Small Dances: my new project

September 30, 2013

I announced a couple of months ago that I was the recipient of a Next Steps grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council. Holy awesome. I am a firm believer that getting a grant is part preparation and writing smarts, combined with an equal amount of luck. I am feeling really fortunate.

When I wrote the grant I had a pretty clear idea of what the project might look like. The operative word in that sentence is 'might'. So, I've been spending the past month or so envisioning the realistic end of this process.

This project is hugely inspired by the artists who have performed in my living room. The most sophisticated tech at these performances involves a boombox, and the lamps already in the space. Despite these bare bones elements, the experience of viewing this work-- and of sharing it with the other folks watching-- has been truly exciting. My last big piece involved 3 video projectors and a 2 year process. This piece will be assembled in 3 months, will be entirely portable, and will be performed with very minimal tech.

I'm making a series of dance vignettes around the theme of connection. There will be spoken text, and hopefully some live music, too. The vignettes will be performed in living rooms and gallery spaces throughout the Twin Cities in February and March. I'm thinking a lot about the isolation of winter. Let's come together. I want to make a performance that feels a little like a party.

I'm hoping to involve a guest artist at each performance. If you'd like to share your work, email me at LMholway[at]gmail[dot]com. I'm also documenting the entire process of making this work, which will be added over here. In December, I'll be crowdsourcing some of the text for the piece through a series of questions on the blog.

Are you a performer interested in auditioning for the piece, or a stage manager who'd like to share in the process? Go to for more information. I'm really excited to begin. I have no real idea of exactly how this will unfold, but I think that's probably ok.

[Photo by Megan Mayer]

It's What's For Dinner

September 27, 2013

I've been thinking about food. Our cooking has been pretty unadventurous lately-- mostly focused on putting food in our stomachs, and using up whatever farmer's market produce we have. Which is fine sometimes.

A month or so ago I put out an Instagram call for new cookbooks. I like cookbooks-- even if just for a starting/inspiration place.

My default cookbooks/foodie idea sources are these four:
  • Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef Takes Off: This cookbook has my favorite pizza dough recipe, great salad dressings, and a killer lamb curry.
  • Lynn Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift's The Splendid Table's' How To Eat Supper: Clever takes on simple recipes that I wouldn't think of-- a great turkey burger recipe, and my favorite chicken and leek recipe.
  • Melissa Joulwan's Well Fed: Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat: The cookbook that helped me survive my Whole30 with flying colors. And even if you aren't interested in Paleo, her sauces and inventive recipes are ridiculously delicious.
  • Orangette: Because, well, Molly. 

Folks on Instagram shared these cookbook/food website recommendations with me:
I can't wait to check these out, and to spend a little more time thinking about food. What are your recommendations? I'm generally looking for recipes that are light on gluten, heavy on flavor and veggies, and don't take all day to prepare. Meanwhile, check out Mo Perry's writing for Live Better America on 16 Ways To Eat Your Favorite Fall Produce, which is like a mini fall cookbook in and of itself.

Blog Updates

September 26, 2013

Summer didn't lend itself to regular blogging. I like writing here, though, and I have every intention of keeping it up, and of adding more voices to the mix in the coming months.

How are people reading blogs these days? I've been using feedly with pretty good results. Also, you can follow this blog with bloglovin', or subscribe on the side bar.

The top bar is sporting a new 'about' page. Also, a page with more information about working with me, and some nice words from past clients. The blog topics have been reorganized on the side bar, and hopefully make it easier to find old content. My personal favorite topic column is probably 'The Hard Stuff', because why not talk about jealousy, money, and such?

Thanks for following along.

Alison Anderson Holland

September 25, 2013

In April I wrote an article for Minnesota Playlist citing some of the lessons I've learned from local artists and organizations about growing an artistic career. One of these lessons was about the importance of connecting our art to our communities. As artists we can serve our communities not only through the work we make, but also through our creative thinking skills. And as Irrigate (a Twin Cities-based, artist-led placemaking initiative) has shown, artists excel at leading placemaking efforts. What is this 'placemaking' business? I will use the definition shared on the Irrigate website:

Placemaking is the act of people coming together to change overlooked and undervalued public and shared spaces into welcoming places where community gathers, supports one another, and thrives. Places can be animated and enhanced by elements that encourage human interaction – from temporary activities such as performances and chalked poetry to permanent installations such as landscaping and unique art.

I find the potential of placemaking (and the way its being implemented in the Twin Cities) really exciting.

In May Ben and I were hired by social practice choreographer Alison Anderson Holland to document a project in Mora, Minnesota. The goal of Alison's project, which was funded by Forecast Public Art, was to start a community-wide conversation: the very beginning steps of placemaking. The conversation surrounded the future of an abandoned gravel lot in Mora. Ben and I documented discussions with elementary and high school students, the Mora chamber of commerce, a retirement community, and other Mora residents. These community conversations were instigated by the empty lot, but led to a lot of discussion of future hopes for the community that expanded far beyond it. 

