GET HAPPY is a lindy hop based theatrical production integrating poetry, swing-era dancing and live music by Public Gesture Productions. I was lucky enough to have collaborators Alisha Ruiss and Nick Power chime in on their process of creating their “Lindy Hop Dream Ballet” for the 2011 Fringe Festival.
See our conversation below.
LR: I’m totally thrilled to hear someone is using Lindy Hop to build a theatrical production. What made you want to use this dance form to tell a story?
AR: Last August I was asked by Tricia Postle, to put together something swing related at the Majlis for the Figure of Speech series which fosters as collaborations between poets, dancers and musicians.
LR: Is this how you, Nick and Phil met?
AR: Tricia introduced me to Nick for Figure of Speech. I already knew Phil [perfomer and co-choreographer] from the swing dance scene. We did the initial show for Majlis with musicians Drew Jurecka & Chris Bezant and
the musicians in the band this time around, Aline Homzy & Mikko Hilden, are colleagues of theirs.
LR: How did you develop the script and choreography?
AR: 98% of the dance is completely improvised! Because it’s lead and follow dancing, it is creation on the spot.
NP: I’d been working on a series of poems, Dancing with Gravity, that were based on drawings by Shelagh Keeley of a modern dancer, Lin Snelling, in rehearsal for a new work. Many of them were visual poems. A lot of what I showed Alisha she appreciated but knew wouldn’t work in the context of swing dance. This put a healthy pressure on me to bring her work that could ‘swing’.
We’ve not been precious about keeping the exact wording of the original poems. We’ve moved from the poem/song/dance collage of the Figure of Speech performances toward a narrative arc with character development.
AR: We used music that fit the dance of course, but also had some relation to the poetry, in terms of either lyrics or mood. We did a lot of re-writing and adaptation for the one-hour format needed
for Fringe; and to give the piece more clarity and a tighter narrative.
Nick & I have spoken often about finding a term for just what the piece is – it’s not a play or a musical or a cabaret or a poetry reading. I think of it as a lindy hop dream ballet.
LR: Can you make a living as a professional lindy hop dancer?
AR: Like any dance profession it is difficult to make it your sole source of income. The real deal vintage swing lindy hop (as opposed to ballroom swing) is still a niche market; only a handful of people in the world right now make their living through swing dancing.
My current day job is as a nanny but I’ve done everything from wait tables to administrative assistance in legal offices etc. I have a classical music degree from McGill in voice performance.
Dance is still relatively new for me; I only really started with the Swinging Air Force’s boot camp troupe in 2005. I have taught occasionally and hope to do more.
LR: What do you hope audiences will get from seeing Get Happy?
AR: Aside from touching people and entertaining them, the number one thing I hope to do is to interest people in lindy hop/swing and going out and learning to dance.
The theme we’re also exploring in this piece is one we’ve termed swingintimacy. Swing has great movement, rhythm, pulse, play; a real outward quality.
The word intimacy is derived from both intimus (innermost) and intimare (tell, to relate). In real intimacy there is the “telling” & “relating” aspect, the transfer of the self to the other. Swing used to be c
ommon slang for sexual intercourse.
LR: Which we also euphemize as “being intimate”.
AR: We often think of romantic intimacy as the pinnacle of emotional human experience, but it’s just one among many experiences of transcendence. To me that transfer of the self to the other is physicalized in dance in the core moves of lindy hop – the swing out, the close position and the swing out again.
The characters in this piece are struggling to go beyond themselves – to get happy, essentially. Happiness is something you receive as a gift and participate in rather than achieve solely of your own accord and ambition.
Director: Alisha Ruiss
Choreographer: Phil Bourassa, Alisha Ruiss
Cast: Phil Bourassa, Nicholas Power, Alisha Ruiss, and The Simple Joys Jazz Band
Venue 8 Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse
Wed, July 6 6:30 PM
Fri, July 8 8:45 PM
Sun, July 10 1:30 PM
Wed, July 13 11:00 PM
Thu, July 14 7:45 PM
Fri, July 15 1:45 PM
Sat, July 16 3:30 PM