Ishmael Houston-Jones and Emily Wexler talk about heartbreak

Collaborators Ishmael Houston-Jones and Emily Wexler talk about heartbreak in conjunction with their American Realness premiere



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I know—that was shocking to me.
Shocking! Again, if I could go back and tell my 16-year-old self, This person doesn’t think you’re dirt—it’s just other things that happened. If anything, that was surprising. Love, right? True love. When we were making our thank-yous for the program, I decided I was going to thank/apologize to as many people as I could think of or groups of people that have had to listen to me obsess about people. My obsessions are a long time. They’re not crushes that come and go within a few years. I get carried away. I’m committed. The list is long. I have to add the children I babysitted for. I make dances for senior citizens, and so I have to thank every senior-citizen woman—but also it connects us all. From the security guard in the places when I was a secretary to the senior citizens: Because I’m usually in some sort of anxious state of despair about my heart; it kind of just comes out and right away, regardless of things like superficial codes of identity, all of a sudden we’re in it. We’re friends. We can connect. So there’s a big list of those people.
Houston-Jones: I thank the people I loved or didn’t. Or they didn’t. It’s a fairly long, complicated list as well.
Wexler: At the end of mine, I’m like, I’m sorry if you’re not on this list, but I’m really sorry if you are.
Houston-Jones: I should add that as well.

You could always make a mixtape and sell it at the show.
We could.
Wexler: But can we make mixtapes anymore? This is what I’ve been trying to figure out: How do we make mixtapes now? Someone’s got to figure that out, because it’s a lost art at this moment. How are you ever supposed to connect with someone and start dating them?  

Did you exchange mixtapes when you were younger?
Of course! And the letters that would explain each song. You would list the songs, but each one would have paragraphs about why that is significant. Also you were trying to introduce the person you were falling in love with to the artist they didn’t know and then that would also include every obscure person that was influenced by them and that was just one song.

And the order was important too.
Oh my God, are you kidding me? The curation! That was so specific, and there are rules. Like you probably shouldn’t use, on one mixtapes, the same artist twice.
Houston-Jones: No, totally.
Wexler: And definitely the tone should flip-flop. How are they going to receive it? Where did you get it? If you’re just recording from the radio, if you were waiting for the DJ to know that that’s the song… It’s a lost art.

What are the kids going to do now?
They’re not going to fall in love.

I want to ask you about something a little unrelated: What was your experience performing Yvonne Meier’s Mad Heidi?
I saw Mad Heidi as soon as I moved to New York at Danspace, and that became one of my dream pieces in general. I certainly never ever would have imagined that I’d have the opportunity to do it. That was such a dream.
Houston-Jones: Yvonne had stopped performing.
Wexler: She ruined her knees doing it. She told me that at one of our first rehearsals: “So this is the part when I injured myself and the reason that I don’t dance anymore.” I met her at ADF. Yvonne and I, not only do we have the same clock, but right away were immediate friends. I think she saw me do something—it was a dance where I accidentally kicked a brick. I wasn’t doing the right thing in the dance; I was acting kind of wild, and we were talking afterward and someone said, “Emily should learn Mad Heidi.” And because it was my dream dance, I was like, “Yeah, that’d be fantastic.”

When was it?
It was 2010, so 2009 had just happened, and I was definitely still in a state of true madness. It was just to learn it; that’s why I was [at ADF]. I drove Yvonne down, and we filled my car with the set.
Houston-Jones: Fifty pounds of walnuts.
Wexler: And kind of like a residency, just the two of us would rehearse all day long and that was her ten days and then at the end, there was a showing. In doing it, I felt sane for the first time in a long time. So that happened and it was incredible and a few years went by and she asked me to do a version of it with Ish where she was teaching it to you and I came out. Then we did it at American Realness. My friendship with Yvonne happened—not through it but around. Kind of in the same way as my friendship with Ish. It sort of just happened and then all of a sudden we were seeing each other every week and going to shows together, but Mad Heidi is Yvonne’s solo, so I got to learn a lot about her. It’s the ultimate heartbreak dance. And conveniently I was experiencing madness. So it wasn’t this archetype—it wasn’t women and madness as an archetype for me. It was like I identify as a woman and I happen to be going through a version of madness that’s related to this chunk of my life. In this piece, there’s madness, but…maybe it is. It’s a different kind of madness. For me, it’s not the same kind of wild. It’s not a storm.
Houston-Jones: Well, there’s anger and intensity. [Laughs] It’s us.
Ishmael Houston-Jones and Emily Wexler perform 13 Love Songs: dot dot dot at Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement Jan 9–18.

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