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Quicksilver has just been awarded its biggest grant yet: a $5,000 matching grant from the East Bay Community Foundation’s Fund for Artists! But there's a catch... we only receive this support if we also raise $5,000 from supporters like you before August 15, 2017!

Thus, please consider donating today to take advantage of this unique opportunity for your generosity to be doubled and to make a tremendous impact on Quicksilver this year! You can donate online by visiting our page on Fractured Atlas.

Making An Epic Dance

Assuming we make the match, Quicksilver will put all $10,000 towards the creation of our newest dance, Children of Hobbes, which will premiere at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, CA on November 17-19, 2017. Children of Hobbes is an intimate dystopia exploring the 'ugly, brutish and short' side of human relationships as revealed in the 2016 election. Aesthetically inspired by the understated style and subtlety found in Japanese artwork, this dance investigates finding complex composition within pared-down movement, while examining the dark social truths and rays of hope in a dog-eat-dog world.

We will be updating this site with blogs from Mariah and the company detailing our creative process and the progress of the piece throughout the next several months. We hope you'll check back frequently and join us on this journey! If you'd like to receive updates by e-mail, please join our mailing list; and don't forget to follow us on Facebook!

Plus: if you donate $100 or more, we will thank you with two free tickets to the premiere!

Sharing Our Values

As always, Quicksilver remains committed to paying our dancers a professional wage: we respect their commitment to our work and value their skill and professionalism. Most dancers work several part-time jobs in order to make time to perform and hone their skills as dancers. Paying them for rehearsals allows them to invest more fully in their craft, resulting in higher quality performances and more adept artists.

Of course, living this value doesn't come cheap. With paying four dancers $12/hour and studio space rentals costing $16/hour, a single rehearsal costs Quicksilver nearly $200. Compound this number over a year of rehearsals, and you can imagine how quickly costs add up! And then there's the show: renting the theater for the performances alone costs over $2,000, hiring a lighting designer another $1,000, plus costumes, print advertisements and documenting the work in video and photographs, which are vital for winning new grants.

As you can see, your donation has a huge impact on our creative process, and donating even $12 is a great way to show that you value dance at the local level.

Putting Down Roots in the East Bay

We are proud that the East Bay Community Foundation’s support firmly establishes Quicksilver within the arts ecosystem of our new home. Quicksilver is excited to use EBCF’s recognition to reach new audiences, making high-caliber dance more accessible within the East Bay. Thus, we hope you will donate today and help us claim this matching grant! Your support will lift Quicksilver to new heights as we leap into our new community.

Donate now!

Quicksilver Dance is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Quicksilver Dance must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

2017 Creative Process Blog

Rehearsal Writings #3
Mariah Steele
July 10, 2017
Mariah's notebook #2

Writing is an important part of my choreographic process as well as the dancers’ development of their roles, as seen in the last two blogs. In preparation for each rehearsal, I sit down with my notebook and videos from the previous rehearsal. My first step is usually to take notes on what can be improved in the latest version on the video, both in terms of “cleaning” the dancers’ movements and making the choreography clearer or more striking. Watching on the small screen helps me see and imagine options in a different way than in the studio, since my eye can take in the “whole” more easily. Then, I brainstorm on paper what could come next, and what I want to try in rehearsal the following day. Although my writing is often punctuated by standing up and trying out movements, the process of writing itself is what keeps me on track.

In this post, I share two pages of my notebook, which reveal different approaches to using pen and paper: in the first photo (left), the diagrams represent possible transitions between one unit of choreography to the next. The second photo (below) shows an important moment in the development of a section where I took stock of what units we had outlined and what needed to happen to connect them together. As you can see, it is not always a linear process! (Be sure to click on the images to see them in detail.) Probably only half of what is written here ended up in the final rendition of the section; happenings in the studio meld into and change the written plans constantly, as do subsequent pre-rehearsal planning sessions.

One fun thing to note in these pages is how, as a group, we develop funny names for different movement units – such as "tent pole," "centipede," "eagle," “dinosaur reprise,” “geisha,” “crab duet,” “twister,” “double head push,” etc. These names become the short-hand references for all of us to communicate with each other – and with myself in the notebook!

Mariah's notebook #1

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Rehearsal Writings #2
Hannah Cardiel
July 3, 2017
Rehearsal photos by Hillary Goidell

Below, Hannah C. shares two rehearsal free writes about her character written two and a half months apart, revealing her character’s development over time and across sections.

After the Creation of Section 1: My character is one to be forgotten, to be left behind or to feel out of the loop. She is observant and sensitive. When in a group, she easily gets lost from the others and feels ostracized. When with A, my character has an intimate connection rooted in closeness and touch. This pairing is characterized by an aggressive warmth; as characters, we are not sure we can trust each other even as we want to draw close. In relationship to S’s character, I am cold, disconnected and controlling. With H, I am simultaneously disconnected and in camaraderie.

