Caitlyn Swett, photo by Photo by Jon Pfundstein

{Townies Takeover!} Caitlyn Swett of Helen Simoneau Danse

Today’s post is part of our Townies Takeover series! In this series we tap other Townies to share their personal experiences living, working, playing in and around Winston-Salem, North Carolina through their own words and snapshots. 

Take it away, Caitlyn…

 


 

Caitlyn Swett, photo by Photo by Jon Pfundstein
Photo: Jon Pfundstein

“Did you go to UNCSA” seems to be a common question when you say you’re an artist of any sort in Winston-Salem.

The answer is “no”; I graduated from the dance department at UNC-Charlotte in December 2013. After moving home to Black Mountain with the common post-graduation confusion, and attending the American Dance Festival in Durham in the summer of 2015, I moved to Winston-Salem on a whim. I once told someone this at a bar and they replied, “I didn’t know my hometown was whim-worthy.” It has, in fact, been quite whim-worthy! This city might or might not be a curious move for a dancer, but it has provided me with the opportunity to work in the dance field in many different capacities.

While in Durham, I interviewed for an internship with Helen Simoneau Danse. When moving to Winston, I had only hoped and had no knowledge that I would be granted the internship. In September 2015 I began working with HSDanse as an intern and soon accumulated part-time work as the Outreach Coordinator with tasks such as social media marketing, graphic design and others. Fast forward to now, I am the Administrative Assistant for the company. We are currently of the middle of Helen Simoneau Danse’s 7th annual residency at UNCSA, my second residency with the company.

My day-to-day is quite different from Helen’s and the dancers’ who are steeped in the creative process. I rise early and begin my morning with a full French press. Under the umbrella of Administrative Assistant, I do a range of jobs for the company: public relations, print and online marketing, mild donor relations, scheduling and advertising community events, and, along with the rest of the HSDanse admin team, pretty much anything that needs to be done on the fly. If I have some time to tear my eyeballs away from my laptop, I head over to campus to sit in on rehearsal.

This year Helen is creating two new works, as well as re-staging one of her signature works from 2009, Flight Distance I. The performance titled 7th Company Season will take place at Hanesbrands Theatre March 16th-18th at 7:30PM.

Helen SImoneau Danse: 7th Company Season at Hanesbrands Theatre
Helen Simoneau Danse: 7th Company Season
at Hanesbrands Theatre

 

A few days ago, I took time out to peek into rehearsal for Object Loop, a new collaboration with Must be the Holy Ghost and Weapons of Mass Projection.

 

I quietly slipped off my shoes and entered studio 608 at UNCSA. The dancers were working on new movement material. The only accompaniment was the sound of seven pairs of feet pivoting across the marley floor. Helen observed in silence.

 

“Okay, let’s take a ten minute break,” she said as the dancers’ movement stilled. The dancers flocked to one side of the studio, snacked, stretched, and quietly chatted while Helen met with the costume designer for the piece. The two discussed design possibilities for the new work. As their meeting came to a close, dancers began to accumulate in the space, one by one, reviewing movement individually.

 

I glanced over to Helen’s notebook. She has a series of contour drawings assigned to different dancers. She uses a collaborative process when generating movement material. The dancers have each created solos from these drawings and are in the process of learning each other’s solos. Helen will later manipulate and stitch together these solos into duets, trios, quartets, and full group movements to craft the piece (obviously, it’s not as simple as that, but for the sake of brevity…).

 

Rehearsal for Object Loop, Helen Simoneau Danse
Rehearsal for Object Loop

 

“Okay, this is the last thing we’ll do today,” said Helen, “Let’s learn Jasmine’s phrase.” Jasmine stepped to the front of the room.

Dancers have funny ways to communicate and teach movement verbally. Some work with counts; some work with sounds. Jasmine works with imagery:

“Hips. Step, step, ribs, UP! Fingers, step out. Best-skirt-ev-er. Comb your hair. Step on it, rib thing, and then move back, HEY! Then it’s as if you are bouncing something on your palms. Then you’re going to step on your right, lift your leg up, then you’ll envelopé that leg, then you’re gonna go like magic hands. I think of Edward Scissor Hands maybe? From there, you’ll take a right-left-right-left-right. I’m thinking of lanky wrists and spoons. From the spoon I think of a balloon, and then we’re going to step and we’re going do another turn, and it’s as if you’re gonna thread-it-on-through. And here we go ball-change-close, as if you’re holding onto a… ROLLER COSTER RIDE! I don’t know. Okay! From the beginning!”

 

Helen and the dancers giggled with delight at Jasmine’s movement descriptions. The dancers reviewed the phrase together; paused and asked questions; paired up to work together; and embodied the equation presented before them. Helen watched the dancers, quietly and intently. An idea jolted through her body and she quickly grabbed her pen and wrote it down to recall for a future rehearsal.

“Let’s do this one more time, then we can call it,” Helen announced to the group. Like osmosis, with no verbal cues, the dancers began to perform the phrase, full bodied, and as if their kinesthetic awareness dances through even the tiniest hairs on their skin. The group finds stillness together.

Helen adds, “I have an idea of what I want to do with this. We’ll work on this tomorrow.” Then rehearsal ends.

 

It is interesting being a mover and dance-maker of the experimental sorts, while also participating in the administrative-side of a non-profit dance company’s production. I rarely perform in theaters these days, as my interests exist in the non-traditional dance world in terms of performance space, production, and curation. While in Charlotte, I danced in and co-produced several multi-disciplinary shows in music venues, art galleries, bars, parking lots, and other unusual dance spaces. In Winston-Salem, I continue my work and practice of activating non-traditional performance spaces with Dance. In addition to personal projects and collaborations, I am the Project Coordinator and co-curator for the annual On Site/In Sight: a downtown Winston-Salem dance festival. This year, our second annual festival will take place May 4th-6th in various downtown locations. (More info coming soon!)

 

A curious move for a dancer, perhaps, but from the perspective of a transplant-outlier/to-be Townie, I can see that the Winston-Salem dance scene is on the edge of something exciting. Dance can be scary for the non-dance-goer to witness, but I encourage you to support the spectrum of dance happening in the local scene as it continues to grow and flourish.

 

Caitlyn Swett, Performance at Mesmerizer Records | Photo by Jon Pfundstein
Performance at Mesmerizer Records | Photo by Jon Pfundstein

 

~ Caitlyn Swett

3 thoughts on “{Townies Takeover!} Caitlyn Swett of Helen Simoneau Danse

  1. How wonderful for you to highlight Caitlyn, she has done a wonderful job for Helen, and indeed has been a great addition to Winston-Salem and it’s dance community. Thank you for caring

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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