By Amy Carlson & Erica Lynn Priolo with Elizabeth Gracen:
If you've read many of my posts on Flapper Press, you'd know that I am lucky enough to have a long-time, ongoing collaboration with the Lineage Dance Company—a nonprofit contemporary dance company dedicated to raising support and awareness for other non-profit organizations and to making the arts accessible to all.
The Lineage Performing Arts Center is a vibrant, creative portal where the Arts meet with purpose. The LPAC's new venue in Pasadena, CA, and its vibrant roster of upcoming performances attracts a diverse group of artists and performers and offers classes where professional dancers from the company teach at all levels, from beginner to advanced. Most of the classes focus the mind and body through creative movement and provide support and a sense of community: Dancing with Parkinson’s & other Neurological Challenges, Dancing Through Cancer, and Dancing with Alzheimers.
With the advent of Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdown, these important classes have gone virtual. It goes without saying that our technological ability to connect has been a boon in such times, but it has not been without its challenges. As great as it is to see a familiar face and spend time talking and dancing with someone on Zoom, there is nothing quite like proximity and the ability to reach out and touch someone's arm or give them a hug . . . or dance with them in person.
Amy Carlson has become a vital contributor to the Lineage family for many years now, advocating for research and support for the Parkinson's community after being diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2012 at the age of 44. She believes that an "Always Now" attitude is the way to tackle every day and believes that exercise is the cornerstone to living well with PD. She teaches specialized exercise classes with Lineage in Pasadena for PWPs and speaks to groups across the U.S. about how to have PD. Amy has fallen in love with dance and has taken private lessons with Ericalynn Priolo for almost four years now as well as group classes with the LPAC community.
Ericalynn Priolo received her BFA in dance at New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida. She has been a company member and teacher with Lineage Dance for eight years. Erica has continued to teach throughout the pandemic via Zoom classes and has discovered her own unique way of reaching out to the Lineage community despite the inability to hold in-person classes.
Because of the proximity restrictions, Amy and Erica, like all of us, have had to reconfigure their lives to adapt to the new Covid environment. How do you dance with someone when you can no longer be in the same room with them? How do you construct a creative atmosphere when you cannot touch or dance in sync with your dance partner any longer? How do you create when you have less room, when you are forced to make do with the space you have? Is it even possible?
These are the questions posed by Amy & Erica's dance film exploration of creative movement during these challenging times. I recently met with Amy and Erica (via Zoom) to talk about their film and the creative journey they have taken to make it.
Amy Carlson & Ericalynn Priolo
Elizabeth Gracen: Amy and Erica, tell me about these dance films. How did you come up with the idea?
Amy Carlson: Erica and I have been doing one-on-one dance classes for three or four years now.
Ericalynn Priolo: Almost right after you started dancing.
AC: And now we’ve had to move onto Zoom. I was telling someone the other day that I dance with Erica for an hour a week with Dance for PD. I dance with Erica for an hour in a modern class with non-Parkinson’s people, and then I dance with Erica one-on-one. So three hours a week. And then we went to Zoom—post-virus world. For a week or two, I wasn’t dancing with Erica at all, but then we brought our one-on-one to Zoom, then the Dance for PD class followed. So, now I’m down to two hours a week, but they’re Zoom hours, and I was like . . . “It doesn’t feel the same.”
EP: That physical connection is lost.
AC: We had been working on a dance that we had been putting together for this possible production for a tour that maybe was going to happen this summer that maybe was going to be about Parkinson’s, and then . . .
EG: Boom, Covid-19.
AC: And then I was feeling that I was working on something that I was not going to get to perform. We had a part where we were supposed to dance together, and now we can’t dance together. So, I thought, This just bites.
EP: So then we started talking about how we are supposed to dance in this new environment.
AC: We started working on that idea in our next Zoom class.
EP: Since working on Zoom, I’ve been interested in how to make a dance, working with what you have. We’d been working on that project, and now we couldn’t partner with each other. Then, Amy had this idea, and all of the sudden I had so many ideas swirling around in my head. So last week . . . was it last week?
AC: It was last week!
EP: It was only last week?!
EG: It probably feels like two years ago!
EP: Yes! Well, I had ideas I wanted to play with—shifting energies from each square to each other, playing with where our body was located in the square. Maybe her torso is dancing in one square, where my legs are dancing in another square. Using the space and the depth through the camera. So, we just started playing around in a structured improv.
EG: So, you recorded at the same time or separately?
AC: Originally, we recorded it at the same time. We made sets that mimicked each other in terms of where our chairs sat in space relative to the squares. We initially didn’t really have a theme in mind other than a song Erica wanted to use.
EP: And the idea that whatever pose you ended in, the next dancer had to follow-up.
