Baryshnikov Arts Center
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.