Rock and “Roll Call”
Movement Research springs forward with its nonconformist festival.
The Movement Research Spring Festival is back with “Roll Call”—a theme that hints at ideas of attendance, visibility and action. The festival, which officially opens April 23, also pays tribute to the organization’s 30th anniversary with daring programming that spans 21 venues. (And in keeping with the fact that everyone’s broke, almost every event is free.) This year’s curatorial committee—Megan Byrne, Michael Mahalchick, Will Rawls and Regina Rocke—recently met in Williamsburg to discuss their vision. They’ve done the hard part. All you have to do is show up.
Megan Byrne: For our initial meeting, we all threw out ideas and it was impressive how aligned we were with wanting to focus on gallery spaces, the economy, collaboration. We knew that if we dawdled on topics we would lose time.
Will Rawls: If we wanted, we could have had a series of performances in living rooms in Queens.
Byrne: As opposed to last year’s festival, we chose not to use Judson Memorial Church as a hub.
Rawls: It was definitely this idea that if we’re in an intense recession and people are going to be dropping off the radar, we needed to find a way to extend the latticeworks of infrastructure and creativity. It was important to initiate collaborations between venues and curators, and to highlight different parts of the city to keep things visible.
Michael Mahalchick: We’re using a lot of different venues to reach people who maybe miss things if they’re not engaged in the slightly insulated dance world.
Regina Rocke: I came in thinking that to go to the same spot for every event would have driven me crazy. And we’re also reaching different people who probably don’t know anything about Movement Research.
Rawls: Our opening-night event, “Roll Call!,” is at the New Museum. We’re focusing on the young and the old and there will be new works by [founding artist] Mary Overlie and Faye Driscoll. Mary was really excited. She said, on the phone, “I feel like you’re bringing someone back from the dead.”
Rocke: We’re having one workshop: “Democratic Dance Session” I realized a bunch of workshops and classes weren’t really what our festival was about. We thought that we would have one class that’s sort of unique. So Milka Djordjevich is teaching democratic dance.
Rawls: Milka is interested in this idea of communal, democratic, continuous movement. If we wanted to be fanatically in-line with everything else the festival is based on, which is the way a bad economy can bring people together, we talked a little about the idea of Body Weather, which is a very democratic form. Anyone can do it.
Rocke: And I know I expressed this: I said, “If we’re going to have a class, I want it to be a class where you move your body and work up a sweat. I suppose African movement can be taught that way where it does not stop; this is along the same line. I have issues with the hour-and-a-half class. I feel like you can’t do anything.
Mahalchick: Hopefully we’ll get people who don’t normally do classes and workshops. I’m not much of a class-and-workshop kind of guy and I’m definitely going to go. I don’t feel quite so intimidated by the nature of that class.
Byrne: Another event, “Archeography IV,” is a collaboration between Live Architecture Network and Biba Bell. They’re working with the idea of vectors—how to intersect space. They’re using this really interesting elastic that’s going to slice through the space like a wave.
Rawls: We have a gallery crawl, too. “Recessional” starts at the New Museum and travels through the Lower East Side, ending at Abrons Arts Center. It’s a dynamic movement of bodies. And there will be a live performance in each gallery.
Mahalchick: At Abrons, it expands to live feeds from different parts of the world: Switzerland, Sweden, Lebanon, Brazil and France. Artists in all those places will do a short piece that will chain up to the next country, finally ending with an open performance score at Abrons that will be online for them to watch too.
Byrne: We asked the artists to do anything and everything that they think is dance right now.
Rawls: People could be broadcasting from their bathrooms.
Byrne: Some of these people are going to be dancing at 4am, their time.
Rawls: There’s a certain amount of risk involved, but if you don’t take a risk, you don’t find new things. And with this gallery crawl, hopefully we’re enlivening the city and engendering this kind of moving community. Once they come into the space, they realize how much more performance is going on in the world period.
Byrne: We also asked [performance collective] AUNTS to do something new. I think AUNTS is a phenomenal facilitator to artists. They say yes in ways that most producers just don’t. It’s fun to watch their wheels turn. What they pitched to us was right in line with everything we were dealing with: It’s the idea of a fake economy. So “Factory,” on April 18, leads to“Market” on May 1. It’s an open participation event; anyone can come and go to this loft in Bushwick and make something—there will be silk-screening and video stations, and all of that work is going to be put into the Grace Exhibition Gallery where there’s going to be a performative economy. All of the work has to be sold, and the viewers coming in have to create some sort of currency. It’s almost bartering; you have to participate in the creation in order to buy. It’s loosely inspired by Andy Warhol’s Factory, but it’s also a response to the economic crisis and ideas of new economy. When artists say, “We want to participate in the festival. How can we?” it’s so much fun to say, “Make something new at this place and then sell it here.” A lot of the stuff that we’re doing is not like, “Oh, you made this dance; we’ll show it at a theater.” There’s very little prepackaged stuff.
