Trajal Harrell

Voguing meets postmodern dance.

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I'm so excited about Medium. Ccilia Bengolea and Franois Chaignaud, who performed at Danspace Project last fall, are coming back to New York, where they belong
[Laughs] They're coming, they're coming. And Marlene is a beautiful choreographer. She dances a lot with Boris Charmatz, with Emmanuelle Huynh. She is a very sought-after dancer in France, but also makes work in Portugal.

Why did you want to work in collaboration?
I didn't. I would not have chosen this. I'm not so big on collaboration, because my work comes from such a specific place and access to feelings and thoughts, and I don't know how to do that with other people. I'll say this: I thought that collaboration was all about compromise. You come in with these ideas, and you have to compromise your ideas, and you have to do what other people want. And this is a nightmare because what you end up doing is weakening the soup of everything. It took a long time for people to explain to me: No—you have to come in strong. It's not about compromise.

How long did that take to learn?
I don't know—maybe a year? The way I got into it is that Ccilia asked me to choreograph a solo for her for [Festival d'] Avignon. I said, "Well, we should do some voguing," and she was really into it and wanted to go take classes, and I said, "Beautiful." I never wanted to do that, but I thought, That's great—I can have a dancer go take the voguing classes and then come back to me and I'll have this material from a person who is not a voguer. It had this weird, interesting ripple going on. As we were talking, we thought it would be really great to work on this idea of the voguing battle, so Marlene came to mind. Later, Avignon comes back and says they want to commission Franois and Ccilia for their main festival, so Ccilia can't do my piece; we decided to do it anyway. And then Franois calls. He wants to be in it.

How could you not put Franois in a piece about voguing?
So you understand! What was I going to say? I could have said it was my piece, but at this point everyone was involved and had ideas, so it would have been ridiculous for it just to be my name, and I didn't feel I wanted that, so I said, Okay—it's the Medium, it's the one in between. Maybe it's interesting for me to give up some of the control. Let it work on me. What happens if you allow other people to influence you? I decided to go with it. I have left my comfort zone. I have grown; it's really important that I do those things before I finish this work.

In what way?
I've been working on these ideas since 2001, and this project is a culmination, so of course I built up a certain relationship to the material. I've never tried to represent the voguing community. I've never tried to represent myself as a voguer, I've never taken voguing classes. For me, it's been about imaginative possibilities. I am a contemporary choreographer. I'm not a voguer. I've only used it in the same way that I've used early postmodern dance. Both are the same to me, but in fact I'm probably closer to the early postmodern dance. I have talked to Yvonne Rainer and Lucinda Childs and Steve Paxton—but Ccilia and Franois and Marlene have a completely different relationship to it. They're very much like: This is voguing? Let me look at it, let me touch it, let me be with it. So of course, they brought people in to teach us. We've taken voguing classes. All of these things that I would have never done, and that's been good for me. I needed to do it as a part of this project, but it's also good that I have a distance. I'm not worshipping it. I'm not at home trying to work out, How can I be like Willie Ninja? It's still me, as a contemporary dancer, voguing; it's not like I'm trying to pretend I'm at a voguing ball. Even to reject something—I maybe needed to get a little bit closer to it. Just a little bit. And I'm very thankful to [Ccilia and Franois]. That's the way they are: They're extreme. And that's what's beautiful about them—they have no boundaries in that way. They just want to eat it up.

How did studying the form change your relationship to voguing?
I don't know that it has yet, because we're still in the process of making this piece, but it has fed my imagination. I still believe that the real thing, when you're in a ball, is very different than taking a class at Peridance. This is like club voguing, and that's very different than being in a house and going through the whole ritual. Voguing is social performance. It functions in a community, and that's very different than learning the movements. Of course, Franois just said that they had some sort of ball in Paris and he won. [Laughs] What this means I don't know. What kind of ball was it? As I said, Extra Small is more abstract. Is that because I have also been working with voguing, movementwise, abstractly? Is there a connection? I don't know. Voguing is—because you do work with your hands—a technique: Maybe I've gotten better at it through that through taking class.

What is the plan for Large, which will premiere next year?
The Large is five men, which is very frightening for me. One of the things that has made this work challenging is that I refused for it to be camp or drag. So we're going to do this as if it's just a ballet—we're going to learn movements and keep building on that. I was always afraid of the all-male thing; you begin to read it in the way that we read camp and drag. Again, it was about my comfort zone: You know you want to do this all-male thing. You're scared. Is it possible that you can't fall into the drag and the camp thing? I don't know. How are you going to find out? [Laughs] You're going to have to go into the studio and make the piece! I realized that I have to face my fucking fear. Maybe it will turn out to be camp. Maybe it will turn out to be drag. Who knows? But what a challenge, and I need to go through that, too.

Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church is at the Kitchen Wed 9--Feb 13.

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