Process v. Product: on beginnings

on beginnings by Jane Jerardi

When I was at the beginning of studying choreography, I worked with a teacher who would tell our class these confounding aphorisms that at first, didn’t make sense. Things like: “The worst thing for a new project is a good idea.”  (…what?)  But, pretty much ever since then, I remind myself of that statement whenever I start a new project.

It’s less that it’s a bad idea to have ideas.

It’s more that it’s actually perfectly okay to not have any idea.

In fact, in the realm of performance, this might be preferable, lest you get too attached to your really brilliant, yet right now, very imaginary idea.

Most of the work of making a dance or performance is going to the studio and the ritual of getting to the studio. This sounds ridiculous, but I find it true. There’s a method to being in a process. Which, what does that mean? It’s permission to give yourself authority to take time and use free time to let your mind wander about making – be it a dance, a song, a film.

Because no one will ever tell you or give you permission to make. You have to convince yourself it’s a good idea to be making anything at all. Or, maybe it’s more reverse psychology – you have to convince yourself that it’s not a bad idea. And by you here, I mean me. Let’s be honest: I have to convince myself it’s a good idea. That’s half the work right there.

It would be nice to think that this gets easier. But, so far in my experience – which to be fair, may still be limited – this does not get easier, only more familiar.

Jane Jerardi,  again (again),  photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis.

Jane Jerardi, again (again), photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis.

Once I start, there is something to work with. And, then you can convince yourself that you’re still not making anything at all – you’re just playing with something or kind of doodling, or improvising, or changing, or editing. You get kind of curious about it and then you’re on a roll.

My convincing myself it’s a good idea involves:

very long warm-ups
I love warming up…I could spend an entire rehearsal warming up. Sometimes I realize this is an elaborate mode of procrastination. But, sometimes the procrastination serves an odd purpose: you start breathing, you’re a bit less distracted, you feel the back of your body that you’ve been ignoring all day, and weird ideas come into view. You get curious and you start.

collaborating with other people
You’re obligated to show up, because they showed up.

going for walks
This could just be around the block or through the park, but mostly to disrupt the usual routine and to allow my mind to wander.

switching mediums to something I know nothing about
Sometimes I write or jot down things I see in the world and pretend I’m a writer. The notes eventually become lists.  The lists become writing, or scores.  The less I know about the medium I’m working in the better – because then it’s okay that it’s terrible.

weird rituals
There’s a lot of ritual to making – elaborate set-ups to get yourself to start (see also: warming up).

short daily acts
Take a particular photo or write every day in response to a prompt.

I video myself improvising and then watch the improvisations and then teach myself the improvisations. I find it difficult so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this. I usually only manage to learn a little. But, I really only need a little.

showing up
especially when you don’t feel like it.

In other words, I find making is a lot about getting out of the way. Sort of in a stubborn way. Convincing the parts of you that want to procrastinate and the part that thinks your ideas aren’t very good – to tell them to just slowly step back. And, you keep going despite them, while they’re there waiting in the background.

Jane Jerardi,  again (again),  photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis.

Jane Jerardi, again (again), photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis.

Then once you have something – that’s usually kind of terrible – you at least have something which is certainly better than nothing. And then you start to negotiate with it and then get weirdly into it and wonder about it and expand it, change it, or manipulate it and multiply it, or teach it to a friend, and get them to change it into something better. And then, you start having strong opinions about it – that it needs to be a certain way and you’re not really sure why but you’re fairly convinced of it.

And then, the project has somehow become bigger than you and you’re just following its lead.

And you’re still not sure if you’re worthy – or your ideas are any good, but you do it anyway for some reason. It’s weirdly addictive.

And despite it all – you realize that what’s beautiful about this is that you can make something without really much of anything at all. There are dances waiting to be made, photos waiting to be taken with your phone, your dollar-store notebook waiting to be written in, music waiting to inspire. Your art is as worthy as anyone else’s and we certainly need it. More is more. You might not believe quite how abundant you are, but that would be a mistake. Because you are.

Above: Jane Jerardi in again (again) Photo: Matthew Gregory Hollis

This blog entry is part of the Dance Center’s Process v. Product Festival (March 28-April 7). This two-week festival examines how concert dance presentation can be a document of process rather than a consumable product. Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak and Bebe Miller Company headline the festival through a series of performances, artist discussions, panels, workshops, and more. The Process v. Product Festival invites dance-makers, dance lovers, and other artists to reflect on the process of creation