Blogs The Green Room Justin Jones

I make dances and dance in dances and like to watch and then talk about dances with my dancing friends.

Talk Dance: Luis Garay on Maneries

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Luis Garay, whose work Maneries will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater April 21-23, 2016.  You can listen to the full podcast on the Walker Channel.   […]

Photo: Courtesy the artist

Florencia Vecino performing Luis Garay’s Maneries.  Photo: courtesy the artist

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Luis Garay, whose work Maneries will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater April 21-23, 2016.  You can listen to the full podcast on the Walker Channel 

The title of Luis Garay’s 2009 solo dance, Maneries, is taken from the name of a chapter in philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s 1990 book, The Oncoming Community. “Maneries” is a concept that reconciles, as summarized eloquently by Garay in our conversation, “the universal and the particular, which is a big philosophical problem. The solution for [Agamben] is in the examples. For instance, this telephone. When I say ‘for instance,’ we are talking about this telephone in particular and at the same time when I mention an example of this telephone, I am referring to all possible telephones that existed and will exist. So an example is at the same time universal and particular.”

After our interview I went to Agamben’s text and found this passage which I think speaks to Florencia Vecino’s breathtaking performance of Garay’s solo:

…a manner of rising forth; not a being that is in this or that mode, but a being that is its mode of being, and thus, while remaining singular and not indifferent, is multiple and valid for all.

Watching a shaky documentation of the solo, I sense Florencia resisting the performance of recognizable states of being, and effort-fully inhabiting each second of each movement, in each moment. The movement at once hints to a furiously changing inner life, and is yet devoid of personality of affect. She achieves a performance that, like Agamben states, is singular in its stark presentation of a body in extreme exertion, and yet, like a cartoon face without distinct features, allows for projection and connection. Particular and Universal.

The performance is generated anew each time through a complex series of rules followed by Florencia. Garay gave some examples:

For instance, when you’re getting close to the meaning of one form, you should avoid it… We work with the body as a writing machine. So, when that writing is getting, is making sense, she has to avoid that and turn another way for instance.  But that, its a complex system. ‘Complex’ means that there are many rules at the same time. For instance, at the same time… she has to write information in the space with [her] upper body… [and write] different information with her legs… Another rule could be that she has to contradict herself, whatever that means… So, I think all the building of these rules are just trying to put her in a state in which she’s creating her own problems.

Beyond that, we talked about his love of David Lynch films (“strange, dark, mysterious energy”), his connection to the visual artists in his home city of Buenos Aires, how he started dancing (an inability to read and sing in Finnish), and about the value of Art. It was a fascinating conversation.

Maneries has had a long life for a dance work. It premiered in 2009 and has toured on and off again for seven years. Garay mentioned that he looks back to this piece like an “oracle… a resource to understand my own work.” He went on to say that, “the piece is speaking to me about the things that I wanted to do in other pieces and in the future… I always go back to it to understand the other pieces that I’ve done.” I look forward to visiting the oracle, Maneries, to peer into the future of Garay’s fascinating work.

Talk Dance: Trajal Harrell on The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Trajal Harrell, whose work The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater March 11-13, 2016.  You can listen to […]

Photo: © Orpheas Emirzas

Photo: © Orpheas Emirzas

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Trajal Harrell, whose work The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater March 11-13, 2016.  You can listen to the full podcast on the Walker Channel 

***

Justin Jones: “Where do you call home?”

Trajal Harrell: “… Home for me is in many places I guess would say. I certainly call home where my mother is, my mother is in Douglas, Georgia. One of my homes is New York, and that will probably always be because I spent so many years there. Because I’m touring so much … I do have a place here in Athens that I sublet. And I also spend quite a bit of time in Vienna. … But … when you’re on the road as many weeks as I am you kind of, the internet can be your home too because that’s where you … have your continuity of relationships and friendships. … I don’t have a answer but I know that its certainly not singular for me.”

… 

Jones: “…before we finish our interview. Would you mind just saying your name once.”

Harrell: “No, because, now I’m realizing it’s a funny question because people pronounce my name a lot of different ways you know and I answer to them all. … And you’re the first person to ask me that question … I’m reluctant to have one pronunciation.” 