AC: A bit of “pass the energy” and embodiment and call and response. So we started with this first film as a raw improv film. And I hated it because I looked at it and saw that my stuff was just all over the place.
EP: That’s how I feel about my movement too in that first one.
AC: So, I then re-shot my side, and it was interesting because it was a lot harder to get it right. The timing. I had to remember the pose. So, I actually spent a glorious full day on it, which was wonderful for me because it was like, “I’m dancing now!” All of the sudden I was dancing with a purpose. I was trying to get to a product. I was trying to get to a performance. It was exactly what I wanted. I finally got the dance to where I wanted it. I then went into Premier Pro and layered my new self over my old self. So the final, first-completed film is not a raw Zoom recording. It could have been if I was a better dancer (laughs), but even so I felt like it was something. It was exactly what I wanted. Erica had given me a one-on-one class and gave me a challenge that gave me something to work on, on my own. The film part is sort of separate. That’s my goofiness of loving to make little films.
EG: So, the choreography is a joint venture.
AC: Her choreography is hers. Mine is mine. But the concept is Erica’s.
EP: Structured improv—you’re dancing how you want, but you know where you are starting and you know where you’re ending.
EG: So, the whole idea was to re-create that visceral feeling of being together in a class?
EP: And also, I’m finding with teaching dance classes through Zoom, I’m discovering ways to connect with my students. Especially in my Parkinson’s dance class, I found it hard to start out like we do in an on-site class with saying, “Okay, let’s do a warm-up across the floor.” I would normally teach them a combo, but now that seems silly with Zoom. So, now I’m trying to find more ways for us to interact with each other and communicate so that they can get more creative in the process . . . instead of me just talking all the time.
AC: And let me tell you, I’m doing a lot of these “Let’s move to Zoom” experiences, and Erica’s classes are topnotch. They are the best. Everybody else is sort of fucking around, trying to figure out how to do their old way in this new thing, and it’s not working.
EP: Dancing . . . in Zoom . . . all I really see are faces. Once we start a class, I am dancing with them. I look every once in awhile to see what the students are doing, but you’re in your own space. You aren’t with them in the classroom, so you have to make it “feel” like we are all together.
EG: And how many students do you have at one time?
EP: I think we had about eight students in the last Parkinson’s class.
AC: To take Erica’s particular Parkinson’s class at the Lineage Performing Arts Center, you typically have to be ambulatory—you have to be able to walk. But in Zoomland, all bets are off. The numbers are going up in class. The word is out about her classes. The students are chatting and saying, “This is cool.” So Erica has been very successful in taking dance into Zoom.
EG: So, back to your dance film project . . .
AC: This project is important to me because I believe it successfully brings dance into Zoom. There is a reason that the films are getting hits and people are picking it up on Vimeo.
EG: That’s great!
AC: I’m pretty careful about what I post on various platforms, but I sent this link to a friend of mine who is pretty big in the PD world. She has about a thousand followers, and she’s somewhat into dance. She came back and said, “I love this. I’ve already posted it.” And now the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's is interviewing me as well about it, trying to figure out where to put it on its site.
EG: It’s very “arsty-fartsy”—I mean that as a compliment. When I first screened it, I thought, What am I watching? It has a hypnotic quality. You get sucked into it. And the films are just short enough to keep you watching to see what is going to happen.
AC: I thought, This is a Flapper Press thing. This is an art thing.
EG: And the music from Pina, the Wim Wenders documentary about Pina Bausch.
EP: I may have pulled the intensity that you see in our faces from my familiarity with Pina’s work.
AC: I would say that the moves are Pina-esque.
EG: I love that film. It was fantastic to see it on a big screen—3D.
EP: She’s my favorite. I’ve always been obsessed with her ever since college. She is remarkable. Simple movement, but so meaningful. And if you watch her dance, she does simple things, but it tells such a story with just a hand movement. I find that amazing. Dance has become really showy . . . tricks. I come from a classical/modern background, so I’m longing for that meaning when I watch a dance, instead of seeing a trick. Those dancers are amazing—I wish I could do all those tricks—but there is just something more powerful about her movement and her idea of what dance is.
AC: And for me, coming from a Parkinson’s perspective, the tricks are out of our range. I’m never going to get to the technical level that a professional dancer is going to get to, but I’d still like to access emotion and communication. And the interesting thing is that now that we are in this Zoom world, I’m finding that I can connect easier because I don’t have to make such a big movement. We’re talking "chair dancing” here. Everyone dismisses that as "old people’s dance,” but it’s really expressive.
EG: Are any of the moves in the film based on the PD classes?
EP: Not really. We were playing with depth.
EG: There doesn’t appear to be a real narrative throughline to this. There is a “why” to it, but . . .
