Kyle Marshall sat down with Charmaine Warren to talk about how things change or stay the same, about black tradition in dance, and shared Jamaican roots. The conversation happened shortly before the opening of Kyle’s new work WAGE, which premiered last weekend at CPR. How can a dance continue outside the room where it’s performed? While rehearsing a dance about race and power, how is the creative process linked to the material conditions in which it happens? Similar to Kyle’s work, this talk is not offering resolutions, but the opportunity to grow, define and research as we go. These routes don’t need to be walked by artists on their own, but in alliance with peers, with mentors, and with the influence of the places where we came from.
- Amelia Bande, co-editor and susan karabush, CC intern.
Kyle Marshall: Hi Charmaine
Charmaine Warren: Hi Kyle. How great is this that we're together talking?
KM: It's good. It's a little strange, but it’s good. I’m trying to figure it out.
CW: It's always a pleasure to talk to you about anything.
KM: I guess in this conversation, we can talk about our past and our present and future as a way of framing what’s going on. I am just curious about your trajectory as a performer and your experience in performing in the past and in the present and how things have changed or stayed the same. Isn’t that enough to go on?
CW: That’s enough. Yeah I always think about my past with David Rousseve the company Reality but of course there's more than that. The best part about the past and connecting with David is that I was able to latch on and understand why I dance and it's because of my black tradition in dance. And David Rouseeve’s work has always been about family and the black tradition in American dance but then allowed me the space and time to think about why I dance as a Jamaican person. Oh right you’re Jamaican too!
KM: Yeah, yeah.
CW: But in addition to that the great thing in all of this talk with David and working with David I was going through my PhD, getting my PhD as a teacher and performer.
KM: At the same time?
CW: At the same time and pregnant too.
CW: Yeah well pregnant towards the end but it was David's work and his interest in the tradition that made me think about my tradition in Jamaican dance and how all of this connects and that's been my purpose.
CW: That's really been my purpose to make sure that I uphold the tradition in the best way that I can and find out more about my tradition in the best way that I can because that's what he did.
KM: What do you think of as traditions? And is this in a cultural context or is this a tradition in the dance world context?
CW: Both. Most definitely the cultural context but then the deeper you go into a cultural context the more you find out that there's some things that just aren’t separate from dance. I didn't know what part of Africa my Jamaican tradition comes from, but I found out more after I did research and it’s a long title for my PhD but for the most part I followed West and Central Africans to Jamaicans all the way up to Dancehall and got to research Rastafari. My brother’s a Rasta and I thought he just did that, but there’s so much more to it.
KM: That's interesting. My mother’s side is Jamaican. She was born there and lived there for a little bit as a toddler but then moved here. My grandparents lived back and forth. From the US and there and actually just saw them last weekend with Trisha in Miami. Trisha Brown.
CM: Oh nice!
KM: Yeah we are performing at the contemporary art museum there and they took a drive and they came down and saw the show. It was nice to see them.
CW: I’m curious to know what they think, but that’s another conversation.
KM: Yeah I was curious too. I think they were into some ideas about it. Thought it was beautiful, saw the work behind it. They had some good questions. But they were also talking about how they are building a new house in Ocho Rios in Jamaica.
KM: Yeah, yeah. So they used to live outside Spanish Town and now they sold that house and now they’re moving to a new house in Ocho Rios.
KM: Yeah. So that's interesting and I have been thinking about what is my relationship to that island? I used to go there as a kid for Christmas and summer time and for a couple weeks at a time but I haven't really gone there as an adult recently. The last time I was there was in college when my great grandmother died. So I went there for her funeral and spent some time there but I'm curious now as an artist.
KM: Like in my interest in history, my interest in how we get to places and how history affects our present, both our bodies and how we communicate. I'm curious about what my relationship to that island could be in the future and if there is an opportunity to continue to visit. Is that an option or is there interesting research for me to explore. I would be interested in making work about my Jamaican heritage even though I'm only half Jamaican and removed from it. It's a part of me.
