Levi Gonzalez talks to the 2011 Movement Research Spring Festival curators about their ideas and experiences surrounding the events they organized for June 2-5, 2011 in New York City.
Interview date: July 1, 2011
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Thumbnail Photo by Ian Douglas
Levi Gonzalez: I’m here talking to Clarinda MacLow, Chase Granoff and Larissa Velez-Jackson, three of the four curators of the most recent Movement Research Spring Festival called Festival!*. The fourth curator, Gabriel Rivera, unfortunately couldn’t be here.
I wanted to start by talking about the structure of the festival. Each day had a theme. There were very defined but also very open concepts or umbrellas for the festival to live in and I was wondering if that was an idea from the beginning or was it something that emerged?
Clarinda MacLow: I think it emerged fairly quickly. It happened through a variety of pragmatic and conceptual meeting places and it was probably Gabriel who really pushed it. He was like, “Okay we’re not doing this over a long period of time. We’re going to make this efficient, clear and succinct.”
Chase Granoff: We all walked into our initial meeting with overlapping concerns and ideas of what we wanted to accomplish with the festival. Internally we started naming days as a kind of organizational method for ourselves and at some point pretty early on we realized that those names would allow an outside approach or understanding into the festival. We were talking about different ways of mapping a spectator path through the festival, be it if they could just go once one day and then two days later they could go again, or if they could go to three events in one day or one event a day,[etc.] and then giving thematic concerns to each day. Sometimes with festivals it feels a little bit like a free for all, where you don’t know how to find yourself within it as a spectator so we were hoping to have some kind of path.
Levi: It felt from the outside like the easiest festival to …
Levi: Yes. Each day had a geographic location even.
SOCIAL: Curators and friends at Judson social, Photo by Daniel Clifton
Clarinda: That was part of our overlapping concerns. I was very interested in site and I think Gabriel and Chase had a similar thing.
Larissa Velez-Jackson: I remember the day of our first meeting being acutely aware that we were really busy working artists, and so is the community we’re serving, and we were talking about serving the community in a really pragmatic way. Organizing things around specific localities was really important in making it easy for people and making it easy for us to attend and also to organize.
Clarinda: So we could be present. We wanted to be really present and we knew our lives were complicated. And I think we were trying to be present not just as curators but as full-on participants, and create a sense of participatory excitement. So that you could go and just stay in Bushwick all day. I don’t know if anybody ever did, but that was the idea. And I feel like it was even important as a fantasy.
Levi: Do you remember some of those overlapping interests?
Chase: I think one of the first things I remember was not having just performances. There’s already so many of these happening. I always personally feel that the MR festival gets announced pretty late in the season and everybody tries to fit these auxiliary events within their schedule of seeing performances. I find that if you try to battle with performances it gets complicated, but the festival also has a privilege of expanding ideas of choreography or of people’s expanded practices within dance. Many people within dance have shared interests that relate to their performance and dance practice, but aren’t necessarily that. Poetry or food, urban foraging, all this stuff felt very related. An organization like the Kitchen or Dance Theater Workshop, they can’t easily program an event like that. The Festival has a privilege that it can.
Clarinda: Yeah, we really wanted to take advantage of the wide-open nature of it, and the edges of practice were definitely a common concern.
Larissa: I remember the first meeting. We were all bringing up ideas and mine in particular was something about the fact that mixed bill dance performances seemed reductive, especially with the openness that we’re presented with in curating this. It seemed like, in various ways, all four of us felt somewhat similarly, and this was really a surprise to us.
Clarinda: Yes, because we are all really different people. Our practices are different. I think we do share something secretly and that the curators were well-curated, but at the same time how we operate and what our concerns are, are ostensibly quite different from person to person. I think one thing we share is pushing at the boundary of discipline or the boundary of what performance is and where it belongs. We all are a little bit contrarian. We really want to turn things on their heads. The art dance show, for example: “Let’s do something where we don’t let people perform, but we bring them in to participate in a way that may challenge a part of themselves that they didn’t know was there.” Things like that where we’re really trying to expand practice.
