Charles Atlas and Lucy Sexton

The curators discuss "What Does Dance Have to Say?"

  • Monstah Black; Photograph: Sienna Shields

  • Dynasty Handbag; Photograph: Ves Pitts

  • Layard Thompson; Photograph: Julietta Cervantes

  • MGM Grand; Photograph: Garrett MacLean

Monstah Black; Photograph: Sienna Shields

For three nights in December, Charles Atlas and Lucy Sexton take a specific look at a broad subject: What Does Dance Have to Say? As the curatoral advisors of the Movement Research Fall Festival 2009, Atlas and Sexton have masterminded three action-packed programs, along with workshops and an “improv jam,” that explore dance from different angles—theater, in “Dance Gives Drama”; text, in “When Worlds Collide”; and, finally, in a free-for-all, Ishmael Houston-Jones’s “Messies: Dance Shouts at the World.” (The latter will feature performers from Houston-Jones’s best-of list, the Messies, created in reaction to the cancellation of the New York Dance and Performance Awards, or the Bessies; view it at Atlas, a renowned filmmaker and video artist, and Sexton, whose dance-performance group Dancenoise (formed with Anne Iobst) is the stuff of downtown legend, met to talk about their collaboration at Sexton’s West Village home.

What were you thinking with your theme?
Sexton: I wanted something that would encompass the work that I know Charlie and I are drawn to, which tends to be work that—
Atlas: Has expanded the definition of dance.
Sexton: And work that’s trying to shake things up a bit, whether it’s doing stuff in nightclubs, or doing work that uses props and costumes or stretches the theatrics of dance in a different way. I liked that you could spin it in several directions, but I do think that it does cover a spectrum of theatrical dance—like Johanna Constantine [in “Dance Gives Drama”] doesn’t open her mouth; she doesn’t have a political message, but she performs often in music clubs and she does very extreme things with her body in terms of the look of it and the costuming of it.
Atlas: It’s dance that starts with a costume. And it’s more like dance-based performance art. I’ve always liked a bigger context for dance. I’ve always gone outside the concert dance stage to look for things that I like. Also, there was the idea that it would be multigenerational and not just open to kids. So there are bound to be different aesthetics responding to the similar kind of call. I think this whole aesthetic comes from what Lucy and Anne were working with in Dancenoise.

What is the focus of text within “When Worlds Collide”?
It’s dance that uses text, but I have also always been interested in [theater companies like] the Wooster Group, Elevator Repair Service, the National Theater of the United States of America, Big Art Group—who’s performing in the program—and Radiohole. They use dance in a very nonlinear way, like, “We just feel the need to do a dance bit.” It sort of feels like the way Dancenoise used to approach it.
Atlas: And also in terms of the choreography, it really has a different feeling. But it is choreography. You don’t judge it on how interesting the movement is or a lot of the things that would be the criteria for a dance work.
Sexton: And it’s also not dance within theater in any traditional way. It’s not musical theater or anything that is illustrating something. I used to think about our Dancenoise shows as beats. Like this beat is going to be putting this pop music on and playing with props, and this beat is going to be a dance beat, and this beat is going to be us talking. There was a theater happening in New York that I felt used a similar approach. I don’t need to link this, I don’t need to tell you why, all of sudden, the Wooster Group is going to break into a Kabuki moment. They’re just going to do it and it’s up to me, as the viewer, to put it together. I was interested in including some of that kind of work.

There will be something of a return to Dancenoise in “When Worlds Collide.” The Factress [Sexton] hosts and Iobst will appear as the Naked Lady.
What I love about her Naked Lady things is that she always comes out with a little crazy haiku of a movement introduction—where you’re just taken into her private Naked Lady world. It’s not stand-up, but she thinks of it as stand-up; of course, it comes out in her own skewed, genius fashion.

Is she also leading a workshop, “Dare to Perform It”?
She and Jonathan Walker are doing a three-day workshop, which Annie and I have taught versions of before; the main thrust is whoever takes it is going to make a piece that will be performed [Wed 2] at Jimmy’s 43 bar. So they have to make something in the course of these three days. The idea is make things fast—put it together, get your props and costumes, tech it. Part of that is the Dancenoise aesthetic of make a new piece and you don’t know what you’re doing until right before. It removes your censor a little bit. It’s great to have work that you develop over a long time, but it’s also interesting to see what comes out when you don’t have time to really think it through. It’s the idea of, If I have an opportunity to perform, I’m not going to do something safe. I’m going to take the opportunity to try something new—to throw it out there and see if it sticks.

Movement Research Fall Festival 2009 is at various venues Mon 30--Dec 5.

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