Milka Djordjevich on repetition, transformation, and abstracting everyday movement.
Milka Djordjevich has always been somewhat of a shooting star to me. Our paths have crossed many times over the years, with overlapping circles of friends, collaborators, and colleagues. I witnessed her finesse as a curator at the Movement Research Spring Festival 2008: Somewhere Out There, when I made a brief visit as a guest teacher and artist. I remember that over a dinner during the festival, Milka turned to her then fellow curator, Chris Peck, and started a conversation with him about how dance and music could be composed at the same time by both the choreographer and composer. That conversation was the seed for what became An Evening with Djordjevich and Peck at The Chocolate Factory Theater in 2009. Hearing of the continuing success of their project, as their collaboration took them to the Whitney Biennial in 2010, Milka stayed on my radar.
It wasn’t until January of 2012 that we met again, this time at the Movement Research office. She was there, along with Lydia Bell, to hand off the annual cycle of the co-editorial position of Critical Correspondence to me. At the meeting we briefly discussed her move to California, and I exchanged some reflections with her on the experience of living and making work in other cities and communities. It seemed like this was what we were fated to do, to work in tandem without ever seeing of one another exactly what brought us to New York in the first place—being artists and performers.
I was ecstatic that finally, in 2013, five years since meeting Milka and knowing, albeit remotely, of her conceptual and relentless work, I was going to get to see her perform. I felt extra lucky that I would see her perform a solo. Kinetic Makeover, which premiered at the Chocolate Factory Theater this April, was a trance-inducing, morphing, highly-driven performance that left me stunned. I immediately felt the need to ask her questions, artist-to-artist, and probe further into her choreographic process. How was she able to carry out one gesture past the point of exhaustion until it became something else? What does it mean when a dance is made to become a collection of images? How can a body be an object, but not be objectified? We sat down together for a lengthy discussion of her relationship to her body, her previous dance training, and the evolution of repetition toward a greater consciousness of and possibility for performance.
Marissa Perel I thought of your solo as one continuous piece—how did you come to make decisions about the transitions from one set of movement phrases to another?
Marissa Perel talks about her recent performance Night Ballast which explores the power that can come from vulnerability.
“Now, there’s a Full moon. I’m opening boxes. In one box are notes from my old studio… Questions, “Is this a play? Am I a counterpart to an as yet undetermined main character?” “How is a text a body?” How is an object an event?” —excerpt from Perel’s performance text
i sat down with Marissa Perel to discuss the process of her performance, Night Ballast, which was presented as part of Food For Thought at Danspace Project on April 12, 2013. The evening was curated by Stacy Szymaszek, Director of St. Mark’s Poetry Project, and in this instance, represented an overlap of the D/d/owntown worlds of dance and poetry.
Marissa and i have been engaging in an ongoing conversation about body politics in relationship to dance, wellness, and gender identity. In the face of my own health challenges, newly navigating the world with invisible disabilities, and bringing these complex dynamics into my own choreographic work, i connected to Perel’s ongoing struggles with chronic pain and performance making, and how these things which seem somewhat contradictory can coalesce and lead to new forms.
In this conversation, we talk about the choreographic process in her living room, the use of sculptural objects to mediate and heighten perceptions of stillness and everyday movement, and the reading of her personal narrative as part of the dance. We arrive at an open, moving conversation on “fierce vulnerability,” and the power of emotional content and choreographic subtlety.
Iele Paloumpis In my memory of how the performance started, the way Justin [Cabrillos] entered with a brightly colored rug and stick, stood out to me. It was something about the stick, how pale the wood was, that looked like it was naturally a part of the space of St. Mark’s. When I saw him lean the stick against one of columns, it made me think of you, of your body, leaning. And the rug was this lone source of comfort. The movement was very still, but at the same time it felt very personal to the dancers themselves. It was quiet, internal, reflective, subtle. Were the performers improvising, or was the movement choreographed?
Marissa Perel It was a combination of set choreography and improvisation. Tess [Dworman]’s movement on the rug comes from a series of Authentic Movement sessions on the rug on my living room floor. We then weaved certain phrases together from those sessions. When Tess was walking with the wooden stick, and would lean on the stick to pivot her body, it’s a stance I take with my cane in everyday life that becomes a gesture.
