03 April 2018

Artistic Update

I feel spread in a lot of different directions lately, but it's because a lot of things are finally starting to come together.

I'm currently shooting another dance video (which is eating 95% of my attention because I'm so excited), and hope to put together a rough edit before the end of next week.
I'm trying to piece together a costume for the college dance showcase and another video idea I want to do (hopefully soonish).
I'm preparing for an audition on Thursday night (two monologues, two songs, and a sixty-second tap clip).
I'm learning this crazy fast tap solo for the dance recital.
Also trying to get a bunch of future dance video pieces up to par so as soon as I'm done the current video I can start pre-production on the next.
Accidentally started choreographing Crumbächer's Terra Firma and it is seriously eating my life. It's so fast and it's so fun. This is the level I always wished my choreography was at and now I'm starting to taste it.

School? What's that?
Take-home diction final due in a week.
IPA transcription due tomorrow.
French song to memorise (should have been done already because I perform it next week).
Conducting self-evaluation due Thursday.
Voice recital in a week.
Choir concert this weekend.
Dance show next weekend.

It's hard to focus on school commitments/homework because all I want to do is dance. Between recital rep and personal dance projects, dance/choreography has been stealing all my attention. It's a lot of fun to work on so much, but it's also a little frustrating knowing I shouldn't be letting it run away with so much of my time while I still have schoolwork. My schoolwork has noticeably suffered in the past week because I'm distracted by all the dance inspiration I'm suddenly deluged with.

Please hear this -- I am not complaining. After nearly three years of crickets on the inspiration front, I am loving this golden vein I've hit. I just wish there were more hours of the day to dig into it.

17 March 2018

A Moment in Tension

Tonight is one of those nights when I wonder where that fine line is between dedication and self-care.

I had fully intended to practice dance tonight, as I always do, but suddenly a wall of exhaustion hit me and I ended up sleeping for an hour and a half -- right through my practice time. I made the decision to give myself the night off dance if I was so tired, but now I hate myself... how can you call yourself a dancer if you trade practice for a nap? You call this dedication? There are dancers all over the world who danced more this afternoon than you have all week. How do you expect to improve if you don't practice every day? You'll just lose all the abilities and strength and stamina you had and you'll be right back where you started. Every hour in that studio is an hour closer to improvement. You're already so far behind, and now you just put yourself farther. You wasted this whole evening. You could have done something to further your dream, but instead you just took a nap.

I tried to silence the voice by typing up some choreography notes -- which is still dance-related, dream-related -- but it will not be satisfied. That's not good enough. You didn't put anything in your muscle memory. You didn't stretch anything. You didn't strengthen anything. You didn't raise your heart rate. Your lungs didn't get worked. You sat on your butt all evening looking at a screen. You had one free day -- you could have done so much with it, and you wasted it. Why were you even tired? You didn't do anything to earn it. You don't deserve to be tired. You didn't do anything.

It's 1.30 in the morning and I'm still half-considering going and doing a half-hour practice, just to say that I did it. Just to know that my muscles and my memory won't atrophy.

16 March 2018

Music Day - Only Time

I am reinstating Music Day just so I can fangirl over this song. That is how good this song is. You know when you watch a sunset and everything seems so 'right'? That's what this song is like.

See, I bought a bunch of Crumbächer tapes the other day (full saga forthcoming). Stephen Crumbacher was already one of my favourite lyricists, just behind the likes of Terry Scott Taylor, Loyd Boldman, and the duo of David Meece and Dwight Liles. Identical Twins alone is a testament to just how much mastery Stephen Crumbacher has over the written word. Even in today's song -- notice how clearly you can picture each description of the sky. Now realise that he is painting this entire mental picture with three lines of text (each) and a bit of keyboard. He takes you almost literally across the galaxy, across time and space -- in essentially twelve lines of poetry.

I grew up in the Alberta countryside. Our yard faced west and every single night, from the comfort of our living room, we could watch God paint the western sky. I have seen many, many brilliant sunsets over the years, and that's one of the biggest things I miss now, living on a south-facing yard. But to this day sunsets capture me. All feels right in the world if I can watch a sunset for a while. In this song Crumbächer follows the changing, timeless skies with a wonder and peace that is rarely, rarely seen in the arts -- ever.