CW: When you go you won't feel removed from it. It's, like I say to many people, you have to be in the skin to understand what we're talking about.
CW: But when you're touching the dirt.
KM: The red dirt.
CW: Oh my god. It’s a whole different thing.
KM: It's crazy!
CW: And you made Colored.
CW: Colored would have a part two.
CW: After you go there. Because you get off the plane and the person that sweeps and the person that owns the store that they're sweeping in front of: of color. They’re black Jamaicans.
KM: That was a really surprising thing that I think my brother said when he was little he said to my mom we were driving to the airport he was like “Everyone here is black.”
KM: And she said “Yeah black politicians and a black government, and things work fine.”
CW: Yeah yeah.
KM: Which I think for him was like you know he was probably like five so that's probably an interesting realization for him.
CW: Yeah at five, that's special yeah.
KM: Yeah so I I think I should make a trip back at some point in the near future, it's been awhile.
CW: And again it was my David prompt that made me want to go back and that's when the whole kettle of worms just opened up, in good way. So yes, I would so encourage you to go back.
KM: Did you grow up there at all?
CW: Came here when I was twelve. I’m fifty-seven so most of my life has been here. I think the first time I went back was ten years after I'd been here. Yes and then, I think, ten years. And then, after that, I somehow got connected with the National Dance Company in Jamaica.
KM: I saw them one year.
CW: You did? In Brooklyn?
KM: No I saw them in Jamaica once.
CW: Oh in Jamaica!
KM: I saw them around Easter time I think. That was super interesting. That was so cool.
CW: Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh stories about that. But make sure you see them.
KM: They come sometimes. They come every couple years.
CW: They were here this year so probably not for another.
KM: I’ll have to check that out.
CW: But I performed with them.
KM: Oh nice.
CW: I would go for the summer and I taught at the school. I would perform with them, I had the best time and that again put a spark onto me. And professor Rex Nettleford who, he's dead now, but he was the founder director of the dance company but also taught at the school, at the university. So yes, go back and you will find many things. Colored is just going to have part two I promise you that.
KM: To do that dance everywhere but especially there.
CW: Especially there.
KM: As we saw with Colored when I premiered it last June at the Actors Fund Art Center we had done a bunch of performances in progress of it and we got some information from the performing of it because the piece would feel different for different audiences.
CW: How about that. Woah!
KM: That was so interesting and we just did it again at Bard College two weeks ago. We did it at a student run organization, they organize a bunch of workshops and lectures and so this student there, Cal Fish brought us in and we did the piece. And it was nice. It was a nice community of people and again it changed like it does with different people. Different conversations came up. And that's really fruitful. A research of the performance as a way to continuing to think about it after the premiere of the piece, and the steps have been solidified, there's just more depth that can come which is nice.
CW: Which is nice. Make sure you look at David's Colored Children Flyin’ By. Which wasn't a Jamaican piece, but everywhere we did it, because of the content, it was it was deep.
KM: David was Jamaican?
CW: No David is African American, Southern, but the piece is about black folks. And one time we did it in LA and someone left a note. I'm paraphrasing, but the note said we don't need N-word people here.
KM: Oh jeez. Really? What year is this?
CW: Mid-nineties. So just around the corner.
KM: Yeah, yeah.
CW: Crazy, crazy pants.
KM: Do you feel like audiences have changed their perspective in viewing dance by black artists?
CW: It’s very hard. I can’t say yes or no. I do know that even though the nineties were just around the corner and that note that was left… crazy, can’t even believe that happened and now I’m performing with Skeleton Architecture. Women of color, we still have discussions about the audience not being receptive to our understanding. And you don’t want to force understanding on anybody but being in this skin we question it more and more. Last summer we were in Boston as a collective for a week and we invited other African-American women from Boston to come and join and it was a week full of so much. We talked, we cried, we sang, we danced. The beauty of those kinds of things and the work that you’re making is that we still have questions and we’re still giving room for them.