Something about these two exchanges from my recent interview with Trajal Harrell speaks volumes about his mercurial choreography. Yes, he creates dances, and they are very much located in the body, but the work is as much theater and performance art and runway show and voguing ball as it is proscenium dance. The notion of identity plays strongly in his work. Who is who, Are they runway models or are they dancers? Are they characters from a Greek drama?  Are the performers themselves or are they “themselves”?

Trajal is well-known as the creator of the “Twenty Looks…” series, a collection of dances that imagine a fictional collision between the Harlem voguing balls (watch Paris is Burning now if you haven’t) and the Judson Church postmodern dance scene of the 1960s. As in a fashion collection, each piece was created with a different size (XS, S, M, L, M2M, XL). The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai  takes the idea of size and audience to another place. As he said, “the Twenty Looks… project had this important idea around the sizes of the pieces and how they were […] enlarging the audience through each size […] I really wanted to enlarge the audience even further with Ghost… I wanted to make this for a kind of mainstream audience. And I felt that none of the pieces before had gone that far. I mean mainstream is a strange word, but I’m gonna use it.”

Trajal and I also spoke about what feels new about this piece, which centers around the work of French choreographer Dominique Bagouet and Tatsumi HIjikata, two relatively un-famous artists who died young before their work was done. Trajal went on, “You know we have this fascination with people who died young somehow. But, because they were in very unknown fields, we didn’t have a kind of cultural mourning around them… I didn’t know how you take something that’s tragic or mournful in a way, and by the end get the audience to to sense, to have this great appreciation for life and the joy that we’re here together even though we mourn. And so that was very new for me.”

Though Trajal’s work is about history and springs forth from intense research, what I find fascinating is how that research influences the work. In no way does he attempt to recreate, rather, he uses his research to, as he said, “generate a language on the stage, and a movement practice… informed by operations that may be in those forms.” He went on, “Bagouet was very well-known for his very specific use of the hands and there’s a lot of that in ‘Ghost…’ We don’t try to make Bagouet movement, but there’s this sense of the hands being very important… It’s only a way to generate and get closer to what I want to make as myself.”

Though home for Trajal is not as he said, “singular,” he is an American, and I wanted to hear from him about what it meant to work so closely with the choreography and biography of two non-American artists, working outside of American culture. His response: “American culture has really exported itself into a lot of cultures… and certainly both [Bagouet and Hijikata] have been influenced by American culture and by American artistic creation. And, how do we draw those lines? How we write history and how we think about culture? I’m suspicious of that. In the best sense.”

I look forward to seeing how those suspicions manifest in The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai.

Talk Dance: Faye Driscoll on Thank You For Coming: Attendance

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Faye Driscoll, whose work Thank You For Coming: Attendance will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater February 17-21, 2016.  You can listen to the […]

Faye Driscoll, Thank You For Coming: Attendance. Photo: Maria Baranova

Faye Driscoll, Thank You For Coming: Attendance. Photo: Maria Baranova

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Faye Driscoll, whose work Thank You For Coming: Attendance will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater February 17-21, 2016.  You can listen to the podcast on the Walker Channel 

Right at the start of our conversation, Faye Driscoll refers to Thank You For Coming: Attendance (TYFC:Attendance)  as “quite a live beast.” TYFC: Attendance is the first in a series of three works by Driscoll that, according to her website, “extends the sphere of influence of performance to create a communal space where the co-emergent social moment is questioned, heightened, and palpable.”  Or, as she said it more plainly to me on the phone, “I mean, I hate audience participation, so it was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna make a work that somehow does this … sneakily’.”

TYFC: Attendance has had a rich touring schedule this past year, including stops in major US cities, Croatia, and Argentina, and I was curious to hear about how the feeling between the performers and the audience shifts from location to location.  As a dancer who has toured a bit, I know each audience (even in the same city) feels a bit different, but I wondered if this particular piece revealed anything particular about the places in which it was being performed.  Driscoll responded “I think because we’re dealing with the sensation of co-creation with the audience so directly […] there is a very palpable difference in each community that we go to.  Like when we were in Zagreb […] they went from cold … to not cold maybe?  But there was a movement in every audience we’ve gone to. […] In Argentina it was like from warm to boiling hot. Like it was almost like they were just gonna start kissing the dancers as soon as they rolled into their laps.”