Chase: Another thread of thought in the creation of that event was that in the visual art world there are many initiatives that say its okay for visual artists without a performance practice to suddenly make a performance but we couldn’t name an occasion where the opposite was true. Where dancers and choreographers, people with a performing practice, can just make a piece of visual art. All it takes is for some organization or some opportunity to exist to say that it’s okay. It was really exciting to realize that with this festival we can. It wasn’t so much about being a troublemaker or pushing buttons of other organizations but just saying that when you come together as a festival, this temporary organization, there’s certain things that you can say are okay. As an individual if I tried to organize something like that it wouldn’t have the same effect or resonance.
Clarinda: That’s true. It was institutional license to make something different happen. But because even this institution has an imprimatur, it contains it in a way that people can see. “Oh, there’s an organization that’s sponsoring this so it must be real.” That’s just how it is. I think that we were able to utilize that and celebrate it. It was very celebratory in the long run. There was a lot that felt really happy. I don’t know if we expected that necessarily.
Larissa: Expanding the definitions of things was constantly a theme for us, and there was such a generosity about it. Opening to audiences that might not normally come, through the poetry dinner, as an example, which was attended by only a few recognizable dancers. It was constantly this obsession for us to represent the breadth of contemporary practice, which is expansive.
Clarinda: That’s interesting you [Larissa] say generosity because I do think that people got that feeling. What they said to us was “Oh, I felt very included.” All-inclusive can be something that isn’t rigorous, and we were clear that we wanted to be both inclusive and rigorous.
Chase: We tried to have space in the festival so it wasn’t totally jam-packed. We wanted to have a fair amount of activity but also to have some space for contemplation. We talked about potentially setting up events that structured contemplation into the event. We didn’t do that, but that kind of idea stuck around. We wanted people to be able to think.
Clarinda: I was specifically interested in participation versus contemplation. I think that caught on and came into this idea of “Well, what is participatory?” Is watching a performance participatory or contemplative? It is a kind of contemplation but it’s funny. The performance we did at Tandem was so raucous. I don’t know if you would say, “Oh, that’s contemplation.” I like these lines that kept coming back and forth. We started to see all the this versus this is not really this versus this. This is this. This is contained within this. You can be participating in something and you can be very contemplative.
Levi: There was a lot of space for contemplation inside the events themselves. The events weren’t so much about constantly keeping you stimulated or feeding you something. The two events I went to, which were the art opening and the social at the end, actually required your participation. The festival felt really geared towards the spectator in that way. It wasn’t so much, “Oh, I have to see this performance because it’s going to be really interesting.” It was more like, “This is an opportunity for us to experience dance in a bar. This is an opportunity for us to be in nature together. This is an opportunity for us to socialize.” It really did seem like the events were not necessarily structured around serving the artists who were participating, although it was doing that too, but also around the people who would be there to experience the event.
Chase: I think, without getting too theoretical, the festival was curated in a post-relational aesthetics. (All laugh) We were always trying to create a relational situation. We were always creating events thinking of the intended audience and what that relationship might be. I think a lot of the choices of artists had to do with that kind of relationship. What kind of dialogue would that artist bring to this space, to this theme? We invited artists into themes. Rather than saying, “We want this artist, because we like their work.” It was often like “We have an idea of a day, now--”
Clarinda: --who would fit that?
CHAOS: Tandem Bar, Photo by Karli Cadel
Chase: Yeah. I think that was also a way for us to push ourselves to curate different kinds of artists that aren’t always umbrella’ed under Movement Research, although I know that is a very broad organization. Sometimes people perceive A.B.C. or X.Y.Z. artist as being more part of the Movement Research community than others. I think that we were kind of trying to--
Clarinda: --show that the ideas around Movement Research, that formed Movement Research are more broad-ranging than the artists that may be contained under that umbrella so far. These ideas that Movement Research represents, in my mind, are something that go beyond the people that embody it within the organizational structure right now. And that’s fine. It has to be embodied and people have to represent it, but I think the festival is that opportunity to say, “What are the ideas?” Because it’s such a beautiful range of ideas that make up where Movement Research came from and where it goes.
Chase: I think with the art show that was a really exciting thing. We thought it was going to be like 20 or 40 artists and at some point we decided we should try to make this as big as possible so we set the number to have 100 confirmed artists going into it, knowing that come the deadline not everybody would probably get their art to us.
Clarinda: How many did we end up with?