When Alison listened to ideas for the abandoned space, she encouraged the participants to think outside the realistic parameters of space and money-- an easy task for the kids participating in the project, and much harder one for the adults. In the 4th grade classroom Ben and I visited, the ideas never stopped: a sushi restaurant, a soup kitchen, an arcade, a donation center, another Mall of America. The kids were so excited to have their opinions considered. 

We documented parts of Alison's process and Mora life from May through the beginning of August. This woman is so inspiring....and articulate, and resourceful. Let's just say that spearheading a project that emphasizes creative thinking and uncertain outcomes to a small town (population just over 3,000) that has limited experience with anything resembling the performing arts requires massive flexibility and conviction. I really admire Alison's commitment to sharing her work with rural populations. It was a reminder to me of the numerous ways that artists can take their skills and serve their communities: right-brained civic engagement, as Alison called it. She sums it up well in the video with these words:

I think that art can help people open up a little more, and to explore ideas in a different way or to value other people's ideas, because one idea leads to the next. Whether or not one idea is logistically feasible or not doesn't really matter, because it can lead to that next idea...that might be that perfect idea.

Dozens of ideas for the empty space were collected. The most important outcome of the project wasn't finding the perfect idea, though. It was showing that there's power in starting a conversation, and that the only way to solidify a better future for any place is to make your voice heard. 

You can watch the full 14 minute video of the project below, or the two-minute trailer over here. More information on Alison's work can be found on her website. You can also connect with her on twitter or facebook. Photos of the process are from my instagram feed

bit by bit

September 23, 2013

Happy Monday!

I like this fall thing-- it's really energizing. After a summer at a pretty relaxed tempo, I'm thrilled to be throwing myself into working and making. The list is long, but more exciting than stressful. I keep reminding myself that this is what I love to do: THIS. Why fret over the good stuff?

I had hoped to get up a longer post that I've been working on, but some days I'm a slow writer (and continual editor). When the days are full of activity, I have to remind myself of two things:

#1) All you have to do is show up and do the work. You don't have to do it all today-- you're just one person, and that's not possible. But even 20 minutes of time put into a project, day after day, pays off.

This weekend I was part of the decorating committee for a dear friend's wedding, and the space (seen above) for the reception was massive, and needed to be filled with dozens of strings of lights. It looked like a really daunting task at first. Bit by bit it came together. I'm certain this is true for lots of things.

#2) There's never a better time to move your body than when you're schedule is booked. It's when I'm busy that I try to convince myself that I don't have time to exercise. In reality, I've never needed it more: it makes me feel so much calmer.

Have a great week.

Share Your Thoughts in SunsetGun's new play

September 19, 2013

My talented friend and collaborator Candy Simmons is making a new play with her company SunsetGun Productions. I'm lucky enough to get to be a part of the creation process. The play is an exploration of what it means to be an American woman today, which, as you can imagine, is a really big topic. Which is where we'd love some help: would you be willing to answer some questions? We'd love some thoughts from all kinds of different people-- and certainly not necessarily just women.

If you'd like to answer some questions via email or video, you can email Candy at sunsetgunproductions[at]gmail[dot]com, and she'll give you a fun little assignment. You can read more about the project over here.

The project is being workshopped in November at the Red Eye. It's a pretty sweet luxury to have time for development, and a great space for a workshop. I'm really looking forward to the adventure.

let's fall apart at the edges and at the center

September 17, 2013

A few weeks back I was scrolling through twitter when I saw a friend's post that they'd had a bad day, and were finding comfort in pictures of baby animals, and a drink. Pretty soon a few others chimed in with similar feelings, and their own thoughts about what would make them feel better. This was strangely comforting to me. Sometimes I forget that people around me-- people I respect, and share community with-- also have bad days. I forget that they feel overwhelm, sadness, and fear just like me, and that they also have days where they feel unraveled and uncertain.

They strange thing about being so virtually connected is that many of the important details of this mysterious human experience don't transfer over-- the pain, longing, and insecurity. They get curated away in favor of discussion of accomplishments, projects, and joys, or transformed into complaints (which I don't think is the same as talking about the emotions at the crux of the complaint). Sometimes this isn't a bad thing: don't you like to focus on the happy stuff? I much prefer to remember my life as it's architected around the joys. But my life is architected around other things too.

The past four months have been really messy and challenging for me. I'm trying to focus on the positive outcomes of this time, without sugarcoating my feelings. I want to be sincere, partially because I want more sincerity from the people around me. I wish us all an increased ability to be vulnerable, and an end to the mysterious pressure that insists our lives be neat and presentable, because that's just plain bullshit. I believe that challenges always transform us for the better, and are truly awesome teachers. That doesn't make all of the Big Feelings feel any less enormous, or any less isolating.