In the later Crumbächer albums, Stephen really began to show off the depth and emotional range of his piano/keyboard skills (though keyboards had always been a core part of the band's sound), and they are on full display here (the interlude, people!). Maybe Thunder Beach didn't have the harmonic virtuosity (vocals-wise) that Escape and Incandescent had, but the piano skills -- even just on this song -- make up for it.

Also, the space in the drum track opens this thing right up into something big and glorious and sweeping (again... that interlude!). Dawn's vocals are a really lovely touch. All in all, this is probably one of the loveliest songs I have ever heard -- and this is coming from a person who owns almost everything Terry Scott Taylor has ever written.

Title: Only Time
Artist: Crumbächer
Album: Thunder Beach
Year: 1987
Label: Frontline Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Midnight - the stars are shining
Frequencies that tease the ear
Parade across the atmosphere...

14 March 2018

Notation and Life...

I haven't notated any dance in a while. I haven't worked in any big pieces in a very long time.

This used to eat every spare second of my day. I would put off chores to notate. At work I would spend every second of downtime solidifying sequences in my head so I could notate them as soon as I got home. There was something thrilling about mixing little symbols together to create a record of a dance. It was beautiful, in a way.

But now, as I move into my mid-twenties and real life -- rent, food, counselling, training -- demands more money, I have to start either going somewhere with this or drop it and pursue something that does. And it's VERY apparent my original idea of putting together a dance company is not going to happen as soon as I hoped. I had hoped by now I would have twenty classically trained ballerinas at my disposal so I could realise works like Going Home, A Song In The Night, Rainbows, or even Sanctuary.

Unfortunately, I have only have one dancer -- me. And she's not even flexible. Strong, sure, but 'flexible' is on some other planet. Also, I choreograph WAY more complex turns than she is actually capable of.

So I've been doing tap solos because that's at least attainable in the here and now. I can make those into film projects and gather a bit of a following without the ability to developpé my leg up to my ear. (Well, I can as long as I can find a cameraperson...)

I'm trying to finish Elle G because it's been in my head for YEARS and it looks so beautiful in there, but I can't because I need to focus my time and energy on projects that have even a tiny hope of being seen. Elle G is for twenty-one (good) pointe dancers. That may not ever happen in my lifetime. So why bother creating this dance?

I don't know. I really don't know.

These are the things that discourage me.

08 March 2018


'God, why the hell am I doing this? Why am I trying so hard and failing every. single. time? Did You or did You not give me an aptitude, a gift? And if not, say it to my face. But if so, give me some indication, some encouragement. Because I am --ing DONE trying and failing. I am DONE seeing absolutely zero improvement. And I am DONE screaming for You, somebody, anybody to hear me and hearing only crickets. I am tired of being the outcast among Your so-called 'loving and welcoming' people. I am tired of being ignored and being on the --ing outside. And I am tired of having my frustration minimised and 'fixed' by everyone who is supposed to care about me. Why am I here? And why should I stay?'
-- Excerpt from my journal, one year ago today.

I wrote that following a dance practice during which my skills seemed to dissolve before my eyes -- the same as my dance practices had been going for weeks. I had already had a difficult voice practice earlier that day, I had been doubting my calling and abilities for months, and after years of dancing alone on the razor's edge around it, I finally hit the breaking point. In a fury, I sat down and wrote those words... and those words were very nearly my suicide note, the final record of my thoughts before my last breath. My church had given up on me, my friends had abandoned me, my family was too wrapped up in their own drama, and I was tired of fighting for nothing.  I had used all my energy, poured out so much of myself, and nothing had come of it.

'Today is grace. ...There was a hug. There was completely unexpected and lavish encouragement. There was Faith, and Mel, and me, being blown away.'
-- Excerpt from my journal, today.

That memory of last year weighed heavily on me this morning as I ate breakfast. It seemed heavier as I walked to school and warmed up my voice. In chapel today, they had us gather in groups of three and pray together, and I confessed that today was hard -- how I don't want to leave the darkness that I remember from last year because that's all I know and I don't trust God to take my hand and lead me to anything good beyond it. I confessed that I didn't even want to pray that.