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?
Kristen Kosmas talks text-based performance, its formal implications, and the practice of dis- and reappearing. Her piece There There is a part of PS122’s COIL Festival, and runs through January 12.
I spoke with Kristen Kosmas earlier in December, just as the first of two runs of her new show There There was opening. We talked about the solo form, about surviving the solo form; about populating the solo form; about how populating the solo form was easy when there were so many sides to a question, so many skepticisms and enthusiasms within a solitary train of thought; we talked about what it does to your mouth to have to say your own writing, and what it does to your writing when you know it has to occupy your mouth; about the simultaneous love of artifice and plainness; about the technical challenges of this show; about the way the fact of its simultaneous translation into Russian might introduce a new and strange feeling in her mouth; and about Kristen’s return to performing solo and whether it was any different than writing for many people (her answer was mostly that it is not, which encouraged me).
People talking about Kristen’s performances back in Seattle in the ’90s (before she moved to New York, where I met her, and before she moved away from New York and then back to New York and then again away from it) emanate a sense of having really been there for something, maybe the way my Grandpa used to disappear into the recollected glow of LA in the ’30s, or the way people remember scenes of unfettered, free-ranging ’70s childhoods bathed in Kodak light. I don’t know exactly what she did in those performances but I feel like I can sense it somehow, like in a little way it is possible to imagine them and float in the imagination enough to get a little souvenir for yourself, even if it’s a fake. I think this is because Kristen, in person, both in conversation and in the performances she constructs, always sounds like she is in a looping, tumbling, gently forward-moving part of a very long thought, one that started before you saw her enter, and will continue after she rounds the bend. Even, as in This From Cloudland, when things get very still, they do go on:
Brian Rogers talks about reprising his performance piece Hot Box, the challenges of performing, and his compulsion to keep creating.
I meet Brian at The Chocolate Factory (the performance space he and his wife Sheila Lewandowski founded and run in Long Island City) before we go for drinks. Sheila’s in there counting change for a neighboring business. She’s got on a warm wooly sweater and a cough. Brian’s looking at the computer. He’s sporting a new beard, hasn’t shaved since September which may have something to do with having made a new performance, traveled to four countries, presented six shows by other people, and participated in an artist residency in Seattle and his first gallery exhibition in Brooklyn, all in the last few months. The beard is cute. And I’m glad to get to see my friend for a few hours. We walk to Domaine and talk about many things, not all printed here. I start with the upcoming January 12–15 reprise performances (at The Chocolate Factory co-presented with PS122 as part of the COIL Festival of his performance, Hot Box). Press materials describe Hot Box as loud, dark, messy and inspired by films like Apocalypse Now, but we discuss the through line of quiet found within the piece. Brian’s work as a director straddles dance, theater, film, installation, computer programming, and music making. I find his work immersive and meditative, original and sophisticated. His mind is just as wonderful. I’m interested to hear what he’s thinking about right now.
Aynsley Vandenbroucke [laughter] We can totally digress, but I have a few questions to start with. How do you feel about redoing Hot Box a couple of months after the premiere?
Brian Rogers On the level of performing in it, I’m dreading it completely. Largely because normally when I make something, I can, after a while, think about what it was and for my own benefit decide whether it worked or didn’t. And I haven’t been able to do that with this piece because I’m in it. I made the thing and put it out there. And what I want to do is work on it more but I don’t know how. I’m happy to have the piece out there again, to have more people to see it.
robbinschilds embark on a journey that straddles the mundane and the otherworldly in their latest two-part show, I came here on my own & Salzburggrubzlas, Grubzlassalzburg!
robbinschilds’ interdisciplinary media works seamlessly integrate dance, fashion, and film into visually rich site-specific experiments. In a verdant Icelandic valley or on a desolate highway, Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs design remarkable performances in which they occupy places both extraordinary and mundane. With few pretenses, the glory of robbinschilds’ work is realized watching mystic bodies explore majestic landscapes.
