Processes, Collaboration

Southern Theater, Minneapolis

SuperGroup Rehearsing at Southern Theater, 2013,
for “it’s [all] highly personal.” Photograph by Bill Cameron

Our daughter, Rachel, recently performed with the dance company, SuperGroup, at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, as part of the Momentum Series of the Walker Art Museum. Watching her perform with SuperGroup stimulated my imagination and filled me with pride. The magic of their performance, though, relied on a difficult and long collaborative process that trumped anybody’s ego. The resulting performance could not have been obtained in any other way, particularly using the traditional Director/Actor, the Choreographer/Dancer or the Conductor/Chorus structure.

Supergroup

SuperGroup Rehearsing at Southern Theater, 2013,
for “it’s [all] highly personal.” Photograph by Bill Cameron

Rachel as a practicing playwright had collected many stories about using public transit from friends with the intention of constructing a “play” that would weave together those stories about their journeys. After working with that material she laid aside her writing unsatisfied with the direction, but continued collecting stories. She let things simmer for several years until she arrived in Minneapolis where she reconnected with some friends she knew in LA who had been working successfully for five years now in Minneapolis. Sharing with each other what they were doing artistically made them realize that they were working toward compatible goals, causing Rachel to resurrect the stories she had gathered from friends.

Rachel realized that, beyond the obvious narratives about trips on public transit that she requested, she could look deeper and find more interesting smaller experiences under the initial layer of narrative about travel. Common patterns and similarities emerged that centered on transformations, or discoveries, that were potentially life changing. It was this essence distilled from the stories, written as random notes, repeating with variation, that tied Rachel’s words with dance movement and sound. Rhythmically spoken words in unison or in disharmony inspired music manifested through percussion of the dancers’ bare feet and the syllabic utterances that faded in and out of language and melody. Even the gender neutral jumpsuit costumes, created in neutral colors, were designed to focus one’s attention on the expressive content. The overall composition (the ordering and structuring of the presentation) which seamlessly varied between improvisation and unison came full circle into a unified whole at the end.

SuperGroup with Rachel Jendrzejewski

SuperGroup Rehearsing at Southern Theater, 2013,
for “it’s [all] highly personal.” Photograph by Bill Cameron

The interesting point of all this is that each person participating had input into all aspects of the performance, including what were initially Rachel’s words. Rachel provided input on the dance movements, and performed the dance with SuperGroup. They all made their own costumes, though they appeared to be almost coordinated by a costume designer. How did all this collaboration work?

Jeff Wells, during a post performance Q&A admitted that the process is messy and inefficient. They met many times to work out problems and disagreements. Throughout the performance there were structures in place to let each character move or create sound in his or her individual manner. Those periods adroitly merged, from individual expression to the group working into unison.

At the Q&A, SuperGroup members explained that there were other ways to organize collaboration. The group could divide the process of creating a piece into tasks, media, or sections and assign them, for instance, to individuals or small groups of people. SuperGroup experiments with such agreed upon methods to discover innovative ways of producing their art.

SuperGroup with Rachel Jendrzejewski at Southern Theater

SuperGroup Rehearsing at Southern Theater, 2013,
for “it’s [all] highly personal”. Photograph by Bill Cameron

The group can create rules under which each person or subgroup operates. Agreeing on such structures leads to a disciplined approach to creative thinking that excludes obvious and easy solutions, forging, instead, a much more inventive expression than possible with one mind in control. It also works because each person in the group has some training in such processes, enabling each to more easily forget his or her ego and strive for a common solution that is interesting.

I see this form of building as a mature direction for development for many fields in our society, even to a degree in the visual arts. This first requires a group of like-minded people, who are committed to a common goal. Through collaboration, the commonly held idea is more important than money, efficiency, power or ego, and the quality and impact of the idea is tantamount. Given our current society, this may seem idealistic, but this is the attitude upon which Supergroup has successfully built.


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