KM: In my life, I’ve found, especially in this field, with the training and the schools we go to, that I was often not surrounding myself with people of color, or that those spaces where people of color were, I, maybe because of my own personal things, didn’t feel comfortable in. But in the past year, and in making Colored and going into this new work I’m making, it’s changed pretty radically. I haven’t been surrounded by so many black people in a very long time.
CW: It’s different, isn’t it?
KM: It’s so different. It’s nice. I live with Myssi Robinson and also a friend of ours, Cain Coleman who used to dance with Bill T. Jones and Martha Graham and he runs the Coleman Collective. We all live together and he has friends over and we have dinner on Sundays and there’s something that I forgot, that I didn’t even realize that was there, that feels beautiful. It strengthens not only my relationship to people of color, but also my relationship to myself, my relationship with people outside. It feels like I’m starting to understand myself more as a black person and the beauty and strength and the power that comes with that which is also a little terrifying. Power is a scary thing but it seems like our communities might need a little more power right now.
CW: Well that’s the beauty of Skeleton [Architecture] is that we realize those things. We realize how much we need each other. When we do things we need to show up as a gang, as a leather gang, a mass, a lot of us, so they see us in numbers and see how meaningful that is, that we’re there together. Your Sunday dinner means a lot.
KM: Yeah, I want to make that into a tradition because it’s fun and I also like to cook. It’s nice to have people over. I’m trying to figure out that balance of working and living and how much of my time do I spend? I’m dancing with Trisha Brown, I’m making this new work, I’m dancing for Doug Elkins.
CW: You’re still dancing with Doug!
KM: I did a project with him last year and I’m going to do some stuff with him this summer but not much… not right now.
CW: It’s just a lot.
KM: It’s a lot to negotiate. That balance is tricky but there’s so much that can be gotten from life that I just wasn’t aware of or wasn’t focusing on. It’s important for me the people I’m surrounding myself with, that’s an interesting part of developing this new work.
CW: It’s growing up! How old are you?
KM: I’m 27.
CW: Oh my gosh! When I was 27 I thought the world was coming to an end.
KM: Ok, that’s good to hear. It feels like there’s shifting like crazy. My friends are more overworked, busier. I see people less. Things are not getting easier. I wonder how people make happy dances as they get older. Things are progressing in a way, the joy of life is starting to become more important to me. I’m trying to seek that out more.
CW: The thing about me thinking that it was the end of the world was that I was struggling to find the path to seek it more, but I didn’t give up. And if I can say anything to you, I’m not a dance maker, but I was a person of color and mostly in the downtown world, which is where you are, and there were only maybe two or three of us.
KM: There’s a bit more now.
CW: A bit more now, but not the same. But it was “AAH! Where do I fit in?” So my craziness changed over time, but it took time. And the balance back then, oh my gosh. I had to keep working because I lived in New York, I wanted to dance and I had to pay for classes, and I wanted to be in this company. I can’t say that it’s changed so much. I have a husband and daughter at home and I’m teaching.
KM: But there’s still a hustle.
CW: There’s still a hustle. And the saving grace is always my dance. I’m happy when I see dance, I’m happy when I dance.
KM: I just came back from rehearsal today. We’re working on a new piece which is called WAGE, premiering next week May 10-12th.
CW: It’s far though isn’t it?
KM: It’s at CPR. Yeah it’s in Brooklyn, from Jersey it’s far. Hopefully we can do it in Jersey somewhere, I’ll let you know. We have rehearsal in Brooklyn tomorrow and then Monday and Tuesday if you want to come up to CPR.
CW: So WAGE?
KM: Yeah WAGE. So this piece is coming from Colored and it’s going in another direction it feels like an antithesis.
CW: Is this with Myssi and…?