Like her past work, TYFC: Attendance is a demanding, multidisciplinary work.  Watching a video of the performance in preparation for our conversation, I was astounded by the performers virtuosic abilities – not just dancing, but singing, acting, remembering.  What they do seemed to me extremely rigorous, and somehow new.  I was reminded of something Phillip Glass said talking to Terry Gross on Fresh Air; Gross plays a clip of one of Glass’ early works and then admits that she can’t even imagine what it would be like to perform one of Glass’ demanding compositions.  Glass coolly responds that in order to perform his music he had to develop a new performance practice and then goes on to say “if you think about it, for any music to be really new, there probably has to be a different performance practice to go with it otherwise it wouldn’t be new.  What makes it new is that you have to find a new way to play.”

In TYFC: Attendance, Driscoll is seeking out new performance practices.  She elaborates, “I feel like I’m carving out and discovering new forms through the making of the thing and the more that I make things I feel that I bring lots of practices into the room.”  One of the practices we talked about was what Driscoll referred to as “state work”; I thought her definition of “state work” was particularly revealing to what the incredible performers are attempting in TYFC: Attendance: “I think of it like shifting presence in the body […]  it could be emotional, it could be purely the feeling of the body itself, kind of textural and tonal.  It could be working with image.  It could be more psychological.  But it’s become a huge part of my practice because its about […] shifting the shape and changing the alchemy of the body and almost imagining we can shift the composition of our form.”  In watching documentation of TYFC: Attendance, I found the performers’ adroit ability to shift and transform their performative presence fascinating. and I think it speaks directly to what Driscoll says she’s addressing in her work: “the very performativity of being and the sociality of being and how […] who we are is made by all these little interactions and all of these […] movements of self.”

If, like Driscoll, you’re skittish about audience participation, don’t fretDriscoll assures that the piece and the performers “create an environment where we’re at once commanding and extremely gentle and extremely direct. Where there’s options at every stage and there is this sense of, even if you’ve sat there with your arms crossed the entire time, we’ve sort of wrapped you a little bit in our world.” Thank You for Coming: Attendance will be on the Walker stage, Feb. 17-21, 2016.  And, lucky for us, the Walker will present parts two and three of the Thank you for Coming series over the next few years.

Talk Dance: Momentum 2015

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Hiponymous, Angharad Davies, and Nic Lincoln, whose works will premiere in Momentum: New Dance Works July 9-18, 2015 at the Southern Theater.  You can find the podcasts […]

pa2015_momentum_final-1

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Hiponymous, Angharad Davies, and Nic Lincoln, whose works will premiere in Momentum: New Dance Works July 9-18, 2015 at the Southern Theater.  You can find the podcasts on the Walker Channel 

Momentum: New Dance Works is a big deal.  Many emerging choreographers apply and a panel reviews and selects just 4 applicants to participate.  If your work is chosen, three major performance venues (Cowles Center for Dance/ Southern Theater/ Walker Art Center) and one major funding organization (Jerome Foundation) enthusiastically support your work with time, space, money, expertise, production, feedback, career development opportunities, and publicity.  Many choreographers who’ve come through Momentum have gone on to become major voices in the dance community locally and nationally.  When interviewing the Momentum choreographers about their upcoming shows I asked them what being a part of the program means to them.

Angharad Davies: “I just feel really so excited that I was invited to be a part of this, the support has been great. I’ve been making this work since I got here and to get Momentum was kind of a big deal because it felt like the support for my aesthetic or my artistic vision was there, and I feel really excited and proud that I’m part of this group.”

Hiponymous (Evie Muench and Renée Copeland):  “It means that we got a place to do this project idea that we had in our brains, that I don’t think would have been produced at the scale that it is going to be produced for this show…I was really trying to figure out how we would have done this piece had we not gotten this grant. It’s an incredible opportunity… and we took it!”

Nic Lincoln:  “I view Momentum as being a stepping stone. I really like the idea of being pushed forward.  This process, with all the feedback, has pushed me.  In the last couple years, I’ve been able to work on shedding any kind of ego that has to relate to my work so I can actually take in the corrections or feedback I’m getting.  I believe that because of that process, that’s part of the reason why the work is so strong.”

