Ben Pryor talks about Festival TBD: Emergency Glitter

Ben Pryor talks about his new festival at Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement July 24 through 28

Time Out New York: Let’s talk about the artists.
Ben Pryor:
It’s a mix of different pieces I’ve seen and people that I’m interested in. Lauren Bakst—I’ve not really seen her make so much stuff. I met her when I was a student at ADF; I went for a year between leaving BAM and joining Pentacle, and it was my one moment of being a dancer in a six-week program kind of thing; we were in Miguel’s composition class together. She’s had interesting ideas. I don’t know so much about what the piece will ultimately be, but I’m excited to give her an opportunity to come and do it. Gillian Walsh has been doing this whole butt choreography for a while, and I’ve seen it in a couple of iterations. I just thought that there were really interesting, sophisticated choices being made, and what she was doing—essentially working with two duets within one framework of a dance…one of which is really informal and silly and playful and the other that is very choreographed. Like they’re doing ballet port de bras and things. She’s trying to address the relationship in these worlds of dance also—the formal and the not so formal, and how do we deal with them?

Time Out New York: And also how they can both be formal and virtuosic?
Ben Pryor:
Yes. Totally. So she’s working that out, and she’s never brought it to a black box. She’s only done it at Judson and Danspace, so this presents new challenges in terms of adapting it to the space and dealing with that. It’s exciting.

Time Out New York: I like that Abrons black-box space.
Ben Pryor:
It’s cozy. The stuff in the Playhouse—we’re not using the [theater] traditionally. I had a fantasy of building an eight-foot wall at the foot of the apron and seating the audience onstage looking out. That’s not happening. But we are seating people at the back of the stage looking out or just onstage in general, like for Rebecca Warner and Burr Johnson, who are sharing an evening; for it, the audience will be seated onstage. I’m excited about them; this is more the capital-D dance. One of the newer trends for me is that in the past two years, I’ve noticed people dancing more in ways that I wasn’t seeing between 2005 and 2010; that moment was really screamy and in your face and aggressive—a little bit of that has let up.

Time Out New York: What are you referring to exactly?
Ben Pryor:
Like when Ann Liv [Young] was making really tightly structured pieces and Miguel was doing Retrospective Exhibitionist. It was a lot screamier. Jeremy Wade was focusing on the ecstatic body—there was a lot of that happening, and I feel in the past couple of years, it’s quieted in some ways. I don’t know if it’s my own psychology versus what I’m actually seeing, but people aren’t interested in that necessarily, or that’s not what a lot of people are doing. I’m seeing people dealing with a more formal sense of choreography that is refreshing to me and kind of exciting—it’s stemmed from Sarah [Michelson] and John [Jasperse]. I don’t know Sarah’s work way, way back—she’s always been interested in dance, but when I saw Devotion, I was just like, Oh my God, this dancing. And then John did Canyon, which for me was like, They’re jumping! I feel like that’s been more present and so Rebecca and Burr will be addressing that, and Burr specifically in a way that I feel is also infusing ecstatic energy into choreography via pop music. It’s still charged in a way that comes out of the screamier movement, and then brings something new to the approach of big dancing and the sensation of play and fun.

Time Out New York: What is Rebecca Warner working on?
Ben Pryor:
I saw her do a shared evening at BAX [Brooklyn Arts Exchange] that Jillian Peña had curated, and it was more formal dance: This isn’t about choreography in a larger sense, this is about dance and dancing. It just felt interesting to me. The piece was called Into Glittering Asphalt. She said that it’s really gone in a different direction since BAX. I have no idea if this is going to be anything like I saw, and that’s not really important to me. 

Time Out New York: I was thinking that must be a relief for you.
Ben Pryor:
Yes, because Realness is all about knowing. It’s nice to be in a place of supporting the development of something new as opposed to: This is the thing, let’s put it up. It’s more, let’s create an opportunity for you to develop what this is going to be.

Time Out New York: What about Rebecca Patek?
Ben Pryor:
I’ve never seen her evening-length stuff.

Time Out New York: It is funny and smart.
Ben Pryor:
She is wacky! I did this whole thing with everybody where I sent them questions to help me to develop more of a language around what this thing is. It was asking them about their process and about what they want for themselves now. Do they see what’s next for themselves? Or is that not even in their thinking? I’m trying to imagine if this thing continues, and I want to keep working with younger artists, what are ways that I can make this more interesting for them? There were questions like, do you have a mentor? Do you want a mentor? [Laughs] That didn’t actually seem like such a point of interest for people. It was just about trying to have more of a dialogue for them. Rebecca’s stuff was just fantastic. She clearly has a sophisticated idea of what she’s doing. [In her work] she’s doing this thing with language where she [seems to be] finding the words, but creating this whole pull with the audience within that: “I’m going to…but it’s…I’m kind of…” as she goes through this stream of consciousness. The subject matter is always a little off in this way that’s like, should she really be dealing with that? Is it really okay? There was a performance at Judson recently where she was working with a girl in a wheelchair. I don’t know quite what the situation was; the girl was mobile, but it looked like her legs weren’t developed. There’s a moment where the girl in the wheelchair organizes members of the audience to sit one behind each other and to put their arms on each other’s shoulders, and she gets out of the wheelchair and climbs across everybody while Rebecca recites text that goes, “Isn’t it beautiful? It’s so amazing. Wow, look at that!” She’s pushing, and I like that.

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