Chase: I think there were 91 works of art. Something around there. That was really an opportunity to cast a big net. I was really interested in trying in whatever subtle way possible to give some exposure to a national contemporary dance scene, recognizing that there’s interesting communities of dance outside of New York City: Philadelphia, Portland, Bay area, Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle.
Levi: Because it’s easier to participate if you’re sending an object?
Chase: And also to invite artists from those cities that wouldn’t necessarily be at a point in their career where they would be getting a season here.
Levi: How did you arrive at the name: Festival?
Chase: It’s always hard to name things. One of us suggested that the name could be a sentence.
Clarinda: Remember it was Festival, exclamation point, asterisk. The name is that whole crazy thing we came up with. Festival is the abbreviated name.
Larissa: I think it was like a paragraph.
Clarinda: Chase came up with the sentence and then me and Larissa and Gabriel fucked around with it and then shifted and expanded it. We had all that text.
Larissa: And then we realized that for press that it would never be taken seriously to have a paragraph as the title of something so it became the Festival!*.
Chase: We also realized that some of the themes in the festival involved a lot of poetics. We had a poetry event but also walking performances and urban foraging. All this stuff feels like a kind of poetics. We talked about the title as being--
Clarinda: --a demonstration of that.
Chase: For us it made sense that the title was also the explanation of the festival. We knew, like Larissa said, that it would never get printed in its entirety anywhere. That’s why the cover of our brochure, which we tried to make like a poster, was that. So there wasn’t an image representing the festival. It was language representing the festival.
Clarinda: Language as image as text.
Larissa: Every step of the way we were fully aware that we were artists involved in answering every question or in figuring the entire thing out. So when it came to the title, our curatorial statement was a poem of our title. I don’t think we even had a curatorial statement because it was the title. At every point we exercised artistry.
Clarinda: Right. Our creative faculties or our desire to transform. We didn’t go into our separate corners and do things. We did it collaboratively. I think we all felt a little more responsibility for one thing or another, but it was really more like that. It was more responsibility than ownership.
Chase: We were very aware that we were artists, but we also weren’t scared to let our individual aesthetic and political concerns come through the festival. We were very comfortable with saying, “We are a festival organized by four artists. We’re going to allow our concerns within dance and choreography and performance come into this festival and manifest.”
Clarinda: I think that that made it more inclusive strangely. Maybe it’s a little bit how if you write very specifically about an experience that more people can relate to it than if you try to contain multitudes. When you really address a concern specifically a lot of people can enter into it either as empathetic or as curious as long as it’s clear and well-represented. It has integrity.
Levi: It also has to do with the nature of the events being so participatory and experiential. I didn’t feel the sense of getting bombarded with someone’s aesthetic vision. It felt like an offering. When I think about the festival, and knowing most of you personally, I could feel your personalities inside the fabric of the events. I also felt your presence as hosts.
Clarinda: That was very conscious.
Levi: Much more strongly than I’ve felt in previous [Movement Research Spring] festivals. I really felt like you were there and I could approach you and talk about what was going on.
Larissa: Clarinda and I kept trying to get us to wear matching outfits but that never happened.
Clarinda: And that’s the one thing I regret! (It’s a pretty small regret.) But it was very conscious that we were present and available. And in some way that was a performative aspect. It certainly felt like it more than I realized it was going to. There was definitely a sense of “Okay, I’m on.” But it was also so we really could be available and serve in many ways.
Levi: I remember the art show being at Gabriel’s space and you [Chase] were barbecuing.
Chase: We just wanted to have a fun way to start the festival, to start it in a celebratory mode, as a social gathering. We didn’t start with a performance or an event.
Larissa: Yeah, get people drunk. Hang out. Talk about art.
Chase: I think it was a way of saying this festival is celebrating something. How can we actually manifest that celebration?
Clarinda: And Gabriel is always really good at putting on a party. I’ve only been there twice but every time it’s been a crazy good party. I think that that helps a lot, that we had his way of doing things and his space, and then all our intentions and our own individual celebratory--I have a feeling we all give really good parties when we give parties. I have a feeling that’s part of our characters. To me, it was nice to have a way to express that within a context and have it feel like a party and not just an event.
Chase: It was also exciting that we got to partner with Tandem Bar, because it ended up that the weekend we were doing something in Bushwick, it was also Bushwick Open Studios. So there was a really big audience outside of people who were coming just for the festival. Our attendance was double what we anticipated. We had budgeted for 150 people. We had almost 320.