Interviewing these artists about their upcoming shows at the Southern Theater was great fun.  What was most exciting to me was learning that each of the artists are exploring new territory in their work.  Hiponymous expanded their collaboration to include two composers, a costume designer and a host of voice actors.  Nic Lincoln is creating his first choreography for an all male cast, and Angharad Davies is making a dance that is more, “internally driven and focused” than her previous work.

Making new work for an opportunity that is as big a deal as Momentum is, it might be easy to “do what you know.”  I commend the choreographers for going beyond and taking the generous support of the Cowles, Jerome, the Southern, and the Walker to explore new territory.   If you missed the first weekend, go now and get your tickets for week two.

Momentum: New Dance Works 2015 continues this Thursday through Saturday, July 16-18, at the Southern Theater.

Talk Dance: Tere O’Connor on BLEED

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with New York choreographer Tere O’Connor, whose work BLEED will be performed at the Walker March 19-21. You can find the podcast on the Walker Channel.   The latest episode of Talk Dance is […]

Tere O'Connor Photo: Natalie Fiol

Tere O’Connor. Photo: Natalie Fiol

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with New York choreographer Tere O’Connor, whose work BLEED will be performed at the Walker March 19-21. You can find the podcast on the Walker Channel 

The latest episode of Talk Dance is built around an error. I was a bit flustered and nervous at the beginning of my interview with choreographer Tere O’ Connor and forgot to push the big, super-important, red RECORD button on my Skype recorder. Luckily, I had a second mode of recording going, just in case anything were to go wrong, which it did. However that recorder only captured Tere’s voice and not mine. So, rather than re-record myself asking the questions, I decided to edit the audio I had to sound like a monologue.

As I’ve listened and relistened to this podcast (about 12 minutes of very compelling thinking about dance, a life in dance and the making of BLEED) I’ve come to love the way it mirrors my experience of watching Tere’s dances. From the first moment, I find myself in a highly constructed world where ideas are born and disintegrate in heartbeats, where landscapes become seascapes become portraits become abstract expressionisms become cathedrals and I can’t quite get my footing and I can’t catch my breath and I’m loving every minute of it. Yes, I’m a huge fan. That’s why I forgot to press record. So, I wanted the listening to be like the watching, that from the get go, you were, as Tere said in our interview, “aswim in what’s already gone by … and sifting through that as it goes forward.”

Tere spoke brilliantly about a ton of stuff and I cut quite a bit of the interview (from 45 minutes to 12), so there’s a lot of great material on the cutting room floor. Three (of many) bits I decided not to include were discussions of cooking (and its relationship to dance-making), Tere’s long time collaborations with composer James Baker, and some thoughts about the evolution of his choreographic practice. Here’s a taste:

ON COOKING: “You know, pepper … has all this deep background, that I can both sense and have also read about. It’s the same way I look at history referenced in my work. I’m not doing a critique of that, they’re just all there blended together creating this other thing and that kind of alchemy is really interesting to me in both cooking and in choreography definitely. There are connections there for me. And they’re very deep.”

ON COLLABORATIONS: “It might be interesting for people to know that I make my dances in silence and then the music comes later. And James and I think a lot about what should be the tone what should be the instrumentation, what should be the chord progression over the whole piece, should it be resolved or not … the way that tone and quality of music kind of finish out the work, its really braided between us and he’s a huge part of my voice.

ON HIS PRACTICE: “…at this point it’s like trying to … use the things that are coming from my practice – all the instability that is inside of a practice and the kind of relationship of doubt to certainty that is inside of a practice. And I don’t want to have a practice that says, ‘I’m fixing that and denying that,’ I want to have a practice that says, ‘I’m including that.’… And since I’ve decided to stay in this form, and not go into a commercial area, I want to really be a commercial, I don’t want deal with product production.”

There’s so much more to chew on in the podcast, and it illuminates not just aspects of Tere’s work, but dance in general. Take a listen and make your friend who says “I don’t get dance” listen to it too–then take them to see BLEED. I truly enjoyed talking to Tere about his work, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing BLEED at the McGuire. And, as my end of the conversation evaporated into the ether, I’d like to personally/publicly thank Tere again for taking some time to talk with me.

Head over to the Walker Channel to listen to the podcast with Tere O’Connor.

BLEED will be performed at the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday–Saturday, March 19-21, 2015 at 8 pm. Tere O’Connor will also teach a Master Class at 11 am on Saturday, March 21 in the McGuire Theater.