After that I had a voice lesson. It went quite well -- my teacher grew more excited as the lesson went on. "This is what I've been hearing from you in my head for a year, but I've never heard it in real life," she said. And I had to admit that it did feel nice. Normally when I sing it feels awful. It certainly did a year ago... in my practice journal that day, I wrote, 'Why do I keep doing this when I'm so mediocre at it?' And that question haunted me for the rest of that day, through my dance practice that night, and exploded into that first journal entry.

As I walked to school this morning, a song that I had listened to over breakfast seemed to haunt me instead...
Through the tired eyes of faith
You'll see your resurrection day
Resurrection day will come
As surely as the rising sun
Death will fight a holy war
It will live no more
Love will even the score
Resurrection day...
-- With The Tired Eyes Of Faith, Swirling Eddies, 1995.

The phrase thrummed through my head as I approached the school, and all that it would hold today. Resurrection day will come / As surely as the rising sun... Resurrection day will come...

The skills I thought I had lost or would never attain are not as far gone as I feared they would be. My dream has not yet died, as I feared it would if I lived. There is still hope that maybe I won't be mediocre forever, that maybe my life will mean something to someone.

The best thing I can do
Is to clearly say
I'm thankful for today...
-- Today, Imperials, 1985.

27 February 2018

The Sovereignty of God

May I ask a question of the evangelical church of North America?

Why, when my cousin died, did you continually insist, 'Well, you know, God is sovereign. There must be a reason. Even if you can't see it, there must be a reason. Just trust Him'...


...when I mention that, after YEARS of prayer and soul-searching, I suspect God might be calling me to be an artist, you counter with 'But there's no money in it! You'll die alone, impoverished, and probably mad. You have to pick a career that will pay. It's the wise thing to do. It's your God-given responsibility. You can't expect a free ride from anybody. You have to be smart'?

Look. If God is sovereign, God is sovereign. He is not sovereign only when it gets you out of a raw situation (i.e. comforting someone who's grieving). He does not lose His sovereignty when you want to dole out advice to some younger person with different talents than you. If God was sovereign when He decided to let my cousin die despite our prayers, He was also sovereign when He made me and planned out my life.

You, church, people of God, cannot flip-flop between whether or not God is sovereign. Can you help guide my path (as the Spirit of God leads)? Yes. Absolutely. I have no problem with that. (In fact, if the Spirit is leading, please do.) I do, however, have a problem with you cloaking your nasty opinion of my gifts in the phrase, 'well, God told me...' If God did not tell you that, very, very, VERY clearly, then you are taking the name of God in vain -- using Him as a vehicle for your own opinion, using His glorious name as a mere trump card.

And then you wonder why nobody thinks much of God... maybe if you had respected Him enough to attribute to Him the consistency of character that you insist He has, we'd have a more formidable picture of this great and glorious God.

16 February 2018

On Encouragement

'Encouragement' is a concept I've pondered a lot since I began to take my calling as a performing artist seriously.

We as artists say we want to encourage people. We as Christians say one of our goals is to encourage each other.

So how does an artist encourage someone? Especially if you're a dance artist -- one who performs without words? Anyone can write a song with the lyric 'don't give up,' but how do you communicate that clearly in dance? Do you bother trying to say something so abstract so clearly? What about all the art that deals with the hardships of life -- the stuff that actually resonates because it touches on things so deep yet so common? Can only sugary sweet, 'safe and fun' art encourage?

Yet in my own artistic intake I continually find myself going back not to the happy, smile-a-minute songs, but to the ones that acknowledge -- no, press into -- deep pain. My favourite Terry Scott Taylor album of all time was written out of the loss of his grandfather and his oldest child within months of each other. It was in these expressions of melancholy and frustration and deep pain that I found solace. It was these songs, these albums, that gave the me courage to keep going. It was that knowledge -- that at least one other person on the planet, at at least one point in their life, had felt this despondency -- that kept my own despondency from swallowing me.

I came up against this concept again last year when, in the most intense and prolonged mental/emotional/spiritual struggle of my life (thus far), my church hung me out to dry. They told me I was too negative. Many stopped speaking to me, and those who didn't made no secret of their frustration with my despondency and repeatedly told me, 'you need to be happier,' 'you should be over this already,' 'you're not trying hard enough.' One person in leadership actually told me (in writing), 'Kate, it is your responsibility to encourage people by being happier.'

