The following interview was commissioned-by and published-in the P.A.R.T.S. publication at 20th anniversary of the school. The interview took place in October 2015, while working on a creation at Mad Brook farm in Vermont. The questions were asked and answered in writing. The editing was completed in Paris, on a free day between performances.
9,820 char w/o spaces
interviewers/editors: Steve Paxton, Lisa Nelson
Q: We want to know what has dance done to/for you, what you learned at PARTS, and what you have kept, what you have substituted?
A: I was thirsty, and my thirst was quenched! No, but seriously. When I was a kid, dancing was a Way Out of everyday. The everyday that was not terrible, but still. Many things were inaccessible; dance was not one of them. And it was fun!
I think dance has kept me on my toes. The learning just continues, there is always more that’s uncovered. Also, it’s kept me on the move; out of the sofa, both physically and geographically. Every time I go into that mode, where I am not doing a task, but am observing the doing itself, I feel alive.
The learning that took place at PARTS was all-rounded. We were exposed to different perspectives on the body, stage, performance, art, composition. Different modes and techniques. Perhaps more importantly, we observed artists at work; these were our teachers. And we went to see many performances. If I saw fifteen shows in total in my life before PARTS, suddenly I was seeing four a week.
I left PARTS fifteen (dancing) years ago. In total, a dancing year has the length of a calendar year; but time is not an even thread, as it thickens around Oct-Nov and May-June, and thins in Jul-Aug. Anyway, as I have kept dancing through these years, the notion of what Dance contains has been permuting. The love for movement stays, as does the curiosity. I’m more interested now in what the exposure to input DOES to me, than what the input actually IS. While once I thought that what we all should be trying for was to be original, now the ambition is to be real.
Q: We want to know how has your awareness of your body changed, particularly what has been useful/interesting to pursue?
A: It’s hard to remember how I felt when I was twenty. It’s almost half of my lifetime ago.… Well, I no longer think there’s nothing I can’t do, and I no longer need to do everything. Perhaps also as a result of that, I haven’t been getting injured, as I did when I was at school and the years after. That, plus knowing my limits better, and respecting them.
The biggest shift, I guess, was from seeing dance as form, to seeing it as a continuous dialogue between form and sensation. This not being a Final Answer (as Form once was), but a stepping stone to other interesting dances; observing, detail, revisiting the known, analysis, abandonment, etc. Here, another aspect of the “body” emerged, through need and practice: language. Both spoken language: naming, describing, writing about the practice, and movement language: where a re-occurrence can be named, and become a stepping stone. To what? I don’t know. The next movement, probably.
Q: We KNOW that you have been improvising. Contrast that with NOT improvising. Do you normally work with set forms? Do you miss them? What is the value of unset form?
A: For the last eight years or so, I have not worked with set forms as I used to. Whether teaching or choreographing, form was once the goal, in that it provided the final answer. If you could carve out the right combination of moves, then all that was left was the fun—to dance it well. This was work divided into chore and pleasure. Though the carving was often fun as well…
The NOW view is less determinate and more complex. Everything has a form; no matter how loose, there is always a score; and then, there are my habits—those that I’m aware of and those that escape me. What is written is written in sand, not carved in stone. Memory, observation, real-time processing, become the challenge, as one gets on stage. Whereas once I feared forgetting the sequence, now I wonder whether I’ll stay present enough to be interested in what I’m doing. How will I navigate between the planned and the impulse of the moment?
As improvisation is happening/happens, I don’t feel things are “unset.” Since I do it every day, I have no illusion that I’m doing something new or something different. Not as a rule, anyway. What appears is there, just as any other choreography would be. But in addition to the composed and the habitual, what IS also reflects the unplanned, uncontrolled part of myself.
There is always that aspect of dealing with what I find myself in the middle of. That Dealing is in itself a goal for me, a choreography. I think it’s the closest dance gets to a metaphor for going through life, with so many variables and so little that is actually known. Unset forms are alive that way. Where unset depends not on the What, but the How. As in, “How do you think about it?”
Q: How much of your waking/sleeping time do you spend working on your body? Physical health? Was there a moment when you noticed an interest in physical conditioning? How does that feed your creative impulse as a dancer?
A: A complex question. I was a fat kid. So that, and getting over it, is a memory that stays present. Throughout high school I was always running, and running behind—missing regular school for dance classes, which were available only in the mornings; then at dance classes I was told by my teachers I needed to make up for lost time, as I started dancing at 16; watching what I ate, and then training dance, training…. Then I had a period, around 24 to 25, when I wanted to live and make a project out of making a life. I never stopped dancing, but dancing was not all there was. I spent time outside, moving in nature, learned movement skills that have little to do with a dance studio or stage.
I write this, because now could be a similar period. I’m not driven by an ambition for recognition, which was a great thing to let go of. I am driven by how far I want to get, which depends on me, the person I spend a lot of time with, sleep with, converse with regularly. My point is: Everything I do feeds into dancing. It’s in the How. Yes, the body-instrument demands maintenance, nutrition, training, and all these change according to the season. I learn as I go. Working on staying interested is another kind of nourishment, and no less important.
