Baryshnikov Arts Center

Baryshnikov Arts Center

BAC Stories

BAC Stories provide a "behind-the-scenes" view of the work being developed in our studios by BAC resident artists.


BAC Story by Silas Riener
Emmanuelle Vo-Dinh

Emmanuelle Vo-Dinh

June 6, 2014

In April I had the pleasure of attending rehearsals during the residency of Emmanuelle Vo-Dinh at BAC.  I watched run-throughs and improvisatory constructions she was working on, and had the opportunity to speak with Emmanuelle both in rehearsal and in emails about this work, titled “Tombouctou deja-vu,” set to premiere in 2015.

Emmanuelle started working on this piece from what she called “the idea of going to an unknown place.” 

It is such a privilege to see people working in the studio, before lights and costumes render work further into theatrical space, which can make it less accessible on a more intimate human scale.  There is a tender easiness to the relationships the performers have with each other, blurring the line between what is on-stage  interaction in performance, and what is just us being us together.  At many points in Emmanuelle Vo-Dinh’s work-in-progress it was hard for me to tell when they were relating to each other because they know each other, and when it was part of the organized theatrical landscape.  This ambiguity was totally charming; drawing me in towards Vo-Dinh’s interest in the “miniscule lives of the characters.”  For me this was the gentle and compelling center of the work, these slack indulgences of casual behavior. 

There are lots of different kinds of talking in the dance, people repeating names, or whispering to each other, or reading things off of cards (drawn from Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies) which serve as kindling for the constructions and repetitions in the dance.  It bothered me not at all to feel foreign in these moments (I do not speak French) because I think I feel that way all the time when a performance is operating with some sort of beguiling or unknown methodology.  Also, it fit so naturally into more palpable structures within the dance itself.  Language molded casually or surreptitiously as improvisatory material, degraded, or gradually changed just as much as movement.  Emmanuelle said of this she was looking for a kind of cross between the body and the voice.  Watching the language fall apart becomes part of the patchwork landscape of gesture, movement through space, or fleeting scenes that occupy the 45 minutes of material.

The slanting personalities of the performers are so alluring.  In her work Emmanuelle plays with recursive time, looping back spatial constructions, catching a moment and freezing it through repetition, giving a heightened experience to the viewer of how time is passing, and how or why things are important.  She calls these moments ‘pistons’ in her work; they give a kind of direct visual satisfaction.

Hesitation seems exalted, like it’s been reclaimed from its in-between-state and is enacted as an entirely honest and separate way of embodying movement, which, to me, was gorgeous.

It was fascinating to see what specifically she worked on, how she honed certain moments or transitions into greater acuity.  In a particular section where a microphone is passed from a man speaking to a women (through two surrogates) which devolves into sort of orgiastic floor-bound swaying, Emmanuelle focused not only on the exactitude of the passing, or the intonation but on the rhythms of things, the amount of time that is transition, the amount that is build up.  Here the specificity and rigor supporting her work might reference her time studying with Merce Cunningham in the 80s in New York.  When the amplified responses speed up, the passing speeds up, and the language loses meaning, until the swinging microphone and repeated responses become a swirl of strange sexualized behavior, which ends as abruptly as it began gradually.  The kind of time things take seems so important.   

Further viewings recommended by Emmanuelle Vo-Dinh:
Luis Bunuel’s The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
Michael Haneke’s The Seventh Continent (1989)
Alex van Warmerdam’s The Northerners (1992)
Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2003)
Leos Carax’s Holy Motors (2012)

Visit Emmanuelle's Residency Page

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BAC Story by Caleb Hammons
Daniel Fish

Daniel Fish

Apr 28, 2014

Each time I have experienced work being made in Baryshnikov Arts Center’s Studio 6A, it is hard to imagine that work happening elsewhere, in some other space, on some distant stage. There is so much character in the space, and the space becomes a character—for better or worse—in the pieces made here. The nature of this character extends beyond the aesthetics of the concrete and enormous windows. In this space is a metaphysical presence, a spirit of exploration, inquiry, experimentation, and discovery.

This is a playground for artists to work on their play and to play with their work. Over three weeks in spring 2014 this playground was home to the rigorous work of theatermaker Daniel Fish and his collaborators, as they tackled Chekov’s The Three Sisters.

Fish’s work is well suited for a space so conducive to process and yet so inseparable from the product. Fish, an auteur force in the American theater, made a name for himself in the early aughts by staging radical, severe, inventive productions of the canon. [1] As of late he has looked to seemingly non-theatrical material (novels, essays, lectures, films) as sources for building his own canon of theatrical experiments, which sometimes land rooted in non-theatrical forms (films, installations). Fish’s theater is as uncompromising and nuanced as his process. To look at the former without considering the latter (not to mention everything in between), or vice-versa, would be to undermine the other. To articulate what exactly Daniel Fish’s theater/process is, allow me to re-appropriate the decidedly non-theatrical concept of an autopoietic biological system. [2] In the most unsophisticated terms: autopoietic systems (meaning “self creation”) produce outputs, which directly maintain the mechanics of further yield. Fish conceives structures to generate creative output in which said output is in turn fed back into the structure and the cycle continues on loop until, according to Fish, it stops feeling like he is “trying to make it work” and the piece begins “talking to [him].” Even then (usually meaning when the piece is shown to an audience) the product is still inextricable from the process by which it was created, the action-based machineries of those processes continue to play out over the course of each performance. [3] It is from this indistinguishable process/product dynamic that Fish’s signature emerges.

“I miss doing plays,” Fish told me when asked why this return to dramatic text. This play in particular had been gnawing at him for a while. A prevalent theme in much of Fish’s work is the desire to recover that which has been lost, particularly regarding the American economy and the dying middle class. [4] “Can I approach this text the way I approach other sources?” Meaning, can he toss Chekhov into a series of experiments, tasks, gestures, technologies, obstacles, and games, gather out the output and toss it back in again? And again? [5] A brief rundown: Chekhov’s Russian text is processed through three different online translation services. From these three literal, English translations a working text is compiled. Act III of this text is captured via audio recording at a cold read by a full cast. Three of those actors (three women from three different generations, representing the sisters?) spend three weeks in the room with Daniel and the audio. With each cycle of playing the audio recording of Act III, passages of the text come in and out, but in real time. A sound designer feeds various characters’ lines to individual speakers, props are introduced, and physical actions are assigned. Then taken away. Then added, but with an additional caveat. Slowly, meticulously, the system begins feeding itself while yet constantly generating and progressing. What struck me while watching Fish use his process to stage a classic text was that his methods seemed to transcend the dichotomy of playing the surface or playing the subtext, allowing some other kind of hybrid action to manifest. This was exciting to watch, like going down a dramaturgical rabbit hole into Wonderland.

