The choreographer follows his intuition and rebecomes a dancer.
Mon Nov 7 2011
Photographer: Paul Mpagi Sepuya
Chase Granoff is reconnecting to dancing, and that's a good thing. For the past decade, the dancer and choreographer, who started off in ballet—hard-core—has worked within an experimental, conceptual framework. Yet one of his biggest strengths lies in his body, where his charisma and presence take over a theatrical space in startling ways. In intuition is preceding over my understanding, which will be at the Chocolate Factory beginning Wednesday 16, Granoff presents a solo inside of a particular environment that includes, but isn't limited to, Megan Byrne's lighting (a chandelier design), Jon Moniaci's sound score—which features the music of trumpeter Bill Dixon—and video by visual artist F.P. Bou. Recently, Granoff spoke about his quest to "rebecome" a dancer.
Is it true that you're retiring after this piece?
No! [Laughs] What is true is that I probably won't make a show for a while after this. It's not retirement. I just think I need a break from making work. I have a son and I'm still pretty young. I'm 28. I've been making work for ten years—not that that's a long time, but it's some chunk of time.
But when you consider your ballet training, you have been involved in dance for many years. You didn't discover it at 16.
Right. I started when I was three. This is really practical. I need to figure out a way to live a more balanced life—between family, money, art—and I think if you're always in a mode of trying to make a show, then you're always in the mode of scraping things together, and you can't ground yourself. Actually, I kind of want to stop with the idea of making a show so I can just go into a studio whenever I feel like it—then if I have something, I can show it on my terms. Even if it's just ten minutes and I can invite the people I want to share that with. Then, who knows? Maybe it will become something. Any time I've made a show or any time an artist makes a show, they see the piece within a body of work—that the piece they're currently working on is both somehow looking back or acknowledging the past, but also looking to the future. Also, it's not necessarily that I'm not going to make anything for five years; it's that I probably just won't do a show at a theater. What does feel a little different about this show is that this piece isn't really trying to predict anything or to look forward—I'm trying to let it just be. I don't mean it in a clich way, but I'm just trying to let it be the piece that it needs to be in the moment.
It seems like you're in the right frame of mind to make that true.
I think this piece is a lot about transitions. Personal transitions, life transitions. The actual idea of a transition in dance is a big term—people talk about, "Oh it was a good piece, but the transitions were weak." So I'm thinking about transitions, both as a component of choreography, but also as a larger idea.
From in-between steps to something bigger?
Yeah. I didn't go to college for dance. I thought for a long time that I would get a master's degree in dance but that was proven very difficult without an undergrad degree. [Laughs] That's understandable. We almost moved this year, Luciana [Achugar, his partner] and I. We had thought about moving to Urbana where Tere [O'Connor] is [at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]. Who knows? Maybe it will happen. She would have done her master's, and I would have gotten my undergrad into a master's; it didn't feel like the right thing in the moment.
Let's talk about the piece. It's a solo, right?
Yeah. I felt like I didn't want to have this pressure of constructing. I just tried to go into the studio to find a way of moving, and I did find a way that I was excited about. Just really trying to return back to movement, for me. Whatever that meant.
You're a great dancer.
I wanted to dance again. [Laughs] I never intentionally stopped dancing for choreographers. I don't like auditioning. I got injured again. I danced after that, but [in Survive Cycle] that RoseAnne Spradlin did with Cdric [Andrieux]—I was in that piece and then I got injured and had to have a second knee surgery. Physically, there were some challenges. I think I was scared to do somebody else's process where I might be asked to do things that I didn't feel comfortable doing. But I wasn't necessarily against dancing for anybody. I just didn't put myself out there, so nobody asked me to dance for them and I was just making work. This sounds cheesy, but it's okay: Having a son and watching him discover how to move was actually a pretty exhilarating process and really fun, and I feel like that inspired me to want to go into the studio and find my way—how I could move now. Wherever I am: out of shape, injured, and that's what I did for a while. I would just go into the studio by myself and try to move without much filter. That there's so much code in movement, and I'd be in the studio and do something and be like, "Oh I can't do that because of X, Y and Z. It looks like this person's work or it's gestural and so people are going to read into it." I tried to keep pushing myself to allow myself to just move and not have that filter and to see if I could transcend some of that, just for myself. And then I did two showings. I did a Catch and a Judson and moved in those kinds of ways, and I enjoyed it.
I wish I had seen it.
There's a little excerpt [online] of something I did with live piano with Sergei Tcherepnin. He's just a friend. He played piano and I just danced.
What was the movement vocabulary?
It was improvisational. We were playing a lot with listening to each other. There was vocabulary, but the vocabulary was derived from the improvisations that we did leading up to the performance. I just tried to hold onto movements and gestures that seemed to resonate. And he held onto some gestures and sounds and tones that he was finding on the piano that seemed to resonate. I guess I played with a shifting of things—maybe doing something multiple times and with small shifts to see where that could go. I wasn't trying to be Minimalist or repetitious, but just allowing gestures to unfold and represent themselves. But really trying, as best as I could, to use my whole body—to allow myself to point my feet if I wanted to point my feet or if I wanted to do something more pedestrian to do that. If I wanted to do something that had line or some semblance of line or a turn, to allow it to happen. So not to think, I'm making a piece like this. I'm into wine and a lot of times people talk about things as an expression of time and place. In wine, that's a big thing: the whole idea of terroir. That's why people care about vintage; it expresses that year, and good wine is trying to express the smells of a place. There's no scientific proof in this, but if you smell wild berries in your wine, there might be wild berry plants. Some people say the cross-pollination of the plants with the bees is maybe what causes that to happen. Who knows? [Laughs] It's pretty to think that that's what causes it. So I thought, How can I transcribe some notion of that to dance? For me, improvisation was the answer because it's a heightened sense of time and place. You really have to be in the moment. But I knew I couldn't make an hour solo of me improvising. I'm not Steve Paxton or Jennifer Monson. I actually had an extended e-mail dialogue with Steve Paxton over the summer.