Take a road trip to Philly’s Bodega gallery with a podcast of a performative lecture by—and interview with—choreographer Jen Rosenblit.
In this inaugural entry of Performance In Process, Lauren Bakst visits Jen Rosenblit’s rehearsal to spend some time watching and discussing her latest project, In Mouth.
Jen Rosenblit brings it back to the body. The effect is almost distilling, yet her attention to the body as a site of multiplicity reveals a forever unraveling complexity. In her current project, a continuation of her collaborations with long-time friend and performer, Addys Gonzalez, their bodies hold the fantastical and the mundane, the grotesque and the fanciful, the excessive and the abject. Their depth is infinite; their capacity for transformation, unending. Jen’s work tends to sear through any superficial layers of analysis, tugging at me in ways that are guttural, visceral. As their movement accumulates, landscapes are built only to crumble, leaving me both fearful of and desiring to be within the embodied and relational situations I perceive.
One week after Jen and Addys welcomed me into their rehearsal process, Jen and I met up to have coffee and chat about her work as a choreographer, performer, and community shaper. Our conversation bounced from coordinate to coordinate, mapping traces of expansive communities, classical histories, normative structures, and radical bodies.
Lauren Bakst You take on so many roles within the dance community—curating a performative lecture to be hosted at your apartment, offering donation based, weekly classes that create a space to explore improvisation as performance, go-go dancing at Hey Queen, a queer, multi-gendered dance party. What was your desire to start reaching out in these various ways and how do these experiences extend and impact your work?
Jen Rosenbilt Everything I do is very much to inform my work. Go-go dancing at Hey Queen is my desire to be in front of people and to see what that feels like in multiple situations. It has a very different feel than performing on a stage. For the past year, I’ve been exploring ideas of desire, wanting, needing, so go-go dancing is the perfect opportunity to see what’s read on my body and what’s read on the audience.
What happens when choreographers and performers delve into the field of visual art? Lauren Bakst had a chance to find out at the Art (dance) Show, the opening event of Movement Research’s Spring FESTIVAL!.
On Thursday June 2nd, Movement Research kicked off their spring festival with what may seem like an unlikely event for a collective of dance artists—a visual art show, complete with a backyard barbecue. This year’s FESTIVAL!—aimed to stretch the concept of choreography beyond its usual parameters—and the Art (dance) Show hosted at FACADE/FASAD in Red Hook did just that. The show featured art objects made by over 75 contributing choreographers and dancers. “The invitation terrified me, but also offered an exciting challenge,” said iele paloumpis, one of the participating artists.
“It feels to me like the difficulty of the conversation is actually the difficulty of the piece.” Lauren Bakst talks with choreographer John Jasperse about his forthcoming work Canyon.
Choreographer John Jasperse is currently in the process of developing his latest piece, Canyon —a work that, to quote John, “involves disorientation as a fundamental experience.” I had a chance to see a showing of the work in process in late June and to be a part of a feedback discussion that followed. Needless to say, the fundamental disorientation of Canyon was abounding within the group’s conversation as we fumbled through the space between language and experience, trying our best to respond to what we had just seen. I spoke with John over the phone a couple of weeks later while he was teaching at The American Dance Festival in Durham, NC. Our conversation revolved in and around the paradox of attempting to articulate that which is meant to be inarticulate. Even now as I try to provide you, dear reader, with a bit of descriptive information to guide your understanding of the work and our conversation, I struggle.
Lauren Bakst interviews Nora Chipaumire on dance-making as a form of activism and the power of the human body as a medium for art.
Originally from Mutare, Zimbabwe, Nora Chipaumire is a choreographer, performer, and director whose work directly confronts and challenges “stereotypes of Africa and the black performing body.” I caught up with Nora over email while she was in residence at Mass MoCA developing her latest work, Miriam, which will have its NY premiere at the new BAM Fisher space, Sept 12-15. Nora shares some of her thoughts on the multiplicity of Miriam, post-colonialism, and dance as activism.
Lauren Bakst The name Miriam evokes many historical, religious, and mythic references. You specifically draw influence from the life of Miriam Makeba, the South African singer and activist, as well as from religious iconography. What initially drew you to the idea of Miriam, and who/what has she become for you throughout the process of making the work?
Nora Chipaumire Miriam: singer/activist, prophetess, sister of Moses, Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Mariama: Old testament, New Testament, Koran, 21st century (imperialism, the scramble for Africa/apartheid).
Lauren Bakst talks with choreographer Beth Gill and the six women who perform in her latest work, Electric Midwife, about the perceptual possibilities of doubling and the depths of understanding sameness and difference.