KM: This is with Myssi Robinson, Mimi Gabriel, Nick Sciscione and Dare Ayorinde.
CW: I saw Dare last Tuesday did he tell you?
KM: Oh at the party at the gallery, nice! Yeah he’s doing good. His birthday is next week. So it’s the five of us and we’ve known each other for a long time and so coming together, that sense of community I’m realizing is important to my work. The people in the room and that personal investment has to be there and that’s something I’m realizing going into new projects. But with Wage as opposed to Colored which was a celebration of a black identity, I think with Wage I’m looking at white supremacy and capitalism and how it kind of fits within our bodies and how our bodies are victims of that cycle and perpetrators of that cycle. And how through making Colored I realized I had white supremacist thinking in my own body, about myself, about other people. And so this work came out of that thinking. I’m working with two male-identified dancers, two female-identified dancers, two black dancers and two white dancers. I’m interested in how these binary things collide and the tension of these things. I’m curious about how bodies are seen and how bodies learn things, and how that history and learning comes into the room and also as a viewer, how do you see a performer as an archetype, as a stereotype. And also themselves because we’re both but we see each other as both and that kind of messy gray area, it’s a lot.
Miriam Gabriel Oluwadamilare Ayorinde Nick Sciscione And Myssi Robinson In Wage. Photo By: David Gonsier
CW: You haven’t even gotten to the crux of it in your research, but that’s just going through the messy part is going to be astounding. Cuz there isn’t...Well, maybe there’s an answer.
KM: I’m trying to figure this out with an ending. With this piece, exploring the idea of an ending, I’m like well there’s no answers, that’s one thing. And I don’t know if I want to leave an audience with a feeling of a resolution. Who am I to say that’s the answer? Who am I to say that we can solve it with a dance? We can explore it and bring up the ideas and bring awareness to something, but solving takes conversations it takes energy, it takes conscious choosing. I’m trying to think about leaving the audience with the idea of something continuing, that there’s more thoughts, that the dancing continues outside the room. The thoughts continue outside the room. Something as simple as not having a bow creates an idea of continuation. I don’t know if I’m going to do that, I’m still trying to figure that out.
CW: It’s a big job to say, to think that you can tell people that this is the resolution. That’s a big job, that’s scary too.
KM: Am I scared? I don’t know if I’m as scared. My work deals with meaning, and thoughts, like a concept behind it. And I feel like in the downtown world, meaning and thought and concepts are sometimes not as encouraged.
CW: It depends who you’re working with. Because that’s all we did. A lot of the times we’d just sit and have conversations, but not a lot of choreographers do that.
KM: I guess that’s true.
CW: They just want bodies to move. And I get that too.
KM: I get that too, but for me it’s not enough. It’s not as interesting.
CW: I need to hear it, I need to talk to you a little bit more.
KM: We’re thinking about these things outside of the room. And to me, outside of the room inside the room is the same. I don’t feel there’s a separation. As the choreographer or leader of the room, I feel like I need to allow these other people to have voices in it, because the dancers are the bodies doing the form.
CW: It’s a different time.
KM: It’s a different time.
CW: Before my time choreographers just walked into a room and say “This is what you do.”
KM: I’ve been in rooms like that, I danced in a ballet company where it was kind of like that. I don’t know, it’s just not as interesting.
CW: But that’s because there’s that other part of you. And that’s a blessing. I’m not a fan of looking at blank bodies onstage.
KM: Especially since those people aren’t.
CW: Exactly. You’re onstage, you’re sharing. And for the most part you’re sharing something from somebody that comes from a deep place. The job as the choreographer is even bigger.
KM: Well yeah then it’s more like directing and sculpting, navigating a choice that a dancer might make.
KM: Yeah. And I respect these people and they’re so intelligent and they have their own work that’s beyond mine. Why not let them contribute and make the work better, or more interesting or deeper?
CW: I used to love to do homework for David Rousseve.
KM: Homework? What would you do for homework?