Talk Dance: Chris Schlichting on Stripe Tease

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Minneapolis-based choreographer Chris Schlichting, whose Walker-commissioned piece Stripe Tease will premiere at the Walker February 19–21. You can find the podcast on the Walker Channel. Watching the first iteration […]

Jennifer Davis, Chris Schlichting, and Jeremy Ylvisaker. Photo: Gene Pittman

Jennifer Davis, Chris Schlichting, and Jeremy Ylvisaker. Photo: Gene Pittman

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Minneapolis-based choreographer Chris Schlichting, whose Walker-commissioned piece Stripe Tease will premiere at the Walker February 19–21. You can find the podcast on the Walker Channel.

Watching the first iteration of Chris Schlichting’s Stripe Tease at MTM@10: Momentum in the Garden was magical.  As I drove up to the Walker on Hennepin Avenue, I caught a glimpse of something hanging from the trees—like someone had very artfully “teepeed” the sculpture garden.  When I got closer I saw how carefully Chris and visual artist Jennifer Davis had placed each hand-painted butcher-paper streamer.  I loved how the set invited me to dream up and away from the dance and  reminded me to look down at the stage and pay attention!  The weather was summery and amazing (think opposite of February) and the piece, Den Rags, was lush, soft, and at times hypnotic.  After it was over, I loved watching Chris and the cast carefully lower each streamer down from the trees with string.

That first impression of the set, which at first glance it reminded me of a banal high-school prank and then revealed itself as something beautiful, is indicative of my experience of Chris’ work.  As I watch his dances I feel something similar to a concept Chris brought up in our interview earlier this month.  He said, “Kristin Van Loon (of HIJACK) talks about this attraction/repulsion dynamic that really connects with my interests in the form…there are things you find yourself attracted to and then there are things that you’re attracted to but feel kind of gross, and so you’re negotiating those frictions. To me it stirs up questions and keeps me interested.”  Those frictions keep me interested too.

We covered a lot of ground when we spoke: the difficulties of transitioning his work from outdoor stage to proscenium theater; collaborations with Visual Artist Jen Davis and Guitarist/Composer Jeremy Ylvisaker (Alpha Consumer); connections between Chris’ interest in Food and Dance; and Chris’ longtime employment at the University of Minnesota’s Architecture Department.  However, the thing I was most curious to talk about was the sexual content of his work.  It comes to you first in the in the titles of his works (to name a few: Dirty (2006), Love Things (2009), Public Hair (2011), I’m Not Sure What This Wetness Is (2011), and Matching Drapes (2013)).  But it also comes in the slyly suggestive movement vocabulary and the evocative relationships and situations between performers onstage. I wanted to know where this comes from and how he’s thinking about it in the larger context of his work.  Chris spoke eloquently about his interest in “the power and the beauty of these things that we sometimes associate with being somehow dirty […] some people might consider this gross and grotesque but it’s contextualizing it.  These things are also beautiful and these are parts of the human experience.”

Listen to Jones’ entire conversation with Schlichting here

Stripe Tease will have its world premiere in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday–Saturday, February 19–21, 2015 at 8 pm.

Talk Dance: Aparna Ramaswamy on Song of the Jasmine

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists, produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Aparna Ramaswamy of Ragamala Dance, whose Walker-commissioned work Song of the Jasmine (a collaboration with Rudresh Mahanthappa) had its world premiere in the McGuire Theater May 15-18, 2014. Listen to the entire […]

Song of the Jasmine

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists, produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Aparna Ramaswamy of Ragamala Dance, whose Walker-commissioned work Song of the Jasmine (a collaboration with Rudresh Mahanthappa) had its world premiere in the McGuire Theater May 15-18, 2014. Listen to the entire podcast here.

