Finally, tell me about Sister.
Sister is a dance for Cynthia Oliver and David Thomson. I went to school with David at Purchase, and Cynthia is my colleague at the university [of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]. She’s a professor in the dance department as well. We were together at Cynthia’s 50th birthday party, and I saw them both and thought, I should make a work for them. I know Cynthia quite well now; David I know well-ish, but our understanding of each other was stuck in college. It’s this idea that all of us are from a similar culture in the New York dance area, but each of us has really specific lines of inquiry inside of that so I was looking at sameness and difference. That’s the sister idea for me. Things are not variation on a theme; there’s only variation. That’s not the meaning of the piece, but that’s one of the ideas I’m looking at. They’re also older dancers. I really like that. We all come from the same time, the ’80s; how are these things that are alike also very different? That’s a starting point. Now it’s become this interesting discussion of race [Thomson and Oliver are African-American]. I’m trying to be aware of it without making a statement about it, but it’s really present. I feel I’m dealing with it in choreographic ways.
I don’t want to make works, nor am I interested in works that purport an ethic. I like works that make you have to look at your own ethics around what’s going on in them. Dance just does that. Just male and female bodies on a stage is a storm of information. And it’s the same thing with race. So I’m trying to create ways for people to look at that without coming down and doing anything—shaking a finger or avoiding anything. Just letting it be very present to say, this is one of the avenues we’re looking at here. I like the complication it presents.
I like the idea of them being older dancers inside of your work. In this instance, it seems more important than race somehow.
Really, in the final piece, age is really important. Not important, but it’s really present. Their presence lingers around the dance in the way that an older presence would. It’s a metaphor for my presence in a way. I wouldn’t restrict it to that, but it does feel like that, and I also wouldn’t want to infantilize the other amazing dancers who are there, because they’re not children but they’re younger.
It’s a set of experiences that you can see in the body.
You can see it in the body, and sometimes you see it in the constellation of what’s going on at that moment, where they are and what the other people are doing. Sometimes it brings you into that reading of it and it shifts out to fit also. It’s interesting. With 11 people, there’s a lot of that going on: There’s a lot of switching of readings of things. It’s constant.
Did any of your dancers overlap in your first three works?
No. The only thing that I did was from Secret Mary to poem at NYLA [New York Live Arts]. After the first dancers took their bow, they ran and blended with the others, and that running was from the beginning of poem. I decided to do that just to say these things are blending, and there’s this idea of the syncretic that I’m interested in where two cultures merge in that blended area—the bleed area. In this work, I’m not doing theme and variation on some of the material from any of the works.
And none of the material from any of the works is present in BLEED. I’m looking at how ideas are ghosted in dance. One thing plus another thing equals a third, unknown thing. If you’re watching the news, and you see something catastrophic happen and then you turn to a plate of some food that reminds you of something comfortable—something happens between those two moments that isn’t about either of them, it’s about what they generate together, and that’s what is flying around my dances all the time. It’s something that we don’t normally register, but it starts to enhance how you and I are being together. There’s so much going on, and the way we’ve chosen to relate to each other in the world is to be like, just be clear. I think that’s also a beautiful way of being with people, but there’s this other thing that is at bay in our relationships that I think is really important. It has a lot to do with what comes next to what and what’s created. So BLEED is the result of a collision of those other pieces. Things that are culled from it, perhaps, are structural things.