To participate as a performer in a Daniel Fish project is to be the fuel of this Wonderland organism. Tina Benko, representing the character Masha, is instructed to move a baby grand piano across the floor by herself all while attempting to recite the current National Debt Clock from a flat screen TV as it rapidly ticks away (her goal: recite every increase), Bowie’s Under Pressure blaring in the background. “There were some things that were good,” Fish observes after the performers, sweating and out of breath, complete a cycle of the audio text riddled with arduous physical pursuits. He asks them to try again, adding: “what happens when you snap?”

Footnotes:

[1] His production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is a thing of legend. The minimalist production, set in a simple barn, featured a communal meal of chili and cornbread prepared by the performers. 

[2] This concept, related most notably to biological cells, has often been applied to creative processes, outputs, and experiences. See the writings of performance scholar Erika Fischer-Lichte and textual scholar Jerome McGann.

[3] For example, a recent Fish work titled Eternal premiered in the form of a two-channel video installation in which two actors repeated the final scene of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for two hours. A year and a half earlier, the piece’s development began with the same two actors performing the DVD commentary track of the Cassavetes film A Woman Under the Influence against the backdrop of the projected film. I won’t unpack the connective tissue here, though will say that in interviews Fish has referred to the language of the commentary (between the cinematographer and sound designer) as that of a married couple recounting their relationship as a labor of love. The final scene of Eternal Sunshine is essentially just that, and in this case recounted endlessly by two actors in… a labor of love. 

[4] See: production of Odets’ Paradise Lost and subsequent film (Dollar General) inspired by it, a stage adaptation of Franzen’s House for Sale, and as described above, Eternal.

[5] To quote Artaud in his masterpiece of 1938, The Theatre and Its Double, “… thus we shall renounce the superstition of the text and dictatorship of the writer.”

Visit Daniel's Residency Page

Caleb Hammons is a cultural producer and curator of performance working in Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley. Currently the Associate Producer at Bard College’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, he facilitates Live Arts Bard, a professional commissioning, residency, and presenting initiative. Prior to his time at Bard he was the Producer at Soho Rep in NYC, and from 2008-2011 was the Producing Director of Young Jean Lee's Theater Company. He is the Co-Curator of the acclaimed Brooklyn-based performance series Catch, a past curator of Food for Thought at Danspace Project, and co-curated the CUNY/Martin E. Segal Theater Center’s PRELUDE Festival in 2012 and 2013. He was a member of the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance’s inaugural class at Wesleyan University.

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BAC Story by Lizzie Simon
Qui Nguyen, Liesl Tommy, + Shane Rettig

Qui Nguyen, Liesl Tommy, + Shane Rettig

Mar 28, 2014

By the end of their residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, the musical comedy team Qui Nguyen and Shane Rettig had written more songs in a week than they had for six months. “It’s really hard to get together and make it happen,” said Mr. Rettig. “Here you write something. You hear something. You learn.”

He was speaking from the BAC’s 6th floor studio where, in partnership with the Sundance Theatre Institute, he and Mr. Nguyen had been plugging away on their musical-in-progress, “War is F**king Awesome,” with director Liesl Tommy and a stellar group of performers including Rebecca Naomi Jones, Sharone Sayegh and William Jackson Harper.

Studio 6A has a kind of understated urban elegance: concrete walls with large windows that look out onto city views. Inside, music stands, chairs and fold up tables, a piano, scripts, pencils, water bottles, coffee and snacks from the building’s first floor café. It was their last day of rehearsal, and in a few hours, they’d be presenting a semi-staged reading for an invited audience of fifty friends and colleagues.

“War” is a musical satire about a young woman killed in the American Revolution who is offered immunity if she’ll agree to fight in every American conflict in perpetuity. The humor is political, sometimes irreverent, sometimes piercing, sometimes raunchy---it’s a bombastic comedy, with a comic book feel. But at the core, said Mr. Nguyen, the musical is about his relationship to the war narratives he heard as an adolescent in the States. “In school the Vietnam War was always referred to as a mistake, but in my household Vietnam was necessary. I heard a different response inside and outside.”

The residency at BAC came at a critical time in the show’s development. Given simple, but essential, resources, the creative team was able to move the work-in-progress dramatically in the direction of completion.  He and Mr. Rettig’s first residency for the show was last summer at the Sundance Institute in Utah. There Mrrs. Nguyen and Rettig were first paired with director Liesl Tommy, who had selected the script with an esteemed panel headed by Sundance Institute artistic director Philip Himberg. “We selected it because it seemed very fresh and to be pushing form,” said Ms. Tommy. “Also because of what Qui outlined on his to do list - what was not yet written. It seemed like Sundance could really give Qui and Shane time and space to further develop something wonderful.”

Her first impression of Qui's script? “I found it hilarious, politically subversive, and hyper theatrical. And I'd never encountered a musical where the choreography during music was meant to be fights.” Mr. Rettig’s music combined pop, hip hop and R&B, “and not cheesy musical theatre versions of those things.”

Moreover she wanted to be part of Mr. Nguyen’s satire of war ideology. Ms. Tommy is herself an immigrant from South Africa. “I really related to Qui's passion for telling this story,” she said, “Qui talked about being from a family of Vietnamese immigrants coming to the USA in the 70's and his perspective on war, fleeing war, reasons for war. I knew he had a fascinating POV.”

Visit the Residency Page

Lizzie Simon writes about the arts for The Wall Street Journal.

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BAC Story by Helen Shaw
Cazimir Liske

Cazimir Liske

Jan 14, 2014

It's just a few days before director Cazimir Liske's showing, yet there's very, very little on stage, and conversations between actor and director still have the meditative calm of a spiritual retreat.  Liske is running the ending of Illusions, his translation of the Ivan Viripaev drama at Baryshnikov Arts Center, and somehow urgency could not seem more distant. The lack of hustle-bustle is a kind of triumph of Liske's control—at an early design meeting there was talk of moving screens, of costumes that somehow illustrated time itself.

Yet while a few explosions of theatricality do pepper Liske's staging (small tricks with a microphone, a bank of hot lights that blind the audience) the room seems to drift in grey limbo, a Zen state of no-mind. Even in front of an audience, that sensation of introspection and deep quiet will remain.

Liske's journey with Illusions has been long and long. A Dartmouth student studying Italian literature, he took a sudden interest in theater, then enrolled in an English-language summer program created by the O'Neill Center and the Moscow Art Theater after Chekhov (MXAT). What was meant to be a brief adventure turned into a life's pursuit: Once in Moscow, Liske began studying with the actor Konstantin Raikin, took a degree from the MXAT Acting School, and began a busy career in Moscow as an actor and now teacher and director. Virapaev, one of the thrilling young talents in the burgeoning Russian playwrighting scene, is a friend. After performing in Illusions, first in Moscow and then at the Royal Court in London, Liske still hadn't had enough of this strange, nearly silent work, so he retranslated it and took it on as a directing project. 

