How I Started “Hunting Monsters”

When I was a child, I remember my dad telling me that the key to any relationship is communication. Now as an adult, I put those words of wisdom to work on the greatest relationship an emerging artist can cultivate — that is mine with my audience. Thus why I am grateful to participate in the aptly titled annual choreographic event, Cultivate. When I hear that word, I immediately think of farmers tilling soil in order to foster growth of crops. If Indianapolis is the field, then art is the cultivation, Hoosiers are the crops, and the Motus core artists, along with the Cultivate choreographers, are the busy farmers. According to Paul Woodruff, author of The Necessity of Theater, performance can change lives, bring a divine presence to the Earth, and provide a community with its own definitive culture. This means my job as a choreographer is to act as that farmer who tills the soil of the community by providing performance that stimulates conversation between those being watched and the watchers. This is where all of my works begins — by asking, “What are we going to talk about?”

For Cultivate, I originally set out to explore the human experience of fear. However, exploring fear alone is a shallow endeavor; much like an essay with a poorly formed thesis statement that has nothing to prove. I began to further process fear and attempted to define a universal fear-based experience. This proved difficult because fear is as unique a stressor as the individuals that grapple with it. I found solace in a quote from Plato, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light,” and it forced me to think more proverbially regarding what humans feared — Monsters. For example, as children, there is the fear of the Boogie Man under the bed and as adults there is the fear of developing a terminal illness. I felt I found a context that regardless of shape, size, or realism, something was compelling about abstractly labeling the cause of fear as a monster. I ran with it and dove into rehearsals, which included a feedback rehearsal with the Motus core artists to review and comment upon the status of my work. The evocation from the piece at that point proved to be less than frightening; instead, the piece carried an investigative and desperate explorative quality. This was a wonderfully refreshing observation and response, and provided me with a breakthrough. It became clear that the scariest aspect regarding monsters is not their appearance once they step into view. Rather, our own imaginations create and shape something much more frightening while they remain shadowed and ambiguous. This forced me to question, what do we fear more: what we can see or what we cannot see? I found an answer from HP Lovecraft, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” As human beings we do experience fear and we are especially afraid of that which we do not know. What we seek then, as humans, are answers. However, it is the answers we fear the most and those answers often become the real monsters. While, the child is afraid of the Boogie Man, he or she needs to know if it is under the bed or not. The most compelling moments are those in the journey to search for that frightening answer. As I continue to work on setting this piece, now titled Hunting Monsters, I bring this more enlightened focus to the process. It is not about fear solely, but moreover about the frightening search for answers to the unknown.

Basically, I need to say ‘thank you’ to Motus. Ultimately, I could not have discovered the subject matter of my piece without their open minds willing to exchange artistic ideas, their big hearts that provide constructive feedback, and the passion-fueled dancers that attack each step. This gives me an immense high of punch-drunk love and a positive charge of Pollyanna optimism towards my choreographic future, and towards the future of dance in Indianapolis. I feel that I have enough fuel to continue cultivating the Indy fields with artistic opportunities .

Tommy

 

 

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