After the Creation of Sections 1, 2 and 3: Performing this piece, my character makes me feel distressed, needy and dependent. My character can blend into a mob and would follow a crowd wherever it leads – good or bad. She can easily feel alone or segregated when not in a group or with a partner.

While performing Section 1, I feel like I have no free will. It’s as if I’m set on a track and am content staying there. When S enters our space, I feel a collective action to find out who she is and then to make her leave. When trying to make her leave, we feel like a group of well-trained soldiers. The aggression demonstrated towards S in Section 1 really resonates with my character, developing into a personal vendetta. While paired with A, my character demonstrates warmth and need.

In Section 2, the sense of “strong soldier” and group camaraderie has devolved for me and has left me feeling empty, alone and maybe even frightened. My movement in this section feels like I want to re-enter the group, but I can’t because I’m already deemed an outsider. I gain self-acceptance for being an outsider but feel a yearning to make a connection with A, who rejects me.

In Section 3, I feel like I’m once again part of a group, but this time I harbor feelings of aggression towards S, but feelings of connection with A. What is my character looking for/what does my character want? Acceptance.

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Rehearsal Writings #1
June 27, 2017
Rehearsal photos by Hillary Goidell

At least once during the creation of each section, we do a free write during rehearsal in order to reflect on the growth of the characters. These free writes not only help the dancers bring out their character’s emotions more in performance, but also often unearth new group understandings that help the choreography move forward. Here are two short rehearsal writings in which Hannah McNany and Jenna Valez reflect on their characters.

Hannah McNany: My character makes me feel like a follower. Somehow I can never make up my mind which way to go, so I need the comfort of other people. Also, I feel very restricted, whether it be crawling, walking, or running, there is always some blockade.
     My relationship with H is brief and feels like I don’t want to be there too long. At first, I try to be friendly, but I feel dumped. My relationship with A is a secretive one. We seem to want to know, or maybe do something about our partners and are possibly plotting? Lastly, my relationship with S is connected. We seek similar needs/wants. Overall, I feel my character’s relationship to the whole group is almost a mother figure: trying to hold the family together in challenging times.

Jenna Valez: Some qualities/characteristics I feel during the dance include: power, manipulation, competition, instigation. I realized that my character always wants to be “first,” likes to hold power among the group, and tends to ruin the flow. I initiate many moments and sometimes those moments spiral into fights between me and another character or fights between other dancers. I disrupt the peace. For example, at the end of one section, everyone is walking around in a circle, with a hand out perfectly. Once I enter, I ruin the pattern, and then a new phrase begins.
     These revelations lead me to make some changes: deepening into a sense of power; initiating partnering moments such as pulling H to the ground after the diagonal circles; looking at O when she enters, wanting to be first.

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Improvisational Connections
Hannah Cardiel
June 21, 2017
Rehearsal photos by Hillary Goidell

For each section of the piece Children of Hobbes, we begin with an improvisational structure formulated from simple walking patterns. The simplicity of these movements allows for us dancers to focus on the composition of our bodies in space, and also creates a heightened awareness of our spatial relationships with each other. Under Mariah’s artistic direction, we then re-assemble pieces of these improvisations in rehearsal. The next step of adding more complex movement to the underlying walking patterns is what I find the most exciting: we agree on two set phrases, one to start with and one to end with. We perform the first phrase, improvise for awhile, and then sense as a group when to start the second, ending phrase. Amusing moments often happen, such as when three of us will start the final phrase without the fourth dancer noticing. These mishaps often produce very interesting improvisational material since we have to think quickly to pick up the thread of the improvisation again. This process of connecting set phrases through improvisation also helps us develop increased awareness of each other as we learn to sense when the final phrase begins.

I have always enjoyed dance improvisation but I have sometimes felt lost, almost like having a lack of words or struggling to find a connection. However, working with the clear improvisational structures and restrictions described above allows me to explore the movement more deeply and discover new possibilities. Over all, I have had an amazing time exploring dance with Quicksilver. We have been working to find specificity in our movement and meaning in our connections with each other. We want to see how those connections can relate to society, here and now.

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Character Details
Jenna Valez
June 12, 2017
Rehearsal photos by Hillary Goidell

Children of Hobbes consists of detailed and deeply intentional movement. Each gesture, look, and step has a purpose and is carefully choreographed in support of the character's (or dancer's) development. Children of Hobbes might not be full of “dancey” movement, but it carries the same energy through bold motions through space. Since there are several small details and textures to this piece, I find it quite exciting to perform.