I’ve heard the saying, in one form or another, that you should never mix business with family, but that is exactly what Aparna, Ranee, and Ashwini Ramaswamy are doing.  When I sat down to interview Aparna Ramaswamy about her family’s dance company, Ragamala, and their upcoming premiere of Song of the Jasmine, I was particularly curious to hear about what its like to make art with family.  I’m married to an artist (a theater director), and we’ve collaborated a few times. Though we both survived the experience, we’ve learned that although we highly value the others feedback, we do our best work on our own.  There are many examples of partners making art together – even a handful in the Minneapolis dance community (BodyCartography Project and Chris Yon + Taryn Griggs to name two) but the examples that come to mind are couples who have chosen each other as life partners.  However, collaborating with someone you didn’t get to choose seemed unique to me.  When I asked Aparna about her choreographic partnership with her mother, Ranee, she was very direct: “we  create almost every movement together … our bond is so strong, it works for us, and we feel we create much better work together.”   I was also inspired by the family bonds within the company, which includes dancers Jessica Fiala and Tamara Nadel (everyone does more than dance, including grant writing and marketing work); as Aparna says, “to this day, when we tour, we eat every single meal together.  We really like hanging out together.”

A primary inspiration for Song of the Jasmine is the work of 8th century mystic poet, Andal, whose poetry casts the creator god, Krishna or Vishnu, as her lover to signify her deep desire to achieve a spiritual union with the infinite.  Aparna spoke of how Andal’s poetry is a guiding inspiration for this piece, “this idea of the human soul wanting to unite with the divine or the cosmic consciousness, we use that.  We use human love and sensuality as an allegory […] so its a very contemporary feeling that all of us can understand, but really, its this feeling of transcendence and soaring and spiritual union.”

Aparna and Ranee create their work using the vocabulary of the classical Indian dance form, Bharata Natyam.  “For us, tradition is something that we hold very closely.  We are very proud of the tradition we come from, and when we say tradition its a very specific thing.  We come from an ancient form that is codified but within that form we come from a certain school and within that school we come from a certain teacher who comes from a very specific lineage and we are the next part of that lineage.”

I was curious to hear Aparna speak about how, as a contemporary dance company working within this centuries-old tradition, Ragamala stays true to form while creating work that resonates with contemporary audiences.  She likened their years of study of the form to learning a language, “its like having a dictionary.  Its all this information that you have embodied because you have done it for so long […] poets use language very freely to create new work and we create work with many different dimensions and layers that use Bharata Natyam, but that will look very different and feel very different, because of the music and all of the different strategies we’re employing.”  It seems that their collaboration with avant jazz composer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is taking their explorations at the edges of  tradition to new places: “he’s so grounded in jazz and [jazz musicians] have all of these different structures and different ways that they approach music that’s very different from our experience. It just makes one push oneself so much more.”

Bharata Natyam is expressed in two ways, as a more abstract and rhythmic dance and, as a narrative form, through the use of facial expressions, costume, emotion, and word-like hand gestures, or mudras.   Aparna mentioned that audiences’ desire to understand the specifics of the story and the meaning of the mudras sometimes gets in the way of their enjoyment of the work.  Aparna’s response: “When I see contemporary dance I don’t understand all of the inspirations […] but I find different entry points or different things to appreciate or to be challenged by.  It’s the same thing. Just because its rooted in another culture doesn’t mean you don’t understand.”

Talk Dance: luciana achugar on OTRO TEATRO

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Uruguayan/New York-based choreographer luciana achugar, whose Walker-commissioned piece OTRO TEATRO will have its world premiere at the Walker February 27-March 1 . Listen to the […]

luciana achugar

achugar’s new work is inspired, in part, by the idea of an abandoned, crumbling theater. Photo: Matt Lambros

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Uruguayan/New York-based choreographer luciana achugar, whose Walker-commissioned piece OTRO TEATRO will have its world premiere at the Walker February 27-March 1 . Listen to the entire podcast here.

Talking with luciana achugar was fascinating. Her thinking unravels in layers, one connected to the other, sometimes digging deeper, sometimes sliding sideways, always moving forwards. Editing our hour of conversation about her upcoming premiere, OTRO TEATRO, into a busy-schedule-friendly 20 minutes was a challenge. Each edit made me a little sad.

One interesting detail (especially for Walker Art Geeks like myself), that I had to cut for time, was a connection luciana made between OTRO TEATRO, which she imagines beginning in the rubble of a decrepit and decaying theater, and the work of Argentinian visual artist, Guillermo Kuitca, whose series of paintings, 32 seating plans, incorporates laser printed images of seating plans of famous theaters that have been treated with water. A retrospective of Kuitca’s work entitled, “Everything” was in the Walker Galleries in 2010. As she said, “It speaks to a kind of way of making theater or a history of … the codes that we go by when we put theater or dance in the theater, and I liked this idea of it melting or collapsing or shifting … it relates to the world we’re living in right now and how it feels to me that the system we’re living in, our establishment, doesn’t feel like it can hold. It feels like it needs to soften and be a bit more flexible and shift its structures.”

