Q: What has your pre-professional and professional artist journey been like, and some challenges you have faced?
I’ve danced with a lot of people. I started in ballet, tap, and jazz at Miss Carol’s School of Dance in New Jersey, then focused on ballet training for a long time. I went to Juilliard, and then I danced with Andrea Miller at GALLIM as well as Sidra Bell. I did a lot of improvisation, as creation and performance. It’s funny, because as a freshman in my first improvisation class, my teacher, Elizabeth Keen said, “Do whatever feels natural,” and I literally did balancés and waltz turns. When I saw my peers go, I was so embarrassed, intimidated and inspired. It’s ironic that now, one of my main forms of income is teaching improvisation. I teach at many different places in NY: Peridance, Adelphi, and Joffrey, as well as at SPRINGBOARDX Skills + Process and teach master classes in different places. I’ve also worked in immersive theater, like “Sleep No More” and was one of the creative directors for a big party they have at the Mckittrick Hotel. I’m 35 now, so I’ve worked with a lot of people. I’ve always been interested in the acting side of things and storytelling—delving more deeply into dancing and theater. In “Sleep No More”, it was a fun exercise to see people stop watching us when we started dancing. We had to learn how to tell a story during a pure dance moment. I’m still very interested in storytelling. I’ve been doing a bit more film work recently. It’s very different. And now, everything has stopped.
It is so funny because it already feels so long ago. It’s a bit odd. The physical challenges of GALLIM were intense. I had to figure out ways to take care of myself. We were really pushed creatively and had to turn our creative faucets all the way, which was exhilarating and exhausting. It took me many years to learn how to moderate the faucet, and not have panic attacks; how to wield it as opposed to being controlled by it. You also have to play between having artistic identity versus being a chameleon. I often wanted to be this chameleon, to change pretty quickly. Then, when people started to hire me to be me, the conversation shifted. In a way, it always comes down to that. It’s content versus form. It’s emotion versus control. I have been playing with that in my improv classes recently, so it is fresh on my mind. I was teaching online and I asked people to tell me things the class reminds them of. I like the idea that we’re all working on the class together. Someone sent me a Bruce Lee video in response, and I was like, “YES!” because it is all about the tension between instinct and craft.Money is always a challenge. I was super lucky that I graduated school with no student loans. It’s really important for me to be clear about that, because it’s so hard to make a living in NYC, especially if you don’t have intergenerational wealth. My family wasn’t wealthy, but I was privileged because I didn’t have student loans. My parents were able to help me out the first two years. I think it’s important to also have jobs outside of dance because dance is too narrow, and is often about making dances for other dancers. It feels like an inside story somehow. The more we interact with people who aren’t dancers, the more relevant our work becomes. The only reason I saw people who weren’t dancers was because I was a smoker. I would meet actors and musicians and people from different disciplines, and I don’t think that should be the only way we meet people. Also, don’t smoke! It’s important to say that.
Q: What inspires you and drives you forward as an artist?
Right now, I’ve been playing with being explicit about the tension between form and content. I’m trying to find a way to articulate that tension. What I think right now is that story is a great way to navigate those waters. Story is an amazing container for these tensions. I also want to find containers outside of capitalism and the idea of producing and labor. I want to find ways outside of a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday culture. I think story is a way to access these forms outside of capitalism. I’ve been interested in stories, in interrogating old stories and seeing how we can find the truth in them and maybe update them to better reflect the truth they point to. I’m trying to be as honest as I can while also practicing kindness. It doesn’t sound motivational, but somehow, it is. My mom always said that to her, being politically correct is living in the way you think politics should reflect. In my classes, I like to create as safe a space as possible; a little version of the world as I hope it to be. I try to create a kind, generative, and inspiring safe-space for other people to experience their own bravery and truth. If I do have this privilege, what do I do with it, and how can I make spaces so others can be privileged for at least that moment?
Do you believe dance can be a platform for social justice topics? If so, how? and/or Have you used your art form to make a difference?
