Lydia Mokdessi introduced me to your work. Lydia is a friend and a former student in dance. I read where you were born in West Lafayette Indiana. I taught dance at Purdue from 1960 to 1963. I rescued dance from three faculty wives who had a stranglehold on it there until I arrived. I did some acting there as well. Hope we can meet some time. http://www.maidadance.com
Ursula Eagly talks about her new Chocolate Factory dance
Ursula Eagly talks about her new Chocolate Factory dance, Self Made Man Man Made Land
Fri Mar 8 2013
Time Out New York: When were you there?
Ursula Eagly: It was before [choreographer] Moriah Evans [worked there]. But that was also brief. And then I got a position at Arts International, which was the umbrella organization for USArtists International. They had a magazine about their work and about contemporary performance. I went to work on that, and it was part-time so it opened up time in my schedule. I was just taking lots of classes at all different places, but I wasn’t really making things until later.
Time Out New York: What kinds of dance classes were you taking?
Ursula Eagly: I took Afro-Caribbean at Djoniba Dance and Drum [Centre], and I studied tai chi in a basement in the East Village. Everybody was doing Klein technique when I first moved to New York, and I did some of that. I was going all around and not really making or dancing in work or performing myself.
Time Out New York: Was there something you connected with or did you like doing everything?
Ursula Eagly: I think it was a bit of both. I would have been happy if I had really connected to a community or a type of work. I went to the Bates Dance Festival in 2001, and I met some people I’m still friends with now like Rebecca Davis. That was a wonderful experience.
Time Out New York: So you were working in visual art and taking dance classes. Were you seeing performances?
Ursula Eagly: Yes. All the time like mad—ushering, and I also did some Flash Reviews for Dance Insider and Paul Ben-Itzak. There are some embarrassing things that I’ve written that are still out there. I had a really wonderful experience doing that actually. I know that there were difficult dynamics that I actually did not encounter, which was awesome; Paul introduced me to a lot of artists, because I kind of was just going to see anything at whatever venues, and he would say, “You might like this…” So I wrote Flash Reviews, which were overnight and all your lack of knowledge is maximally exposed. [Laughs] But it was a really good learning experience to respond to something and articulate and describe.
Time Out New York: What did you connect with in terms of watching dance?
Ursula Eagly: I have a really early memory of seeing Madison as I imagine it, a John Jasperse piece. I was still in college and it was at the old DTW [Dance Theater Workshop]. That was one of the really early things that I enjoyed.
Time Out New York: What led to choreographing?
Ursula Eagly: I really wanted to do it for a long time, but didn’t know how. I really didn’t know where you would rehearse or where you would show your work. I didn’t know that you could just go to the Field and find out. The very first thing I made was in 2001. Rebecca Davis was working at the Brooklyn Museum, and they had a Saturday series and she was starting up a performance series that would be a part of it and asked me if I wanted to make something for it. I made a lot of young, short pieces.
Time Out New York: What was the first piece?
Ursula Eagly: It was a very short solo called The Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra. I rewatched it not long ago and there are some tentative little movements; I’ve still been working with that energetic quality all these years, but in that piece it would be one little wiggly movement here and one liquid movement there. I can see in that what I continue to work on. In that piece, there was a voiceover and a papier-mâché microphone that I carried everywhere on the subway. It was big and it broke apart into three pieces and people always asked me, “What is it?” and I would assemble it for them on the subway.
Time Out New York: What is that energetic quality that you referred to?
Ursula Eagly: I feel that I have an innate energetic quality that for most of my life was really at odds with my dance training. I was always trying to be very integrated—in ballet, there’s a certain sense of integration that allows you to do these wonderful technical things, and I was not really very strong and a little more fragmented. I felt I was always working against those qualities; then I had an idea to explore them further. I was also deeply informed by work that I did as a dancer with Yoshiko Chuma and Kathy Westwater.
Time Out New York: How so?
Ursula Eagly: They have very different approaches to making work. Yoshiko, of course, works very much with individuals. She doesn’t create choreography for the most part; she teaches you how to structure your improvisations according to her priorities. She guided me to be more myself and to push that quality in a more extreme way. Kathy works with a very detailed somatic process. I know it’s changed; I haven’t worked with her for many years, but at the time it was very deeply oriented toward the pelvis initiating movement and letting other things trail. In describing her work, she also talks about fragmentation, and that was a really wonderful process for me. I saw her work before I was in it. I felt like it related to this quality. I met Abby Block, the dancer I’m working with in this piece, through Kathy’s work. We had a rehearsal at Mark Morris in January, and we ran into Daria Faïn, and she did this vibrating thing with her hand and said, “Oh my God, you guys have the same energy—this is so crazy.” I was like, “Years of working with Kathy Westwater,” and she said, “No, it is because you have this energy that you found Kathy.” We’re different, but there is a similar quality. I felt like there was something that rhymed or resonated with us.