CW: Oh my gosh, this was so long ago, but for Chicago I think it was building love songs, we had to go to the hotel and come up with a love song and some thing, an inanimate object that helped. And we would sing the song and share it with each other. I sang a Bob Marley song, I can’t even remember what it was and something that I’d taken from the hotel. We would go home with homework. We’d go home being angry from having deep discussions, but I loved being a part of the whole thing. Because when you’re onstage, even though I’m not a dance maker, it’s me.
KM: It’s you. You’re the one doing it. And the stage, the dance is what? 40 minutes? the rehearsal process is much longer than that. We’re intelligent people, we might as well...I love them they’re great.
CW: I’m sure they love working with you too. Every time I see Nick he says “Oh Kyle!” No Bria?
KM: Not in this piece. She’s busy, she was around for a bit, she was apprenticing. I’m learning how to navigate the finances of making work, and being responsible for paying people.
CW: It’s a lot of work.
KM: It’s a lot of work, and communication. I got in trouble a couple weeks ago. I got in trouble, not bad trouble. My dancers had to remind me about how to communicate, especially about money. A lot of us are friends too, so when we have collaborators that aren’t as close as us, those conversations have to be even clearer. And I understand a bit more now the idea of a contract and the promise of that kind of thing. My next project, whatever it is, it’s definitely going to have to start with a bit more organizations or infrastructure, maybe some contracts. I’m not sure how to do that...
CW: You can’t join one of those Fractured Atlas…?
KM: I’m already fiscally sponsored by NY Live Arts and they provide me with some support by receiving donations, tax stuff, but no one’s telling me how to do it. Nobody’s telling anyone how to do it. That’s something I thought I’d have a bit more help in when I was starting. But you know, trial and error, and financially this project is fine, we’re taken care of. But I’m thinking about the next work, whatever that is.
CW: You have to think now.
KM: Yeah you have to think now about what other ways I can infrastructurally support it. I don’t want to have conversations about money while we’re in the studio working. I don’t want people to worry, I don’t want to worry.
CW: You want to do that long before you start.
KM: Yeah and communication is one way to make that better. We do weekly emails. I’ll do text reminders and all that kind of stuff. We’ve been doing weekly reminders for about a year now. It’s just a lot to negotiate.
CW: Get a student.
KM: That would help. Oh no, I have someone helping me a little bit! Andy Santana, he does a lot of like, “There’s a grant out, can you look this up and tell me what I need it for?” Or, “Can you look for space on this day.” You know, some small tasks that I’m not always aware of or need reminders of. I feel a little conflicted about how to give him more. To me everything seems connected in the work, the money feels related to the schedule feels related to the kind of work we’re making and if it’s a trio or a duet or whatever. So in the future if I’m working with Andy or whoever, how do I both break down the parts and give him a task or give someone a task, but also keep an eye on everything. I don’t want him to be in charge of the money, that shouldn’t be his responsibility. But how do you keep track of the schedule if you don’t know about the money. All of these balances.
CW: You need a mentor, that’ll do that. A company mentor.
KM: Yeah like an executive mentor.
CW: Like an executive mentor. Pentacle has that program, have you applied?
KM: I haven’t applied, but I do know about it.
CW: Stephanie has it and Dava does it too.
KM: Yeah, I should talk to her about it. But then again, communication, talking about it. I didn’t realize I had to talk so much.
CW: I remember Kyle Abraham in the beginning, and I won’t even say the whole thing, but I said you need to leave that stuff and go be an artist. Because that’s what you need. But starting out it’s hard. But he was doing everything, which is what you’re doing. And then there’s a round of Executive Directors that you’ll go through and finding the right person. We don’t have an Executive Director for Dance on the Lawn, it’s just Laura and I trudging away trying to figure things out step by step.
KM: I guess we’re all just trying to figure things out. Alright. I think we’re done with this conversation.
CW: That was good! We just went carrying on!