Dear Ghost lines friends,
I’m here to bring you our third “Meet the characters” update. Elizabeth Keen, New York City based performer and educator, began working with me last year for the first time. With a fondness towards the history of soft shoe, we began by conjuring memories from her history as a performer, back to her first memories with Mary Jane Brown whose father ran a Vaudeville house.
In the studio, Liz and I began to unravel her personal movement history in a series of experimental live oral histories. With Mary Jane, who described soft shoe as a leisure time feel – where you have to be sympathetic towards your audience, Liz confessed she was a speed demon who learned to take time and enjoy dancing. Other influences for Liz include the Copasetics, Bettye Morrow, Derik Grant, Honi Coles, Jimmy Slyde, and one of our very own Ghost lines performers – Michelle Dorrance!
This month, Liz and I recently completed a month long intensive residency – taking our working further. In the piece, Liz conjures the past, continually attempting to bring aspects of her memory forward. Through a spell of remembering and forgetting, Liz attempts to reconstruct lines of history through her own stream of consciousness ramblings.
In exploring the sympathetic demeanor of soft shoe, we evolved our own scale of aspects that moves through the following expressions: from sympathetic - understated - elegant - tidy - fussy - precise - uptight - crude - slob - blob - grubby - scallywag - slut – to absurdity. Then, Liz brought in a favorite one-act play by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Two Slatterns and a King - A Moral Interlude. These excerpts have provided wonderful character inspiration!
The following excerpts from this one-act play are reprinted from Contemporary One-act Plays of 1921. Ed. Frank Shay. Cincinnati: Stewart Kidd Co., 1922. It is now in the public domain and may be performed without royalties.
TIDY: I am TIDY, I have been
All my life both neat and clean.
From my outside to my in
Clean am I unto my skin.
Every day into a bucket
My hands I dip, my head I duck it;
And if the water plenty be
I sometimes wet some more of me.
This is my kitchen, where you will find
All things pleasant and to your mind;
Against the wall in orderly pairs—
One, two,—one, two,—observe my chairs.
In the middle of the room my table stands:
I would not move it for my lands.
My basins and bowls are all in their places;
The bottoms of my pots are as clean as your faces.
My kettle boils so cheerily,
It is like a friendly voice to me;
About my work I merrily sing,
And I brush my hearth with a white duck’s wing.
Oh, full is every cupboard, sharp is every knife!—
My bright, sunny kitchen is the pride of my life!
SLUT: I am SLUT; I am a slattern,
You must not take me for your pattern.
I spend my days in slovenly ease;
I sleep when I like and I wake when I please.
My manners, they are indolent;
In clutter and filth I am quite content.
Here is my kitchen, where I stir up my messes,
And wear out my old shoes and soiled silk dresses.
My table sags beneath the weight
Of stale food and unwashed plate;
The cat has tipped the pitcher o’er,—
The greasy stream drips onto the floor;
Under the table is a broken cup—
I am too tired to pick it up.
Also, here are some of our rehearsal experiments, for a taste!
Cori and the Ghost lines family
As a dancer, she appeared with the companies of Paul Taylor and Helen Tamiris/Daniel Nagrin. She choreographed for her own group, The Elizabeth Keen Dance Company, which toured nationally under the auspices of the Dance Touring and the Artists in the Schools programs as well as many seasons in NYC. She has also choreographed for opera and theater Credits include: ANIMAL FARM, TEMPEST, WINTER’S TALE (National Theatre, London); LA TRAVIATA, CARMEN (Glyndebourne); CARMEN (The Met); FIERY ANGEL (LA Opera and L’Opera Bastille); GUYS and DOLLS (Goodman Theater) and A COMEDY of ERRORS, (NY Shakespeare Festival). She has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Princeton University, the Juilliard School as well as for The José Limón Summer Dance Workshop and Perry Mansfield in Steamboat Springs, CO. She is a graduate of Barnard College and the Sarah Lawrence Master’s degree program.