The post below was written by Zeke Leonard, who recently travelled to Maine with Cassie to participate in a convening of artists, the Arts School Collaborative at Haystack Mountain School of Craft.
I am not a dancer. Unsurprisingly, this statement causes occasional eye-rolling and no small amount of mirth when I brandish it about within hearing of DX-ers, but I maintain its veracity. What I am, though, is a lot of other things: maker, teacher, musician, parent, spouse. So there are enough overlaps between my experience and the Dance Exchange world that I revel in my time with DX, even in the face of exaggerated eye-rolling when I say “I am not a dancer.”
More than anything else, I am a maker. And this is where I feel very at home in the DX family: We make our work, and on really good days we make communities, we make support, we make safety and openness. In general when I am making my work (studio work, that is, not teaching work), I make stuff out of things. Objects. Often out of wood or steel. I am a member of a community of makers across the country and the world who avail ourselves of craft mediums to create the change we seek in the world. As there are in any craft, there are places that practitioners of my craft (and allied crafts) gather to meet, talk, make, try new things. One of those places is way out at the end of Route 15 where you turn off of Fr573 on Deer Isle in Maine. Close to nothing but the ocean, clinging to the steep Maine granite, are the pine buildings that make up Haystack Mountain School of Craft.
I will leave it for another person or another place to get deeper in to explaining Haystack. Certainly you can find out all you want at haystack-mtn.org. Suffice it to say that it is a hallowed vale for a certain set of us that work with our hands. And that is where Cassie and I went for their annual Art Schools Collaborative this past weekend.
I think it is true that this was Cassie’s first real descent into this world: a world where what we do is stained into our hands, a world where we identify ourselves in no small part by the medium we manipulate. “I am a fiber artist.” “I am a ceramist.” Me, I work with wood. These tags give us an identity in the world, and carry with them all the cache that any such designation does: there is a particular set of heroes, a particular set of readings, a particular mindset that these individual mediums bring with them. We were surrounded by 80 students and faculty from ten different art schools, all of whom identified themselves in this way: I work with rocks, or wood, or mud, or steel, or wool.
We have decided long since that moving is making and making is moving, and that is good enough for us. So when I heard that we were going to be going to Haystack to present on How to Lose a Mountain, I had one aim only: To get Cassie into the forge.
I don’t suppose I have to say this, but I will just in case: A forge is a place of great heat, a place where a blacksmith puts a piece of steel to heat it to the point that it becomes plastic enough to move it around. Forges tend to be sooty, smoky, hot, loud, filled with a great deal of heavy stuff, and a great deal of fun. The very best teaching forge it has ever been my pleasure to spend time in is at Haystack.
Perhaps those who read this blog have had the pleasure of watching Cassie work. I sure have, and from early on it was obvious to me that she is like a blacksmith. There is a rhythm to the way she makes a dance and a temperament in the studio that reminds me of smiths I have known or worked with. This does not indicate brute force, by the way. The smith that taught me what little I know (a gentle and highly skilled man named George Martel) said to me early on “don’t hit it hard. Hit it right.” A pretty good way to approach any craft, including dance. So I had to get Cassie into the forge, and get her to hit hot metal.
One of the visiting artists at this event was a strapping young man named Mike Rossi. Check him out over at rossimetaldesign.com. He graciously invited us into the forge and soon put a sledge-hammer into Cassie’s hand and they got to work. It was interesting to watch. I am intimate with the feeling of a hammer or mallet handle in my hand, I know completely what it feels like to have the head strike the soft heated steel on the anvil. Slightly different for a choreographer, though, who is used to dealing directly with the body as medium. The interstitial object, the hammer, took some getting used to.
Not much though.
In between heats, the steel comes out of the fire. The slag is brushed off in a shower of yellow sparks, and hammering starts, Mike with a 5 pound hand sledge in his right hand and Cassie with a ten pounder in both of hers. The rhythm is music and dance, the music and dance of making. Making in a way that humans have been making things out of metal for millennia. Making in a way that tools were made to split rock to build the pyramids, to make the fittings for ships that discovered the New World, to make nails and tools and hardware. For thousands of years this pas de deux of ringing metal in its repetitive way has brought useful things out of raw material, the deeper ring of the larger hammer and the higher ring of the smaller slowly moving the metal around, flattening it out, making longer or wider.
And it is a slow process, the way that making a dance can be. The metal moves with each hit, pushing around, getting longer, thinner, changing shape. Often in the craft media (certainly with wood) the best methods are the slower, more thoughtful, more careful ones.
What a pleasure to watch two people work and find a rhythm, to watch them respond to each other, to alter their movements to be slower or faster, lighter or harder, to gradually let words fall away and let physical cues (where a hammer hits, say, or how hard) dictate the next movement. How lovely to see them move together and then pause together, breathing hard from exertion and then resting as they work together to bring a new piece into being.
Here’s a video of Cassie forging for the first time. Video courtesy Stu Kestenbaum.
Making is moving. Moving is making.
To see more of Zeke’s work, visit his blog at http://scfoiw.blogspot.com/.