I was dying -- literally dying. And all they told me was 'it's your fault we don't give a crap about you.' They wanted me to earn what they should have been giving freely.

The other day, out of nowhere, the thought struck me: does 'encouragement' exclusively mean 'making someone happy'?

If so, then why do I get more encouragement out of one song born out of deep pain than out of an entire album that is so cheerful it causes a sugar coma? Why does one make me take a deep breath, wipe the tears from my eyes, and say, 'thank you,' while the other makes me writhe in near-physical pain from the confounded cheerfulness of it all?

Why am I encouraged by the things that acknowledge the brokenness and sadness?

Maybe because 'encouragement' is actually not so much about joy as it is about coming alongside someone -- walking with them, whether the journey is easy or not. Think of Sam coming alongside Frodo. It was dark, it was difficult, it was by no means happy. But Sam was an encouragement to Frodo because he was right there, literally beside him, sharing the experience of the darkness, even though he could easily have checked out and gone home. Maybe encouragement is about companionship and empathy, not fake smiles and fluffy words. Maybe encouragement is a lifestyle -- a commitment -- not something that gets switched on and off. (And I am almost certain that it's not dependent on whether you think the other person 'deserves' it or not.)

I've always said, since the very beginning of my career, that I wanted to do for others what my favourite artists have done for me. So that's my goal: one day, I want to be able to give the next wounded soul the same companionship and comfort -- the same encouragement -- that my favourite artists have given me.

31 January 2018

Mental Health and the Performing Arts

It's difficult as a performing artist to know what to say. How much can I talk about this? I feel relatively little stigma from my general friends and acquaintances (although I think a lot of that is because at least a few of the people I hang out with struggle with similar things), but in the professional performing arts world, how much can be said? Any health struggle, mental or physical, can preclude you from getting roles -- getting work. No director wants to hire someone who may be unreliable -- even if it's something out of the actor's control, like their health. How do you reconcile 'the show must go on' with 'I have a chronic condition'? In the performing arts world, you are supposed to be able to do absolutely anything at absolutely any time. 'I'm tired/I'm not feeling well' is not a valid excuse -- ever. We've all heard stories of dancers who have performed on severe sprains or actors who have done shows hours after huge personal tragedies.

I get that -- I do. Our literal job as performers is to become someone else, to create another world. The audience comes so they can forget about their own problems, not be saddled with mine. So then how do you know when to just escape into your character or into your practice routine and how do you know when to say, 'I can't do this today or I will relapse'? Maybe this isn't as much of an issue for some as it is for me... for me, my life is literally staked on being able to do this performing arts thing. My counsellor and I were talking about this at my last appointment. He asked me, "Pretend for a moment that you decided to the do the easy thing and get a 9-to-5 job. What does it look like? What would happen?"

I said, "I have two reactions to that... On one hand, I can't even picture not being in the arts. It just sort of feels inevitable. It always has, for as long as I can remember. But on the other hand, if I had to live that life, to do the same thing over and over, meetings and phone calls and reports... I would actually kill myself. It would be SO boring and pointless." And I actually found myself tearing up as I spoke. I couldn't really picture myself living that life -- but for the fleeting seconds that I did grasp a vague image of it, my heart plunged into a despair that terrified me and I got the words out and banished the image before I could descend any further. It felt like I had been standing on the very edge of a black hole and tripped. I've attempted suicide twice in my life and I have still never felt anything as black and breathless as that vague fleeting image of myself not in the arts.

I've said things to that effect on this blog for years and years -- how I could never do a 9-to-5. But now it's really beginning to sink in that my life literally depends on whether or not I can stay in the performing arts. Because I know that if I can't, I will literally die. And that puts a lot of stress on me when I try to practice (never mind perform) because I feel this immense pressure to improve even more, to become the best the fastest, just so I don't fade out and become disposable -- so I don't get replaced by the next starlet who doesn't have depression (and also can do a developpé up to her ear and sing without sounding like a strangulation victim).

On one hand, you are asked to probe the depths of your pain and bare it on the stage, and on the other hand you are asked to shove it aside and pretend it doesn't exist. Is it any wonder so many artists break?

