Penelope Freeh

In Residence

Posted by on Nov 15 2015, in Uncategorized

I am in residence at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France with Donna Schoenherr, my dear friend and colleague from my NYC days over 20 years ago. She was my rehearsal director when I danced for Michael Mao Dance, but by the end of my tenure there we had become friends and even worked together on her choreography. There’s nothing like working in a studio to build intimacy and trust if that is what’s meant to come forward.


In 1994 our lives drove us to wildly separate existences, Europe for her and Minneapolis for me. In 2003 we came together to collaborate on a solo for me, landing/takeoff. This became the impetus for my first full-evening show at The Southern in 2005. (This is the show that composer Jocelyn Hagen saw that obliquely prompted our collaboration, an ongoing joy of my personal and creative life.)


Since then Donna and I have been searching for a way to work together again, and a couple of years ago Donna landed on an idea for a new piece, one that in a split-second ignited my imagination and my heart. This gave us a handle, a touchstone, a literal something to write about as we searched for funding.


Cut to 2014 when I won a McKnight Fellowship for Choreographers. This amazing award came with the additional bonus of a choreographic residency. Thus here I am at Camargo, the perfect fit, mainly because of wanting to re-boot my writing practice and this environment inspires a slowing down, a simultaneous turning inward as well as outward. I want to work on choreography too, but studio access here is tricky. It involves an off-site public space, the use of which requires permission from the Mayor. My “payment” is teaching a class to teenagers as well as a brief choreography that they will use in a performance next July. It is my great pleasure to comply. I love interacting with a culture at the level of what it is that I do: working with dancers, teaching and generating original movement vocabulary.


But before I do all that I am collaborating with Donna who hails from London. Our work here has the added benefit of the both of us being displaced, plunked down in paradise where we can blur the lines between hands-on working, conceiving and catching up. Our new piece, working title Helioscope, will premiere at The Right Here Show in Minneapolis in April. Originally thought to be a solo for me with a group of extras that I will work with at home, we now know that Donna will be in it too, and I am so happy! Not only do we get to share a stage (which we have never done), we get to conceive with an expanded palette. This was among the first surprises of many that have evolved during our short time here.


Helioscope is an investigation through movement, sound and filmic imagery that expounds upon the photographic work of Eadweard Muybridge. A man that changed his name three times, killed his wife’s lover and kept his distance from people to such a degree that there is no evidence of portraiture in his vast photographic repertoire, makes for a tricky proposition in terms of subject matter for a dance. So we are concentrating on his vast oeuvre of photographic output and, specifically, the iconic studies of the human body recorded in his flip book-like series.


Our movement generation sources from this imagery, and we are finally reaching a level of translation that is more embodied than on-the-page. This work is big on concept and yet I think we are keeping a playful eye on it, not getting bogged down in the literal. Our touch aims to be poetic, meditative and whimsical.


Today is Sunday, and we’ve decided to take a physical reprieve. We will continue to conceive, plot, plan and dream, but we will do so through the enjoyments of a civilized lunch out and a boat ride to the Calanques (the Mediterranean version of fjords) that are the main attraction here. Donna extended her stay through Tuesday, so we feel that that this break is doable and in fact necessary.


A word about Paris…

We are here during a tragic moment of current history, the bombings and hostage situation that took place in Paris on Friday night. Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, the French and all those affected (which is all of us really) by this senseless violence. It is strange to be in the south of France where beauty is everywhere. We tried to take the pulse of the people here yesterday as we carried on with our work. Folks were out and about and it was quite populated, it being the weekend. Toddlers stumbled along holding on to their parents’ hands and adolescents played soccer along the port. Couples sat at tables facing the water, nursing aperitifs or nightcaps. In short, life carried on, and it feels appropriate that we do too. We heard from many friends who were worried or simply wanted to check in. A nice feeling, and we got back to all of them. I flew through Paris on Monday after all.


Ours are small concerns. We are so fortunate.