Q&A: Adam H. Weinert installs a secret installation at MoMA

Adam H. Weinert talks about letting viewers generate content for his newest MoMA installation

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Weinert

Weinert


After performing early Ted Shawn solos at MoMA as part of Boris Charmatz’s 20 Dancers for the XX Century, Adam H. Weinert decided to continue his exploration. In The Reaccession of Ted Shawn, the choreographer revisits the museum with a guerilla show, accessible from a smartphone. Before unveiling the project's final stage, Without Consent, in which he invites public input, Weinert outlined his process and talked about his ideas for the future (they include visiting Jacob's Pillow circa 1932 through Google Glass).

Last fall, the Museum of Modern Art found itself charged with moving bodies as part of Boris Charmatz’s 20 Dancers for the XX Century. One such dancer was Adam H. Weinert, performing early solo works by Ted Shawn. Earlier this summer, Weinert expanded the project by creating The Reaccession of Ted Shawn, which uses augmented reality to explore, among other matters, ephemerality in dance. To participate, viewers download the Dance-Tech Augmented Reality app and then, by following a set of detailed instructions at adamweinert.com, view filmed performances of the Shawn solos using a smartphone that responds to trigger points—signs and artwork—found at MoMA. That’s right: It’s a secret show. Beginning August 5, Weinert unveils the final stage of his installation: Without Consent allows the public to create content by adding their own performances. 

In The Reaccession of Ted Shawn, you found a way to preserve a memory.
Yeah. And my experience of remounting those performances was important too because I went to Jacob’s Pillow and was dancing in the studios [Shawn and his dancers] built and looking at old photographs and videos. It felt like I was dancing with ghosts. I wanted to try to re-create that.

How did you start working on these solos initially?
I was getting a master’s degree at NYU, and I started to research Ted Shawn. It seemed to me that he was trying to figure out what was American about American dance, and made a conscious effort to utilize agrarian and other labor practices. At that time most Americans had laboring jobs. He wanted to find a movement vocabulary that could connect with most Americans. Fast-forwarding a little bit, today we don’t have that relationship to labor—that’s one of the reasons I wanted to integrate digital technology. Also, Shawn was not interested in Laban notation. He filmed everything.

And people weren’t doing that at the time.
Right. So since he was engaging with the latest technology of his time, I should do the same.

Why Ted Shawn?
Strangely, it had to do with food. I got really interested in how [Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers] grew their own food. It was a part of his creative process and his physical-training practice, and you see moments of that in dance history. At Black Mountain, they grew all their own food. There’s a lot of correspondence between John Dewey [of Black Mountain] and Ted Shawn; today, at Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s school [P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels], they have a completely microbiotic diet and give each student a plot of land on which to grow food. I was researching and writing about this for André Lepecki [associate professor at the Department of Performance Studies at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University], and he recommended me to Ana Janevski at MoMA to remount Shawn’s performances. So that’s how it began, although my interest in Ted Shawn started when I was a student at Jacob’s Pillow in high school.

How so?
It was a powerful place for me. When I went to Jacob’s Pillow, I was about to start Vassar College as an economics major, but I went and was really inspired. We did Pina Bausch rep, [Angelin] Preljocaj, Maguy Marin, and I was like, This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. From there, I changed gears.

You went to Juilliard. How old were you when you attended the School of American Ballet?
Very young—seven to 12. And when I auditioned for Juilliard, I hadn’t taken a ballet class in eight years, but Lutz Förster, the man staging the Bausch repertory, was very helpful and wrote my recommendation for Juilliard. He totally lied about how long he’d known me. It was very encouraging.

Why did you go to Jacob’s Pillow?
I was dancing extracurricularly. I went to Dalton, which has a great dance program—not a lot of technique, but a lot of composition and improvisation, and strong extracurriculars look good on your college application. So that was a motivation, or maybe it was an excuse. [Laughs] I kept it up. I danced at Vassar, where they have a nice program as well, but I thought, If I want to do this, I need to do this now and transfer to Juilliard.

Did you have male dancing role models?
I did. David Leventhal [a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group from 1997 to 2010] was really powerful for me. He was someone I could really relate to physically—also intellectually. He went to Yale. He wasn’t on a conservatory track his whole life, and my first dancing job was with Mark Morris. I started with L’Allegro [il Penseroso ed il Moderato] and then I did Orfeo [ed Euridice] at the Met and Romeo & Juliet [On Motifs of Shakespeare]. I started as an understudy, and then I ended up doing five or six shows. Juilliard gave me time off to perform, which they don’t usually do; for Mark, they figured I was in good hands.

Why didn’t you end up joining the company?
I always knew that I wanted to choreograph. I wanted to work with living choreographers I admired and not join a repertory company, so I danced for Mark, I danced for Shen Wei. I have a great relationship with Jonah Bokaer. Not that I’m in a rush to stop dancing for others, but I’m increasingly interested in pursuing my own research.

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