Dancing Digitally – Moving in 3D with Nicole Dagesse
Nicole Dagesse is a site choreographer, dancer, and teaching artist living with her family in Jericho, Vermont. She spoke with VDA this month to discuss her work with place-based dance and to share an improvisational score to reconnect with your own body as a home and constant place of inspiration.
For a sample of Nicole’s work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emi-gwcnv2o
Nicole holds a deep reverence for the links between people and place—a love that threads through both her life and artistic work. After years studying and working in Massachusetts, Colorado, and North Carolina, Nicole’s return to Vermont was one marked by feelings of connection and curiosity toward the landscape and its history. “The layers of place and the layers of time are some of my most inspiring influences.”
Nicole also mentions that the positive experience of collaborating with VDA founder Hanna Satterlee in 2016 excited her to the future possibilities of dance in Vermont. Nicole participated in VDA’s first Gala in Montpelier that year, presenting the seed of what would become a much larger, site-specific piece, “When Women Were Birds.”
Over the years, Nicole has come to realize that it is in large part the “three dimensionality of dance” that makes the form particularly suited to exploring powerful people-place connections. From aerial dance to Contact Improvisation to performing on multi-level scaffolding with Wire Monkey Dance, Nicole’s experiences speak to her interest in intense physicality—“digging in and pushing edges.”
In her own choreography, too, Nicole typically creates and performs in nontraditional settings: “The proscenium is not my favorite--a still audience who can’t get closer, who can’t change their angle.” She mentions gravitating toward group work and collaboration over solo work, emphasizing how much she learns from “decentering” herself in the choreographic process: “I’m a director, but I’m so inspired by what other people bring.”
Such close, physical collaboration is difficult in this pandemic-prompted time of distance. Nicole feels fortunate to live with her family: “I definitely don’t feel deprived of touch, but I certainly feel a deep, deep ache.” She has found online interaction with other dancers, especially in a teaching capacity, to be frustrating. Speaking of the limitations of screens, she laughs: “It’s so flat—even more than the proscenium!” While she has begun limited teaching in-person again, Nicole is still grappling with how best to find meaning “within the small circle of [her] world” right now.
Upon reflection, Nicole notes that there are certain life lessons she’ll take away from the COVID-19 era. She mentions the significance of having to renegotiate the balance of virtual and in-person work. This shifting has “helped to reinforce how important touch is to me in the process of making.” Additionally, Nicole has been grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with the natural environment around her: “I’ve started to improvise in and around many sites around my home. I felt so silly not to be doing it sooner!” More broadly, she mentions a recent desire to establish very intentional priorities. She is “figuring out how to keep the things that are most important right there at the heart of what you’re doing…being okay with letting go of some things.”
For the Dancing Digitally project, Nicole is sharing an improvisational score developed as part of her 2020 Gala piece, “Sing Out The Flesh,” which was inspired by the myth of “Skeleton Woman,” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Nicole is interested in exploring how we relate to and embody our bones and flesh: “What is this flesh about? In some ways, flesh is indulgence, flesh is excess. It’s also supple and soft and tender—I think of my Memere and the softness of her. You could feel her heart through her flesh.”
Right now, a commitment to intense physicality feels especially important. Nicole laughs as she acknowledges the contrast between this time of separation and the subject matter of her work: “It is a bit ironic to be working on this piece about touch and sensuality!”
Below is Nicole’s video demonstration of her score, as well as a written walk-through of the prompt.
Flesh, Flesh, Flesh!
Moving out of flesh, moving into flesh.
Listen along: https://soundcloud.com/user-283700705/dancing-digitally-nicole-dagesse
1. Begin in your body. Root through your legs and take a deep breath. Rub your hands together vigorously. Notice the sensations. Feel the building heat, witness the sensations through the muscles and skin. Rub your hands over your arms and chest, feeling the different textures and densities. Move to the face, scratch your scalp, pull the skin at the back of your neck. Then play with your jiggles, where can you jiggle, how ferociously can you jiggle? What are the wave motions of the body? If you are with a partner, use two hands on an arm or leg and roll quickly back and forth across the flesh.
2. Once you feel the warmth of your flesh and the resilience and rebound of your flesh, identify a start and end within your space (I use two trees). Moving in a loosely linear path, try to leave your flesh behind. Move out of your flesh, like a snake moving out of it's skin. When you reach the end point, try to retrograde and put your flesh back on your body. Gather the flesh and return to your fullness.
3. Use the same idea, but this time, feel free to use repetition and small moments of forward/back and escape/reclaim as you move across your space.
4. Notice your body now. How do you feel? Where are you curious after this movement? Where are you present in your body?
Options for responses:
- Write about what you noticed. Share a page of your journal, certain images, or language that came up for you after this experience.
- Film yourself (and your partner/s) dancing this score.
Please email responses to email@example.com by August 15. Thank you!
You can also tag us on social media @vermontdance or use the hashtag, #dancingdigitally to connect.
Join us on Sunday, July 26 at 3pm for a community Zoom practice of Nicole’s score!
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89582496184?pwd=SXFJUFcvRXVmUVplblNpWFQ3WHVxdz09 (password: vda)
We are pleased to announce that this project is supported in part by the Vermont Humanities Council. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed do not necessarily represent those of Vermont Humanities Council.