In other dances I have been in, there is usually not enough time to think about character development and the intention behind each and every movement. Working with Mariah, however, has been different. A large portion of our rehearsals are based around finding our character and what it exactly means to, for example, lift our head up and see something in front of us or walk to a different part of the stage. The trajectories are clear, the angle of our heads are specific, and even the energy in our eyes has a certainty to it. As a dancer, I appreciate having something to think about while performing: it helps me dive into my character and perform to my fullest authentic potential.

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Shifting Perspectives
Carla Maria Negrete Martinez
May 30, 2017
Rehearsal photos by Hillary Goidell

Over the last four months, I have been lucky to rehearse with Quicksilver for their Spring season as a substitute dancer. Having this particular role in the company allowed me to explore each dancer’s role, and also observe the piece as an outsider when it was performed at Joe Goode’s Feedback Show. This changing eye made me realize that sometimes as a dancer in a choreography I don't know what the piece I’m in is about, and while I can develop an emotion to the movement, I don’t necessarily have a clear context for the experience being created on stage until I see it as an outsider.

Drawing on our improvisation exercises, Mariah has found small snapshots of movement from which universal relationships can be surfaced for the viewer to experience. After re-learning sections of an improv from video we gave them funny names, such as "Gates of Mordor," or "Crab Walks" for easy reference. Each one of these snapshots was arranged with others to create an entire section of the full-length piece, and what came together often carried a completely different mood than I expected. While the learning process was usually light-hearted, the resulting choreography could shift quickly between aggressive and caring undertones simply by altering the intention of a glance between dancers.

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Incorporating Feedback
Mariah Steele
May 22, 2017
Rehearsal photos by Hillary Goidell

In many ways, this process has felt like the dance equivalent of writing a serial novel: we have had the opportunity to present new sections regularly in contexts where we can receive feedback from the audience. Such feedback has been very useful for me to know how each individual section is impacting the audience, and to find out whether or not other people think the dance is about what I think it is about after they see it. In other words, feedback lets me know whether my ideas are coming through the choreography clearly. It also lets me know what is working or not working, and raises new questions for me to consider.

I find that feedback falls into five categories, in terms of how it will affect my process. Here are the categories, plus examples of each from our recent feedback sessions:

1) Comments that validate that my ideas are coming through the choreography clearly. I use these to feel confident about moving forward in the same direction.

  • "Very deeply moving and emotional themes about survival. Avoids cliches and reaches/touches a truth about the human condition. It brought tears and the feeling to me that events in Syria and around the world also do."
  • "The complexity of companionship. The power struggle and need for individuality - plus the reliance. It was juxtaposed with the monotony of solitude."
  • "This piece raises the question whether humans can ever truly connect with one another."

2) Comments that reveal a "problem" in the choreography which may be a hole, a jump in logic, a moment that breaks audiences' attention or is confusing or boring. Then I know to work to address such a problem.

  • "I felt you went a few too many places. I got lost about three fourths of the way mainly because I didn’t have a good context."

3) Comments that make me see something in the piece I didn’t realize was there, which ends up giving me new ideas to pursue in the studio.

  • "Water interacting with itself and different elements of nature, moving and hitting rocks and the sides of rivers, breaking apart and being drawn back together, then dancing together in a whirlpool." In fact, several people mentioned water, and feelings of being under-water, which was a brand new image for me to consider.

4) Fun images that make me happy to be an artist, because who ever thought of what the dance of futuristic crab-aliens would look like!

  • "Horror movie-like creatures! crabs or aliens or something like that."
  • "This piece felt futuristic to me: human bodies that have had to evolve into other human forms...perhaps too the fear, loss and hope that comes with the changes in the future."

5) Opinions that go against a core idea or an aesthetic of the dance; these I ignore it for the most part.

  • "Why women? Why couples? Why floor work?" To which my answer is: why not? We have to start somewhere.

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Delving Deeper
Oona Wong-Danders
May 10, 2017
Rehearsal photos by Hillary Goidell

To me, Children of Hobbes is made up of layers: not only in the way it was constructed and created, but also in the ways that our characters have developed and what we represent on stage. I joined this piece in January, after part of it was already created, and had the experience of seeing it performed for the first time before I knew I was going to be in it. I stepped into a character that already existed and then had to adapt and develop that character even more over the past few months to really make it my own. Every time we run a section of the piece, I aim to delve deeper and discover more about myself and the message that my character is trying to convey. Because this piece stems from the ever-changing, ever-fearful, and ever-resistant state of our current world, the mood of the piece and the characters’ story lines continue to shift and change. This is part of what makes Children of Hobbes so different and exciting and incredibly pensive: a constant influx of new information and ideas shape the piece, making it ultimately open-ended. Mariah has never set a clear definition or final intention for the dance because I feel like we continue to unearth new layers and the piece continues to evolve, delving deeper into the politics of society and the country in today’s world.