Rawls: And what’s interesting is that the prepackaged stuff that is going to show up is going to be at Judson, which I think is an intentional choice.
Rocke: We’re not about producing a piece and charging money to see it. Like the rest of the festival, it was my personal issue not have that prepackaged idea of “this is a performance festival.”
Byrne: For “I Heart Judson” [to be performed at Judson Memorial Church], the artists are dealing with the idea of celebrity, self-celebrity, self-promotion and identity—all of those are current issues in the dance world. You have to promote yourself as an artist, and you have to create a Web identity and this whole chatter of self-celebrity.
Rawls: And the people that we chose really don’t have an educated understanding about what Judson is, so I think what they’re going to show is going to call into question Judson’s identity in terms of a venue for historic experiments in performance. We could have things that are very cut and dry and were made two years ago. Who knows what they’re going to bring? And I think that also calls into question how we continue to experiment with history that’s being laid down.
Byrne: Judson is one of the few open spaces with a wood floor and lots of space, so I think maybe that is one of the reasons why people feel so compelled to show finished work there; it is one of the few opportunities we have where you can see it. That’s the challenge of Judson: to keep it experimental, to keep it so that you can break rules, that work doesn’t have to be finished, that you can fail. I think it’s hard when it is one of the few venues where you can actually see the work with a little bit of distance.
Rocke: Movement Research is trying to go back to what its original mission was—more and more they’re tired of people showing finished pieces that they’ll be showing at the Kitchen a month later. I saw someone show her M.F.A. thesis there. I thought, If we get to curate it, this is our chance to show things that maybe are a little more experimental. We’re also doing a panel discussion, “Private Dancer.” Tommy DeFrantz is going to moderate it. The panelists are Chris Elam, Jmy Leary and Randy Martin [the chair of the Department of Art and Public Policy at NYU's Tisch School].
Mahalchik: We’re hoping for a very exciting panel.
Rawls: Each person is working with the idea of policy on performance and presentation and economics in the same way.
Rocke: I was at P.A.R.T.S. [in Brussels] for three weeks, and they were asking, “Are you going to stay in Europe longer?” And I said, “No, I have to get back to my job,” and they couldn’t believe that I had a job. That blew their minds. They asked, “What companies do you dance for?” And I said, “Well, no one dances in a company anymore.” It got me to thinking—by the time Mark Morris was our age, he could pay his dancers, and all they did was dance for him. I don’t know anyone who is going on auditions like that; basically, none of us have money, so if you are going to dance for someone and be in a show, it’s because you want to be. For this panel, I just felt we needed some different people. I didn’t want to have a discussion with people who dance for and with each other.
Rawl: And in terms of the idea of creative economics and creative self-promotion and producing, the panel discussion is ideologically the center of the festival.
Mahalchick: We asked Chris Elam because the reaction in the room was like, Oh, wow. This could be really interesting.
Rawls: Hell yeah. The other thing is that it’s at the 14th Street Y—it’s in a black box, rough-around-the-edges theater in a community center. It’s not a sterile conference room. I think we’re trying to embed that intellectual rigor in a place that is based on community distribution of ideas. “WPA” is another cool event. International Dance Day falls on April 29. We got this e-mail from UNESCO’s Conseil International de la Danse, which says, “Dance Day 2009 is dedicated to inclusive dance.” So it’s perfect. The idea was to take Fred Torres, an art gallery in Chelsea, which in some ways could be considered one of the most specific and curated places for not only art but also clientele. It’s exclusive. And have an artist, Walter Dundervill, respond to this message in whatever way he wants to address ideas of inclusion and exclusion. Not by playing patty-cake with everyone, but something strong. [Laughs]
Byrne: We struggled with that one for a long time. The UNESCO statement is not something to take lightly. Or we felt responsibility around it.
