Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


The weekend of dance

I didn’t know anything about dance, until 10 years ago. And then I learned just enough to love it.

I have Michelle Mierz and Kate Hutter to thank for that.

Michelle and Kate were my students in a business-of-theatre class I taught at USC for a few years. Michelle was a business major and dancer, and Kate was a dance major and choreographer. In 2003, the third year I taught that class, they decided to team up for the assignment to create a theatre organization or production on paper. They came up with the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company — and then decided to launch it in real life. Just doing it for the grade wasn’t good enough. (For the best students, it never is.)

On Saturday night, I attended the 10th anniversary of their launch, in an event at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. (You can see a sample of their earlier work above.)

It was an incredibly rewarding and inspiring evening, with hundreds of wildly supportive people in attendance. Kate was kind enough to recognize me from the stage (as though I had anything to do with their success, apart from, well, making the classroom assignment).

Kate’s choreography was smart, evocative, mysterious, and very physical, as always. She’s obviously good at moving people around the stage in exciting ways. She’s also good at pairing movement and music. In 2004 (I think), I was directing a play called “Big Bear and the Other,” at the same Los Angeles Theatre Center where Kate and Michelle had their event the other night. The play, a dark comedy of sorts, concerned a group of previously forlorn men who had now formed a cult of bear worship; at one point, I wanted a dream fantasia where they would be swept up into cosmic connectedness. Kate whipped that up for me, teaching a group of middle-aged men how to roll and dance and look, well, beautiful and graceful while doing so, all in one night. Her work in that evening far surpassed anything I brought to that production. I remember being incredibly proud of her, grateful for my access to her, and somewhat envious of that much talent.

(An aside: my friend Tom Boyle, whom I wrote about here and here was in the cast of that production. He was effortlessly funny and filled with good ideas. My foremost talent as a director is just to get other talented people together.)

Before and after the performance on Saturday night, I got to speak with Michelle, who now lives in Seattle and works for Amazon. Michelle was the first hire at my nascent consulting company, CounterIntuity, in 2004. (The company was later re-launched as the marketing company Counterintuity, LLC, with no capital “I” in the middle.) Again, what you see here is my talent for identifying talented people: Michelle is whip-smart, something I spotted in about the first four seconds when she was my student. I was damn lucky she came to work for me; in some ways her early imprint on the company is still there. (As are some of the clients.) She was also directly responsible for landing one of our first clients, Dance Camera West, and thereby leading us into what I’ve called “The Year of Dance,” when we did no fewer than six dance projects with six different dance-related businesses: a dance company; a touring program (which we toured with a little); a dance agency; an online dance resource; a dance film festival; and a sixth one I can’t recall offhand.

All of that dance activity in one year left me with a deep appreciation for an art form I’d known nothing about. I’ve been a writer my entire life, and a bit of a musician here and there, and added stage directing (and then video directing) later on. But dance? The deep appreciation I’ve gained is due to Michelle. I thank her for that.

In the spirit of all things circling around, let me also say that the night before, Friday night, was an evening of shorts presented by that dance film festival, Dance Camera West. Dance Camera West is a “dance media festival” that screens the best in dance films from around the globe; these are astonishingly creative films. Here’s the trailer for this year’s festival.

Dance Camera West Film Festival 2015 (Trailer) from Parker Laramie on Vimeo.

This was the eleventh year in a row that my company has been associated with the festival, a connection I’m proud of. Three of us from Counterintuity, plus guests, attended the evening in a beautiful old movie palace in downtown Los Angeles — and today, one of my staff came in to my office to share just how much joy and passion those films had reawakened in him. Precisely right. For me, a person who works mostly with words, to enter a world created by the movement of the body, is to thrill to the excitement of an exotic environment.

I was Michelle and Kate’s professor. But whatever I taught them, I know I learned more.

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