Ursula Eagly talks about her new Chocolate Factory dance

Ursula Eagly talks about her new Chocolate Factory dance, Self Made Man Man Made Land

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Time Out New York: What are the ideas behind your new piece?
Ursula Eagly:
There are a lot of firsts for me in this. There will not be a comical component. I did a piece many years ago at the Chocolate Factory that was in the dark, and it was like a haunted house and people were feeling around in the dark—nothing like that either. [Laughs] It’s watching movement, and there’s a sound component, so in a way those are very traditional elements of a dance performance, but it’s the first time I’m moving in sound. I normally rehearse to silence; I seek out silence in my life. Lots and lots of silence. 

Time Out New York: Why introduce sound now?
Ursula Eagly:
It’s something I’ve been curious about for a while. In my life, I don’t listen to a lot of music, and I didn’t feel I had the tools to use sound, so it was an open question, and I wanted to collaborate with a composer—somebody who actually has the tools that I had been missing—and to be able to explore this thing that, for me, is a great, unchartered territory. It’s a funny thing, because there are a lot of people who think about this a lot or who are very skilled at it, but it’s new for me.

Time Out New York: Will Kohji Setoh perform in the space?
Ursula Eagly:
In this, he is playing a computer. We performed at Mount Tremper Arts in August, and I am trying a new approach for these performances. In August, we had a chain of responses, where he was cuing Abby who was cuing me and I was cuing him; we had a strict structure established and within that, there was improvisation. That was why, when I was getting marketing images, I was like, It will be something about structure. I’m building a structure. 

Time Out New York: What changed?
Ursula Eagly:
Basically, I’ve cut those ties of the strict structure. There is kind of a ruin of that structure, so we’re no longer responding to each other so specifically, but still following pathways. We have more freedom within it.

Time Out New York: What are you and Abby doing in the piece?
Ursula Eagly:
We have a duet that we perform the whole time. [Laughs] I had toyed with moments of solos, but it felt too much like a dance competition. We’re working with a [movement] score, but we’re not cuing each other or waiting for cues from Kohji. We’re trying to go deeper. Right now I’m trying to answer compositional questions in terms of performance. I had a temptation to stay on top of it and make directorial choices about space use and tempo, but then I felt what was essential wasn’t really changing, so I’m trying to get answers by going deeper into it.

Time Out New York: What are your compositional questions?
Ursula Eagly:
There is a question that has stressed me out about development. It’s not static or constant, but it also doesn’t develop and change in a dynamic way that is an expectation of a choreographic work. That was something I was struggling with: Should I change this? Should I embrace it? I’m at a place now where it really is the way it is. I have to guide it toward being more of its essence instead of trying to change what it actually is. This moment is exciting, because I felt like I was looking for a key—that there was something that needed to gently shift—and I feel like I have it. 

Time Out New York: What is it?
Ursula Eagly:
I don’t want to give it away, but in the improvisation we have an option menu of tasks. It has to do with intensifying the engagement of one of these tasks throughout, making one of them constant throughout the whole piece instead of something that gets left and picked up again. It’s subtle, but I think it’s going to make a difference. It’s like there’s a big wall and you’re like, Somewhere I will push on the wall and a door will open! [Laughs] I feel like I’ve been looking for that button. 

Time Out New York: I’m curious about the shift in your process. Can you talk about some of the pieces you’ve made up to this point that had more humor and narrative?
Ursula Eagly:
I mentioned that I wanted to make dances because of these really amazing, transformative experiences that I had as an audience member; I’ve always been primarily interested in the experience of the audience and in crafting that, so in some of my pieces I’ve engaged very directly with the audience experience. In my last piece, I had a visual warm-up for the audience to follow. They opened and closed their eyes on these still tableaux. I used a lot of film conventions, like establishing shot and close-up. I guided their eyes and had them close their eyes and open them, so they only saw stillness until a moment at the end where they saw movement for the first time and my idea was that I would prepare them to see dance and be an open and aware viewer. There are some vision exercises that dancers do; I think they’re from Simone Forti—I’ve done them in classes, where you’re walking in space and you look at people’s eyes and then you look at the space between the people and you shift your viewing. There’s one approach to homing a dancer’s focus, and I was interested in applying that idea with the audience: That looking at dance is also a physical practice and [the audience was] warming up for it in a certain way. There was also a story and a narrative involved.

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1 comments
Maida Withers
Maida Withers

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