Dusan Tynek talks about his BAM Fisher debut

Dusan Tynek talks about his new dances, which weave science and mythology at the BAM Fisher

Time Out New York: What are you working on this season? What are your unifying ideas for your dance program?
Dusan Tynek:
I work a lot with music. That’s my upbringing, and I love it. But this year, we did a huge premiere, Trilogy, and I’ve been collaborating with a Serbian artist-composer Aleksandra Vrebalov. We have worked on and off for the past ten years. We come from Eastern Europe and we’re immigrants here in New York, both artists; three years ago I heard this piece, Transparent Walls, and I thought it was incredible. It was all this brass and wind instruments, and it was very harsh and urban. But it was still a mini-orchestral piece. I decided to choreograph to it; we premiered it at then-DTW and people were saying, “This is so new and so different from what you’ve done so far.” I wanted to add another part to it. Aleksandra had an amazing piece she did for Kronos Quartet called …hold me, neighbor, in this storm…; it had a folk feel to it. She wrote it as an antiwar piece. What I found amazing was that she could take folk elements and turn them on their head and make them extremely contemporary, but there was still an underlying folksiness and old-world feel to it, and she used this amazing Serbian, ethnic instrument—the gusle. It’s a one-string instrument. It’s like a drone. You can’t really play scales on it. They would usually recite long poems from the past so it’s a little bit like harking back to The Odyssey. It’s a national instrument; in Serbia, it doesn’t have a good name because it’s associated with the National Party and what happened in the ’90s, so it was an interesting way of using it. That was the second installation of [the trilogy]. I felt the two pieces were connected even though they spanned centuries, in a way. One is very much grounded in the new world. I thought we needed something that would bridge those two, so we decided to make another piece. I commissioned Aleksandra to write a piece for ETHEL to record and play it. We performed the trilogy in Serbia, and it was unbelievable. We’re looking to premiere it in New York in 2014.
Time Out New York: How does that relate to this season?
Dusan Tynek:
Trilogy was so infused with music that I wanted to do something where there was no music, where I didn’t have to read the score, where I didn’t have to be communicating with the composer and where it was really just about the dance. All of these pieces are very abstract; they’re conceptual in a way. There is one piece I’m bringing back from 2010: Base Pairs. At the time, they were talking about banning evolution from teaching in the schools. For a European, it sounds like complete insanity.

Time Out New York: For an American, too.
Dusan Tynek:
Yes. For most of us! [Laughs] I was thinking of the Bible and of creationism, in juxtaposition with evolution and Darwin. Why do you deny something that has been proven and is visible? So I decided to make this piece. Again, it’s very abstract, but I wanted to do this juxtaposition of the Biblical stories, and I thought of Noah’s Ark, where animals are put on this giant ship to survive the flood. The ark would be so enormous—how many millions of species of animals do you have? I was thinking, Let’s have the stage be like a little window on a part of this ship. That’s how I view the stage.
Time Out New York: Like a portal?
Dusan Tynek:
Yes. The choreography happens for couples, and it’s basically just passing this stage, or portal: One phrase might pick up another couple, and then that couple disappears, but the phrase continues. So you have the sense that it’s much bigger than what you’re seeing. I wanted to have text; the only musical accompaniment is a metronome, so it’s a very stark, driven beat that is unrelenting, and it represents the time ticking away. The dancers have to be constantly on the beat; it’s very complicated. And just to juxtapose the drone of it and the relentlessness, I wanted a feminine voice that would come in. It almost represents a higher power, but I wanted it to be a female. I had a friend, Cynthia Polutanovich, write a poem that would be the opposite of the scientific mind. Basically, it’s about a couple that meets and has sex. Lucinda Childs recorded the text. It’s an amazing departure from the metronome: You have this silky, husky, amazing, mature voice saying these lines that are so evocative.

Time Out New York: What about the new works?
Dusan Tynek:
I started thinking about Stereopsis at a residency in Italy; you’re right on the Mediterranean, and I immediately thought of Homer and The Odyssey. There is a part when the sailors visit the island of the Cyclops. I had a very small studio, so the movement I could make was limited. I worked in a circle and was thinking about the Cyclops—they had one eye, so there’s a circle. I was also thinking about one eye versus two eyes, and how does that affect our perception? There is this thing called binocular disparity. It allows us to see three-dimensionally with two eyes; if you have only one eye, vision would be two-dimensional. Supposedly, you can see an object in three dimensions if the object is moving. So I decided to make the whole dance in a circle. First, I made it all in silence, and I wanted to be very rhythmical. From the beginning I thought the dancers should be creating the rhythm and the score, so there are a lot of footsteps. It’s very difficult to stay together, and so they are splitting the circles in quarters so they have points of reference where the direction of the spinning of the circle might change. We had footsteps, but I wanted even more sound coming from them, so we started making vocalizations. They are really creating a musical score. They’re part of the action and on top of it, I wanted to reference The Odyssey. I picked some lines and asked Cynthia, “How would you feel about rewriting The Odyssey?” She laughed, but she started doing it; it’s very abstract. It’s very gory and graphic, as The Odyssey is.
Time Out New York: What about Romanesco Suite?
Dusan Tynek:
It’s inspired by fractals—so repetition of patterns. Romanesca is a song form from the 16th century, very Baroque. But romanesco is a green vegetable. It looks like a cauliflower, and it has beautiful florets. It’s actually a great representation of fractals in nature; the pieces could go on indefinitely, and that’s the idea in the dance. It keeps splicing and splicing. Suite is a representation of a musical form again. They have distinct rhythms, and I wanted to make phrases that were very rhythmical and then I did a mash-up, so they’re coming in and out. It’s not one section, like a minuet—it’s all together. So it’s very rhythmical, but there’s a lot of stop-and-go action. Everybody is onstage pretty much at the same time. There is some intense partnering.

Time Out New York: It’s also silent, right?
Dusan Tynek:
It’s silent, but this is the year of the cicadas, and I was hiking upstate during the time they crawl out of the earth, and they were everywhere. On every leaf, on the bark of all the trees. It was a little spooky. They have red eyes. They’re not very loud, but there is a consistent hum, and there are billions of them. I made recordings of these cicadas and am working with a sound designer, Dave Ruder, who is making a collage for this piece that will be on top of the movement. It’s very different for me. This is still very musical, but in a very different way.

Time Out New York: What did working on this program show you about your musicality?
Dusan Tynek:
That I’m more confident than I thought I would be. I have a solid understanding of music, but when I see it and when we work with a text, I can play with it. It’s almost like creating a mini-opera. I have the choir in a way—the dancers—and the footsteps, which are kind of the instruments. And I’m directing it. [Laughs] Kind of like a crazy conductor.

Dusan Tynek Dance Theatre is at the BAM Fisher Sept 4–7.

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