Mahalchick: We have a lot of events in art galleries. I’ve always been a big cheerleader of the dance world within the art world and there’s a lot of crossover that doesn’t get discussed. A lot of choreographers are engaging in questions that artists are engaging in now that performance is suddenly becoming such an option since the whole Performa thing. That [biennial] really makes me bananas. I bitch about it constantly to everyone because I feel like, Why is Performa not engaging this vibrant group of people who are dealing with issues that are of concern to the art world? Why does that boundary have to be put in between things? It doesn’t need to happen that way. The thing that really makes me crazy about that is that it takes visual artists who have no engagement or investment in performance and throws a bunch of money at them and says, “Make a performance, and now you’re a performance artist.” What if you took some of that money and threw it at people who were actually engaged in these issues of performance? How it functions, it’s kind of gross. And in choosing these galleries, I’m like, “Okay guys, as much as Performa tells you that there is no connection, that is absolutely not true!” I am hoping to create a bridge between the two worlds.
Byrne: I also think we had the privilege of walking into a very established platform. It wasn’t like two years ago when they had one month to save the festival. We walked into a different animal, and if anything we have continued the momentum from last year’s festival. I had a good time last year.
Rocke: I was feeding off of that, definitely. There’s no set agenda. It’s not a festival where the same people produce and curate it every year so you just kind of go off of what was done last year and it becomes a machine where you already know the ropes. Which was frustrating, because we’re doing this from zero, but that’s what’s great about it also: we have complete free rein. There were some set things we had to adhere to, but I would have said no if there had been a lot of restrictions and guidelines.
Byrne: One thing that was in response to last year is that we changed the date. It’s not in June; it’s much earlier. It’s not when everyone leaves New York. And it needed to be shorter. We wanted to make most of the events free; that another reason for shortening it.
Rawls: If you ask one venue to host ten events, they’re going to ask for something in return. If you ask 16 venues to host one event, it’s manageable.
Byrne: And for our closing party—The Double Booty Standard—we’re working with Secret Project Robot, an events space that focuses in on the art party or the lines between performance and party. It’s perfect.
Rocke: I definitely learned not to be like, “They’re going to say no, so I won’t ask.” So many people said yes. You just have to ask.
Movement Research Spring Festival 2009: “Roll Call” runs Apr 23–May 2. Visitmovementresearch.org/rollcall for more information.
Wednesday, April 22,2009
Dance Movement Research’s Spring Festival
April 23 through May 9, various, locations, www.movementresearch.org
If you prefer your dance liberated from the black-box theater, check out some of the events that form Dance Movement Research’s Spring Festival, a wild and refreshing dance festival.
Most of the events, says one of the festival’s curators Will Rawls, “aren’t at traditional dance venues.” The opening party is at the New Museum and other events include the always-engaging Brian Brooks (April 26, during a walking tour of LES art galleries), a “democratic dance session” on April 25 led by Milka Djordjevich in which all are welcomed to locomote and WPA, choreographed by Walter Dundervill at Fred Torres Collaborations on April 29, which looks at UNESCO’s inclusive Dance Day 2009 idea.
Bottom Line: An engaging and highly recommended dance festival. Full of fun and devoid of the usual dance-movement researcher.
GOINGS ON ABOUT TOWN
APRIL 27, 2009
MOVEMENT RESEARCH SPRING FESTIVAL
For thirty years now, Movement Research has been encouraging, subsidizing, and generally nurturing process-based experimentation. The anniversary edition of the festival, “Roll Call,” opens at the New Museum, with a documentary about the institution by Kyle Wilamowski and performances designed by Mary Overlie and Faye Driscoll. After that, names-out-of-a-hat collaborations, a dancing tour of the Lower East Side, and a global game of telephone punctuate a schedule of panels and parties. For more information, visit www.movementresearch.org/rollcall. (Various locations. 212-598-0551. April 23-May 2.)
Six Ways to Party on World Dance DayThere’s a ton of fun stuff to see — and shake a tailfeather to — all around town
Updated 12:00 PM EDT, Wed, Apr 29, 2009
- It’s like the recession with lifts! Chris Elam’s envelope-pushing Misnomer Dance Company will comment on the imploding economy with a performance webcast live from a Wall Street bank vault (yep), located right next door to the NY Stock Exchange. 5:30PM, www.misnomer.org/vault
- He just had to dance, people. Is that so wrong? You all know the story of Billy Elliott, the plié-ing outcast who became a star. Watch the wee bairn soar in this award-winning musical with music byElton John at the Imperial Theater, 2 and 8PM.
- Hey, remember the ’80s? Get down to grooves of old New York with Jazzy Jay of Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation and radio hip-hop legend DJ Red Alert at Santos Party House, where they’ll be spinning late into the night. 11PM.