Clarinda: That was another example of getting people in that would never have gotten in, because they just wanted to come to Tandem. They’d grumble and give their five dollars and go in and then end up dancing and watching crazy performances. I had no idea that it would actually work so well.
Levi: I heard it was kind of wild.
Larissa: Yeah and then the night continued on.
Clarinda: It got very wild.
Larissa: We basically just set up shop at this bar the entire day. Similarly to Chase being behind the grill at the [art dance show party], it was interesting for me to be in the sound booth. I kind of tech’d the whole thing, but I wasn’t just the production person doing stuff. I was running the timing of the entire evening and the night got crazier and crazier, more chaotic by the end. And for sure people were going to try and grab the mic and turn it into a free-for-all, but since I felt in a very privileged position to be the curator to press the microphone off and really craft what was going to happen.
Levi: You were an “experience” D.J.
Larissa: Yeah, very much. It was very organized chaos. It had the feel of this thing falling apart at the seams, but it was crafted in the way that we had been describing it and talking about it and figuring it out for months.
Clarinda: But it really did have a flavor of serious chaos, which was exciting. There were points where I think it could have gotten out of control. But when you invite the gods of chaos that’s what happens.
Larissa: It was about your ability to come and see a performance and your ability to come and get really drunk and dance and be a part of it all. It was a full blurring of performance and participation, as I feel like all of the events were in their own specific way.
Levi: Are there any other specific memories of events that you remember, or that struck a chord?
Clarinda: It’s all a bit of a blur.
NATURE: Poetry Dinner, Photo by Kim Olstad
Larissa: So many and they were all so different. I remember actually the day of the poetry dinner, watching Abigail’s slow motion falls, which was happening in Gowanus and a whole route on 3rd Avenue leading up to the poetry dinner. Some people attended but of course a lot of people from the street rode up on their bikes, curious. I just kept thinking how lucky I was to actually have been able to see all of these really different, beautiful experiences. Just to think that the night before was the madness at Tandem Bar, and then the day before that we were gallery hopping all over the place. We went to an incredible C.A.T. talk [Collective Arts Think-tank]. There was just incredible variation.
Clarinda: It’s more the juxtaposition than the specific events themselves, just the fact that you went from day to day and it was so different. Also just this wonder in the fact that the totally conceptual became manifest, and that doesn’t always happen. Usually it kind of gets away from you, which is okay too. I don’t know why it would be different, doing something curatorially rather than artistically, but it really was interesting to see something become fully manifest in that way.
Chase: One of the overall highlights of the festival was being able to partner with all these different organizations that are very artist-friendly and run by artists, but not necessarily typically involved with the New York dance and performance scene. The bakery Four and 20 Blackbirds, run by two sisters who are visual artists--I don’t think they know too much about dance and performance, but were super excited to be involved with the Movement Research Festival. A lot of the audience came because of knowing the bakery or knowing the chef. Definitely, there were some people there who do know poetry, but there was a good amount of people who aren’t used to poetry, at least not the kind of experimental and body based poetry that we had at that event. Tandem also, I think, is run by two sisters who are visual artists. I can’t remember. But they have some dancers that work there, so it was exciting then to collaborate with them. These two galleries on the Lower East Side that we worked with are super dance-friendly. It was interesting to have this C.A.T. (Collective Arts Think-tank) conversation happen not at a dance venue, but at a gallery. To have these gate-keepers of contemporary dance speak in a gallery setting.
Levi: It’s interesting to have the experience of these different spaces--the experience of Gowanus, the experience of your city, the experience of an art space or gallery with that conversation about dance. Hopefully that expansion exists beyond just the moment of the festival itself.
Clarinda: That would be nice.
Larissa: Or even the Monday night Judson. That expectation of coming to a Monday night Judson performance and actually just having a social gathering. Just celebrating being part of the community that you’re part of.
Chase Granoff, Clarinda MacLow, Curators, FAÃ‡ADE/FASAD, Festival!*, Gabriel Rivera, Larissa Velez-Jackson, Levi Gonzalez, Movement Research Spring Festival 2011, PDF, Spring Festival 2011, Tandem Bar, Video