Happy Spring (at last!) – by Bill T. Jones
This is part of a series of monthly blog posts–penned by Bill T. Jones–designed to provide further insight into his creative process, inspirations and more.
Hello! And a Happy Spring (at last!).
This blog/this essay/this stream of consciousness… Whatever you’d like to call it is going to be – depending on your point of view – in two parts or in thirty. It is an attempt to embrace fragmentation. What I mean by that is an acknowledgement of the diverse and often conflicting impulses, thoughts and responses I feel personally around life in general, New York Live Arts in particular and…
Context Notes: Emily Johnson/Catalyst
The Static and the Ecstatic: Emily Johnson
by Paul David Young
I met Emily Johnson in a bar in Cobble Hill on one of those desperately cold days we enjoyed all too often in New York this winter. Once out of the chill, I quickly found her waiting in a cozy booth, just made for a tête-à-tête. The bar itself was snug and lively on a Saturday afternoon. As I learned during our conversation, the character of the milieu was hardly an accident.
She struck me straight off as intelligent and gracious. I liked her immediately, and I was pretty sure most any other person would have the same reaction. I recollected the video of SHORE. The performance began almost imperceptibly outdoors, allowing the audience an experience of their environment and each other and a chance to find correspondences between the movement of the dancers and other things happening around them. It became more structured as she appeared and addressed the audience assembled for the occasion. The piece seemed gathered around her person, and, having met her, I found that to be a very fine choice.
SHORE is sometimes static, I noticed. When I think of dance, I tend to think of movement, whatever form that takes, but here I was being focused on nonmovement in a novel way, though there are also moments of highly athletic dancing. I asked her if I was correct in experiencing the work as alternately static and ecstatic. She said that she consciously allows these quiet moments as opportunities for reflection by all of the participants. Some of the still parts, when the performers are seated downstage close to the audience, she described as “silent stories,” since the performers are at that moment thinking stories but not speaking them. She also referred to the power of the potentiality in nonmovement. “Movement possibility is really exciting.” In creating SHORE, she strove to give herself and her collaborators permission to “let anything be possible—stillness, nothing, tons of motion, rigorous endurance, scratching your nose.”
When I asked her about the concept of virtuosity as it applied to her work, she said, “Of course, there’s virtuosity in the dance.” But she also drew attention to aspects of sitting and walking, seemingly mundane, nondance activities which occupy portions of her work and are crafted in many subtle ways. She described, for example, “a gentle way of seeing, a more encompassing view, which changes the body.” She showed me how this works as she took in the bar in what seemed to be a 360-degree scan, not a tight stare, nor a focus on details, but an openness to everything there is around us.
In SHORE, she wears red paint around her eyes, a kind of mask of maquillage. She explained that this was partly a way of raising questions about how we routinely link appearance and aspects of character and identity. But she had an even more ambitious interpretation: “It is a portal to another world.” She is of Yup’ik ancestry, which influences her understanding of the function of masks.
Her work contains a variety of components. “I can’t imagine my work without all of those elements,” she said. “It’s all an effort to give space for us to get to know each other and this place.” She described her family’s annual salmon harvest as a gathering that included people of all ages playing, working and eating together and telling stories and jokes. Similarly, in addition to two community service projects (one in the Rockaways and another on Governors Island), SHORE includes the experience of gathering and being together along with dance and stories and finally food. She is careful not to claim the community projects as her own; rather, wherever SHORE is performed, she seeks out community groups to work with, trying to be sensitive and responsive to local needs and organizations. “I can’t be a part of that community. Building a community, no, that takes time. But I can come in and engage with it. I’ve always wanted what I do to connect.” She does hope that there will be long-term resonance. “While I can’t know or make it to happen, it’s through those connections that the work we need to continue to do together (as citizens, as community members, as humans) becomes clearer.”
I had wondered, since her work was so particular to her history and her embodiment of it, whether it could be performed or exist without her. And indeed, she said she has almost never created work on other people, but always with others. She emphasized in our conversation that the movement, the stories, and the entirety of the piece were created through improvisation, a process in which she welcomes the contributions and uniqueness of her collaborators.
To make SHORE, the task for Johnson and her collaborators was “conjuring future joy,” a necessary and emotional starting point. “We have to work to envision a good future. We can’t rely on anyone else to do that for us.” For Johnson, the task involved recognizing a more fluid sense of time, which she regards as cyclical rather than linear. “We can access the future and the past in the moment. We are made of our ancestors. All of our thoughts and the possibility of our future thoughts reside inside us. Future joy connects us to the present and to past joy.”