Their latest two-part show at Art in General is half live dance and half film. The opening live portion, Salzburggrubzlas, Grubzlassalzburg!, is a quartet featuring Robbins, Childs, and younger performers, Aretha Aoki and Vanessa Anspaugh. The audience sits against two parallel walls while in the center of the space, Aoki and Anspaugh deliberately swing their arms, spin, and lunge in a momentum-less duet. Manning four slide projectors for most of the dance, Robbins and Childs shift the carousel from one slide to the next in sync, projecting four images on the wall above each audience row. The pairs of photos on opposing walls are messy snapshots of food, buildings, and landscapes, arranged as slanted off-set diptychs. While the pairs of images are clearly not duplicates, the photos presumably present the same subject captured through the eyes of each choreographer.
Although the metaphors expressed in I came here on my own—the film portion of the performance—are poetic, they are not subtle. Sitting across from the other half of the audience, we are face to face with our own “reflection” until Robbins and Childs transport massive split screens to the center of the space, rupturing us from our counterparts. Under lighting designed by Megan Byrne, Anspaugh and Aoki perform the animated flip image of one another. Robbins and Childs, perfectly countered, play their own recorded voices from iPhones, providing diary-worthy summaries that detail each one’s experience meeting a man in Munich and arriving in Salzburg. The audio flips between both their voices as all four performers heavily stomp about the space and end by languidly rolling across the floor closest to each audience.
Emily Hoffman reviews the latest installment of Sarah Michelson’s Devotion series.
Devotion Study #3 has the quality of a vision. It begins when Nicole Mannarino, braced on the arms of two security guards, runs through the air into the MoMA atrium, and it ends 30 minutes later when Sarah Michelson, all in white, jogs out after her dancer who’s disappeared just as swiftly as she entered, followed by her suited retinue.
What the two conjure in the interim is something very close to the soul of dance. In the first of her Devotion pieces, Michelson drew her movement vocabulary from Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp, titans of 20th century American dance and in Michelson’s own artistic formation. In Devotion Study #3, she employs a more plain-spoken register. The referent here is a social dance of the sort you might see in a 1970s dance hall: feet swivelling from side to side, hips popping. But it is a ghost of a reference, a trace of desire for a setting, a partner. The movement is made sharp and hard in Michelson’s choreography: Mannarino’s legs are locked and her arms are pulled behind her back as she swivels. She drops into the occasional deep lunge and sometimes kicks high and forceful. It is exacting work, fast and sequential, not at all fluid. It is a choreography about effort, and it is charged with all the desire of becoming. It is hard work, and it is also joy: the joy comes from the effort. It is in every way a virtuosic performance.
Choreographer Tere O’Connor’s work is grounded in multiplicity. Cassie Peterson explores its implications.
“There are no simple concepts. Every concept has components and is defined by them. It therefore has a combination. It is a multiplicity…”
–Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy
“An ideology of multiplicity drives my aesthetic.”
In Peggy Phelan’s Unmarked: The Politics of Performance, she writes, “to attempt to write about the undocumentable event of performance is to invoke the rules of the written document and thereby alter the event itself.” How can one write about a performance without distilling it to a theme or reducing it to a moment? How can one circumvent language’s propensity for singularity, linear coherence, and causal reckonings? Writing about O’Connor’s work is an especially delicate task because of his work’s enduring commitment to multiple meanings and its resistance to the constraints of what he calls, “narrative resolution.” O’Connor’s choreographic processes are poetic investments in abstraction and a departure from the aesthetics of representation.
Jesse Zaritt reviews Political Mother, a fast and furious spectacle choreographed and directed by Hofesh Shechter.
Political Mother is a massive jolting spectacle, choreographed and directed with skill by Israel-born and London-based choreographer Hofesh Shechter. This work depicts a bleak world of pervasive powerlessness; it challenges me to find hope in the ways that performance, perception, and embodiment might disrupt the kind of thinking and behavior enabled by systems of domination.
The dance opens by falling back in time. Through the haze of stage smoke, a man dressed as a Japanese warrior attempts suicide accompanied by soothing baroque choral music.