I do. I also think that everything is political. There’s content that’s explicitly political, and then there’s content that’s made in a political way. How do you make sure you have an equitable space? In an audition, how do you make sure you are really seeing everyone? To actually do the work. It’s so easy to be complacent and say, “Oh, why did only white people come to my audition?” Do better. It’s important when it comes to casting to make sure you listen to people in the room, to make sure people that are in your administration and on your creative team are reflective of the world. That is really important. That will make the work fundamentally more relevant. Whatever your work covers, it will automatically be more equitable than the world we live in today. It may also mean that the way you make the work may be slower. Sometimes quickness is facilitated by taking the most popular, easiest to articulate opinion. For me, that’s not what works for me. It’s not what I am most interested in doing––You have to make sure you listen to and have everyone in the room, not just one or two types of people. I also think it’s difficult to do specifically social justice content, because that’s not always the language art speaks in. In my opinion, social justice work can be great for a sign you have at a march, or a protest, and that is amazing - art can be in many different places––but if you are in a concert dance setting, I wonder how it works. I’d like to know more.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?
I don't know yet. It’s week three. It’s definitely cancelled a lot of jobs. I’m grateful I can still teach online. I’m grateful I’m teaching improvisation, because I think everyone is improving right now. It feels particularly relevant. I will probably say some conflicting things, because everything IS conflicting right now. I also feel very drawn to form and choreography right now as a reference point. If I make something, I can come back to it the next day and use it as a meter. I’m also taking time to reflect. I’m brainstorming new systems and new ways for us to make art together that is more sustainable. I’m trying not to rush the making, I think we need to experience this moment and let it work on us. I also feel like I’m preparing. We’re just at the beginning of this in so many ways.
Q: What classes are you teaching?
I’m teaching online classes at Adelphi University and the Joffrey Ballet School Jazz and Contemporary Trainee Program. The Peridance Capezio Center is going to come online next week, another open studio in NYC, and I will be teaching improvisation there. Also for the Movement for Hope Instagram handle, which is a bunch of Sleep No More teachers. Kellie Todd and Jenna Saccurato started “Movement for Hope”, an online Instagram page where they teach daily dance classes and they post content.
Q: What social changes and responsibilities have you seen people making during the pandemic?
I think the radical sharing on social media has been one of them. It’s very generous and exciting. I like the idea of using different currencies. If we have no money, we can give and take class. I also think it’s a nice moment for people to let go of their branding. That has always concerned me, looking at artists as entrepreneurs, because I find it makes us less generous and as though we will never have more than one good idea. I like the idea we can all work on this whole thing together. At the same time, not everyone has [access to] the Internet. We can’t hear from those people. We can’t see them on social media. And some people have chosen not to have social media. I’m worried about those who don’t have [access to] the Internet and are left out of the whole thing. There are amazing things the internet is doing, but we shouldn’t get too carried away.
Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? (Worldmaking: How you can re-imagine the world in your own terms, the way you want it to be. Using this tool one can construct new worlds and write themselves into narratives that have excluded them and systems that have disabled them.)
I imagine it’ll be more community-based. It’s interesting because I’m also interested in spiders and webs. We’re all on the web right now. It makes me think of the webs we create. That’s something that’s bothered me about the arts: the elitism, the idea that Lincoln Center is built with its back to the projects. The United States has this history of these big elite institutions on American soil. I hope we find ways to engage other communities more, in ways that are happening on local levels. I did a project with Peter Sellars and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He’s an artist I look up to in terms of world-making. He makes his work the way he lives his life, and every aspect of his productions reflect his world view. One day, I asked him how we can make the world a better place. He said, “Do something small, like a local production, a school, a theater. Do it for ten years, and do it really well. Then write legislation that reflects what you did on that small scale.” That was really inspiring and feels like a way forward. I think that’s what I mean by community. If you stay in one community and your world gets too small, there’s tension there too, and you can become entrenched and lose your worldliness. We need to renegotiate that balance. Right now, it feels like the world in dance has so much touring and stress, both on us, and on the environment.