In some ways, despite his training, Liske works against the Russian grain. “My process,” he says, “depends much more on the author than on the director. What I've been interested in in the last year is theater that connects the audience with theauthor—rather than with the director, or even the actors.” The result is something that looks like documentary theater (direct address, simplicity, a sense of an ongoing conversation), yet is actually asking eternal questions rather than dealing with current events.

Illusions tells the intertwining tale of two octogenarian couples, Sandra and Denny and Albert and Margaret. Four actors—variously trustworthy—approach a microphone to narrate the couples' stories confidingly to the audience. Stephanie Hayes, exquisitely precise, welcomes the watchers with a 'hello,' but she measures out her affections carefully. In rehearsal she asks whether she should work in “the smiles” more. “I just happen to have the most serious bits in the piece,” worries Hayes, “Should I be smiling?”

Considering that Hayes has just described the death of one character, a woman tortured by considerable heartbreak, you can see why she might be concerned.Yet despite the story's constant emphasis on death, Liske directs his actors to attain a constant state of upward tending joyfulness. Actress Annie Purcell describes it in rehearsal as “this euphoric, ecstatic thing” —or, another time, “an unfurling feeling of love.”

Love is all over Illusions. There's no stylish irony here; the characters' central concern is whether “true” love must be requited love, a point the story's subjects return to as they ponder the fidelity of their spouses. All four characters will die preoccupied by this issue; lifelong friendships are torn apart. Viripaev's hypnotic text, particularly as translated by Liske, worries over this emotional point for almost its entire length, returning obsessively to it, striking it as the favorite chord. Sentimental melodrama is presented as minimalism, so the fact that the speakers refuse to “perform” enlarges the question about love—these non-pretending narrations make us feel as though the actor-audience relationship is on a strange new footing. Our desire for escapism and pretense and illusion is, tellingly, unrequited.

In rehearsal, the examination goes deeply inward. Conversation turns to the James Turrell exhibit at the Guggenheim (the light artist who can make a glowing light source seem like a door into the infinite) and to each performer's understanding of death. The goal for Liske, though, is that these conversations penetrate into the audience. “The thing that I find at the center of Viripaev's piece is that death is a great teacher. It teaches us that love is the path in life. There is, it turns out, a path that can bring you to less suffering. And it has nothing to do with religion, with metaphysics. It's just practical! But this is the important stuff; these are the things we ought to talk about. I mean, is there any other question we should be asking?”

Visit Cazimir's Residency Page

Helen Shaw currently writes about theater for Time Out New York magazine and teaches theater studies and theater theory at NYUTisch. Previously, she was senior theater critic for the NewYork Sun and has contributed to the Village VoicePerforming Arts JournalPlaybillTheatreForum, the Jewish Daily Forward, and the forward for Mac Wellman’s anthology of plays, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. She curated the Prelude festival in 2011 and 2012, and coordinated programs at the Martin E. Segal Theater Center for approximately the same period. She also works as a dramaturg, and has assisted Martha Clarke, Lear deBessonet, and Simon McBurney. She has an MFA in dramaturgy from the American Repertory Theater Institute at Harvard University and a BA in Anthropology from Harvard.

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BAC Story by Jesse Zaritt
Helen Simoneau

Helen Simoneau

Jan 13, 2014

During a recent rehearsal at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, Helen Simoneau worked quietly with a few dancers on the development of a complex duet.  She watched the performers execute a passage of movement: one dancer leaned back, falling plank-like toward the floor only to have his momentum unexpectedly diverted by his partner.  Suddenly the two bodies where intertwined, reclining gently into each other on the ground.  

Deep lunging steps, improbable twisting lifts, elegant extensions emerging out of bodies tipped off their centers - these movements followed, weaving a partnership between two articulate, sensitive bodies.  Helen offered suggestions and corrections - guiding the movement toward ease and consistency but also encouraging the dancers to see the space around them, to be attentive not just to their own bodies and to their partner, but also to their environment.  I watched as the dancers' bodies softened into a fluid and easy performance of this difficult movement, rich in connection to self, partner and space.  Around the room, two other small groups of dancers worked on their own.  Another duet rehearsed a delicate lift where one dancer appeared to glide effortlessly over the back of her partner, while in the center of the room a group of women danced through a unison phrase of arcing, spiraling movements.  The tone of the room was serious, focused, quiet - almost like a library; each study group moving with gentle determination to become both more expert at and sensitive to the given task.   

Perception matters: how we create meaning out of a constant stream of sensory stimulus determines the scope and depth of our experience of being alive.  Over time, we come to rely on perceptual habits to help us quickly identify what it is we are confronting.  These habits enable us to predict what will please or harm us and help our bodies prepare accordingly.  But, our ready-made perceptual habits can also limit our engagement with the world.  We need to be reminded to expand our interpretations of the feelings, objects and events around us.  In order to continue to evolve, we need to learn how to see and feel more and differently than what our habits allow.  

Dance - both as a practice and as an art form meant to be experienced (felt/viewed) - has the power to render the human body and its expressive, communicative movement continuously unfamiliar.  Dance can remind us to seek new ways of being in the world, guiding us to un-frame our previous assumptions about what it means to be a moving body.

Helen Simoneau's work lives decidedly in the realm of dance that seeks to open new spaces of possibility as to how bodies might move through the world.  Helen brings viewers and performers toward an un-framing of rigid, habitual physicality by first creating spaces of quietude and calmness within both the dancers' bodies and the performance space.  It is from this gentle attentiveness that a wealth of movement emerges - movement that quietly, but firmly insists on being seen and felt as inventive and unexpected.  Helen's choreography reveals that our choices to create action in this world multiply when we treat our bodies and the spaces they inhabit with expansive, un-anxious, and generous curiosity.  In a world full of hyperbolic extroversion, Helen's calm determination to look more deeply at the possibilities of human movement is a refreshing and necessary addition.  So many choreographers and performers in today's over-saturated culture feel the need to loudly and forcefully make a claim for the body's capacity to be and do more in this world, forgetting that possibility comes not just from explosive force but also from quiet permission.

Helen's work is firm but unforced, energetically vital but never frantic.  Helen's invitation to her dancers to locate a physical tone of calmness and hyper-awareness (to every edge of the body) allows for a rich mining of possibility from within available joints and muscles.  Helen takes pleasure in working with excellently trained dancers: artists who understand how to expressively shape movement in service of an always-fresh communicative gesture, not as the reiteration of a list of pre-determined movement objects.  

Watching Helen's newest works, I find my whole body calming down; the anxious noise of my mind abates and my focus is guided toward the action unfolding before me.  Articulate, generous, precise, virtuosic movement meets my gaze.  The performance space contracts and expands as movement pours, glides and pauses throughout the open terrain.  I am drawn, not to narrative relationships, but toward relationships between time, space, and effort.  I sense how it is possible to quiet the demanding push of time - to give one's body the time it needs to feel itself in action.  I see how space can be opened, not dominated, by movement.  The dancers move through and with space, treating it as a living surface and environment to engage with as a collaborative partner.