Soon seven musicians (drummers, guitarists, bassists) emerge out of the darkness, performing on two raised platforms that hover above an open stage area below. These powerful male musicians unleash pulsing chords and rhythms from their instruments. Periodically throughout the performance, a male singer/speaker screams into a microphone. Shechter, who composed this music, seems to intend for this sound to assault the audience. It does not invite participation in the events unfolding on stage, but rather pins the spectators to their seats. The figures at the top of the stage frame are all men, they wield sound as weapon. The opening of this dance reveals that an unyielding masculine presence controls what we hear and how we feel.
Choreographer Douglas Dunn and frequent collaborator Mimi Gross offer insight into Dunn’s pedagogical approach and to his art’s evolution over time.
If you have a glass of wine with Douglas Dunn, be prepared for an animated conversation, and the occasional emphatic arm extending out of nowhere to snap the air. Douglas is pretty buoyant for a man nearing retirement age, in mind and body. So, who is Douglas Dunn? He’s a choreographer’s choreographer—revered by everyone in the dance community who has ever seen or heard of him. But somehow he is always one step off the radar, and therefore sort of, you know, cult. Since he formed his own company in the ’70s after studying ballet and dancing with Merce Cunningham and with contemporaries like Yvonne Rainer, he’s been innovating and reinventing himself over and over again, all the while collecting the most colorful and gifted collaborators and characters, like Charles Atlas and Mimi Gross, who have done sets and costumes for Douglas going back three decades now, and dancer-choreographers like Christopher Williams, Kiera Blazek, and Emily Pope Blackman. But above all he’s friends with the poets. I spoke to Anne Waldman about Douglas the other night. “Douglas is my man!” I said, tapping my beer bottle to hers. Evidently, she felt the same.
Mimi Gross brought me to see Douglas’s performance last Spring at St. Mark’s church and we had an interview a few days later. With Douglas’s next dance about to open at the 92nd Street Y this weekend, I thought it was a perfect time to go back and see what we recorded.
Douglas Dunn I used to use one of those (pointing to the tape recorder) to record random thoughts.
Mimi Gross Do you still?
DD I still have the recorder, I just don’t have the random thoughts anymore. (laughter)
MG But you use a video recorder right?
DD Dorvillier on her transnational upbringing, the origins of The Matzoh Factory, and her artistic development.
DD Dorvillier has long been a dance hero of mine, as a choreographer whose work reads more like visual art than dance, despite its kinesthetic virtuosity. Earlier this month, I spoke to Dorvillier about her studio practice, her upcoming performances at The Kitchen, and the music of Ludwig Beethoven. When we spoke, Dorvillier was sitting at a desk in Bandol, France, a small town on the French Riviera where her in-laws have a home. We stole a few hours to talk via Skype, shortly before Dorvillier embarked on a month of rehearsals and performances in Paris and New York.
She is accustomed to radical (and frequent) changes of landscape. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she moved to New Hampshire in her teens, spent a year in France, and later graduated from Bennington College before landing in New York, where she established herself as a choreographer and performer among a close-knit group of downtown choreographers whose stars continue to rise. A few years ago, Dorvillier began spending time in France to be with her partner, composer Sébastien Roux. Currently, she splits her time between New York and Paris, and continues her transnational collaborations with musician Zeena Parkins and lighting designer Thomas Dunn. She explains that she never truly left New York, physically or spiritually. None of this lessens the anticipation of her return, this month.
Suzanne Snider Let’s talk about the life and death of The Matzoh Factory.
DD Dorvillier The Matzoh Factory was a loft that Jennifer Monson and I founded in Williamsburg in 1991. It had a concrete floor and we built a dance floor, a bathroom, two little bedrooms and a kitchenette.
Cassie Peterson discusses deconstructions of form in Joseph Keckler’s I am an opera.
The first time I encountered the enigmatic voice of Joseph Keckler was at the Chocolate Factory for an installment of the Catch Performance series. Nearing the end of the informal, cabaret-style show, Keckler quietly walked on stage to perform a seven minute excerpt from a performance-in-process called I am an Opera, the completed version of which will play at Joe’s Pub on July 8. I remember that I was sitting on a hard, tin bleacher. The artists from the previous performances were downstairs, talking loudly and working off their adrenaline by drinking cheap beer from a keg. It was loud, casual, a familial gathering. Keckler began his performance by addressing the audience in a very colloquial, nearly apathetic tone. He told us some mundane story from his day, chock full of minute, conversational details.
