“Partially Established Veerings,” premiered Jan. 23 as part of “A Light in the Window-Odes to Winter,” presented by Indianapolis Movement Arts Collective and Indianapolis Opera.
With this work, Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer Luther DeMyer made his choreographic debut alongside Indianapolis multi-media artist Mary Jo DeMyer.
I did not attend the live event featuring over a dozen-plus individual artists and arts groups. Instead, I experienced this dance via an on-line post by videographer Liz Kaufman. I focused on this one segment of an evening-long event because I have been following Luther as he progressed from student to his current career as a professional.
The week following the program, Luther, Mary Jo and I exchanged a series of emails.
“I was definitely not thinking of the Hindu deity Ganesa while coming up with this piece,” courteously replied Luther when I noted significant parts of the hand and arm movements, in representations of four, reminded me of Ganesa, the ‘remover of obstacles’ for people who set out on journeys and undertake new ventures.
“But I think that is a very interesting viewpoint that could come across with the choreography,” he agreed.
Let it be noted that choreography that opens a viewer’s vistas beyond the parameters of the person creating it, is a mark of a work that earns a second performance in another appropriate setting.
Responding further to my email regarding how I connected with what I was witnessing, Luther wrote back, “Your thoughts, as this work fits into my bones, I see the story of a parent nurturing, preparing, removing, letting go, the child absorbing, learning, accepting, being courageous in the journey there is mutuality & then in the recognition of the accomplishments both experience, both are greater in their love and caring and in their accomplishments.”
“Definitely the idea of a mother and son, and the journey of that relationship, especially when the child leaves the parent. How that affects their relationship, and what each side learns about the other through the separation. If people know it is a mother and son dancing this work together, it becomes fairly clear what it is about,” added Luther. “The piece is definitely from the perspective of my mom, being somewhat unclear on how to navigate life as her child grows and moves away, especially during a global pandemic.
“Many of my favorite dance pieces that I have seen move me in some way emotionally,” he underscored, noting “whether it’s simply through the beauty and purity of movement, or through complex layers of storytelling and narrative. My goal with choreographing for the first time was making something that people would be at least somewhat moved by when watching it.”
Working from the event theme of interpreting winter “as more of a jumping off point,” Luther explained he searched for music “that has a wintery feel, something wistful and slightly melancholic. I did not want anything aggressive or fast, but a song that was lilting and beautiful.
Tchaikovsky’s, “The Seasons, Op. 37b: No.10 October (Autumn Song)” has the mysterious quality of winter that I was looking for,” he affirmed.
“The winter months can be a time for greater thought and reflection, since you are inside more often and it gets dark earlier. Being more introverted myself, I enjoy some time alone where I can let my thoughts run free, and winter nights can be a good time for this.
“There is a great deal of reflection in this piece, since it is telling the story of growing up, learning, and leaving home, and that could tie it into winter as well. Having the piece in silhouette too also gives it that mysterious winter night feeling.”
Luther further observed, “It was eye opening for [my Mom] to see what goes into the choreographic process of a piece and she gained a greater understanding of what I do everyday at work.”
Mary Jo continued the narrative of how the work came to its performance status.
“I was touched that the IMAC asked me to take part in this show. I was happy to have another vehicle that would allow me to showcase my visual art. The art used in the performance were existing pieces that were picked out by Luther and me to create a fully realized art environment in our shadow box.
“I have been creating art environments to perform in like the one we used in our piece since I was in college,” she reminded me. “Combining different pieces of my art into fully realized environments that the public can experience is one of my favorite ways to showcase my work. This is not new for me, I have created environments to perform in for a very long time.”
I acknowledge following her work over the decades I’ve been living in Indianapolis, and attending festivals and installations where she has been part of an overall group or in a solo show.
“I did have a vision for this piece,” she said. “I always saw it performed as shadows, and I pictured a divided stage. Luther on one side doing something, me on the other doing something else. Separated, but together. While he was still in Seattle, Luther sent me a bunch of music options, after listening to some of them I got a few clearer images of what my actions might be on stage. However, I never listened to the music that we eventually used, until Luther told me it was his favorite.
“After Luther came home [mid-December], I acknowledged my profound weariness, and let my visions for the piece lay down and rest. I handed the reins over to Luther, and basically said, “Tell me what to do.” And he did just that, getting my creaky body and forgetful mind to move and remember.”
Wrapping up this choreographic and performance experience, Luther acknowledged, “It was great that the Indianapolis Movement Arts Collective came up with the idea to have the audience standing outside and watching the performers through windows. At PNB we have only done virtual performances, and while they have been extremely high quality and fun to do, it was great to get to perform in person again.
“I’m so happy to be dancing in Seattle at PNB. The staff there has been working so hard to keep us working and safe during covid. I cannot wait to get back and film more pieces for our virtual season. It is always nice to get to perform in Indy again though, and it was great to get to do it with my mom.”
Replying to my question about his forward momentum with choreography, Luther was candid about making career choices.
“I have always wanted to try choreographing a piece, and I want to do it again, however right now it is not my main focus. I enjoyed the process of choreographing very much, however it takes a lot of time and mental capacity to create a piece. Currently, I am more focused on my own dance career.
“PNB has programs for dancers in the company that want to try choreographing, and I want to take part in these programs at some point, however in the near future I am more interested in focusing on my what is going on with my own dancing. I think this experience will be positive for my own dancing too. It is always valuable to gain a different perspective, and now I understand better how choreographers feel while they are working on a piece. This will help me in the future when I am working with choreographers, because now I better understand the pressure that they are under while creating and how I can help them if they are looking for help while creating, which many choreographers do look for.”
“I think how this experience will affect my own dancing over the next few years will be what I take from it. It is very difficult to establish a dance career, and I want to be able to focus on that whole heartedly. I will have plenty of time to choreograph pieces later in my life, if that is what I choose to do. I am not sure right now if I would want to be a full time choreographer when I retire from dancing, at this point I would be more interested in being a teacher or rehearsal director for a company.
“I don’t have any immediate plans to continue choreographing, but I am very glad I did make a piece and it is definitely something I want to revisit in the future.”
Perhaps implicitly Luther is letting loose to allow this initial foray to gain its own momentum.
“I always enjoy reconnecting with the Indianapolis dance community when I come home. I am always quite connected to ISB and Vicky, and with the IMAC is important too. They offer lots of great classes and they want to make dance/movement a more important part of Indianapolis culture. I have taught ballet and modern classes there in the past, and this new performance opportunity was wonderful, especially during the pandemic. Anytime you perform, whether it be in person or from a video recording, you are connecting with the people in the audience. It is so important that dance is still alive during the pandemic, because it has such a deep impact on so many people's lives. Performing is the greatest part of this profession because not only is it the culmination of so much hard work, but it is also a chance to make individuals in the audience happier people. It is always great to get to come back to Indy and perform again so I can show this community everything I have learned in Seattle."