But humor, friends, silence, empathy for others, contributing to society, and doing all those things I always wanted to do as a kid, also have their time. I am not just an artist, but also a person.
About the training, I’ll try to be specific. I spend between one and four of my waking hours a day consciously working on my body. Unconsciously, who knows?
Probably it never stops. It happens that I catch myself thinking about something, and become aware that I’ve been thinking about it/monitoring it, for weeks! Or, I realize that I’ve been working on something that was a revelation when a colleague shared it with me, for years! Working during my sleeping hours—I usually don’t think of it as work. I sleep to rest. But, falling asleep, or changing positions, is a time I often go very deep into the body: heal what is sore, or hurt, and examine: what is it that I can feel, anyway?
Feeling sensations is already a favorite pastime, and a niche in the marketplace. We’re sold no end of devices, experiences, gadgets…. I hope someday people will get a kick out of simply feeling their bodies; perhaps with their eyes closed. All those things we don’t notice, just because they’re everyday magic. Like, for example, rain falling on naked skin.
Q: Do you call yourself a dancer? What do you think others mean by this term? What do you think PARTS means by ‘dancer’?
A: I do say I’m a dancer, yes. It’s such a satisfaction to say that with ease, not knowing what it actually means to the person I’m addressing. I guess I see it as a Zen kind of answer. “Does a dog have a soul?” But also, it’s freeing, because for many years I would give a long and complex yes-and-no answer.
I didn’t used to want to be a dancer. At PARTS, we were sort of pushed into choreographing as part of the program—making work—the way one is shoved into things when in a school. So I thought dancing was inferior to authoring one’s own work—being a “choreographer.” It was only with time I realized I copied this view from my environment. Now, this is also what I smile at when saying I’m a dancer.
I guess when people say “dancer,” they mean dancing is something you do every day, or almost every day. Which I do. When I ask people if they are “a dancer,” I watch HOW they answer. Remembering what a long process it was for me to identify with what I do. How they answer tells me something more about them.
And I sometimes like to ask them if they “do it well;” it’s like a little performance I set up for myself.
I guess, for PARTS a dancer is someone who has earned that title in the field; either by finishing a school, or investing a certain time into learning dance, or by working with referential people. There’s probably a standard there. Perhaps some exclusivity; which the tool of language, by definition, is also based upon. However, I don’t think the title “dancer” necessarily has to do with movement, at least when used by people within the field. The term has been drifting since the ’60s.
For me, it certainly has to do with movement. Of body, thought, interactions between body and thought. But it’s no longer about size, speed, or even sweating hard, as it used to be.
Q: What do you think Contact Improvisation is?
A: Let me try to understand this question. I believe the emphasis is on the “you” and the “is.” Therefore, I’ll think of my own experience, including the reading, the stories, but also dancing in the variety of contexts I’ve been part of. The “is” implies the Now, THIS era of CI—after its many mutations, variations, and ongoing festivals.
But then again, the word “think” implies some kind of conclusion is to be made, based on my own experiences. It’s a different question to “What is CI for you?” or “What are you working on when you dance CI?”
I think CI is a proposal in the form of a question. To be explored and answered one day at a time. And yes, it’s a dance too.
Q: What is the purpose of performance?
A: Communication. To connect with another human being, to give and receive. Open up and take a step into the unknown. Oh, and that takes at least two. It’s also an opportunity for that power to appear that is generated in extreme circumstances. Like people lifting cars or heavy objects, when the lives of their dear ones are at stake. The “supernatural;” except it’s what is within us, always. When six hundred pairs of eyes are watching your every move, it can be that kind of extreme situation. So, it’s creating magic.
Q: Do you see yourself within the larger field of artistic practice in dance during these times, and do you have a sense of how the field operates within our culture? Do you look at the field as containing the roles of, for instance: performer, maker, teacher, researcher, theoretician, audience, collaborator? And how do you position yourself in relation to it?
If before I felt like I was living on a continent, now I feel like I’m jumping islands of an archipelago. Incidentally, in medieval Italian, the word “archipelago” stood for the Aegean Sea, or “The Sea of Many Islands,” as it was then known. In time, its name started being used for any sea with many islands, or simply “a group of islands.”
Is it possible that it’s not my perception of the field, but the field itself, that changed? What’s the difference between the two? I’m not in a position to say. What I know is, I’m here, and swimming, not alone.
Maybe I am the field. Or maybe the field is built of us. Or maybe there is no field, and there is only us. If I follow the work of an artist I’m interested in, and through him find out about two other artists…if then, the interest and following amongst us is mutual—do we make a field? Does that, with all our connections, make us part of a larger field? Is it about influence, or about funding, or being published, or about being visible to an audience? How is this field finally measured?
*commissioned by and published in the P.A.R.T.S. publication at 20th anniversary of the school