Schoen Movement Company: An American and Tunisian Collaboration
Schoen Movement Company (NYC) will bring together New York and Tunisia-based dance artists in See me in your eye, a dance-theater work exploring and celebrating cultural differences. The collaboration navigates the effects of a xenophobic climate and challenges attitudes of hesitation and fear, investigating what unites individuals with diverse backgrounds, religions, politics, and culture.
Leadership support for BAC has been provided by Altman Foundation, Anonymous, James H. Duffy, The Enoch Foundation, Howard Gilman Foundation, Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation, Mertz Gilmore Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Council on the Arts, Princess Grace Foundation-USA, Jerome Robbins Foundation, Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Thompson Family Foundation, and Dance/ NYC’s New York City Dance Rehearsal Space Subsidy Program, made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The Ford Foundation provides leadership support for international residencies.
Lead support of dance programming at BAC is provided by the Rudolf Nureyev Endowment.
Emily Schoen is a NYC-based choreographer and Dance Magazine “Top 25 to Watch” artist. She is a recipient of the Gibney Dance boo-koo grant for emerging artist in NYC and a Princess Grace Fellowship nomination by METdance.
She has been artist-in-residence for Jamaica Center for the Arts and Learning in their Choreographers and Composers series, the Tunisian National Theater for the development of Here We Are, Marymount Manhattan College in their (M)mix series, and at the Orpheum Theater (Tannersville, NY) sponsored by the Catskills Mountain Foundation. Her work has been commissioned by Santa Barbara Dance Theater (Santa Barbara, CA), METdance (Houston), Ormao (Colorado Springs), Columbia Ballet Collaborative (NYC), and Mid-Pacific (Hawaii), and university programs throughout the United States. Schoen’s group, Schoen Movement Company, is home to her collaborative and creative endeavors. Performance venues Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out (Becket, MA), Gibney Dance (NYC), Jamaica Performing Arts Center (NYC), Joe’s Pub/DanceNOW (NYC), Judson Memorial Church (NYC), and the Tunisian National Theater (Tunis, Tunisia). Beyond the stage, SMC produces site-specific happy hour performances in active breweries, and created the mini dance film series Ten Tiny Dances, viewable online. As a freelance dancer, Schoen has performed with Kyle Abraham/AIM, Nejla Yatkin, the Metropolitan Opera in works by Doug Varone and Mark Morris, the Rolling Stones in their 50th Anniversary reunion tour, and for eight years with KEIGWIN + COMPANY. She received her BFA in Dance and BS in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona.
BAC Story by Elena Hecht
Schoen Movement Company
Jun 4, 2019
With spring sunlight filtering through the large warehouse-style windows of Baryshnikov Arts Center’s John Cage & Merce Cunningham Studio, Emily Schoen watches her six dancers as they work through an ensemble section of her newest piece, See Me In Your Eye.
The dancers, in two lines of three, walk, rock, twirl, and hop forward and backward, the lines slowly exchanging and then re-exchanging places like the ebbing and flowing of a tide.
“I’m interested in those moments when people change their mind in life. Because I think even in this age, in this space where we live, it’s harder and harder for people to soften to new information,” Schoen tells me later.
The dancers lean against and away from each other, heads supported by hands, a leg grasped as a dancer tilts to break free. They mirror each other in couples before splitting the space as two groups of three, a brief distance between them before they magnetically reconvene as a single unit in the corner.
The piece brings together dancers from the U.S. and Tunisia, where Schoen traveled twice in 2017 — first with Larry Keigwin and then a few months later to create her own work, Here We Are, a 30-minute piece that serves as the foundation — or as Schoen describes it, the “putty” — for See Me In Your Eye.
The soundtrack of the piece is composed largely by Curtis Macdonald with additional music by Simon Broucke, a Tunisian hip hop song by KATYB, and stories recorded by each of the dancers sprinkled throughout. This means that even as the dancers’ movements cohesively entwine, the piece toggles between cultures and languages, at once a reminder of both the cross-cultural exchange happening on stage and of the dancers’ individuality and humanity.
“The goal of this is for us to be ourselves, and for people to see us as ourselves and to get us as this unit of international diversity,” Schoen says. “Basically just presenting a full human experience.”
As I watch the dancers, I find myself wondering: if I did not know who was Tunisian and who was American from the outset, would I be able tell? And to what extent do these signifiers even matter? Further, what is it to be defined as being “from” somewhere? When speaking to Schoen’s Tunisian dancers, the fluidity of borders is clear — one dancer is originally from Algeria; one spent 9 months living in Houston; one studied in Paris and briefly danced in Finland.
Schoen is “not trying to make a political statement,” and yet when pushed further she adds, “maybe the political statement is that it’s not political. We can exist together, we can live together, without it being some message or some signpost in the sand, some marker of who you are…. We can have our culture, we can accept other peoples’ cultures, we can live together, right? So, yeah, maybe it’s political because it’s not.”
In the studio, the dancers spend time problem-solving a lift. They work on small phrases built from another ensemble piece and then they take time to learn each other’s phrases, the studio echoing with intermittent laughter.
“The beauty of this piece is quite simple: very different people coming together and giving of themselves and being open to people who are different from them through dance,” Schoen says. “It’s simple and I think it’s inherently beautiful in the physicality and the vulnerability that comes out of that.”
Elena Hecht is currently finishing an M.F.A. in creative writing at Columbia's School of the Arts. She has attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and her writing has appeared in Dance Magazine, Columbia College Today, and The New York Times. She is currently working on a novel loosely based on her grandparents’ lives during WW2 as well as a book centered around an art project she created in her sister’s memory. When not writing, Elena can probably be found dancing and has performed the work of David Neumann, Gabriel Forestieri, Zoe Scofield, Rami Be'er, Daniel Gwirtzman, Stephanie Liapis, and Ming Wong.