Baryshnikov Arts Center

Baryshnikov Arts Center

BAC Stories

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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