Helen's work leaves generous and expansive "room for interpretation" - truly revitalizing the meaning of this phrase.  To experience Helen Simoneau's work is to feel the body, time and space yield and reveal new opportunities for seeing, feeling, moving - being.  

Visit Helen's Residency Page

Jesse Zaritt has performed his solo work in Russia, Korea, Germany, New York, Japan, Mexico and Israel.  He was a 2012-2013 resident artist in the Studio Series Program at New York Lives Arts, working on a duet created in collaborative partnership with choreographer/performer Jumatatu Poe. Jesse's solo ‘Binding’ is the recipient of three 2010 New York Innovative Theater Awards: Outstanding Choreography, Outstanding Solo Performance, and Outstanding Performance Art Production.  He has recently taught at the University of the Arts, Bard College, the American Dance Festival, Hollins University, and Pomona College, as well as at festivals in Japan, Korea, and Russia.  Jesse was a member of the Shen Wei Dance Arts Company (2001-2006), and the Inbal Pinto Dance Company (2008). From 2009-2013 he performed in the work of Faye Driscoll and Netta Yerushalmy.

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BAC Story by Aaron Mattocks
Joanna Kotze

Joanna Kotze

Dec 15, 2013

2013 New York Dance and Performance (“Bessie”) Award winning choreographer Joanna Kotze is no stranger to the proverb “necessity is the mother of invention.”  When she began working on her newest piece, Find Yourself Here: Trio B, rather than seeing the precarity of her performers’ schedules as a limitation, and in order to take full advantage of the residency opportunities she had lined up, she chose to diverge from her standard creative practice, instead making the work in a way that acknowledges and even tries to utilize the very real circumstance she was facing: absence. 

Find Yourself Here: Trio B is the second in a series of three trios, each consisting of two dancers and one visual artist, each built to relate specifically to the spaces in which they are seen.  Kotze herself dances in the first and third: Trio A, with Netta Yerushalmy and artist Jonathan Allen was shown at the Lu Magnus gallery in September and Trio C will be shown in February at SHOWROOM Gowanus with Silas Riener and artist Asuka Goto.  The purpose of Kotze’s residency time at BAC was to continue work on Trio B, with dancers Molly Lieber and Stuart Singer, and visual artist Zachary Fabri.  (Kotze is married to Jonathan Allen, and she met the other two collaborating artists when they and Allen all had Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace residencies at Governor’s Island).  When I visited the studio, Fabri, Kotze, Lieber and Singer were all meeting together for the first time.  Kotze had just spent almost a month as a resident artist at Djerassi in California, but was only able to bring one performer with her at a time, so she spent a week separately with each dancer developing solos.  Her three weeks at BAC were meant to explore what it would be to have these two solos in the same space at the same time, together with the new element of Fabri, who works with digital media and superimposition, filming himself setting up a space and photographing himself, placing himself into pre-existing frameworks, building his work digitally as well as in real time as live performance.

Throughout the development of Trio B, Kotze has allowed the realities of her experience to feed into her creative process, and to inform the choreographic structure.  While at Bogliasco, Italy on a solo residency, she began exploring the notion of presence and absence, of being both in a studio and allowing herself to see what lay outside the room, the landscape that surrounded her.  As she continued her solo explorations in California, immersed in quietude, thinking about what was beyond the room, the dualities of pristine/urban and calm/wild began to take shape, and what energy hums underneath/beneath these various states. In exchange with Fabri, they began discussing ideas of visual landscape and framing, darkness, using a slide projector for the sound of the shutter and the capture of motion like a video still.  Initially, she developed a nearly forty minute solo in these residencies that she then used to generate the material for Lieber’s and Singer’s bodies, exploring an additional duality of “mine/not-mine”.  She continues to maintain a separate solo practice with the material, and in fact recently adapted it further into a new duet with Jonathan Allen for Danspace Project’s Performing the Precarious event at Industry City.

The night I visited BAC, the sun had set in studio 6A, and Kotze had asked the three performers to engage in a show-and-tell.  Lieber and Singer danced for each other, seeing the other’s movement for the first time.  The space felt like a beautiful cathedral of silence and attention.  Lieber went first, with long sweeping shapes, the pat-pat-pat of her feet running in a delightfully strange, huge circle with her arms twisted and extended over her head.  I was reminded of Joanna’s own pacing circle that opened it happened it had happened it is happening it will happen.  The geometries in her work always remind me of her architectural background.  What imagery do these mysterious, often humorous shapes emerge from?  Molly was doing a knee crawl on the floor, initiated by a big thrusting arm.  Lieber’s and Singer’s solos contained different explorations of similar themes.  Gaze--looking out, seeing out, Molly watching her feet, her hair cascading down over her head, her face disappearing, but still so deeply intent. Stuart walking so far downstage, to the very limit of the space.  Looking, seeing beyond.  The hardness and softness, the percussive walking, pacing.  Stuart watched his feet too. There are heel pounds, feet slaps.  I thought about the differences between Molly’s and Stuart’s bodies, male and female, their height, their very arresting dancing presences. This is the first time I am not seeing Joanna perform her own work (another absence).  The repetition of things.  They dance to the very edges of the room in a way that makes me so aware of the walls, of confinement, and feeling them wanting to burst out, exploding the container, not in a violent way, but because they are so full of this vital, vibrational energy.

When they’ve had a chance to see each other, there are a few notes, and the dancers each teach Fabri some moves from their solos. Then Kotze just charges ahead with the big question:  can these two dances occur simultaneously in space and time, and what will happen?  Zachary does his solo first. His shadow looms large in darkness lit intermittently with a slide projector, its shutter like a mesmerizing blinking of the eyes.  He’s a prologue to the dance, maybe like a Greek chorus, with such a different relationship to the body and training, introducing us to everything we are about to see, but in a deeply enigmatic way.  I think of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  I then watch in rapt awe as Lieber and Singer dance for another half hour, shocked at how much I’m seeing for the first time, though I’ve just focused so intently on them alone.  Somehow, dancing together puts each of them in such stark relief against and with the other.  The foreground and background begin to shift back and forth, there is a new dimensionality to the room, and the way the two are in constant relation and awareness of the other but with such an internal, studied focus is so exciting, at times dangerous. At some point Lieber lets out a yelp, nearly crashing into Singer as she launches into a blind run with head down.  They both keep dancing.  Moments of silence, of stillness, shock with power.  When they finish, I am speechless. 

It’s day one.

Visit Joanna's Residency Page

Aaron Mattocks is a Pennsylvania native, Sarah Lawrence College alumnus, and 2013 New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award nominee for Outstanding Performer.  He is an associate artist with Big Dance Theater under the direction of Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar (Supernatural Wife, Comme Toujours Here I Stand (revival), Man in a Case, Alan Smithee Directed This Play) and is currently creating new works with Doug Elkins and Courtney Krantz.  He is a 2013-2014 Context Notes Writer for New York Live Arts, after recently completing a year as guest editor for Movement Research’s Critical Correspondence.  His writing has been published by The Performance Club, Culturebot, Hyperallergic, Critical Correspondence, The Brooklyn Rail, Hartford Stage and the BAM 2013 Next Wave Festival.