What struck me most as I edited was how fully luciana integrates her ideas into her dance making process. I have the sense that it is her aim to take the conceptual, theoretical, ideological thinking she has around her work, and put it directly onto her skin, into her blood, bones, fascia. As she writes on her website, “…with a brain that melted down to the skin, the flesh, the bones, the guts, and the crotch… and with eyes that see without naming and see without knowing.”

Hear the rest of Jones’ conversation with achugar on the Walker Channel.

OTRO TEATRO takes place Thursday-Saturday, February 27-March 1, at 8pm in the Walker’s McGuire Theater.

Talk Dance: A Game of Chance with HIJACK

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with local dance duo and longtime Walker favorites HIJACK in aniticipation of HIJACK at 20. Listen to the entire podcast here. I’ve interviewed HIJACK once before, for a […]

hijack blog photo

Photo by Justin Jones

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with local dance duo and longtime Walker favorites HIJACK in aniticipation of HIJACK at 20. Listen to the entire podcast here.

I’ve interviewed HIJACK once before, for a previous incarnation of this podcast (TALK DANCE MPLS) in anticipation of their 2006 show, “HALF.” Even then, I felt that there was something about HIJACK’s resolute dedication to experimentation that required an altered interview format. In that case, the alteration was a portion of the interview where I took my questions out of the picture and let Kristin (Van Loon) and Arwen (Wilder) interview each other. I wanted to continue somehow on that path with this interview and remembered that Kristin and Arwen often use chance devices (a la Cage/Cunningham) in their choreographic process. I wanted to find a way to bring chance into our interview,  so I devised a game that would determine the topic of discussion (e.g. Origin Story, Music/Sound, Job or Hobby) and the duration (30, 60, 90 and 120 seconds) allotted to discuss that topic at random.

HIJACK were totally game, and the pressure of time seemed to have great effect on how they chose to articulate their thoughts. Watching and listening to Kristin and Arwen attempt to fill time, compress ideas, cut to the chase and search for words was fascinating.

The interview ran about 40 minutes, and I’m attempting to make all the TALK DANCE episodes clock in at 20 minutes this season. So I was in a bit of a pickle as to how to edit their words while still honoring the wonderful ways in which they responded to the rules of the game. The answer was obvious, both Kristin and Arwen mentioned that their upcoming Walker commission redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye, features a healthy dose of multi-layered text. Using that idea as a starting place, I decided to keep all (almost) of what they said and stacked it on top of itself while trying to make it as understandable as possible.

If you do listen to the podcast, I suggest listening with headphones. Here’s a smattering of their responses, preceded by the topic they’re responding to.

On Design

Kristin: They [the props onstage] were in a way, a way to approach the question of how to work with narrative. And I like how the objects stay the same and stay in place, left behind after they’ve been useful and used by the dancers, and in that way, express the past while the dance has moved on.

Arwen: Something that I think about design and HIJACK is how often we do our own… partly because we like the Do-It-Yourself, and because we consider [design] so much an intergral part of the composition itself, that it’s weird to outsource it. But also because we’re already collaborating and that is so much to add another voice into [the work].

On Why Dance?

Arwen: We sometimes have fantasies of being other things, like other kinds of artists, but we’re not, and then it’s fun to try to figure out how to get what we would get out of being those other artists, in dance.

Kristin: One reason I’m glad to choose dance is that I think of it as one of the most pathetic art forms, and I feel an affinity with pathetic forms such as print journalism, postal mail, sculpture…but now sculpture’s cool.

On Music/Sound

Arwen: I like to dance in silence. I like to make dances with silence. I like text a lot, and I like to try to figure out how there can be text in dance. And music is very mysterious and manipulative, and sometimes I like that problem….

On Language

Kristin: Not every word [in the show] can be heard because sometimes several layers of language are happening at the same time, and that’s been a real pickle for us to figure out if that’s okay. In general, I’m really into flat composition right now – everything layed out very plainly for everyone to see and hear, and those are some of my favorite parts, when the words are flattened out…

On Appropriation

Arwen: Figuring out what is the line between inspiration and appropriation is massively complicated and interesting.

