This blog is a place to communicate ideas for Berkeley Dance Project: 2015
The project is being created within the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies Department at UC Berkeley.
Blog contributors include Undergraduate Research Apprentices: Timothy Ma and Jenny (Shangjun) Jiang with Associate Professor Lisa Wymore
For more information and bios on the choreographers, click here.
Tell us a bit about yourself as a choreographer, dancer, your recent work, etc. (When did you get started? How long have you been doing this for?)
I am an interdisciplinary artist; I work in the field of performance. I’ve been working professionally for 28 years. I’m currently working on three projects, one is a gestural orchestral work, instead of instruments the participants perform gestural portraits based on the motions of their workday. The next incarnation of this work, called The Symphonic Body is going to be at UCLA in 2015. There will be 100 performers from all walks of life on UCLA campus; it will take 9 months to make. I’m also working on a solo work called Elephant and a piece called “Doggie Hamlet”, a piece for a flock of sheep, a herding dog and four human performers.
I started dancing at around age 6, grew up in Chicago suburbs. Went to undergrad school at the University of Utah dance dept., and did a grad degree from University of Arizona, where I was exposed to a lot of performance work done by visual artists. I then moved to NYC and started making work and performing. I was highly influenced by a lot of people, among them; Meredith Monk, Joseph Beuys, Jasper Johns, Elizabeth Streb, Allen Ginsberg, Chris Burden, Eleanor Antin, Carolee Schneeman, Susan Rethorst, Mary Ellen Strom.
What motivated you to work with Berkeley Dance Project this year?
I am drawn to the historical energy around UC Berkeley as a place of protest, activism, dialogue, and the questioning of the status quo. I admire a number of artists and scholars in the dance and performance field that work here, so I’m drawn to the Berkeley Dance Project for that reason too. I am glad to re-stage Flag, and in some way contribute to the 50th celebration of the Freedom of Speech movement.
Could you tell us a bit about your upcoming piece? What are the inspirations behind it?
Flag was originally a response to the first Gulf War and the censorship wars of the early 90’s. A NYC modern dance company called “CoDanceCo” first commissioned it and the premiere included now well known choreographers and performers in its cast. Flag became something of a template for me, arranging and rearranging its visual design, and movement sequencing to respond to various situations. It’s sort of like a Breughel painting in that way, all the versions recognizable but upon close examination, each one is different. It hasn’t been done in its original version in a long time.
In part, Flag investigates the performing body’s relationship to the ground and how the “name” of the ground moves up through the experience of being human. By “name” of the ground I mean how we declare and name nations, borders, countries, continents. Flag investigates the presence of a symbol for a particular land mass – in this case the United States, and what are the rules and performances around the flag - the rituals, care, presentation. What does it mean to willfully play against the “rules” of this symbol? And what does it mean to have a cultural symbol inside a theater? Do the rules still hold?
I was at a pow-wow of the Plaines Indians a few years ago, and one of the dances was done upon the flag of the country the US was at war with. It was intense to see the Native American (in this case, Northern Cheyenne) dancer in full regalia dancing a traditional war dance upon an Iraqi flag. In talking to some friends that participated, I was told that they felt that dancing on the enemy’s flag gave them strength. I don’t think of the US flag as an enemy, but I mention this to give some other context for the act of dancing on the flag.
This work also illuminates the fact that we CAN dance on “our” flag. It’s an act of inquiry, defiance, love, but it won’t get us imprisoned or killed to participate. It’s a very different world now than in l990 . . . it will be interesting to see what unfolds as we unearth some of these questions together in this re-mounting.
How do envision the performance to be?
Flag is performed by 7 – 15 performers, it’s in almost complete unison, but each performer interprets the movement a bit differently. The movement is big, full of abandon, seems almost sloppy but is highly codified rhythmically and uses repetition to the point of being obsessive. The rhythm also organizes and codifies the experience of emotion within this dancing group – it’s as if the group of dancers is one body; if one feels something it moves through everyone. The result is funny, odd, and almost clown-like as the piece progresses. There is a constant chant throughout the work as well; the voice of the performers exists as a sort of timepiece of experience. It appears like we’re watching an epic of some kind, a tale of struggle, and fighting and love and confusion. But again, it’s all through this quirky lens of this band of almost misfits.
What are the kinds of dancers that you are looking for?
I’m interested in eager, curious, and openhearted dancers, willing to perform their aliveness through the work, to be themselves and surrender themselves all in the same breath. I love highly technical dancers for this piece, and I love dancers who have never performed. This work can contain a broad range of experience.
To those who are interested in auditioning for your project: what do you think the rewards and challenges of the piece will be?
It’s a fun, physically rigorous experience, so that’s a reward and a challenge right there. There are a lot of questions that come up from doing this work that are interesting to think about. As a performer, you can throw yourself into this work, literally. There is a powerful group dynamic in the work as well. It becomes a small community.