By Carrie Stern
Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX) is mid-way through its 20th season. The Artists in Residence (AIR) program began in its second year, providing ‚Äúartists of a certain stature, with long-term residencies allowing them to spend many weeks exploring,‚ÄĚ says Artistic Director Marya Warshaw. A few weeks ago Levi Gonzalez, a 2010-11 AIR, spoke about what the residency has meant to him.
Gonzalez had been questioning his ‚Äúrelationship to making work.‚ÄĚ His last new dance, in 2007, left him with debt he‚Äôs still repaying. More importantly, he began to question how the typical requirements for produced work affected his creative process. He felt controlled by the production, like he didn‚Äôt understand his relationship to the things required to make theatrical dance.
‚ÄúThere was a moment, working with my lighting designer,‚ÄĚ Gonzalez told me, ‚Äúwhen he said ‚Äėwe‚Äôll get production value for you,‚Äô and I thought, ‚ÄėIs that something I care about?‚Äô It was humbling.‚ÄĚ
To understand his relationship to dance, Gonzalez decided to ‚Äúinhabit different ideas of performance.‚ÄĚ He tried lip-synching, and ‚Äústripper dances.‚ÄĚ Most meaningful was a project inviting other choreographers to teach him their material in a single rehearsal. It ‚Äúwas great to experience how specific people‚Äôs instructions are, how different everyone‚Äôs little bits of material [are]. You can see where they place value. As a performer it was beautiful to experience that.‚ÄĚ It‚Äôs a project Gonzalez hopes to return to. ‚ÄúI have those pieces in my head.‚ÄĚ
Residencies and works-in-progress showings allowed him to extend his exploration, but he says they were all ‚Äúnoncommittal.‚ÄĚ By 2010 ‚Äúit was time to make something again and see where I was at.‚ÄĚ
Gonzalez applied for two residencies, and was accepted at Brooklyn Arts Exchange. ‚ÄúI feel like the BAX residency was right for where I‚Äôm at now.‚ÄĚ BAX, he says, ‚Äúis holistic, interested in where you are in your development as an artist. They accept that you may not know what you want to do, there‚Äôs room for growth.‚ÄĚ
The structure of the residency created an opportunity to be involved in ‚Äúa process of understanding my relationship to making dances, the moment of performance, how I interact with the audience. I had 200 hours of rehearsal time so I was able to allow things to emerge through the process, something BAX is really supportive of.‚ÄĚ
Intimacy, a solo show, was logistically and financially easier than group work, he says. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm trying hard to stay realistically within my means, to be clear about what I can manage. [Physically] I wanted to make a show that puts more at stake for me, makes me vulnerable. I wanted to be the one physicalizing, embodying the ideas I was working on.‚ÄĚ
The first half-hour of rehearsal included brief Shambhala Meditation ‚ÄĒ he talks about it in the show ‚ÄĒ reading and improvisation. Then, ‚Äúthings would emerge, bits of material, ways of thinking about performing ‚ÄĒ it‚Äôs unclear to me how the piece came together. At first I had little bits of material or states of improvisation, less structured material than parameters for physical action.‚ÄĚ
I saw Gonzalez in Catch 41, a Brooklyn performance showcase, last October, just after he began his residency. Repeating a slowly varied movement phrase over and over, Gonzalez‚Äôs dedication to his simple phrase, his willingness to forgo the frills that too often obscure the beauty and challenges of moving, was enthralling.
‚ÄúI thought I‚Äôd frame what I was working on in ‚Äėimpossible‚Äô language,‚ÄĚ he told me. ‚ÄúAfter the show, I realized that the conversational tone, the idea of an expressed intimacy between performer and audience, directly showing things I was doing in the studio, spoke to me. It was what I wanted to do ‚ÄĒ strip away the protective layers of craft so the material gets simpler or weirder, text gets pared down or eliminated.‚ÄĚ
Gonzalez, who has a pension for long titles, originally called the new work, ‚ÄúFor you the audience so I might understand something about dancing.‚ÄĚ That title felt ‚Äúaccurate but not active.‚ÄĚ It was ‚Äúimportant to commit to bold sincerity, getting away from irony, getting into commitment and believing in what I was doing.‚ÄĚ
With the current phase of the work ending, Gonzalez finds himself with a renewed interest in crafting movement. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve had total satisfaction in my work now, though I‚Äôm a bit hungry for the craft. He says he‚Äôs ‚Äúresisting the idea of finishing this piece.‚ÄĚ
He‚Äôs also discovered that, for this piece, ‚Äúwhere the work is being made feels important.‚ÄĚ In the past, ‚Äúthings that resonate and feel good in the studio, when placed on a stage, feel different, perhaps muting some of the intentions of the work.‚ÄĚ
Gonzalez is performing Intimacy in Romania. He‚Äôs aware that for the piece to maintain its essence he‚Äôll have to rework it for each new space. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no such thing as a neutral space, even a black box exerts a framing over the work and how you feel. Some artists have a real sensitivity to this, so I‚Äôve experienced it as a performer, it interests me. I‚Äôm curious how flexible Intimacy will be.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúRigor isn‚Äôt something complicated and far away. The structure of going into the studio and spending time in that room, there is a form to that. And the form of that repetition and practice is substantial and finds itself into the work. Maybe it‚Äôs not about developing complicated, idiosyncratic practices; maybe it's about listening to your self and seeing what emerges. I was having a crisis ‚ÄĒ ‚Äėwhat‚Äôs my methodology of making dance? Is it about making a piece that looks good or cool?‚Äô Having time in the studio to explore, that‚Äôs been valuable, it will change my work.‚ÄĚ
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