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BAC Story by Helen Shaw
Andrew Ondrejcak

Andrew Ondrejcak

Dec 13, 2013

If you didn't know that Elijah Green, Andrew Ondrejcak's in-development movement-theater piece, is based on Strindberg's A Dream Play, you'd never guess it. Ondrejcak's own relationship to the “source” of his dream-logic exploration is playful, elliptical, tenuous. “I haven't read it!” he confesses. “I've read the Wikipedia page! And my dramaturg has made me a beat-by-beat breakdown...I'm thinking of letting that notion go entirely.”

He looks mischievously about, and drops his voice. But there's no shame here, since somehow deep themes of Strindberg—the divine visitor, the sense of humanity ignorant of its own loveliness—have managed to weave themselves tightly into the work.

Writer-director-designer Ondrejcak has more than a hint in his process of a crucial mentor—Robert Wilson. That same glancing contact with a story characterizes some Wilson processes, it releases a maker from “faithfulness” and lets only the deepest resonances vibrate their way onstage. In rehearsal,Elijah Green was made in this same spirit of the inspired accident. Actor-dancers ask for feedback, and Ondrejcak laughs, “I don't know! Do something else.” 

In response his performers sing snatches of song, look fixedly at ping-pong balls, invent wandering monologues on the spot. They generate constant impulses; he grazes among them like a cow in clover. “I use what's in the room, whatever object, whatever person,” he says. His attention span seems, at some moments, to be quicksilver changeable—then he'll lapse into a reverie watching something profoundly simple and still.

In Dream Play, the daughter of the god Indra comes to earth to try to understand human suffering. In Elijah Green, actor-dancer Yuki Kawahisa plays this role, or, rather, the echo of it, moving among the other performers with an expression of gentle, puzzled calm. Ondrejcak—who can seem somewhat eldritch himself—places her into strange scenarios: first a kind of gentle, sliding, seated ritual on top of a giant fiberglas rock, then an abrupt leap onto its surface, then a slow drifting into the others' arms for a sequence the group calls the Middle School Dance.

Ondrejcak is not himself a choreographer. The dance-maker Rebecca Warner (“Into Glittering Asphalt”) works with him, generating physical vocabularies for rehearsal, and making dance-sequences which Ondrejcak then tugs apart and refashions. In an early iteration of one of Ondrejcak's other works, Feast, performers stayed almost completely stock still, nattering to each other down an exaggerated banquet table. Now we can see his composer's eye for the still image working its way through movement as well. It's unleashed an excitement about sequences: one actor cuts tape into the shape of a grave, and, almost inevitably, staunch Ryan David O'Byrne must carry the giant rock around in a circle like a mild-mannered Sisyphus.

The Baryshnikov Arts Center residency has deeply affected the work. During its earlier gestation at a summertime retreat on Governor's Island, there were broad jokes—like the giant poo suit Carlos Soto wore in one improvisation. But the studios, set high up in the shining landscape of building-tops and the Hudson, have embedded the project in a kind of permanent, mystical aura. In this incarnation, “I think I'm figuring out the tone, the mood—it's white and neutral and pastel,” says Ondrejcak, whose academic training is in fine arts. One of his inspiration pieces is “a Japanese print, very clean, of monsters—which creates a very flat space. Looking around him at the studio, he muses, “I'm inspired by the light in this room, this very grey, foggy room.”

The next step after the residency involves text—right now actors do read long, strange monologues, but Ondrejcak thinks of them as placeholder text. Essentially, “I'm sort of freaked out by narrative...because it can turn the stage-scene into illustration. I'm always simply using text as another texture.” He goes on, “In the rehearsal room, I'm just working on the formal things—color, rhythm, line. When I'm in the writing process, it's very diary...most of it sounds like it comes from my voice. It's incredibly liberating: I can have my overt expressions about life, and then I can assign a character to say it and suddenly I lose ownership of it!” It's a kind of magic, one only a visitor to our world could make.

Visit Andrew's Residency Page

Helen Shaw currently writes about theater for Time Out New York magazine and teaches theater studies and theater theory at NYUTisch. Previously, she was senior theater critic for the NewYork Sun and has contributed to the Village Voice, Performing Arts Journal, Playbill, TheatreForum, the Jewish Daily Forward, and the forward for Mac Wellman’s anthology of plays, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. She curated the Prelude festival in 2011 and 2012, and coordinated programs at the Martin E. Segal Theater Center for approximately the same period. She also works as a dramaturg, and has assisted Martha Clarke, Lear deBessonet, and Simon McBurney. She has an MFA in dramaturgy from the American Repertory Theater Institute at Harvard University and a BA in Anthropology from Harvard.

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BAC Story by Lydia Bell
Rachel Tess

Rachel Tess

Jul 1, 2013

If you went into Baryshnikov Arts Center’s Studio 6A today, you would find a small house. Upon further inspection, you might think of it more as a variation on a house. It has four walls, yes. It offers sanctuary, intimacy, and an ordering of space. But its primary purpose is as a container for dance.

Rachel Tess is the artist behind the container—she is a choreographer who splits her time between Portland, Oregon and Stockholm, Sweden, and a dancer trained in ballet who has worked with major ballet companies and contemporary European choreographers. She started to work site-specifically in Portland starting in 2007, making and producing works in large forgotten urban spaces under the auspices of Rumpus Room Dance. The experience of working in warehouses and other large-scale environments, she told me when I visited her at BAC recently, drove her to crave intimacy in the performance environment. How does the audience read architecture and texture? How does the audience experience the vibrations of the dancing body? These are the questions driving Tess’ newest project.

Souvenir, what I’m calling a container for dance, is “designed for mobility,” Tess wrote to me recently. It’s also “modular,” so that the pieces of the structure can be reconfigured in a multitude of ways. It was constructed in Sweden, with the help of a two carpenter uncles and Swedish/Chilean designer Gian Monti, and then shipped to New York for Tess’ month-long residency. It took almost three days to erect in the BAC studio, during which time Tess taught the dancers she is working with—Anna Pehrsson and Luis Rodriguez—how to put it together. The intimacy between Tess, the dancers, and the structure is palpable. The walls of the structure Tess lovingly refers to as “skin.” The frame of the house contains cubbies for sitting in and a ledge for perching on. Eventually each cubby will have hooks, for audiences to arrange their belongings on, and a “survival kit,” of some kind, perhaps a blanket, Tess told me.