While Children of Hobbes may lack triple pirouettes that end in high extensions and impressive partnering feats, it more than makes up for it in its sensitive and detailed movements and the relationships between the dancers on stage. The piece constantly transitions seamlessly between basic pedestrian movements, weird, awkward, unusual, sometimes uncomfortable movements, over-the-top silliness, and incredibly familiar and touching human interactions. As a dancer, this piece challenges me in ways I don’t normally experience and pushes my performance in a way I haven’t had to focus on before: it is much less technical and involves much more emotion and thought than usual. For example, it would be near impossible to slowly walk across the stage for several minutes without a narrative in your head and still convey a thought-provoking message to the audience. So it becomes necessary for me to embody my character’s thought process and have an open dialogue with myself, in that moment, on stage, that resonates wordlessly from my body to affect the people in the audience. It is pieces like this where I can truly feel myself growing and learning as a dancer and performer. I am so grateful to be part of this project that allows me to push my artistry in new and innovative ways and allows me an outlet to safely explore and express how I am feeling about the state of the world.

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Behind the Scenes
Mariah Steele
May 3, 2017
Rehearsal photos by Hillary Goidell

I was aiming for a philosophical post for today, but then, seeing as this blog is meant to illuminate the Children of Hobbes creative process, I decided to share what is happening behind the scenes in Quicksilver this week:

Oona, one of the dancers, sprained her ankle badly a few days ago. With a performance this coming Sunday, we needed a Plan B. My first instinct was to ask a couple of dancers who have joined us in the past to see if they were free: unfortunately, the answer was no. The next idea was to modify the new section of Children of Hobbes we were planning to show; but when Oona sent me a list of what she could and couldn’t do, it seemed like the necessary changes would impact the section’s core idea, leaving critical elements unconnected. So that plan went out the window, too. Finally, today, I came up with a good idea: we can perform an altogether different section on Sunday, one in which Oona’s part consists of slow movement suitable for a healing ankle. Although this "solution" seems obvious now, it’s an example of how much creative thinking and problem solving goes into the day-to-day running of a dance company.

This situation also reminds me of how many behind-the-scenes events affect the decisions of what Quicksilver – or any dance company – puts on stage. Sometimes unforeseen events in rehearsal or performance can create happy accidents that end up becoming part of the dance. Other times they force a director to make a less-than-ideal artistic or programming decision. For instance, the downside of my solution to this injury is that Sunday's performance is designed for the audience to provide us with feedback on the piece; the originally planned section is brand new and would benefit from feedback much more than the older section we will now perform. (However, the show must go on, even if it’s a different show than planned...) Whether positive or negative, all "outside" events during a creative process affect what happens "inside" the studio. Once again, real life pierces the traditional image of the lone creative genius in an empty room being seized by a sudden moment of inspiration.

Events like this make me think the creative process might better be named "The Life Process in Miniature." It’s all improvisation after all, no matter how hard we may try to choreograph it!

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The Choreographic Microscope
Mariah Steele
April 24, 2017
Rehearsal photos by Hillary Goidell

Children of Hobbes began with a very abstract idea, but has since evolved into a compelling story of survival in a dog-eat-dog world. For each new section, we start with improvisations in which the dancers have only five choices: walk at different tempos, change levels, stop, enter or exit. This paring-down of movement highlights spatial relationships, giving the distance and shape between dancers added significance. I then watch the films of these improvisations, selecting interesting “units” for the dancers to re-learn in rehearsal. Eventually, we sequence the units together, and layer more movement on top of or in between the structures originally conceived through improvisation.

One of the most exciting aspects of this creative process has been watching how beginning with abstraction can actually lead to very human themes. Indeed, I see my role as choreographer for this piece partly as a “seer” (or specifically, a “see-er”): my job is to see what emotions, relationships and themes are living beneath the surface – in a single look, a gesture, a clump of bodies – within an improvisation. The choreography then becomes a microscope that magnifies the improvisation’s themes so that they become visible and more fleshed out in the final dance. In other words, I did not set out to make a dance about the darker side of human nature; rather, it just happened.

Except that, of course, it didn’t “just happen.” Given that this creative process started in October 2016, I believe our psyches in the studio were primed by all of the corrosive dominance-plays and power imbalances unearthed by the presidential election. What we were seeing and feeling and parsing out in the world around us entered the improvisations and became the most compelling units to be selected on video. Indeed, after inauguration day, the focus of the group’s improvisations took a turn: they developed a sense of urgency for survival, community and support, all of which has seeped into our latest section.

For years, most of my dances have started with a clear idea, such as “I want to make a dance about X or Y.” How miraculous – and humbling – to find that starting in abstraction has allowed for the dance that wants to be made to find us.

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Last Modified: 18 Jul 2017
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