When I enter the space of the Chocolate Factory Theatre on June 22nd to witness Beth Gill’s newest work, Electric Midwife, there is a palpable tension in the room—no doubt created by the engulfing sounds of Jon Moniaci’s score emanating into the lobby and the fact that I am one of only twelve audience members sitting in one of twelve carefully positioned chairs, a limit specified by Gill herself. I quickly realize that being one of such a small audience (just twice the amount of the six women performing) heightens my responsibility as a witness and necessitates that I am active in my spectatorship. As I watch the piece unfold from my clearly delineated context of perception, I am carried by the feeling that each and every moment has been deeply cared for, a sensibility that manifests Ellen Dissanayake’s notion of art as the practice of “making special.”
Resting on a structural premise of symmetry, Electric Midwife is a dance of doubles that reveals the ontologically flawed nature of mirror images. Six women clothed in bright colors and soft fabrics form three pairs that move in oppositional unison, each duet divided by two lines of silver tape demarcating a central axis of symmetry. The result is a constantly shifting kaleidoscopic tableaux that unfurls before me; a simulacrum in which each side exists as both the “real” and the “copy”—that feminine paradox of forever living inside of and in between images.
Lauren Bakst catches up with choreographer and performer Michelle Boulé during a rehearsal for her latest work, Hello, I need you.
Many know Michelle Boulé for her enigmatic, charged, and complex performances in the works of choreographers such as Miguel Gutierrez, John Jasperse, and Deborah Hay. However, Michelle is also a creator in her own right. Her latest work, Hello, I need you, created and performed in collaboration with Lindsay Clark, has been developed as a part of Dance & Process, curated by Yasuko Yokoshi at The Kitchen—an extended group process of sharing work and receiving structured feedback. Hello, I need you unearths a relationship to experience through the performance of both mundane action and illustrious movement—producing moments of hollow sadness and awkward joy. The piece leaves me hyper-aware of not only Boulé and Clark’s relationships to the world around them, but also my own. Boulé’s choreography illuminates the tension between seemingly nonsensical objects, movements, and ideas—drawing energetic lines of connectivity that coil, expand, and vibrate throughout the space. Her devotion and openness to the wisdom of the body reveals itself through her choice making in both her work and our conversation as we discuss choreography as collection, text as texture, and the necessities of the moment.
Lauren Bakst Does the piece have a title?
Michelle Boulé It’s called, Hello, I need you.
LB I was curious about the title because I was interested in how you’re using language within the piece. The different texts Lindsay reads feel almost like sound bytes from these different places.
MB I was interested in text as a texture, and I was interested in dialogue. Just when I’ve been reading, I’ve been collecting things that seem like they fit in the vein of what is kind of an ambiguous piece. Today I added a thing from this interview the Wooster Group did with Marina Abramović where she talks about making bread, and that became one of the sound bytes Lindsay reads. I wanted these texts to give it a little bit of context, but it’s also so vast it can become anything. And in a different way it becomes a texture. But yesterday everything was sort of too serious, so that’s why we added in this one today.
Lauren Bakst reviews performance artist Karen Finley’s Make Love, a post 9/11 cabaret show inspired by the iconic image of Liza Minnelli, but most of all, by New York.
“You are going to die when you’re going to die,” says Karen Finley in that unmistakable slightly over enunciated, low pitched voice of hers, chin tilted down and mouth pressed up against the microphone. Dressed in a short black wig and a gold sparkling mini dress, her stare penetrates into the audience at the West Bank Cafe on 42nd street as we slowly sip our drinks. It was only a few moments ago that we were laughing at the parade of Liza Minnelli look-a-likes stumbling across the small stage, but now our attention has been commanded and we’re listening.
This is Make Love, Karen Finley’s cabaret show, first created just under ten years ago in response to the attacks on September 11th. Returning to the stage for the tenth year anniversary of that day, Make Love is a tragicomic homage to this place and the people in it, a psychoanalytic inquiry into the collective grief of post 9/11 New York staged under the guise of a cabaret spectacle. Finley is joined to the stage by drag performer Chris Tanner—aka Liza #2, pianist Lance Cruce—another Liza no doubt, and a whole entourage of Lizas, all keeping each other company and performing necessary tasks at Finley’s request.
Arkadi Zaides’s work lives deeply within the embodied landscape of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Lauren Bakst talks with him about the process of his most recent piece, Quiet, after its premiere in New York at La MaMa Experimental Theater.
Choreographer Arkadi Zaides’s latest work, Quiet (performed at La MaMa Experimental Theater on June 8 and 9), wrangles with the emotional corporeality of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as it is intertwined in the lives and histories of four men—two Palestinians and two Israelis. Far from the serene state its title suggests, the dance teeters on an ever-shifting terrain layered with the sediment of exhaustion, urgency, pain, and desire. Quiet, in both process and performance, makes tangible the space between bodies and the hope of living alongside and through difference.
