Penelope Freeh on "Slippery Fish"

May 3, 2012

Penelope Freeh, the recipient of a 2010 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Choreographers, will be in residence at MANCC (a national choreographic center in Tallahassee, FL) May 6-19, 2012 to develop her new work Slippery Fish. This residency is supported in part by the McKnight Artist Fellowship program. Slippery Fish will premiere at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, September 28-30, 2012.

I'm thinking about fish and Marlene Dietrich. Not fish per se. It's more accurate to say I feel like a fish out of water: I'm in over my head, drowning. My dreams lately have been anxiety-filled, anxious with insecurities and dormant fears. The other night it was that our house was connected to the neighbor's; boundaries were vague and messy. Several nights before it was that my artistic partners weren't participating. One was taking a nap I think.

All this is to say (isn't it obvious!?) that I am about to embark on a new work, a creative collaboration at that. The working title is Slippery Fish, and I've been dreaming about this piece for over a year. The process will launch at MANCC, the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee.

It's scary when dreams start to become reality. Dreams as in desires, like when I finally lost my baby fat and no longer had that as an excuse to justify why I wasn't getting a dancing job. Suddenly the dream of fulfilling my potential was happening and, oh, I felt like I was falling off a cliff.

I'm feeling a little like that here. But I recognize this unrest, this level of busyness in preparation for my departure, this occasional ennui with my thoughts. I burrow through the sand, at once seeking and nodding off.

I will be working with all new creative partners. This is true and not true. Patrick Corbin and I have worked together before, just not in this capacity, with me as choreographer. I danced in a work of his, created for James Sewell Ballet's Ballet Works Project in 2011. I had the time of my life and came away feeling like I had a blueprint of sorts for how I wanted my career to go. I admired Patrick's ability to be all things: custodian of Paul Taylor's work, creator of his own work, teacher, and kind soul. I will make a duet for us in long-form, languid, and prickly.

Slippery Fish is a collaboration with composer Jocelyn Hagen. We met at a cast party after JSB collaborated with Cantus of which her husband Tim Takach is a founding member. I held her newborn Oscar on my lap and she told me she'd like to work with me sometime. Four years later, here we are! She and I will work together for the first time tomorrow in the studio. This is in preparation for my leaving Sunday. Patrick and I will precede her at MANCC by a week, and it'll be good to unlock some creative ways of working with her before leaving.

Soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw will also be joining this process, traveling to MANCC with Jocelyn for the second week of our time there. The notion is that Jocelyn will work with Carrie like a choreographer with a dancer. Instead of handing her a score, they will create in the moment together, using the voice wordlessly.

Jocelyn will also compose for viola. While at MANCC, we will use the talents of Julia Kim, a graduate of FSU's music program. When Slippery Fish premieres here September 28 - 30 at the Southern Theater, we will employ the talents of MN Orchestra violist Sam Bergman.

But first things I go, soon and with nerves raw. I'm loading up on all things comforting (journal, old movies - thus Marlene Dietrich, peanut M & M's...) since I'll be displaced in every way. A ritual of sorts is about to take place, the first installment of a process spanning time and distance. Splash. Slip-slide. Succumb.


*Photo of Patrick Corbin and Penelope Freeh, February, 2011.