ChoreoGraphics: Six Studies is a book in text and photographs about the process of choreography as seen through the work of seven accomplished choreographers: Alexandra Beller; Janis Brenner; Marjani Forte-Saunders; Colleen Thomas; Nathan Trice; and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar with Samantha Speis (co-choreographers). ). Each dance was discussed and photographed during the course of its development in rehearsals up to and including dress rehearsal.
My purpose, aside from the fact that I love and respect the work of these artists and wanted to showcase them, is that I hope to encourage audiences to engage with dance, its often demanding abstractions, and also to offer new opportunities to look at how movement can project energy and transform space. I am anticipating that the over 160 photographs, along with conversations with the choreographers, will do just that.
Below are excerpts from ChoreoGraphics: Six Studies.
AB: Children are all about purpose, not about aesthetics, or creation, or vanity. They’re all about expression, connection, engagement…
JSB: …and problem-solving.
AB: Yes, and very straightforward in their way. And their movements come in rambling phrases, not architectural. I had to go back to the videos and analyze what they were trying to accomplish in each moment. I ended up using Laban techniques for that. I started with Ivo, who was all about relationships: to self, to gravity, to space, to the room, to us (the people who were dancing with him) and to me, using the camera. He was all about great need and desire and acute surprise and survival. How he moved was circumstantial. What was he trying to accomplish in that moment? What was happening to him in that moment for him had no future and a very short-term past. He would fall, get up, didn’t seem to have any fear of falling again. It simply happened.
Carly Berrett Plagianakos and Lea Fulton
Carly Berret Plagianakos, Simon Thomas-Train, Lea Fulton
Simon Thomas-Train, Edward Rice, Lea Fulton
Performers: Lea Fulton; Carly Berrett Plagianakos; Edward Rice; Simon Thomas-Train
JSB: So, from eliciting the dancers’ various backgrounds, an underlying empathy was revealed.
JB: Yes, both empathy and otherness.
JSB: And how did you use this?
JB: We began with improvisation. The improvs came from a list of words that had to do with empathy and with us. What are the qualities in the body that empathy elicits in movements?
JSB: In looking for sourcing both empathy and the opposite of empathy in the body, what words did you use to seed improvisation?JB: Flow, slowness, touch and opposite: tension, sharpness, jaggedness, schizophrenia. We were working with the physical qualities of those two ideas to generate movement material
JSB: So it follows that the embodiment of ‘otherness’ showed up as disunity and exclusion.
Performers: Kyla Barkin, Janis Brenner, Svjetlana Bukvich (synthesizers), DeAndre Cousley, Ruth Howard, Sumaya Jackson, Kristi Ann Schopfer and Aaron Selissen
JSB: So you amassed these ideas and worked on a character study based on your dad. What happened next?
MFS: There were many initiating points for this piece. At first when I was watching my dad, I said, “Dad, you’re so animated, how did you get here? How did you arrive at this version of yourself?” I was really curious because there’s so much nuance. As I continued to grow as a performer I’d think of my dad as someone who knowingly or unknowingly has studied his body and his language. He’s such a performer. I wanted to dive into that and what’s underneath all of that. Then Eric Garner was killed. We watched the video of that several times and I was shaking because Garner’s build and his energy reminded me of my dad. Why not? Why would that not be my dad? I could no longer look at the things that are happening and distance myself from them. Not that I ever did. It was only a matter of survival that I wanted to.
This reference was powerfully represented by a series of movements in which Forté-Saunders silenced herself, most likely out of fear, understanding that she was not free to cry out, to say what she meant. She referred to the moments when Eric Garner was criticized for fighting back when the police put him in a chokehold.
Forté-Saunders employed the concept of ‘fight or flight’ when she repeatedly moved her arms as if she might fly, wearing a set of wings to give substance to that illusion, yet the powerful contraction and release in her torso also seemed also like it was in response to being beaten and then getting back up again and again. Here is where I saw the harsh reality give way to the fantasy of flight, and escape.
MFS: The repeated flapping is the black body being exploited repeatedly. The black body can take it.
Performer: Marjani Forté-Saunders
CT:The concept of vogueing comes from ball dancing/ball culture as shown in the documentary film ‘Paris is Burning’. Orlando said that if you had hair you could do it and that’s how the hair connection developed between Sam (Samantha Allen) and Orlando.
Ehizoje Azeke and Orlando Hunter
Orlando Hunter and Samantha Allen
CT: I think we started the hair originally because—as the American Indians believe--there’s so much memory in your hair; if you cut your hair if you can lighten your load or reduce your baggage. But I was also interested because of the blueprint, the repetition, the blueprint-memory-perception. We’re talking about what the imprint is that’s already in our DNA, already in our cells that affects our perceptions. It’s what we’re giving out for other people to perceive and what is hierarchical to us, what is important to each of us. And there’s a dynamic shift because each of us is different. And hair is a way we are objectified.
Orlando Hunter and Samantha Allen
Strange Love has been evolving since 2009, which is when I began photographing its development. The casts have varied, yet the persistent theme evolves as if from different maturational phases of this choreographer’s own life. Within the overarching concept that is embodied in Strange Love, new material inevitably emerges. The Strange Loveof 2009 is different from the Strange Love of 2011, which is different from the Strange Love of 2015.
JSB: How would you describe the movement themes as you developed them?
NT: I would say that they are a collision of body languages implying the absence of vulnerability.
Georgy Souchetter and Heather Robles
Makiki Tamura, Nathan Trice and company
Performers: Nicolas Leman-Burtinovic; Tendayi Kuumba; Tiffany Mellard;
Tara Nicolas; Damani Pompey; Christina Noel Reaves; Heather Robles;
Ryogi Sasamoto; Georgy Souchetter; Makiki Tamura; William Tatge;
Nathan Trice; Andre Zachery
JWZ: Coltrane’s position was “I work from within a community and it sounds like Copland was at odds with his community”. The music for Resolutionwas driven from that. I was doing a lot of research and thinking about this man’s musical journey, so at first Resolutionbecame about the idea of confronting the critics. There’s a lot of this kind of confrontation energy in it and eventually coming to a resolve that “I’m gonna make the music that I want to make. I’m not going to even worry whether you like it, or if I’m pleasing you, or if I’m being understood.” I’m at that point where, if it’s successful, fine and, if not, I want to make the work that feels good to me. Resolution became about that.
Amanda Castro, Courtney J. Cook, Samantha Speis
Courtney J. Cook, Amanda Castro and Du'Bois A'Keen
Performers: Du’Bois A’Keen; Amanda Castro; Courtney J. Cook; Chanon Judson;
Tnedayl Kuumba; Stephanie Mas; Samantha Speis