Lauren Bakst In your description of Quiet, you write that the piece “arose from a real sense of emergency” and out of a context “which never allows the space needed for reflection.” Lately, I’ve been feeling that dance has the capacity to create space for critical reflection where there is none. How does reflection come into your work?
Arkadi Zaides Lately, through Quiet and working in Arab communities around Israel, all of my work and my will has become to reflect. Quiet came into my mind after the Gaza events of early 2008. At that time, I was in London and I saw posters around me everywhere, “Save Gaza, Save Gaza.” I came to Tel Aviv the day after the operation ended and it was like nothing had happened. I was really shaken from the inside to respond, to make something that will express it’s not all quiet. We see quiet in our eyes, but it’s actually really, really noisy. A lot of people choose to shut themselves—
Martha Wilson’s solo exhibition, I have become my own worst fear, is up at P.P.O.W. gallery through October 8th. Lauren Bakst delves into the many faces of Martha Wilson, examining their relationships to the passing of time, the embodiment of aging, and the intertwining of the personal and political.
Martha Wilson’s solo exhibition, I have become my own worst fear, comprises a series of self portraits that repeatedly distort the self until any fixed notion of subjectivity has utterly dissolved. Spanning from 1974 to 2011, these works reveal Wilson through specific markers in time, and invite the viewer to imagine the lived space beyond each image. Through the juxtaposition of younger and older, of before and after, Wilson makes tangible the space between these captured moments. Her images seem to ask, how did time pass between then and now? Furthermore, what was the embodied experience of that passage? In Beauty + Beastly, a profile image of Wilson in 1974 is positioned adjacent to a profile image of Wilson in 2011, a portrait of the artist peering simultaneously backwards and forwards at herself in spite of and through time. Rather than to spiral into an unending cycle of self reflection and critique, when Wilson looks at herself, she also looks at the viewer, beckoning us to examine the value systems that shape our ways of seeing. Her image and text work invoke the expectations and preconceptions that are written and re-written on women’s bodies every day. The terms “beauty” and “beastly” applied by Wilson to the young and old images of herself reference the persistent intertwining of the personal and the political, bringing awareness to the cultural discourses that frame the female body.
Gillian Walsh discusses her dance series Grinding and Equations, the art of ass tyranny, and the mystery of the “Monica Lewinsky moment.”
In Gillian Walsh’s series of dance works, Grinding and Equations, the fetishized body meets choreography in its most calculated, relentless form. Here are two asses—two asses that are part of two bodies—sometimes performed by Gillian Walsh and Robert Maynard, sometimes by Gillian and a pre-recorded video of herself, and sometimes by Gillian and a completely new and un-rehearsed performer. Each cheek of each ass twitches in accordance with a regulated time structure.
One. One two. Two three. Four two three one.
This kind of detail requires a particular kind of attention, a gaze that mainstream culture does not prepare you for. By locating this rigorous exactitude in the ass, Gillian makes the processes by which our bodies become fetishized hyper-visible. We experience Gillian’s intellectual deconstruction of fetishism through her embodiment of the process. In Gillian’s world, the idea, the body, the action, and the dance are distilled to a singular experience in which they can all coexist. It is at once subtle and virtuosic. It is detached but it cares about you. It is post-modern and pop-culture. It is a score that Gillian mostly fails but also sometimes executes perfectly, usually with the help of a cyborgian double-self who accompanies her via computer screen. And when she does execute, after we have all been watching the tireless work of trying to “get something right,” that magical thing happens—the moment when a body exceeds its persistent failure and achieves fleeting perfection—a thing that is sometimes, although very rarely, possible in dance. I imagine the kind of excitement and nervous anticipation that filled spectators when Nijinsky would leap across the stage in Le Spectre de la Rose. It manifests through a suspension of belief that seems to hold time in the air. In Gillian’s work, we just don’t see it coming, and that is precisely what makes it so subversive and so very satisfying.
Gillian and I sat down to discuss her choreographic process in August, and over the past six months we have remained in dialogue, shaping the conversation that is published here today. As Gillian says of her work, “I’m still researching . . . trying to resist the pressure to jump to arrive somewhere or create a product. Never believe in arrival.” And so this conversation follows suit—we didn’t want it to arrive, but nevertheless, here it is.
LAUREN BAKST So Ass Tyranny, is this the section where you and Robert are on the floor?
GILLIAN WALSH Yeah. Ass Tyranny is choreography for butt cheeks—or really any four flesh parts. It’s been performed mostly by Robert Maynard and myself but recently I’ve also been performing with other people, performing teaching Ass Tyranny to other people, and performing ass tyranny duets with myself. Was the performance at Dixon Place the only thing you saw?