Salted with Sharks

Talking about the Oliver Art Center’s First Dance Work—Gretchen Eichberger’s “Dress”

In Calendar, Culture Bluffs, Poetry on March 13, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Dress is a dance cycle conceived and directed by Gretchen Eichberger about women’s experience, with themes of rebellion, sensuality, ecology, and piety. The piece features the prose and poetry of Jennifer Sperry Steinorth, Stephanie Mills, Simone de Beauvoir, and Virginia Woolf. The project utilizes the talents of area women dancers, musicians, and writers. Rehearsals are under way. Eichberger promises this work will push your comfort zone and seduce your senses. The performance is slated for Saturday, April 20, at the Inside Out Gallery located in the Warehouse district of downtown Traverse City. A preview of Dress will take place at the Oliver Art Center on Friday at 7 pm. Discussion will follow. Alert writer Emily Votruba, who will introduce the preview show, sent Gretchen an e-mail with some questions about the project. Dress will be the first-ever dance performance held at the Oliver Art Center.

In your early notes to participants there’s a paragraph saying: “This project is inspired by the recent Michigan legislation aimed at women’s reproductive rights, inequality with pay/wages/salary, worldwide violence against women, and the question ‘who is today’s modern feminist?’” Please share any of your own answers to this question. Who is today’s modern feminist? I love the bumper sticker that states “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” I could name several public figures who have categorized themselves as feminists or perhaps they are thought to be feminists, however, I do not wish to immediately divide the audience of this work by making the inference that feminists lean towards a particular political party. A feminist can be an outstanding wife, mother, and successful entrepreneur. A feminist can be a radical activist speaking out for environmental policies who is also a mother. A feminist can have any sexual preference.

As we celebrate the 26th year of National Women’s History Month, I wonder: How far have we come, if any distance at all, since 1987? According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, women claim to experience a high level of stress stemming from their compensation in comparison to their male counterpart. There are still discrepancies in salaries. So right there, economics is a major teller of what the situation is.

Two of the four themes listed in your developing script especially interested me: rebellion and piety. Rebellion against what, and piety about what? Rebellion against patriarchal society. Piety in the aspect of bringing life into the world or choosing not to. I couple piety with ecology.

How did you choose the music, and how integral was it to developing the choreography? In this piece, as in American Document and Chaotic Harmony, the movement is done to music and text. This project will feature live music, which I’m incredibly satisfied with. I always choose the music before developing the choreography—it’s more of a coupling with the text or subject. One of the composers is J. S. Bach; his compositions are driving, you know where they are going, they are logical and they don’t waiver—like a strong-minded woman. Arvo Pärt is contemplative … his piece Speigel Im Spiegel is just that. Then there is the music of Franz Schubert—most of his compositions debuted just prior to the first wave of feminism in the mid-1800s. His songs of woman’s torment especially dealing with love and daily life go well with this work.

What if any surprises or new elements came out of the collaboration with the writers and performers and are incorporated into the final piece? (Assuming it’s not still evolving…?) It’s very much still evolving. My performers are secured. What a relief! I’m happy to be collaborating with these women … and honored! They are powerhouses: musicians, activists, writers, philosophers, dancers, and then some. They are so consciously engaged in the creative process.

In the days before my 40th birthday recently, I found myself looking for role models among mature women—how to proceed? What kind of old lady am I shooting to be? I wonder if you’ve had a similar experience/questions? Role models among mature women … there are many. I’ve been listening to the stories of 80-plus-year-old women recently—two of which I am particularly mesmerized with. They both continue their careers in the arts and are very sharp. Nothing gets by them. I have listened to their stories … of love, pursuit, passions. To respect their privacy, I’ll leave them anonymous. So let’s just say I’m enthralled with some particular elders right now

There’s a Beauvoir quote in the script: “What they seek first of all from each other is the affirmation of their common universe.” I wonder if this searching for affirmation and common ground is a symptom of women’s continuing feeling of oppression or inequality? Common Universe… yes. She also said “all oppression creates a state of war.” Don’t push us down. Let the women rise to the top … the world will be better for it. In doing so, they will make sure that the men are taken care of.

Aren’t women and men both about renewal? They should be. They are. I think we need to check in with ourselves every day, and then do it in a hard-core intensive way every 3 years.

What generations of women are represented in Dress? (Gen X/boomers/Y/Millennials…?) and how if it all does that come across? All generations… all the decades. I’m very happy about this. Also [various] gender preferences and ethnicities.

From Lena M. Wilson, Dress cast member: In my life I’ve met a variety of role models, men and women, but have had to open my eyes. People I have met and not seen for some time have left lasting impressions on me, but in some cases I had to look beyond my ideas of how a person should be and see the teacher. I’ve found men to be more quickly influential in my life, perhaps due to a balancing of my feminine energy, seeing something from a new angle, or simply my unique path. Despite this trend in my formative years, I have been surprised by the nurturing I receive through communion with women, which I think we long for naturally even in absence of conflict. I’m now beginning to seek the company of women mentors, which I had before regarded as nearly impossible to find. Great people are everywhere; it often seems to be a matter of being open to their greatness.

A modern feminist partakes in the modern myths of politics and economics of the society he or she lives in. Then there are those who believe in and stand for dynamic equilibrium, yin and yang, balance, peace etc. who get swept up in the feminist movement. I’m personally not informed well enough to understand feminism in its entirety; I admit to being naive about details of politics and economics. However, I feel it is important to focus on balance and broadcast peace in places where women have plentiful rights for the sake of the rest of the world. We can celebrate both women and men! In places of abuse of women, it is certainly important to advocate feminism and spread word of change toward peace. Our good intentions and visualization of women with vibrant life can reach the far corners of the Earth if media cannot. Through our living vibrantly we emit positive vibration for women in pain, for everyone. Ψ

gretchen at lore oil and water

Gretchen Eichberger performing “Oil and Water” from 2010’s LORE. Photo by Robert Bruce Bushway

amy and lena in Dress

Amy Jo Jordan and Lena Wilson after a rehearsal for “Dress.”

  1. .” A feminist can be an outstanding wife, mother, and successful entrepreneur. A feminist can be a radical activist speaking out for environmental policies who is also a mother. A feminist can have any sexual preference.”

    I think any grandmother can be a feminist and any man can be a feminist, I see a feminist as anyone who wants equality for women.

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