Keckler laughed as I recounted this moment over brunch recently and said, “I’m not afraid of being boring.” Which made it all that more surprising when, after that “boring” prelude, he opened his mouth and began to sing a breathtaking aria. He sang in low, bold Italian with English subtitles projected onto a screen behind him. Instantly, I felt like Jonah or Pinocchio being unwittingly swallowed by the whale. Keckler’s transition from the initial, improvised structure into a very formal, operatic structure was jarring to say the least. For the next seven minutes, he worked methodically to juxtapose and seamlessly combine the grandiosity of the opera with his more personal, pedestrian, and muted style of storytelling, something like the late great Klaus Nomi, but with a more understated, coy, and dry-witted theatricality about him.
Cassie Peterson unravels the many layers of self at work in Faye Driscoll’s newest creation, You’re Me, now at The Kitchen.
I met Faye Driscoll back in 2002 at some house party in San Francisco’s Mission District. In that cliché, small-talk-at-a-party way, we quickly discovered that our birthdays fall on the same date, but that she’s a Sagittarius and I’m a Scorpio; I’ve yet to sort out the logic in this “fact.” At the time of our first meeting, I was busy putting myself through college and she was busy finding herself after graduating from NYU and dancing in Doug Varone’s company for a stint. I was unbearably young and naïve and just beginning to take an interest in movement and performance practices. I was cobbling together my own amateurish understanding of dance history and was primarily engaging dance with a cool, cerebral distance before Faye swept in and introduced me to a whole new visceral vocabulary. Faye’s early-career, Bay Area DIY-style choreography was an unapologetic declaration of the depraved. Her work was and continues to be a modernist refusal of form, a postmodern refusal of narrative, and a post-postmodern reclamation of both and of everything. Her work gives space and permission for the grotesque. The bizarre. The unsayable. Faye showed me that a dance performance could leave me feeling cold and disemboweled. Assaulted. Seduced. And confused. She showed me that dance could actually reflect my personal realities, my identities, my own secret conflicts, and cellular vibrations. Her dances invite me to find myself in them.
Lori DeGolyer reviews Dixon Place’s Brink showcase featuring works by Diana Crum and Katy Pyle.
More than a snug experimental theater in Soho, Dixon Place is home to the voices of marginalized artists. Self-proclaimed as placing “special emphasis on the needs of women, people of color, youth, seniors and lesbian/gay artists,” the theater offers a necessary space for local talent in the literary and performing arts. As part of their new dance series, Brink, the theater featured two works-in-progress by choreographers Diana Crum and Katy Pyle on February 28th and 29th—works that both explore and push traditional limits of dance, albeit from vastly different places.
Lori DeGolyer chats with choreographer devynn emory after catching a rehearsal of their latest piece, this horse is not a home.
A transgenderqueer choreographer, dancer, and massage therapist, devynn emory is fluent in the language of the body. Well-versed in both classical and contemporary techniques, emory infuses traditional aesthetics of dance with the conceptual and enigmatic charm of performance art. emory’s choreography contemplates the presence and absence of space along with the various bodies that occupy it—awakening a heightened sense of weight as bodies fall and compile, extend and recoil, and flourish in transition.
In their latest piece, this horse is not a home, emory presents a dynamic confluence of movement based on their close relationships with three performers—Margot Bassett, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, and Meghan Milam—while bringing some newer elements to the table, including an 18-foot-long hair extension of their braided tail. I recently had the opportunity to see a rehearsal of this piece and later, to interview emory over tea. emory is currently in residence with New York Live Arts where they will be showing this horse is not a home on February 24th and 25th—find your tickets here.
Lori DeGolyer Do you consider yourself a modern dancer or a performance artist and how do you make the distinction between those classifications?
Devynn Emory This is a conversation topic that I have with a lot of my comrades . . . how to define this form we partake in. There’s shifting language right now on how to name it. I suppose I would say I am a contemporary choreographer, if I had to hold an umbrella over me. Modern dance is really classic, which is what I was trained in, lots of Graham, Horton and Release. These are deep in my muscle memory and foundation. I imagine because of this, I hold onto a lot of formalist structures. Add a splash of “experimental dance scene”, “downtown choreographer”, and “performance artist” into the mix and I guess I would call myself a contemporary experimental performing artist? (laughter) The age-old downtown dance question.