In a recent run-through, several test audience members were encouraged to walk around the structure and then choose a cubby to inhabit. In my walk around the structure I felt my gaze drawn in many different directions—to the skyline, the buildings outside, to the studio door. Once inside, my gaze became more focused. I no longer had a sense of the space as portable. Instead, the hard edges and clean lines of the structure seemed permanent, as if they had always been there, and watching the dancers negotiate the harshness of raw wood was both stimulating and strangely exhausting. Toward the end of the run through, both dancers left the structure, running their hands along the outside walls and emitting a low, meditative hum. The container seemed to vibrate with possibility and I found myself imagining it in a grassy meadow, as a respite from the sun, perhaps after a long hike. What are the ideal conditions for dance? Souvenir forces us to confront this question—and offers a space in which to imagine the possibilities.

Visit Rachel's Residency Page

Lydia Bell is a dance researcher, curator and administrator based in New York City. She is Development and Curatorial Associate at Danspace Project, where she serves as Managing Editor of the PLATFORM catalogue series. Lydia has contributed to publications such as Judson Now (Danspace Project, 2012), Museum and Curatorial Studies Review (University of California, Santa Cruz), and Movement Research Performance Journal. Lydia is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP).

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BAC Story by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko
Octavio Campos

Octavio Campos

May 22, 2013

Confronting the Cult of the Engendered Body 
“The EXPERIENCES I accept now must question my own presumptions and help me rethink people’s assumptions.” - Octavio Campos

Having worked in various creative and educational arenas with a career spanning over 30 years, Octavio Antonio Campos is a matured, fearless artist. For his three-week residency at Baryshnikov Arts Center, the Cuban-American, Miami based performer has found himself in a place of self-reflection.

Continuously motivated by an overarching need to question and reexamine the fabric of the current socio-political climate, Campos, now in his 45th year, has started a process of reaching back into his past to reveal, perhaps, a new artistic truth about his present relationship to live performance.

Born to refugees of the Cuban Revolution, his parents were imprisoned for not falling into accordance to Fidel Castro’s leadership. Upon release, they fled to Miami, FL in the early 1960’s. In his newest creative venture entitled Triple Quince, Campos is bravely opening his memory bank to this experience among many others.

But memory is only one of the building blocks Campos is using to create this new work. Another concept that he admits has consumed him for the past few years is the idea of ‘hatred,’ which was also a theme in his 2009 work 1000 Homosexuals -- a play written by Michael Yawney. About his new work, Campos says:

"I’m always trying to transform [hate]. Look at it from another angle. Using the energy that hatred evokes, I’m attempting to defuse it, and use it to... power New York City someday, because there’s a lot of energy being expelled towards the other, all the time. I’ve been fascinated by the energy that’s behind it. I think it’s interesting to use this as a springboard to create the new work."

Age 15, Campos remembers, was a turbulent year. In Latin culture, when an adolescent turns 15, it represents a rite of passage, and while girls are thrown an extravagant party or Quinceanera, boys are thrown into a motel with a prostitute twice their age. For the teenage Campos, who had already self-identified as gay, this was quite a traumatizing experience.

Structured as three distinct chapters (each marked by a 15 years division), the new episodic performance will recount Campos’s early memories as a teen as well as his artistic occurrences at age 30 when he found himself performing tanz theatre in Berlin. He recalls the glory of the 90's after physically helping to destroy the Wall in 1989. He remembers the freedom of extacy, falling in love with Pina Bausch, love parades, and wild German performance art escapades.

Now, after having lived such a fulfilled life, he's asking himself "Who am I now?" Today, Campos enjoys the simple pleasures of kayaking, swimming, and sunbathing. Apart from his international commissions and residencies, he currently resources his work and maintains creative stability as an Artist-in-Residence at Miami Theater Center where he works as a choreographer, producer, and educator. He receives a full-time salary, benefits, and artistic support for his own creative musings. The position also allows him the freedom to travel and work remotely via satellite.

Proclaiming himself a buffon trapped in a dance-theater bodysuit; a political, gender torchbearer overtly confronting gay issues, Campos’s work addresses the current cultural moment with a performance art aesthetic and infectious comedic sensibility -- the result of years of German training in deep conversation with the complexities of his Cuban roots. Campos doesn’t aim to follow known methods of creation, so much as to subvert them and, in the process, share with his viewer what he values most about being a creator of live performance.

Whether performing a duet with a demolition truck (as seen in his 2006 work Developmentus Interruptus) or describing the 50th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs (as in 2011’s The Pig Show), Octavio Campos wants to give us very specific ideas to ponder while watching him. He provides an experience that not only demystifies his own personal questions and creative obsessions, but also reveals an emotional truth inside his audience as well.

Visit Octavio's Residency Page

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko is a producer, curator, poet, choreographer, and performance artist. He is a 2012 Live Arts Brewery Fellow as a part of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, a 2011 Fellow as a part of the DeVos Institute of Art Management at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and an inaugural graduate member of the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP) at Wesleyan University. With his creative partner Kate Watson-Wallace, he co-directs anonymous bodies || art collective, a visual performance company that presents work nationally specializing in site base performance and community building art practices. 

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BAC Story by Brian McCormick
Sam Kim

Sam Kim

Mar 29, 2013

The dances that Sam Kim makes aren’t pretty, and if you ask her, she’ll tell you, “I don’t make stories.” The works are non-linear, with no-set sequence, meant to evoke the state of dreaming. The movement is raw at times—the dance of zombies—but her choreography and subversion of technique places her performers into strange but familiar worlds. We recognize our own otherness in her dances; they scratch at surfaces.

Material she developed during her residency at BAC was shown at the end of March. A trio for three women with the working title "Sister to a Fiend,” this piece is overtly ritualistic. Two matching cups are repeatedly held aloft as if in offering, or a means of channeling, and they are also hurled to the ground, as if in anger or pain. Spiritual symbolism abounds, but the body is central to the proceeding. There is molestation. Energetic transfer. And what Kim refers to as “the table top human body, and they are taking what they need.” All three women appear to be in trance states, but not all the same kind—some are supplicant, some ecstatic, another desperate. Ultimately, through repeated and varied interactions, the three connect through a physical mutual dependence.

Before the showing, Kim answered a few questions about her work and process.

BMcC: For those who may not be familiar with you or your work, how would you describe what you do?

Dance is so weird. Really, truly strange. On some level I find it completely vulgar that anyone would put people on a stage just to watch them move around.  Really?  WHY?  It can be so presentational, so precious with itself, and I find that repulsive as an aesthetic value.  But, I think that's fundamentally why I'm driven to make dances, and why I remain curious--I'm trying to better understand the form myself, and I'm convinced that there's so much more to it.  Historically speaking, dance is still in an incredibly incipient stage.  Now we're in somewhat of a thaw after the fixation on and tyranny of beauty.  For lack of a better word, my work is experimental.  I'm interested in what's beyond beauty and how dance can be the platform to express a wild range of truth and experience.  Fundamentally, I am an outsider working in an outsider's form, playing at the edges and seeing what that yields--I'm involved in a personal game of brinkmanship.  Everything I know about making dances came from making dances.  Yes, I am a dancer, but I discovered dancing and choreographing almost simultaneously back in my late teens.  My love of composition (choreography) is separate from my love of dancing.

