Baryshnikov Arts Center

Baryshnikov Arts Center

BAC Stories

BAC invites writers to interview our Resident Artists and observe them working in the studio. The resulting BAC Story essays offer an intimate behind-the-scenes look at the creative process. 


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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Rachel Tess by Michael Mazzola