Take a road trip to Philly’s Bodega gallery with a podcast of a performative lecture by—and interview with—choreographer Jen Rosenblit.
In the second installment of this two-part interview, Suzanne Snider talks with renegade choreographer, Yvonne Meier, about her early years in Switzerland, her improvisational Scores, and being both a mother and a maker.
Yvonne Meier is a legendary choreographer and teacher among downtown dance aficionados. Her mythic and fear-inducing work, The Shining, involving a maze of several hundred refrigerator boxes, was recently revived by New York Live Arts. Check out the first installment of this interview, during which Yvonne discusses the recent run of The Shining here. Read on to learn about Meier’s Swiss roots and her later life as an artist in the East Village.
SS What was your life like before you arrived in New York?
YM I grew up in Zurich, Switzerland, on a hill. I had a gigantic, huge garden to play in where I spent almost all my time. The place had ponds and gazebos and grass. You could do everything there.
SS What did your parents like to do?
YM They liked to dance. They would roll up the carpet and start twisting in the living room, and they were heavily into sports. I was very heavily into sports. Skiing, swimming, ice-skating, anything . . .
In the first installment of this two-part interview, Suzanne Snider catches up with Yvonne Meier to discuss the revival of The Shining, Meier’s 1992 Bessie-winning work that involves refrigerator boxes, unmarked vans, flashlights, and macking.
Yvonne Meier’s dance classes are singular, and her choreography is legendary. In a typical Meier performance, the audience travels the course from comic to cruel in a New York minute. It was, in fact, the legend surrounding Meier’s The Shining (1992) that propelled Carla Peterson, Artistic Director of New York Live Arts, to revive the piece in 2011—so she could finally see it. The most recent incarnation of the performance began at NYLA with a waiver of non-responsibility. Shortly after signing, audience members were kidnapped by a naked woman in a van who rode with them to Brooklyn. At the Invisible Dog Theater, each member of the audience was thrust, one by one, into a dark room filled with a maze of several hundred refrigerator boxes. The piece’s only light came from performers’ flashlights, which wildly guided the audience through the cardboard labyrinth. Just as the audience is physically and psychologically pushed in a performance, so are Meier’s dancers. Her classes are equally disorienting, usually centered on a set of imposed problems or restrictions, which Meier calls Scores (of her own invention). In a single dance class, Meier will draw from the improvisational techniques of Skinner Releasing, Authentic Movement, as well as Scores. She has been driving all three practices into the hearts and bodies of downtown dancers for more than 25 years.
A master improviser, Meier is a longtime favorite among dancers and choreographers and is now starting to receive the attention she deserves, the kind that propels careers from smaller downtown venues onto the stage at BAM, though Meier is the first to admit that she does not treat stages so reverently. She has been known to cover them with broken dishes and simple syrup. I first saw Meier perform in 1995, on a bill she shared with Ishmael Houston-Jones, at Wesleyan University. My mouth hung open, not because she poured sugar and water all over the marley dance floor and stomped in buckets, though this was audacious and against all rules, but because her body contained infinite spirals; it was her virtuosity, which doesn’t often get mentioned when recounting the layers of props and mischief involved in her work. I stayed up all night with my college roommate and discussed the 1995 performance—Bucket Piece—that had so generously blown our minds. Houston-Jones was equally mesmeric that night, performing a sensual duet with a cinder block. Six months later, I saw Meier in the East Village. With all the passion of an eager college graduate, I said, “Your performance changed my life.”
“Into what?” she asked, deadpan.
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.
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.
Kareem Estefan reflects on the jarring, dizzying, and—above all—important experience of bearing witness to Rachid Ouramdane’s Ordinary Witnesses.
Torture has occupied the headlines of international newspapers with disturbing regularity for the last decade, after the Bush administration legalized barbaric methods of interrogating anyone it deemed to be militants on the other side of the “war on terror.” The conditions at Guantanamo Bay and secret prisons across the Middle East are now familiar, if still insufficiently covered by the mainstream press. Yet even if journalists have revealed the incidence of torture to many Americans, the form of the newspaper only exposes these events as isolated facts. The reality remains sealed as so much data in print or online.