I do subvert the form a lot.  There are red herrings in my work--some people are often unable to see past them.  I'll use overexposed pop music, have people move like zombies, act like stroke victims, but I'm not being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian--all of these elements were necessary content or counterpoints to the tone I wanted to create.  Part of the challenge and interest for me is to deliver the content functionally and rigorously, no matter what it is.   

I've always taken heart in what David Lynch said about making "Blue Velvet: "it started with red lips, a white picket fence, and a severed ear.” That's all he knew, and that was enough.  I feel the same about every dance I've ever made.  I might know one or two things about it, but really, I have to take a leap of faith and make it to understand it. 

This latest work springs from a work I made in 2007 called "Cult."  A lot of "Cult" was built through improvised "incantations."  I've brought back this score and have used it to start a lot of my rehearsals.  It allows the performers to drop in to the right tone of this work, they literally thicken the air around them (I can feel it), while they simultaneously practice being seen.  The thrust of this work is about the strange relationships between women, especially powerful women.  They're not quite human, but they are definitely female, and they have secret rites, which I expose through the dance.  The ultimate experience of this work is getting to see this. 

BMcC: This new work combines symbolically loaded gestures, with some radical sensuality and a healthy dose of subversion. What art, ideas, rituals, imagery, etc are you drawing from for the construction/performance of this work?

SK: I wanted to extend everyone's arms and I also wanted to work with objects that had potency, potential talismans, so I brought in a set of vintage '70s cocktail cups.  They're clear for the most part with a little bit of red and yellow, and they're also an unusual rectilinear shape with a curve thrown in. They've been very generative as objects to respond to--to give energy to, and to get energy from--they've served as a direct line of transmission to forces greater than ourselves.

I started this work, in the studio, during a residency I had at MacDowell back in the fall. There I danced with real, glass stemless wineglasses.  I wasn't afraid of getting cut, but I did shatter one...so for practical reasons I'm still working with the plastic cups for the group, but we'll see.  Glass has more power than plastic.   

Films are always very important to me as inspiration, and I think there's something intrinsically filmic about my work.  A LOT of my favorite films are about weird relationships between women:  "3 Women," "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant," Breillat's "Bluebeard," "Mulholland Drive," etc.  I've told the performers to have a gander at these films.

BMcC: How has the residency at BAC influenced your capacity to explore your artistic process?

SK: By providing a real choreographic home for 3 weeks, for providing 5 hours of rehearsal time every day without financial constraint. It allowed me to breathe easier, relax into the process. By the end of it, a 5-hour rehearsal really seemed the norm, not an infinite period of time. To inhabit this psychic framework of "yeah, this is my job--this is really how I spend my day," was incredibly liberating. The content just seemed to tumble out fast while in this state of mind. The studio I was in was also incredibly beautiful--light-filled with a dramatic view of the cityscape. This all helped set a mood, and I felt deeply supported by the city itself. 

Visit Sam's Residency Page

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BAC Story by Lisa Rinehart
Sally Silvers

Sally Silvers

Jan 9, 2013

How about choreographic inspiration from Stephen Sondheim musicals, unhappy endings, and the busy sex life of Bonobo apes? Unlikely? Not to Sally Silvers.

Silvers, a veteran choreographer known for her smart, collage-like dances, used her BAC residency to develop Bonobo Milkshake, a dance premiered in November 2012 at Roulette in Brooklyn and described by New York Times dance critic Claudia LaRocco as one the “happiest sightings” of 2012.That’s welcome acknowledgement for a choreographer who’s been making eclectically influenced (some say radical) work for several decades, but who described herself in a 2009 New York Times interview as “old-fashionedly interested in movement.”

A native of Tennessee, Silvers is soft spoken and articulate. During an interview at the East Village apartment studio where she lives and works, Silvers explained her unexpected exposure to dance while a student at Antioch University in the early 1970’s. She’d signed up for modern classes as exercise, but was soon performing in the works of an artist friend. “People started noticing my performance and I felt like I’d gained a new source of power,” she said. After graduating, she moved to New York, fell under the spell of the cross-disciplinary Judson Dance Theater, and started auditioning for dance gigs.

“I was looking for something radical in dance and I wasn’t finding it,” she said. “I was finding kind of smoothed out, lyrical, contact-improvy based stuff…and so I think I just put together my first concert and said, OK, I’m going to do this myself.”

Influenced by, among others, the work of Simone Forti and Yoshiko Chuma, Silvers eventually started piecing together text, movement, voice, and music into crazy-quilt dances underpinned by big themes such as gender and race, but rooted in Silvers’s love of the human body in motion.

Bonobo Milkshake is no exception. According to Silvers, the dance isn’t directly about apes or musicals, but about the intricacies of human behavior, particularly as explored by Sondheim in his dark, irreverent lyrics and inherently un-danceable scores.

Sondheim “represents a real change in looking at society with more realism,” says Silvers. “He tackles things like aging, melancholy, things that don’t work out.”

But during the choreographer’s rehearsal time at BAC, gloominess was refreshingly absent. There was laughter and a free exchange of comments and suggestions as Silvers carefully edited and embellished small chunks of movement with the dancers.

One afternoon she had dancers Dylan Crossman, Elisa Osborne, Miriam Parker, Veraalba Santa, and Christopher Williams cluster front and center. She asked them for a titillating show of leg like they were old school chorines trying to impress a director. The dancers suggestively pulled at their sweatpants and Spandex, but the result was more aggressive than Silvers wanted. She directed them to soften everything. Less movement and more intent, she suggested. “You kind of have to believe in it,” she said.

There’s a sense that this is how Silvers works – the intellectual framework of the dance is pulled from wildly divergent sources and fastened together gestalt-like in her head. The piece is then built in rehearsal as the dancers experiment and layer movement onto that framework. Silvers appears fearless when it comes to marrying disparate ideas, and the dancers follow her lead with the willingness of converts.  

During her residency Silvers pushed this approach even further. Bonobo Milkshake is a multi-layered mash-up with choreographed movement for six dancers (the five listed above plus Jeremy Pheiffer), structured improvisation for three more performers (Carolyn Hall, Jonathan Kinzel, and Edisa Weeks), semi-improvised duets for Silvers and Rebekah Windmiller, and monologues and movement solos for actor David Greenspan. Michael Schumacher composed and performed the music with original text and sound design by Bruce Andrews.

“I think the scale of this piece was made more possible by the BAC residency for sure,” says Silvers. “I was able to think bigger.”

In performance at Roulette, Silvers reversed the usual seating arrangement so that the audience, elevated on the stage, looked down at the dancers, and up to the balcony area where Hall, Kinzel, and Weeks periodically slunk through the seats in a sort of mating ritual. The effect was intriguing, but the space between floor and balcony made it hard to absorb everything all at once. And Silvers’ choreography is compelling enough that it was easy to lose track of the improvised bits even when they happened down at dance floor level.

