is subtle but magical, and seems to move from dream time to immediacy.

Vashon Island, WA 2011 © Judith Stewart

 Fun Fact: "If the horses know they receive grain at the end of the piece, there is a good chance they will insist upon heading towards that downstage table for their final treat. Trouble is, they will be tempted to skip the rest of the intermediary choreography! They weigh 900+ pounds and can be very pushy when food is involved." - JoAnna Mendl Shaw


Related Articles:

A Postcard from The Equus Projects - From Dancing with Horses to Moving with the Vendors of New York City's Union Square Farmer's Market (2012).

A Day with JoAnna Mendl Shaw and Her Company, The Equus Projects - Behind The Scenes with The Equus Projects as they work on OnSite NYC (2013).




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