FOUNDER'S NOTES Dianne Eno—Artistic Director/Choreographer
Early Influences-- Inspiration to Create Dances in the Natural Environment
I have many vivid memories of a childhood spent in (and nurtured by) nature. Time seemed to be an endless unfolding of many great adventures that deeply connected me to a way of experiencing and becoming acutely aware of a cyclical, natural order of the world, and as a result, I learned, at a very young age, the language of the Earth. Now, it only seems logical, that I have dedicated most of my adult life to dancing on mountains, in rivers, in meadows and forests, by the oceans and even on the rim of a volcano!
Living in the country in a small New Hampshire town afforded me with a childhood of blissful solitary play—I developed my sense of creativity in the great outdoors—I would sometimes get sidetracked from an outdoor art project and with crayons in hand, I ceremoniously drew faces on all the trees around me so they could “talk” to me. I also enjoyed climbing up on the big rocks and boulders, in the woods that bordered our back yard, and there I would “dance” for the trees and bushes and squirrels who were my audience. This is how I applied what I had learned at weekly ballet class! I also remember countless hikes, excursions and adventures with my Dad, another lover of nature, who taught me the names of trees and plants and to identify the songs of birds and the tracks of woodland animals. He also taught me to love them all. It was a fascinating and magical time.
By hiking on Mt. Monadnock, the world’s most climbed mountain, I became aware of a rich history of artists there and generally became very curious about artists who created art based on their experiences in nature. I also discovered Henry David Thoreau at this time in my youth—he became a folk hero to me. As an adult, I have, on several occasions, hiked to the sites where he set up camp on Monadnock and there I sat surrounded by an overwhelming sense of inspiration.
As an older child, I also became aware of my Native American ancestry through the recounting of vague family “legends” and stories. I had concluded that there must somehow be a connection with having indigenous blood and the predisposition to need to be close to nature. I have come to believe that my art is the result of perhaps being genetically wired this way. Continuing my dance training, as a young adult, I had found nirvana in a place nestled deep in the Berkshire Mountains, Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival, where my dance classes took place in rustic barns and dancers could not help but be deeply affected and inspired by the wildness of the surrounds. It was here that I could clearly see that dance and nature truly belonged together.
After receiving a rather traditional college dance education, I began teaching dance to children and adults and became artistic director of what is now my own contemporary dance company. Then, I decided one day that I would pursue a different path as choreographer, dancer and artist. I wanted to stage my work to truly reflect my lifelong passion for nature and I wanted it to be real. I can recall one day in particular, a true turning point for me, when I sat alone in my studio, rather uninspired about what to dance about next and then the crystal clear image of me and my dance company performing at the bare rocky summit of Mt. Monadnock flashed in my mind. Eighteen years later, the “Mt. Monadnock Celebration of Dance” has become an expected annual summer event and a consistent showcase for my work, attended by thousands of hikers and dance enthusiasts from all over North America.
Initial Site Selection
Creating and staging works on a rocky mountain summit is a daunting process, at once exhausting, awe-inspiring, discouraging and amazing. The first (and perhaps most critical) detail was the original selection of the performance site, (that would serve consistently as my outdoor theater for years to come). I recall that particular hike up Monadnock, a cold, rainy and raw day interspersed with thick fog—in search of the perfect performance site. Mt. Monadnock is 3165’ high, and the summit is only accessible by a rigorous 1 ½ to 2 hour hike up one of its many beautiful trails. Upon reaching the summit that day, the clouds parted and revealed to me the most amazing natural amphitheater on its northeast face. The performance areas collectively cover approximately 900 square feet and feature a main stage area consisting of a prominent boulder flanked by flat granite shelves of varying heights and widths as well as nicely composed jumbles of smaller boulders, and a central grassy area expanding out from the main stage boulder that creates a perfect transitional space connecting the performance space to audience seating. The seating areas consist of an agreeable arrangement of flat rocks and boulder shelves that tier their way to the true summit of the mountain, affording onlookers with unrestricted site lines to the performance areas complimented with amazing views and vistas. There is even ample shelter from the westerly winds that frequent the summit. Our mountaintop theater is made complete with a “Green Room”/dressing room that is a twelve foot high rock wall nicely hidden by a large stand of mountain cranberry bushes that welcome us back each year.
So inspired, I began to map out the performance area, measuring various rock surfaces with the aid of my own two feet and an measuring tape, examining rock textures and surfaces with my bare feet. The area offers endless performance and staging possibilities even to this day—I feel I have only begun to dance the space. I have created nearly fifty dances that have been performed by close to one hundred dancers who have graced the rocks with amazing abilities and the courage to transcend the familiar and comfortable form of the traditional performance into the realm of extraordinary experience.