In our interview before the premier she spoke of the challenges of overlapping choreography with improvisation. “Improvisation you really have to dive in and get involved with what you’re doing,” she said. “It’s hard to coordinate because [the improvisers] can’t be there as much as they would normally need in order to get something actually worked…They’ve got to be aware that that’s their time and that they have to be off the stage or they’re going to get run over by the next section.” In an email after the opening she said that if she presents Bonobo Milkshake elsewhere she’ll intertwine the two elements even more.  

Silvers has an internal presence, call it confident calmness, that somehow makes the simple act of standing and tilting her head a potent comment on life’s absurdities. When asked about the dance’s title, she said, “My dance is not about Bonobos, it’s more about the spirit of the Bonobo…Bonobo Milkshake just sounded to me like a title that meant something hopefully exciting was going to happen.”

And her response when asked what Sondheim might say if he saw Bonobo Milkshake?

“I would be very curious what he had to say about what he saw,” she says with a slight smile. “I don’t know that he would see any relationship.”

Visit Sally's Residency Page

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BAC Story by Lisa Rinehart
Rashaun Mitchell

Rashaun Mitchell

Aug 26, 2012

Rashaun Mitchell, an eight-year veteran of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, isn’t afraid of getting lost. Literally. To prepare for his BAC residency, he and a few other dancers set out into the woods of southeastern Connecticut for a hike into unfamiliar territory. Without speaking, one dancer was expected to lead until another felt compelled to take their place. 

It wasn’t pretty.

They were quickly lost, and when they finally made it back to the studio, everyone was intensely emotional. Mitchell recalls it as being, “really weird,” but he knew he’d hit choreographic pay dirt. He set up a camera and told his dancers, “OK, let’s dance…let’s see what comes out of our bodies.” Those filmed improvisations became the core material for Interface, an exploration of visceral and emotional reactions that Mitchell expects to be more of a multi-media piece than a dance.

It’s fair to say that this comfort with creative meandering is unusual for a seasoned Cunningham dancer. Although Cunningham often relied on chance operations for how a dance would look in performance (meaning the movement, sound and visuals are independent of one another and order is determined by a roll of the dice), the actual steps, and how they should be executed, were, as in classical ballet, imposed on the dancers by the choreographer. So Mitchell’s willingness to let his dancers’ movements dictate the look and feel of a new work is a certain kind of daring.

“I really like to work with people who have minds of their own,” he says. Mitchell encourages feedback from his dancers while sifting through their improvised movement, discovering the emotional intent behind it, then trying to separate one from the other and recombine them in novel ways – something he describes as a layering process.

In Interface, Mitchell plans to add even more layers including an original electronic score by Thomas Arsenault and design elements by artists Nicholas O’Brien and Fraser Taylor. Factor in the expertise of the dancers working with Mitchell during his time at BAC (Cori Kresge, Melissa Toogood and Silas Riener) and you have a passel of talent converging on virgin territory.

As if that isn’t intrepid enough, Mitchell and Riener will be co-creating an improvisational duet to be performed at Anatoly Bekkerman’s ABA Gallery as part of BAC’s fall gala evening. The challenges for such an event are many and Mitchell admits that it’s scary. Although he’s used to performing in unorthodox spaces from his years with the Cunningham company, Mitchell says a gala event is a little different. “It’s always sort of strange to figure out where people are going to be and whether we’re going to interrupt the socializing.”

Dangerous? Perhaps. Frightening? Yes, but most creative efforts are. Mitchell, however, appears to be willing to pull his collaborators close and step carefully, and bravely, into the unknown. 

Visit Rashaun's Residency Page

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BAC Story by Lisa Rinehart
Faye Driscoll

Faye Driscoll

May 2, 2012

Faye Driscoll is drenched in sweat, smeared with yellow, blue and orange paint, and riding atop collaborator Jesse Zaritt’s shoulders like a Valkyrie charging up out of a dress up box. She stares out and upwards as a synthesized beat thunders through the studio. Zaritt thrusts a wig, a cap and a hunk of velveteen up into her hands. She flings the fabric over her chest like a cloak and plunks the wig on her head.

They are tossed for fur collar, bra and a snarl of netting. Next are sunglasses, red feathers and Mardi Gras beads. Driscoll’s gaze is intense, uncompromising – her expression a twist of smile and snarl. The music fades, Zaritt backs away and she stands alone, breathing hard and twitching with kinetic energy. These are the final moments of Driscoll’s two-week residency at BAC where she’s pulled together her messy, funny, exhilarating and mystifying new work, You’re Me.

It’s the culmination of a year and a half of intermittent writing, solo improvisation and collaborative work with Zaritt as an exploration of the tumult between defining oneself as an individual and surrendering oneself to another in a relationship. If that sounds like grant-speak, a look around studio 4B will dispel any fears of post-modern tedium. The floor is strewn with orange peel, talcum powder, paint cans, cardboard, netting, yarn, fabric, fruit, fake jewels and piles of clothing. “The cleaning guy was really nice about it,” says Driscoll with a disarming smile. After its premier at The Kitchen in April, Brian Seibert of the The New York Times described You’re Me as a work in which “craft blooms into artistry.”

Driscoll has worked at BAC before; first as assistant to Resident Artist David Neumann in 2008, then as chief collaborator with director Young Jean Lee during Lee’s 2011 residency for Untitled Feminist Show, but never before on her own material. She was invited to BAC after her 2010 showing of there’s so much mad in me at DTW. The 38-year-old, critically acclaimed choreographer describes the offer as “a privilege” and a chance to work without distractions. “I was grateful I could just be wrapped up in creativity,” she says, adding that it’s easy to forget how much energy goes into the logistics of trying to make new work in New York City. “These little things pluck away at you when you’re in the midst of trying to dream,” she says. And dream she does. Driscoll’s work is often described as raw and unfiltered; indelicate moves tinged with the abandon of children run amok in the playroom. In You’re Me, she and Zaritt pull and paw at one another, stuff oranges and spray cans into their pants, crawl, moan and, startlingly, arrange themselves into Isadora-like tableaux with all the balance and restraint of a classical frieze. It’s a seductive juxtaposition - a fleshy ride into the dark (and sometimes funny) depths of the subconscious. UCLA dance professor Victoria Marks calls Driscoll a “post-millennium, postmodern wild woman” and Lee has aptly dubbed her “the choreographer of the id.”

But Driscoll saves the extremes for her work. In person she is approachable, articulate and genuine. She describes the sense of being cared for at BAC as validation that what she’s doing is worthwhile. It’s pretty simple stuff - a good floor, nice light, helpful staff and very few parameters, but it’s huge for a creative artist. “It facilitates better art,” says Driscoll.

Visit Faye's Residency Page

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Rachel Tess by Michael Mazzola