AC: Whatever happened, just happened. It’s sort of easy to project your own meaning onto it. I had a friend who thought that we were really angry. He said, "Okay, that looks deadly serious and confrontational. I’ve seen football games with less facial hostility. All very sinuous and flowing. Impressive. Was this a subset of your dancing or a response to exercising at home alone and together?"
EG: That’s funny. Maybe it’s because I know you two. And then there is that thumbs up at the end that sort of winks at the whole thing.
Two months later:
It's been a couple of months since I first interviewed Amy and Erica, but I've been watching their videos multiply and meld into their final film, ALL THE TIME. I reached out once more to Amy to talk about their process and discoveries along the way.
EG: Amy, bring me up to date and talk to me about ALL THE TIME.
AC: Working in Zoom, we spent more than a month dancing apart. Ericalynn continues to do a great job of visualizing, even though we are apart, we can dance together. So that is what we kept exploring, and it really created a meaningful interaction across time and through this void. My Parkinson’s brain continues to get challenged in this space.
In the beginning, when we were first in this space, that was not true. It was really difficult, and now we’re exploring things that we probably never would have explored in the studio. It’s bringing a completely different dimension to our work.
It’s probably expressed best in one of the last pieces that we worked on called "ART—ERICA & AMY." We picked pieces of artwork, graphic art. We’d look at it and talk about what we saw in that piece. We looked at Wassily Kandinsky. We’d put music on and dance with the forms and the ideas of Kandinsy in our minds. Had we not been able to just bring up a picture, that might not have happened. We did a Calder and others as well.
EG: Well, my first observation is that what you are doing represents a microcosm of what we have all been going through since the Covid-19 lockdown. There are some good things that have happened from the situation in terms of how we’ve had to push our brains, our creativity, and ways of entertaining and educating ourselves. It’s been a challenge for everyone. We could possibly even carry it further into the Black Lives Matter movement, how that has blossomed. Obviously, the actual event—the murder of George Floyd—lit the fire, but the evolution of what we are willing to do to express ourselves is part of it. I mean, if I put on a mask, can I go out and march, can I express my anger and frustration? Than, back to what you and Erica have been doing—alright, I’m stuck in this room, we’ve explored this space in not moving very far from these chairs, so now let's look at works of art and explore that through dance. It’s amazing, and I assume a constant work-in-progress. This final film that you’ve made is a milestone as well as just one stepping stone along that journey that is ever-evolving.
AC: One of the other things that we did is be conscious of dressing the stage. Me trying to recreate her space in my studio. Concentrating on other forms and what we could bring into the experiment and play with: lighting, end position, position of camera, position of body in space. Especially in the overlay shots. We had to consider the quadrants we were working in and have to deal with our bodies in space, aware of the other person who was actually not in the space.
AC: Yes, you post your film with the hashtag or tag #MYDANCEFILM, #docf17thru20july, @dancefilms on social media platforms, and the Dance Film Association will select and curate films to screen virtually during their digital Dance on Camera Festival on JULY 20. So, if you just do a search on the socials or YouTube with the hashtags, you’ll get a feel of what other people are submitting.
EG: I see that the theme this year is “Isolation!” Perfect! But you don’t get to put anything about the story behind the film with these posts, do you?
AC: No, your title better say it all.
EG: So, regardless of whatever happens with your film in this festival, it is out there in the world with these hashtags, so people are watching it!
AC: Also, in the Parkinson’s community, the first version of the film we did was picked up by one of the people who vlogs in the Parkinson’s universe. It’s been seen by a lot of people, which is great because I am always talking to people in that community and telling them that they can do more than they think they can—and you should be. You gotta keep those synapses firing.
EG: Well, that goes for everybody! Doing something creative every day. Trying to do something different every day to push those boundaries in your brain.
AC: The dopamine or whatever it is that makes people with Parkinson’s a little more creative than perhaps they were before is really wonderful. So the more you embrace that, you can say, hey, this is this the cool side effect of having Parkinson’s.
EG: So, to wrap it up, what are the plans that you and Erica have regarding your projects going forward?
AC: I think that both she and I realize that for a good portion of the population, this is not going away. We’re not going to be getting back into the studio and working face to face again anytime soon. This is a state of being that will be around for awhile. At least for me and people like me.
So, we’re continuing to push on this and ask: What does this look like? How do we continue to expand and look into the ways in which this medium is different? How do we explore the box?
EG: And it’s also a way of documenting the way you are feeling?
AC: What both Erica and I are discovering is that when you’re in the box and there is no one there poking you, you get a lot more engagement. I think that why Zoom is so exhausting, because you are more engaged.
EG: Because you have to keep eye contact. People can see when you aren’t paying attention!
AC: Exactly. You can’t multi-task. You have to be present.
EG: Well, all I can say is that I would love to be able to check in with you later on to see what you’ve come up with—what you’re creating next.