- Make like Peggy Sue and twist the night away at the first-ever Sadie Hawkins Dance Spectacular at Touch Nightclub. Yes, there will be poodle skirts and saddle shoes. And it all benefits art for the Women’s Project. 9PM.
- If the Charleston and the Jitterbug are more your thing, don a fringe dress and head toVaudeville at the Gin Mill, a 1920s supper club show with a big band at Drom, 7:30PM.
- Contemporary dance outfit Movement Research is performing its own response to UNESCO’s call for World Dance Day as part of the Spring Dance Festival, and it’s “all-inclusive.” Smells like audience participation! Fred Torres Collaborations in Chelsea, 6-9PM.
Copyright NBC Local Media
Left: Nora Ejaita performing at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery. Right: Jill Sigman performing at On Stellar Rays. (All photos: Daniel Clifton)
ROUGHLY TWENTY-FOUR HOURS INTO “ROLL CALL,” Movement Research’s ten-day spring festival, the choreographers Megan Byrne and Will Rawls sat hunkered down in their booth at the Williamsburg diner Relish. They looked both wired and spent, he wolfing down a cheeseburger and she nursing a spartan coffee as they examined guest lists in between the night’s activities: an earlier toast at the Black & White Project Space and, in a mere half hour, “Internet Killed the Video Star,” a showing of experimental, low-tech dance films at MonkeyTown. (The informal evening drew an eclectic range of artists, including the composer Christopher Lancaster, currently working with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and the writer and choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones, a veteran of the Movement Research scene and the current board president.) “There’s the shape we have in mind for this festival and the shape it’s going to take,” Rawls said. “As curators, we’re going to spend most of our time in between those two places.”
Movement Research events are the ultimate in DIY exercises—a world away from more staid institutional festivals. Each year, guest curators (this round included Michael Mahalchick and Regina Rocke in addition to Rawls and Byrne) are given a shoestring budget of twelve thousand dollars, a mandate that half of this must go to artists’ fees, and free rein to craft their vision. This year’s festival, typically rough around the edges, has been notable for its many nods toward inclusivity and openness—a welcome shift for a grassroots organization that can often feel like an insider affair.
“It seems like a small club of people that haul out some old dinosaur from the Judson-era and then do some improv,” one choreographer quipped. She was, however, excited by the possibilities of “Recessional,” a Sunday-afternoon walking tour of arts spaces on the Lower East Side, beginning with a brief musical offering by Bora Yoon at the New Museum’s Sky Room and featuring one performance per stop. A crowd soon filled the airy room, dotted with Movement Research and museum staffers, choreographers and visitors to “Younger than Jesus” who stumbled into the show—a few of the latter trickled into the “Recessional,” whose ranks waxed and waned as the meandering group threaded its way through the neighborhood.
It felt like a beginning, exuberantly hopeful yet conceptually tentative in its marriage of dance and visual art. In the past few years, as biennials like Performa have spurred interest in performance, many New York choreographers have expressed ire over the art world’s failure to acknowledge common ground. “It’s a question of visibility. What a lot of dancers do speaks directly to what visual artists are doing,” said Mahalchick as we walked along Rivington Street behind our route guide, a strutting, thigh-high black pleather platform-wearing performance artist named Ms. Oops. “It makes me batty that Performa discounts the contribution made by the dance community, as if dance doesn’t have a spot at the table.”
Some dealers, like Candice Madey, who chose a location with a downstairs performance space for her gallery On Stellar Rays, seem prepped for change. On Saturday, Jill Sigman occupied the small room, her half-naked body sunk into, and eventually disrupting, a pile of paint-hardened balls of fabric resembling overripe organic matter. As her body stirred and arched, onlookers jostled and snapped pictures, like visitors to a zoo. I remembered, amusingly, the choreographer Trajal Harrell describing a piece in which his performers took Ambien, a response to being unable to control the gallery crowd as he would a theater. (This preceded Chu Yun’s “sleeping beauty” piece in “Younger than Jesus” by a few years.)
It’s unclear what sort of bridge results from an event like “Recessional.” But at Rachel Uffner’s gallery down the street, an alluring synergy bloomed between Josh Blackwell’s whimsical works on paper depicting colorful items of clothing and The Styrene Fantastic, a work by Lizzie Scott for two female performers, who alternately hoisted and flopped on their unwieldy Styrofoam-filled garments.
“It’s interesting to see the interaction between my static work and something kinetic,” Blackwell said. Nodding emphatically, Scott added, “It’s where art needs to go: to take into account all that has happened in dance in the past fifty, or one hundred, years.”