The choreographer follows his intuition and rebecomes a dancer.
Mon Nov 7 2011
Did you know him?
No. We had a dialogue for a while. At some point, he didn't end it, but he didn't reply back. [Laughs] I think I was going to a place that he wasn't interested in going, and I realized he's talking in a way that I'm actually not that interested in. He's crazy scientific with how he talks about the body moving, and I wasn't so wanting to talk about that.
What did you want to talk about?
I was really interested in how he's figured out his life. He's a farmer, and I've heard him talk about how that is just as much a part of his dance practice as being in the studio is. Not that I'm going to go be a farmer anytime soon, but I was interested in how he found this mesh of life and art and that the practice of a mundane or necessary task became part of this artistic practice. He was really challenging and clear about improvisation: That it isn't a scapegoat. Which was good. You can't just say it's improvisation and then not back it up. You still need to know exactly what you're doing. He was very challenging and very honest. I sent him a [video] clip, and he had lots of negative things to say about it, which was cool. People aren't very honest like that too often. He was into my ballet background and he wanted to talk about that—not about ballet, but we were talking about the pli a lot and he wanted to talk about it so deep...
You couldn't do it.
Not in the way that he was into. Or he got bored of the conversation. It doesn't matter. It lasted for the amount of time that it needed to. It was cool.
Are you incorporating any of that, even ephemerally?
I think so, but it's not a main focal point of the piece. So I knew I couldn't make an hour-long improv solo, but I had another experience—a practical thing—where I knew I needed some kind of picture to represent the show for a postcard. In dance, you either use a picture from a past piece or you find an abstract image that represents your idea, and I didn't really want to do either of those. Since I knew that there would be a solo, I did want a dance picture. I asked a photographer friend—Paul Mpagi Sepuya, who does fine-art photography—if he would take pictures. The process of him taking the pictures was kind of a performance. I have an interest in bread making, and this came up in our conversations—how this interest was part of my rehearsal process in a way, in terms of using my hands to make something. He said, "Why don't you bring some bread?" I also brought wine. It was really simple and honest. He was an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, so I went up there and just danced for maybe an hour and a half. It was casual. It felt like a nice, honest performance. I thought, How can I make this into the show? I decided to make a 20-, 25-minute solo that is a scored improvisation. What made this situation work so well was that it was about intimacy and breaking down performative boundaries. This is a bigger show: I have lots of collaborators, but I'm the only performer. The construction of the piece is definitely about trying to create a situation for this solo. I wanted to try to make the best situation for it to be seen in; that required a lot of things—collaboration and consideration.
Would you talk about some of those things?
Certain things I don't want to talk about—not that it's about a surprise, but it might make people have an expectation. I did want to create a situation that didn't feel so charged with performance. I didn't really want a theatrical lighting design so Megan Byrne is building a kind of a chandelier that may have plants growing out of it. It's more about a setting. She had done a kind of chandelier that I really liked for the Movement Research Festival. I thought she'd be interested in making a bigger one. We're trying to make the space as bare as possible—not that we're the only ones to do it at the Chocolate Factory—but that's one of the ways the space looks best.
It's so refreshing, so clean.
Yeah. We want to keep it as clean as possible. I think the whole show will be run from one laptop. The stuff that I'm improvising for in the dance is actually old music, by Bill Dixon, who passed away a couple of years ago. He was a trumpet player but has a connection to Judson. That's not the reason why I'm working with him.
But is it how you learned about him?
It might be. I'm into experimental jazz, so I think it was a serendipitous thing. He was a wild free-jazz guy who actually at that time was working within downtown dance or the Judson and post-Judson people. A few years ago, he put out a five-disc box set of mostly solo recordings, and they were what I was improvising to in the studio, along with the music of [Helmut] Lachenmann. I did find out about that music through dance, but ten years ago through Boris Charmatz, who used Lachenmann's music in the piece he did at the Kitchen for the France Moves festival. Do you know the book No Wind No Word by Helmut Ploebst? In the Boris Charmatz section he contributed a dance score, and in it he suggests a piece of music that the score should be practiced to. It's a piece of Lachenmann's. I found that book pretty much as I was starting to make my work. I thought it would be fun to go into the studio and do this score. It was a meditation for me, and it's something I've done off and on for years. I thought I was going to use Lachenmann's music as well, but in the end it wasn't working. Bill Dixon's music felt more in line with what I'm doing.
What is Jon's contribution to the music?
He's really the sound designer. He's creating a context for those sounds to live within. And F.B. Bou is making the video. He often films architectural places. I had a place in mind that this solo would take place in—obviously, it can't and I didn't want to do something that I read as gimmicky where the place is projected and then I'm dancing. So we're going to film this place.
What is it?
It only sounds cheesy because it's a hip place to go right now: Fort Tilden. It's not Fort Tilden though—around where it is, there's an outdoor theater that most people have never seen. It's cast iron and if you get close to it, you can see it's painted different colors; it's old and rusty. It's a weird little theater and on the other side of the street are baseball fields and a community garden. In some ways, this is where I wanted the solo to happen. Maybe one day. Also, I might hang a few pictures from the photo shoot. I'm interested in how this solo has had other expressions: The show is just one expression and the chandelier is just one expression and the video is just one expression. And I might show another video from ten years ago that almost nobody saw. I just made it for fun.