I am reminded of the artist statement for Mad King Thomas' Phone Dances (colon) Dances for the Telephone, presented last spring at The Soap Factory:

Laughter opens the sutures that hold us together. Let's not be held together, let's not protect ourselves or slip quietly into entertainment. Let's fall apart at the edges and at the center. Let's make things more awesome.

Last week I started rehearsing at the Soap Factory for Emily Gastineau's project, and the timing felt perfect. Here I am making these new dances for my winter project, feeling open and messy much of the time, and grateful for something so concrete to throw myself into. It's a lucky thing that we always have this opportunity to make things. You should read this great post by my friend Levi about finding motivation to create from our worst places. Isn't that an awesome thought to entertain-- making something great out of the not-so-great?

At this past Small Art, Charles Campbell interviewed an audience member about death and dying, and Kristen Graves sang a song for her friend Tanner who died last year. Samantha Johns and Lucas Koski cemented their breakup after a 3 year relationship-- he cooked tacos in our kitchen, while she read him a 20 minute love letter. I'm not suggesting that art should only be made after intense, high-stakes circumstances. But if you're experiencing a rocky road, why not make something concrete out of the stockpile of feelings? 

I started with a banner for the wall-- construction paper and paints. It was remarkably comforting in all of its vagueness.  

Lately: the late summer edition

September 13, 2013

Greetings humans! July, August, and now half of September whipped quickly by. Where did it go? I sweat a lot, enjoyed the occasional quality cocktail on my back porch, and tried my best to show up fully to this life adventure known as adulthood. Here are bits of summertime news:

  • My little garden was successful at growing basil, oregano, and sage, but failed at lettuce. I am going to harvest the rest of the basil and try my hand at pesto tomorrow. I've been told the secret is to sauté the garlic before adding it to the blender with the basil, nuts, olive oil, and parmesan. Do you have any advice to guide my kitchen experiment?
  • Ben and I are both a year older. On my birth night, we bowled and closed down karaoke at a bar, and then rode our bikes around. I dare you to be in a bad mood while riding your bike around on a summer night. IMPOSSIBLE, I say.
  • On the work front, I made a scintillating play for 6-year-olds about Lego Star Wars, and spent a lot of teaching time arguing about various plot details (i.e- is it possible to trick Darth Vader before he senses it?) with my students. On a very different note, Ben and I finished up a video project with rural dance artist Alison Anderson Holland, which documented a community conversation in Mora, Minnesota about the future of an abandoned lot. I loved watching Alison make this project happen, and I'm excited to share more about it in the next week or two.
  • I took a placemaking workshop through Irrigate Arts. This was exciting because I met a whole group of artists that I didn't even know existed. It was also exciting because we went on an observation walk around parts of lowertown (in downtown St. Paul), and was reminded that there are whole chunks of my city (and even my neighborhood) that I still haven't explored-- even after a year of living here. There are two more opportunities to take this workshop-- in September and November-- which makes you eligible for Irrigate funding.

  • The third Small Art happened, with Kristen Graves, Charles Campbell, Lucas Koski, and Samantha Johns performing. I was inspired and a little blown away by their respective bravery. And as always, I was thrilled that an audience (the biggest one yet!) showed up. You can read some nice words about it written by Susannah Schouweiler on the Knight Foundation blog

For Your Reading And Viewing Pleasure:
  • Ben co-produced a series of promotional videos with the Minnesota Opera, which give a synopsis of each of the operas they're making this season. I'm very fond of this 1-minute Macbeth video. You can watch the rest of the opera series over here.


Have a great weekend. I hope it's just what you need.

More Small Art

September 4, 2013

I love live performance. I especially love the kind that feels like a party, where I'm forced to push my introverted ways and notice my fellow audience members. And I love the kind that feels like an exchange between performer and audience, when I'm required to do a little more than pay for a ticket and find a seat. Tomorrow we're hosting a third dose of Small Art, and I'm excited for the potential for magical performance experiments to happen. One performance is happening in our kitchen. For another, I have no idea what to expect. But the performers-- fabulous as they are-- are only half of the equation. I'm almost as excited to be with a mash up of good friends and perfect strangers, watching them introduce themselves to one another, and take in a show seated together on a couch.

It's possible for a great deal of life these days to take place on the internet. I'm not bad-mouthing that, because I'm awfully fond of the information exchange and connection that it affords. But the internet is no substitute for person-to-person In Real Life experiences, or the kind of unpredictable magic that happens when a bunch of bodies are sharing a space and experience together. I'm reminded of this writing by ARTCRANK founder Charles Youel about why ARTCRANK is an event, rather than a website that allows you to buy posters, which is aptly titled Guess You Had To Be There.

It's live, it's real, and it only happens once just like that-- no perfect repeats of bodies in seats, or even moments of performance. I'm grateful to get to watch the experiment.

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