Her words had elevated our conversation to a splendid plateau, where it should have stayed, but I had to know. It was definitely trivial, but I was curious. Does she really dance in a full-fledged down parka in SHORE? Though I liked it as a costuming choice, I could easily imagine fainting if I tried such a thing. I thought maybe she had emptied the feathers out of the coat or otherwise altered it to prevent heat stroke. She answered, “It’s a real parka. It gets very hot.”
Creative Resistance: A Rising Economic Movement
by Ali Rosa-Salas
The second installment of New York Live Arts’ conversation series Open Spectrum Critical Dialogues, “Creative Resistance: A Rising Economic Movement,” focused on a critique of capitalism that both acknowledged its undeniable centrality yet pushed for the seemingly untenable: its downfall. Panelists Piper Anderson, Okwui Okpokwasili, Laura Flanders, Joan Morgan, Seyi Adebanjoand audience members collectively considered entry points for anti-capitalist resistance, both habitual and revolutionary. From the practice of cooperative economy to that of radical self love, these offerings of instigation constructed a glimpse of life after capitalism that made one thing clear: something’s gotta give, and cultural workers are at the helm of envisioning an alternative way of being for all of us.
Context Notes: Rashaun Mitchell
Cosmically Happy Accidents, Incarnations:
In Process with Rashaun Mitchell’s Light Years
by Jess Barbagallo
On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, I enter the theater at New York Live Arts where Rashaun Mitchell and Co. is preparing his latest work, Light Years. Lighting designer Davison Scandrett is playing with a circular pool of light center stage, tweaking its colors and testing them against a hazer–director and designer agree the haze is too distracting, drawing unnecessary attention to the shapes of the purple, green, and pink shafts that compose the watery mass of light, and the instruments in the air. Rashaun wants to make you feel like you’re not even in a theater. So, there’s that challenge. Now it’ll just take thirty minutes for the haze to clear. (more…)
Bill’s Blog: Irony, Aesthetic Arrest and What the Fuck Do You Care?
This is the first in a new series of monthly blog posts–penned by Bill T. Jones– designed to provide further insight into his creative process, inspirations and more.
At the invitation of Gotham Opera’s Artistic Director and Conductor, Neal Goren, Bjorn and I attended that company’s gala performance of a new work, The Tempest Songbook, at the Metropolitan Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium.
Reflection on Open Spectrum Critical Dialogues
Artist as Activist: Futuring the Face of Protest
By Ali Rosa-Salas
Six months after the murder of Mike Brown, “Black Lives Matter” has been a national rallying cry against state sanctioned violence in the US and beyond. In a kind of collaborative choreography, thousands commanded public space by stopping traffic, lying in the streets and chanting in affirmation of black and brown lives. (more…)
#OpenSpectrumNYC Chat: Artist As Activist
The first Twitter Chat for New York Live Art’s Open Spectrum Dialogue Series
Fifty Years Already?!
Fresh Tracks is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. Like anything (or anyone) five decades old, it’s gone through its share of transitions and name changes. The program, created to support the work of emerging choreographers, dates from the very beginning of Dance Theater Workshop (DTW), which was formed in 1965 by a collective of young choreographers and dancers. That same year, they began holding a series of informal performances at co-founder Jeff Duncan’s loft on 215 West 20th Street. (more…)
Context Notes: Fresh Tracks
First Impressions and Enthusiasms:
A Compendium to Fresh Tracks 2014-15
by Jess Barbagallo
An artist’s digital ephemera makes a curious body to sift. We (sort of) thrive in an age where documentation of live performance and in-process experimentation is readily available – awesome, but by no means all-encompassing. In the following notes, I attempt slightly expanded readings of micro-moments in a range of past movement scores generated by this year’s 2014-15 Fresh Tracks Artists. By responding to the sensuous possibilities of pre-branded process-oriented work, I hope to maintain my wonder for dance and encourage a model of playful association in others. (more…)
Context Notes: Taylor Mac
The Historical Taylor Mac
by Paul David Young
One thing you can say for certain about Taylor Mac: he doesn’t think small. His breakthrough marathon was the five-hour The Lily’s Revenge. His work-in-progress A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, six hours of which are being presented at New York Live Arts as part of a first-time-ever marathon show, will, when completed, traverse American history, from the Declaration of Independence to 2016 in a 24-hour extravaganza of song, history, costumes, and commentary. (more…)