25 January 2018

Update - National Choreography Month

21 January 2018, 2.26pm.

So National Choreography Month 2018 has not quite gone as planned.

I was sick for the entire first week. As in, I literally do not remember the entire first week of 2018. I was so wiped out my mother had to hold up my head so I could eat. I didn't have the strength to do it myself. Then, right after that, I moved back to Saskatchewan for more school. I'm taking a full course load for the first time in over a calendar year and I had to remember what it's like to actually have to go to multiple classes in the same day and then also do homework for said classes. Plus I'm still trying to work as much as I can (so I can even afford school in the first place).

While I've managed to shoehorn in a dance/choreography session almost every day, I'm not getting as much film-worthy stuff as I had hoped. I had planned on posting film excerpts on social media every week or so. I haven't even filmed anything, much less posted anything. (I almost filmed what I worked on tonight, but I had a bit of a short fuse and I knew trying to film would just aggravate me.) My shortlist that I was SO excited about? I don't think I've finished even one piece on it. I've started/am working on a bunch of them, but I feel like I'm going nowhere on it because I haven't been able to actually finish any of them.

I had also hoped to enter the Nachmo Film Dance branch of the contest, but the thing is it has to be choreographed during the event (and so far I haven't choreographed anything), and it's due on 18 February.

08 January 2018

Remember... Remember... (2017)

This post is mostly for myself, so feel free to skip... I just thought I'd take a few minutes and note the changes that happened in 2017, the good things, the things that only a few short years ago I only thought about wistfully and the things that I never could have foreseen.

Overall, 2017 -- mostly just the past few months -- was a year of significant upheaval for me emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I'm still in the middle of it and I'm still processing a lot of it (it'll likely take years), but so far these are my observations.

- January: First posted an excerpt of one of my dance practices on social media. (This was actually supposed to be a one-off thing, but it set in motion almost literally every ounce of dance growth that would happen over the rest of the year.)

- January: Began a consistent dance practice schedule that would continue until the college Christmas break.

- March: My first comedic role (Person in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone).

- March: Choreographed for a stage production for the first time (The Drowsy Chaperone).

- April: Finally admitted to another person just how much I was struggling mentally/emotionally.

- April: Began counselling. (This in turn set off the long, long process of beginning to deal with my friend's death, my cousin's death, my extended family's issues, the emotional abuse throughout my childhood and teen years, the neglect and mistreatment from my former church, and the perfectionism -- both forced and self-imposed -- that almost literally killed me.)

- April: Performed literally the hardest, most complex tap dance I could ever have dreamed of in my worst nightmares... and performed it really quite well.

- April: Began my internship (as director's assistant).

- May: Told a few close friends about my depression.

- May (ish): Found my head voice. This opened up a whole other world for my voice.

- June: Performed a high G for the first time.

- June: After years of crap, finally left the church I'd attended for ten years and began attending a different one on the recommendation of a school acquaintance. So far I enjoy the new church. (At the very least it got me out of the old one.)

- July: Finished my 2016 NaNoWriMo novel draft.

- August: A few college friends got together and put together a book of encouragement for me.

- August: Moved into a legitimate house -- not dorm -- on my own (well, with roommates) for the first time.

- September: Submitted a statement to my former church about my reasons for leaving their church, including detailed stories of the way the leadership at this church mistreated me.

- September: Landed a job for during the school year.

- September (ish): Began making it a point to dress up a bit more. (Up till this time in my life I was dressing almost exclusively in jeans and t-shirts.)

- October: Learned/performed my first opera solo (Stizzoso, mio stizzoso from La Serva Padrona).

- November: Did a 30-Day Choreography Challenge, involving choreographing a minimum of 32 counts every day and posting the day's output on social media every day.

- November: For the first time in my life it occurred to me that I might actually be able to separate the depressed voice and my voice in my head... that they might actually be separate.

- December: Filmed, edited, and released my first dance video.

I won't say too much more because today was a rough day and if I throw a pity party here after this list that I made to look back on good things it would pretty much negate the purpose of making the list in the first place. But there it is. Things did happen... they're just not going as quickly and improvement is not as dramatic as I had been hoping.