Performance Day and the Audience Profile
On performance day, typically a Saturday in early September, the audience begins to arrive, on site, at the summit by late morning, around 11 A.M. Performance time is at 1 P.M., sharp. Beforehand, our dedicated team of professional mountain rescuers (affectionately dubbed our “sherpas”) has packed hundreds of pounds of equipment (including a generator and sound system), video and photographic equipment, programs, costumes and gallons of water and Gatorade up the mountain to the performance site. They are tireless, volunteer supporters of our annual performance and relentlessly show up each year to help. Needless to say, this performance would not happen without them as well as our volunteer technical crew and alpine stage managers!
Slightly before performance time, after dancers have had run-through rehearsal, lunch and are changing into costumes and putting on make-up, an amazing and eclectic mix of people assemble in the amphitheater seating area. The audience, numbering somewhere between four to eight hundred or more, are hikers, professional photographers, dance students, college outing club members, ecology students, bible retreat participants, dance enthusiast from the Boston and NYC areas and a scant group representing the press. Our audience has developed over the years to consistent high numbers of interested, supportive attendees. It is a curious lot and they intrigue and inspire me in countless ways to continue my work on the mountain. It is not uncommon to receive mail inquiries about the next upcoming performance as early as January. The State Park reports a consistent barrage of potential attendees calling throughout the summer for more information. During our summit rehearsals curious observers will inquire about what we are doing and then show up on the day of performance to see the “finished product”.
By the time our September performance date arrives, and if the weather is on our side, we can expect hundreds of people to make the two and a half hour plus hike to the summit to see the performance. This truly amazes me. They are polite (the mountain takes on an eerie hush as dancers take their places on the rocks before the beginning of each dance piece) and responsive with generous applause. In between dances, they audience read program notes and inquire with curiosity as they engage in conversation with our technical staff. After final “curtain call”, dancers are greeted with hugs and genuinely kind and flattering words of gratitude and encouragement. I have been approached by countless audience members who were so overcome with emotion, that communication between us was reduced to grunts, sobs and bear hugs. I have also been harshly criticized, on rare occasions, for disturbing the peace. This strange yet amazing cross-section of the public who choose to participate in Monadnock’s annual theatrical ritual helps to shape, revise and refine this project and, in the end, ensures its continuation for years to come. It is my sincere hope that this is a reciprocal exchange and that we as dancers and artists are able to leave the audience with something of equal value and a memorable and meaningful experience.
Noteworthy Nuances—Effect of Monadnock Performance on Dancers & Audience
There are rare moments when a nexus between our every day living and the sublime occurs and changes us forever. I, as well as many of my dancers and audience members, too, have experienced this on numerous occasions. I believe the nature of this performance on Mt. Monadnock has come to allow the barriers between dancer and the raw elements of nature, and between dancer and audience to be lifted to the point where essences become visible, tangible forms of moving light and energy involving everyone and everything in this particular experience of harmony and synchronicity. This experience feels like true spiritual elevation and enlightenment. Personally, I have many times had the sensation of becoming overwhelmed on stage, during performance, with a profound and ecstatic sense of “belonging”. Consistently, I have received feedback to confirm this phenomenon from both dancers and audience.
Another distinctive feature of this dance form, is the stark placement of the human forms (who are the dancers) on the rocks before an audience who are experiencing the same environmental variations and sensual stimuli as the dancers. This factor profoundly affects how the audience reacts to the performance and performers on all levels since they are acutely aware of the forces of nature acting on all concerned.
There is no blacking of “house lights’ to create the traditional theatrical barrier between dancers and audience—instead there is often eye to eye contact going on during performance. There are no artificial moods and effects created by theatrical lighting, although the quality and intensity of the light and darkness profoundly affect the emotional tone of the unfolding performance. I have learned to trust these elements, as theatrical collaborators and have come to expect serendipitous reward for having faith. Of course, there are huge metaphorical, symbolic lessons in this—the idea of giving ourselves, trustingly, back to the power and order of nature for the sake of attaining a new order and harmony with her seems presently both unthinkable and unattainable in our everyday living. Such thinking is rarely even present in human consciousness. Here, in this instance of a humble dance performance at the summit of a mountain, the concept becomes real, alive and tangible for everyone, both dancers and viewers alike, at once in the fleeting moments of time and space where the performance unfolds. By seeking to reveal such profound truths in our art, we collectively begin the healing journey on a pathway back home to nature.