They begin in a V. The dancers cluster together, bursting into individual flurries and back together, then wheel out across the room like a flock of birds. It’s a striking sequence in a new work by FLOCK, the collaborative enterprise of Alice Klock (whose Before After premiered with Whim W’Him’s Choreographic Shindig in the fall of 2018) and Florian Lochner.
FLOCK came into being in 2017 while its two progenitors were dancing with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, where they also served as Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellows. Florian grew up in Oberspeltach, Germany and was trained in Germany; Alice was born in Michigan, but “I feel at home in the west.” Their spoken tongues of origin were different, but early on when they began creating together in the studio—”for fun and for stress-counteraction too”—they realized that they had “very complementary languages” in dance.
“Our brains together were very magical,” says Alice. From conversation with the two and watching them work, it’s clear that they know, in Florian’s words, “what is in each other’s mind and what to focus on. We have the same ideas. Like four eyes in one head.” There is a playful, joyful quality to their interactions that immediately shines out.
Their combined work, put on at first by Hubbard, was soon sought out by others (like Ballet Arkansas, the Goethe Institut,* Adaptations Dance Theater on Maui, the USC Glorya Kaufman/Hubbard Street Summer Intensive, the Alonzo King LINES Ballet BFA, and the 92nd Street Y), as well as produced directly by FLOCK more and more. First Alice, who had been with Hubbard for 9 years realized she needed “a bit more agency,” then Florian after 4 years with the company, decided to devote their primary energies to FLOCK. In the words of their website, “As FLOCK we create and perform our own work, teach as a team, choreograph on schools and companies, and produce our own shows in the US and abroad.”
The year 2020 was intended to be the “first real year” of their company partnership. A full schedule was lined up.
Then Covid 19 struck. As in a game of musical chairs, when the music stops, you have to freeze where you are, and FLOCK’s two founders/partners found themselves half a world apart.
At the time that the two left Hubbard Street to devote themselves full-time to FLOCK projects, they had taken their belongings to their respective family homes, since they wouldn’t need much working on the road most of the time. When the lockdown came Alice sequestered at her parents’ home on Whidbey Island, while Florian stayed on in Germany. For a whole year they were separated by thousands of miles .
But even if Covid stopped the music for a time, FLOCK didn’t freeze. Far from it. Its creators were in no way ready to sit still and wait out the pandemic. Instead they have worked to “to adapt and to find new ways of doing what we do.” Florian notes, “It was good to focus on things we had done before and now can use,” material created but not yet tapped for any piece.
Because of, as much as despite the world-wide slowdown, FLOCK has spread out into a much broader community than the usual small dance startup collective would or could. The collaboration has been able to continue and even expand in ways not possible in a conventional dance setting. Alice and Florian say, “It went very well and worked great—very exciting!”
“Part of being a creative team is always talking each day.” Despite thousands of miles of physical distance between them, “We held online classes and intensives and through them experienced a whole new way of teaching and creating.” The FLOCK website expands: “Through our online teaching we are able to connect with amazing young artists from all over the world who might otherwise never be able to take a class of ours. Through our training intensives we have built communities of dancers whose dedication and creative power have left us feeling endlessly inspired. Through our long distance film creations we are discovering the amazing possibilities of choreographing for the screen.” From afar via Zoom FLOCK has co-created films to be danced, videoed and produced locally (in places as disparate as Cuba and South Korea), then madethem available watched on the internet for free.
In January of this year Florian managed to get back to the US to continue in person his partnership with Alice, and now, “together, we can have real connection.” Thus, the in-person nature of FLOCK’s current piece for Whim W’Him came about essentially by luck. By an accident of geography the pair are available to work directly in the studio with Whim dancers—even as mask-wearing protocol still must be observed.
The seed of FLOCK’s piece for Whim W’Him is how “out of difficult times we grow.” Says Alice, “People have superhuman abilities in hard times.” They asked the dancers: When was the moment like that for you? and What superhero would you be?
“That was the ground for our conception.” Florian says, “We talked a lot about what it means to be superhuman.” The dancers added their own gestures and phrases and tried in them in an original sequence he and Alice had given them, continuing to “think of the superhero—and creating it throughout the piece. If you feel something weird, give in and use it.”
Not surprising in this strange moment of broken or distorted plans, most of the dancers were attracted to expressions of having and showing power—a hand in fist gesture was so popular some iterations of it had to be cut out.
The “terrific soundtrack” Florian and Alice are using is by a composer in Sweden, Wolff Bergen, whose music they both love and who notes on his website that he makes “music to be friends with moving images.” Alice notes that “it’s a continuation of work in his library—he’s reworking and redoing things to create an all new soundtrack. Not just cut and paste. We’ve always wanted to use him.”
After two weeks working in the studio with the Whim dancers setting the piece, Florian and Alice say their concept is basically what it was before they started rehearsals, “though more personalized to the dancers, of course.” They liked the notion of flocking that I had seen while watching rehearsal, because the piece is about real community, wherein people, act both with and within their own superpowers and communally, being there for each other.
The two choreographers emphasize awareness to the dancers, of each other at all times, even when they are not dancing together or are just looking on while others move. Community is visibly at work, not merely among dancers, but between the choreographers, in the way comments come seamlessly from one or the other and they scarcely need look to know what the other is thinking about a gesture or a phrase.
Unlike the other pieces in the 2020-2021 Whim W’Him season, the new piece, titled NOVA, will have a few live performances in addition to the film.* I asked what difference this makes, what things have to be reconceived and in what ways. Alice said, “From the beginning, we wanted it to feel like a stage piece—a performance for the dancers. So there are very small changes for Vashon, mainly transitions in place versus those made by the camera. The piece is envisioned not in sections, but as a whole piece.” The arc of performance is being emphasized, rather than a series of episodes not always filmed in sequence. Such an organic approach produces, “healing moments. We wanted to recapture the feeling of performance in this process.” Alice adds, “It just feels different, the chemistry in the body.”
Color photographs by: Stefano Altamura
*See this Whim W’Him website for information on Whim W’Him’s May show-in-films, WONDER BEYOND. Another chance to see FLOCK and Whim at work will be offered on June 12 by the Seattle Goethe Institut pop-up.