Kristin: …to make things interesting, it’s nice to have scores for what can I use and what can’t I, and sometimes those aren’t the legal ones.

On Content/Form

Arwen: I’m reminded of being an activist, and everybody always talked about the ends and the means and how they had to match.  And I think that is the same in choreography, the content and the form are the ends and the means.

Kristin: I love it when one slips from one to the other, the material does.

On High Culture/Low Culture

Kristin: There was an early version of this piece … that the sound score toggled back and forth between Stockhausen’s “Mantra” and Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen”…  I was very interested in the phenomenon of being in one of those and craving anything but what you’re listening to.

Arwen: I see the card “High Culture/Low Culture” and I think, oh that’s exactly what we’re interested in… and then I get really bristly at that and at those definitions and start to want to argue with the possibility of anything belonging to either of those categories.

Hear the rest of Jones’ conversation with Kristin and Arwen on the Walker Channel.

HIJACK at 20 takes place December 5-7 at 8 pm at the Walker’s McGuire Theater.

Talk Dance: Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs on Choreographers’ Evening

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs, local dance artists known for their witty and precise choreography and curators of this season’s Choreographers’ Evening. Listen to the entire podcast […]

Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs. Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs. Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs, local dance artists known for their witty and precise choreography and curators of this season’s Choreographers’ Evening. Listen to the entire podcast here.

Chris Yon, Taryn Griggs and I go way back.  I first met Mr. Yon in our “C” level ballet class at NYU in the fall of 1998.  I remember Chris was wearing a ripped “Headbanger’s Ball” t-shirt and I thought to myself, I have to know this person.  So, I did.  Not long after, we were collaborating, making duets together.   Shortly after we graduated from NYU, Chris and Taryn met at an audition for a piece Chris was making at the Bessie Shoenberg Individual Choreographers’ Residency at The Yard.  As they described in a recent conversation in their Powderhorn neighborhood  kitchen (with their 20 month old daughter bouncing between the three of us as we talked) it was love, personal and artistic, at first sight, and they’ve been making work together ever since.

I am a huge fan of Chris’ choreography and of Taryn’s dancing of it.  I think at this point I’ve likely seen as many (possibly more) of Chris’ shows as his parents have.   I look forward to any opportunity to see what they’re up to, and I was thrilled when I heard they were curating this year’s Choreographers’ Evening.  Knowing them, I wasn’t surprised that they would find some way to twist their approach to curating.   That twist comes as their imagining the evening as a mix-tape, which they’ve dedicated to curator of The Club at LaMama, and long time friend and supporter, Nicky Paraiso.

In our conversation, I wanted to hear them talk more about their choice to frame the show this way.  I wanted to know what it was like to curate the premier “Mixed Bag” type dance show in the Twin cities and I was also curious if they had any good mix-tape stories.  Presented below is a text-mix-tape of some stuff they said while we sat in their warm kitchen, eating tater tots and sloppy joes (which were delicious).

Chris:  “Nicky Paraiso’s been a figure in our lives since basically the very beginning of our relationship … he gave us our first shot when it felt like no one else would or wanted to, at LaMama  … and he’s successfully cultivated a large dance presence there …  he’s a huge fan of dance.”

Taryn:  “Chris and I often watch things in different ways. I can fall in love with a lot of pieces because of the people in it or the way they’re doing something.

Chris looks at the big picture.  It’s hard for him to love a piece, no matter how good the performers are, if he doesn’t like the choreography or the stage picture.

… I think one of the things we loved about Nicky is that he’s … able to fall in love with pieces because the composition is great, and he’s able to fall in love with pieces because he loves performers.”

Chris:  “The fact that he walks around with such humility and he’s just always aghast and agog at those around him – and I want to feel that way all the time, and I often do here.   And this is an opportunity, when people are like, “why did you move here?” and I feel like this show could be like, “this is why” because these people are here and I get to watch them.”

Hear the rest of Jones’ conversation with Yon and Griggs on the Walker Channel.

Choreographers’ Evening takes place on Saturday, November 30th, at 7 pm and 9:30 pm at the Walker’s McGuire Theater.

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