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 was the story?
Ursula Eagly:
It was based on an H.G. Wells story. I felt the real work of it was this visual idea, but I needed something to hang it on. I worked with a graphic artist and a comic book that continued the story of the H.G. Wells story in static frames, but showed things that we couldn’t show physically like the audience being involved. I also did a piece that was at the Chocolate Factory in 2004, and it took place in the basement and it was thematically based on the Moscow theater hostage crisis. It was in pitch-black and we had peeled grape eyeballs and stuff, so the audience couldn’t see, but was having a sensory experience. How do you actually get somebody to have an experience? I’ve also made works that don’t interact directly with audience members. But through many of these works, movement has been an important part of my own exploration—dancing with other people and also in the works themselves. But I never let it stand alone. I was curious about what would happen if I stripped away all the other elements that I had been working with and just only worked with movement itself. In many of [my past] works, the movement has been relatively unstructured within a piece that has a heavy structure. I felt like those elements allowed the movement to be unstructured. And also, what if this movement is completely uninteresting? It was scary stripping these other things away. There were times in this process where I was like, I’ve taken away the things that I’ve developed the most facility with, but these were the things that have been nagging at me. It’s the lingering question of the last few pieces I’ve made: How do I structure this movement? I work with improvisation. How can I create a container for this movement that is vibrant and alive? And can I do that without other elements?

Time Out New York: What is the energetic feel of the movement?
Ursula Eagly:
Some words that I’ve used are languid, but also contorted. Spastic and fluid. Elegant and grotesque.  

Time Out New York: Are you working with contrasts in the same moment? 
Ursula Eagly:
I guess that’s how I would describe watching—maybe the way it works, but not my internal experience. It involves an anatomical awareness: being able to articulate and separate out different anatomy and also energetic awareness. Being able to change textures of movements as well as to change textures at the same time simultaneously in the body. There’s a lot of separating out, a lot of juggling, a lot of fragmenting attention.

Time Out New York: It must be hard to be in the piece, right? 
Ursula Eagly:
It’s hard. I’ve been trying to be more present as a dancer and not as a director. I’m trying to solve questions by going further into the work. So instead of dancing and thinking about the piece and changes I might make, I’m trying to react to those things actually in the movement and through my performance. Of course, I’ve had friends come in for an outside eye.

Time Out New York: What is the meaning behind the title of your new work?
Ursula Eagly:
It’s made for the structure of the words. It always feels early when you have to [come up with] a title, and I was working with these ideas of structure and rigid structure. I started thinking about palindromes—words that are the same forward and backward. I was passing something during a long walk that said “self-made” or “man-made.” I was like, Oh, it doesn’t have to be backward and forward in the letters. I enjoy how there’s a small shift in the last word that is dramatically different. In the small, developmental course of the piece, there is no dramatic shift; it changes from moment to moment and from beginning to end.

Time Out New York: How does Louise Bourgeois figure in?
Ursula Eagly:
We’re working with our bodies both in a way that relates to the human being, which to me seems like figurative art. I am a person standing here and I am pointing at you and looking at you, and we also have movement that is abstract. Of course it’s a body doing it, but we’re thinking about using the body as material, not as a person. We’re doing both of those things and I think of Louise Bourgeois’s work, which is both abstract and figurative. I didn’t look at her work and try to emulate it, but it’s a point of reference that is pretty accurate.

Time Out New York: After you’re show, you’re going to start working with another choreographer, Rebecca Brooks. What do you still get out of performing in the pieces of others?
Ursula Eagly:
I love it! I love in dance how there are ways to do so many different things. I’ve worn a lot of hats in this field, and I am so interested in participating in many different ways. I like being able to just focus on my performance and not being responsible for the really major directorial choices. It feels like a luxury. I appreciate all the work that choreographers do to make their things happen. To be able to go in and just be a part of their artistic process, but not have the really heavy artistic responsibility. Of course, different people have different things and in Rebecca’s work, I really love the influence of the Alexander technique. She’s dealt with some injuries over the years and she’s really interested in creating a physically sustainable practice and I benefit from that. I’ve had some issues. It’s going to be nice to be in the work of someone who is conscious of those things. It’s generous.

Time Out New York: Do you have an approach toward the audience in Self Made Man Man Made Land?
Ursula Eagly:
We’re very open with the audience. We look at people and make eye contact and look away from them, and we practice 360 awareness, so even if I’m not looking at somebody with my eyes, maybe I am with my foot. I do feel like I’m asking a lot. There’s less humor. I miss that and enjoy having that element, but it’s not a part of the movement practice. There have been many moments where I have been tempted to have a lighting sculpture or a cameo. [Laughs] I have to just let it be simple. I have to allow myself to be confident to let the movement stand alone for once.

Ursula Eagly is at the Chocolate Factory Mar 27–30, 2013.

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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