BRATTLEBORO -- Who knew a typical teenager's busy schedule was the stuff of art? A dozen dedicated local teens, and their mentor, acclaimed choreographer/performance artist Yasuko Yokoshi, hope to convince a crowd of 4,000 arts presenters in New York city of exactly that. On Jan. 21, 12 teens from the Windham Regional Career Center's Dance Program will journey to New York to perform "Reframe the Framework DDD (Dance-Docu-Drama)" at the national conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. The performance highlights a unique collaborative creative process that began last July and brought together the Vermont Performance Lab, the Brattleboro School of Dance and the Windham Regional Career Center.
And, of course, Yokoshi, who had to have heard the question "You're doing what?" after telling people that she decided to follow up her New York Dance and Performance "Bessie" Award-winning presentation "what we when we" by going to Vermont to guide a bunch of non-professionals dancers in a project that delves into teen issues using post-modern dance techniques.
Two things convinced Yokoshi to undertake the project – her own probing creative mind and, more significantly, the kids themselves.
At the invitation of the Vermont Performance Lab, Yokoshi first came to the area in February 2006 to speak at Marlboro College and the Brattleboro School of Dance. When she faced the young dancers at BSD, something clicked.
"Suddenly, I come in, and they're asking me all these questions, and they're so direct. It just put me on the spot," said Yokoshi, who was born in Japan and moved to New York nearly 20 years ago. "I said 'I wonder if I can work with those kids?'" An interesting question, since Yokoshi readily admits that she never wanted to work with young people. Still, she had the idea of creating work which re-examined David Gordon's groundbreaking "Framework," a 1982 post-modern piece which Yokoshi admits changed her life when she first saw it.
"Watching that piece made me decide to become a choreographer. For most, dancing means jumping high and turning. This piece doesn't apply a lot of dance techniques per se. It has a lot of pedestrian movement, and it has a lot of text," said Yokoshi.
She had had the idea of having a younger generation take a look at "Framework," and she chose the Brattleboro teens for the task. Since July, Yokoshi has been traveling to Brattleboro from New York by train to work with students during holiday breaks and weekends. The process has been collaborative and exploratory -- they have examined Gordon's "Framework" by looking at video of it, and they've worked together to create a new piece. "Reframe the Framework" is not a reconstruction project. Instead, the local teens have used it as a jumping off place to delve into their own lives for source material. Because of that, they've taken a big role in the creation of the piece, with Yokoshi taking on the role of mentor, observer, guiding hand.
"What I'm really trying to do is not to control the project. I told the kids 'You are the makers. You are the essence. I will help,'" she said. "It's not that I'm trying to be a teacher. I'm not here to discipline them to make A-B-C. ... I think they like the fact that I'm not here as the caretaker or parent or authority figure. ... I think they like being responsible for their creativity."
As you can imagine, that approach has gone over well with the teen dancers.
"Yasuko's really, really great to work with. She's easy-going, but she's determined to get things done," said 18-year-old Karin Linden.
And the project, which involves movement, text and video documenting the creative process, has been an exciting journey for mentor and students alike.
"It's really interesting. I don't usually study my life that closely," said 14-year-old Nicole Thomas. "You have to put a lot more into it. It's cool, too. It's more your work."
"They're so pressured -- pressured to be excellent, pressured to achieve. This society absolutely propels everybody to do everything all at once," Yokoshi said. "What they have to deal with at such an early age ... the complexities, the deception ... They're exposed to a lot of stuff."
Teens' busy schedules and the issues they grapple were explored in-depth in "Reframe the Framework." Nearly all admit mixed feelings about the New York performance, which will be held Jan. 21, at the Baryshnikov Art Center -- incredible excitement, mixed with the appropriate sense of anxiety. "It'll be fun, but also a little intimidating," admitted Linden. "I have the sense that they don't want to wreck your career," BSD's Allison Mott kidded Yokoshi.
"It's challenging for me because of the nature of the work. I take this as a conceptual work ... (the audience) might take it as an educational piece," Yokoshi said.
In the longer term, Yokoshi hopes to take these teens to Nagasaki, Japan, to work with counterparts there. The plan is that the American teens will present their "Reframed Framework" to Japanese teenagers as a live performance. The Japanese students will then re-frame the piece again, in collaboration with the Americans. But that's far off in the future. And even if it doesn't happen, the collaboration between Yokoshi and the local students has been fruitful.
"The biggest thing is the opportunity for students to really understand the creative process," BSD Director Kathleen Keller. "They're really gaining something that other kids don't have. ... That'll stay with them forever."
Not a bad trade for one more thing added to their busy schedules.