“On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position on the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more.” Readers are shocked, for a moment, at this description of an FBI agent’s experience at Guantanamo Bay, which circulated widely in 2004. They are then directed towards memorandums and investigations, or fed policy soundbites from pundits. Even where important for reform, such information elides the subjective truths that any ethical politics must aim to articulate in the social field. The news article does not lead its readers to imagine the experience of the detainee or the prison guard, but to assume a stance within the existing set of positions, either sympathizing with the tortured as innocent victims or identifying with the torturers as safeguards of American freedom. Against this context of impersonal information, the Algerian-born, French choreographer Rachid Ouramdane addresses psychological and bodily experiences of torture from the perspective of a few individuals in Ordinary Witnesses, which recently had its New York premiere in FIAF’s Crossing the Line festival.
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.
“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 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.
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—
Richard Goldstein talks to Lisa D’Amour, Katie Pearl, and Shawn Hall about the importance of “partnering” with the environment and how their collaborations developed organically into the interactive installation How To Build A Forest.
What started as the blank, black box stage of The Kitchen was slowly transformed with low lying networks of thin black tubing, capped with the finger tips of disposable examination gloves, and freestanding willowy lengths of metal wire. One of the installers, or “build team,” sat down next to me to survey the initial progress. He pointed out that this ground-laying system, the ones with the glove tips, represent a fungus, the world’s largest, which can grow underground for acres. These networks are the forest’s communication system—they have the ability to respond to other parts of the forest, for instance, carrying extra nutrients from one area across great distances to a sick or dying area in order to heal it. “It’s like Craigslist for the forest,” the installer said. Another builder told me that the freestanding metal wires (later slip-covered with men’s ties) represent weeds. When installed, the wires made a soft chiming noise, as if signaling to the attentive build team on their preferred placement. In this sense, I saw communication as the groundwork for How to Build A Forest and the responsibility we have toward nature and ourselves. With a little extension of the imagination, my skepticism of the cultish hippie aura the team seemed to work in programmed harmony under began to fade.
Choreographer Muna Tseng’s latest work, STELLA, channels her late mother through relics and memories. She talks to Katy Gray about family history, the New York art world of the ‘80s, and identity.
Muna Tseng has survived more than 30 years of dancing and choreographing in New York City. She has also survived her brother, photographer Tseng Kwong Chi, who died of AIDS in the ‘80s, and both of her parents, emigrants from Hong Kong to Vancouver, Canada before the Communist revolution. Her latest work, STELLA, grew out of the clothes and personal articles she inherited from her mother Stella and into a historical fiction of sorts, a meditation on how those left behind must fill in the blanks.
In her West Village apartment, at her mother’s Arne Jacobson table and chairs, we talked about the show, New Yorks past and present, and the objects themselves—the heavy jade ashtray bearing a mermaid in its curve with which she once tried to brain her brother, the bottle of unopened congac given as a goodbye present from Hong Kong, the “kissing stole” that brushed against her cheek when she was tucked in at night, the blue and white china, and, of course, the dresses.
KG I don’t know much about modern dance. But I do have a mother. And your new piece, STELLA, is all about yours.
MT Well this piece STELLA, is a good piece for us to talk about because, besides dance, it’s art installation and performance. I’m using contemporary art practices and postmodern dance. The dancers are dressing up á la Cindy Sherman. They put on my mother’s 1960’s Chinese dresses, very tight form-fitting Cheongsams, we reference Wong Kar-Wai’s film In The Mood for Love. My dancers put on wigs and sun glasses and Stella’s furs, her purses, gloves, to channel Stella. We’re asking questions like: what is family history? How do we construct our history?
Katy Gray speaks with Young Jean Lee, writer, director, and now, performer, about her latest work We’re Gonna Die, playing through the 30th at Joe’s Pub.
Our friends at 651 Arts are hosting LIVE & OUTSPOKEN, their new series of live music, theater, dance paired with provocative conversation and BOMB is proud to be their official media sponsor.