photo by Laura Bartczak
Raul Zbengheci introduced me to Lindsey Drury after I had mentioned being interested in using trained dancers (classically and otherwise) to further expand the field of dance rather than merely preserve it. Lindsey had mentioned to him her ideas of “post-dance” and the ways of categorizing work as dance, performance, or something else. The three of us chatted a bit and later I emailed Lindsey some questions about what had been said at the discussion. Below are a few of those questions and Lindsey’s responses.
AL: Who performs your work? (yourself, specifically trained dancers, non-dancers, performers of all types, friends, family, etc) What are the requirements of the performer(s) to perform your work, if any? (a physicality, type of training, degree of training, a particular presence or virtue, being familiar with that person beforehand, schedule availability, shared goals, something more ephemeral, etc.)
LD: I suppose I am an artist who works with performers as both/either (1) populations or (2) individuals. I suppose this is because I understand choreography as a method for arranging bodies and movement in space- and I find there are many tactics for doing so. One can arrange bodies and body movement in space by, for example, knowing what about that population might entice it to rearrange itself. I don't necessarily have to go through the traditional steps of rehearsal and performance. I assume this is possible because something already enticed any group of people at a performance to arrange themselves in the same place a particular show. Situations house groups of people who often share some characteristics with one another. So I suppose my work is both passive and active in this way- I observe the situation as having predetermined elements, which I consider a choreographic baseline, and then I seek to influence or alter the nature of the situation through the way I bend action and interaction over the course of the work.
I tend to therefore hold audience and performers as equally important to the presentation of my work. I understand the role of the performer in a piece as matched by the powerful implications of audience passivity. In Run Little Girl, for example, audience members were sat in a circle of 35 chairs facing outward. The piece circled around their chairs, but each audience member only saw a fragment of the entire dance. Collectively, the audience had seen the entire work, but individually, they were confronted with their limited view. Audience was therefore performing audience as limited perspective, and through limited perspective, audience was confronting the system of the work alongside the performers by contending with the blind spots that rendered them incapable of perceiving the whole.
I am able to accept any performer because I am interested in how any person can participate in choreography and situational dynamics. So- you could say I am comfortable working with "non-dancers" but I’m also not evangelically wandering around looking for a way to give the gift of a dance to a lost soul. I'm hunting out willing players and ripe situations because I need these to begin. I work with dancers most often because my own long-standing interest in dance itself makes me able to work with them. I have been observing dancers for a very long time. They’re also an available population- they want to be witnessed. They want to try crazy things. They want to live in their bodies. They have been trained to make themselves available to the choreographic ideas of others. And because I share a similar educational background to many “modern dancers,” we share similar habits for articulating meaning. So, making works for dancers feels to me like working within my native culture. However, when working within the frame of dance, I find I have to articulate my work as art, and therefore that both its performers and audience are inside art. It is so much easier to do this if it is "dance." And I like "dance."
Dance has been in my life for almost all of it, dance is deep inside me, and I do think it is where the choreographer in me was born, but I also know it fails to encapsulate all of my choreographic ventures. When I create a piece that isn’t a work of dance, I am suddenly able to frame the operation of my choreography in any way I choose. Most recently, I created a work for a band of feminist performance artists of which I am a part, called the No Wave Performance Task Force. I framed the work not as a dance, but as a debate. I started with a simple premise: That feminists, as activists, must deal with what it means to speak for the interests of a general population. Activist feminists speak, in the simplest terms, the needs and problems of women, and do so, as best they can, for an assumed general population that falls under the category, “women.” So I devised the situation as such: I used the money paid to me for presenting work at another institution to pay a group of six women hired through Craigslist. I sat the four NWPTF artists and the six Craigslist hires in a circle, and instructed the NWPTF artists to have a debate with one another about how to “reach out” to non-performer women through feminist artistic practice. The only rule was that the debate could only happen using the voices of the women hired through Craigslist, and so the artists from NWPTF had to whisper their points into the ears of the women from Craigslist, who then articulated the ideas into a microphone. A friend of mine called this work a form of “ventriloquizing.” For me, it basically erased the distance between speaking for someone and speaking through someone. For me, it was a way of investigating as directly as possible some basic problematics of activism.
There’s also this other part of me that just deals with making dances and choosing performers from the perspective of the wounded child. If you decide you’re a dancer as a child, you spend most of your youth trying to prove the truth of your conjecture. So, dance, as a home, is always a home at which you’re trying to arrive, and I’ve never really arrived at being a dancer. This is probably for two reasons: First, my right arm is malformed, and so, as a child, ballet teachers told me consistently that I had no future in the field. Second, I was a deeply shy, quiet, awkward child, and dance class was the hardest place for me because dance is a social art. It’s pathetic to say, but all the other little girls in ballet school made friends and I was just... silent... for about 6 years. So I was always feeling like an outsider within dance, while at the same time feeling like nothing made more sense for me. Because of this, I have been for a long time trying to commandeer choreography as best I can for purposes both within and outside of the discipline of dance.
AL: I think you mentioned in our meeting that your "dancers' skill sets contend" with your dance. Can you explain this a bit more? Can you give an example of how this has happened? What do you think of when you hear “trained dancer”? Or “technical dancer”?
LD: If confident performance is necessary to illuminate the function of a dance, I don’t want to make dances at all. Choreography to me is a way of making systems, and the strongest of systems will operate with or without our confidence in them, regardless as to our faith that we can fulfill them. So what I need from performers is a willingness to contend openly with choreography as a system, which at times means grabbing the choreography by the balls, or flailing at nothing, or losing the way, or changing everything. In such a case, the audience isn’t watching a dance that can repeat itself night after night. Neither is the audience watching an improvisation, as most of the movement in my works is highly structured, rehearsed material. The audience is instead watching contention as it arises from systems of authority, structure, expressivity, expectation, witnessing, need, interpretation, pleasure, and amongst much else, failure.
There was this point at which I had about 6 lovely, talented women dancers who all wanted very much to work with me. They were all very thoughtful, caring, gracious, kind, nurturing people. And as such, are the kind of performers who are easy to ignore in NYC. All great, lovely, young, college-educated women, all expendable to the culture of experimental dance hotness, where almost everybody is young, college-educated, and lovely. And I thought- what would it look like, what would it be like, if I created the wrong dance for these women? So, I began doing so, and I started learning about how such dancers are trained, what skills their training programs imagined they would need, and therefore, how the definitions of what dancing is (especially from academia) are set down in the very bodies of the people who are trained to do it. And, so I was looking, through working with them, for the actions that would arise from them if different demands were made, demands that drew from their training in order to render that training useless. At first I thought I was doing this for humanistic purposes, to push through the way training standardizes dancers and predetermines what they need to know in order to dance. Reading novels, for example, I have learned that one’s personhood (narratively) arises through how one deals with adversity, and so I thought of the dance as the adversity for the narrative personhood of its dancers. But what I realize now is that I was doing this because I wanted to take a shot at making work that purposely breaks open, that consciously chooses to exist in the schism between what dance is, as defined by the training dancers have, and what dance might be, as defined by whatever the fuck I could find that was obviously outside that skill set. And I wanted to see how the dancers and their audiences could survive that, not by finding answers, which lay flat and unchanging, but by finding ways of contending. I tried it inside Run Little Girl- setting up the dancers with one set of expectations and then blasting them with another- for example- teaching them a phrase they would repeat and repeat and then in the show itself, telling them over a microphone in front of the audience, to do it completely differently. My behavior verged on humiliating my dancers, and risked showcasing nothing more than struggle as manifested by performers in the gulf between training and the unknown. I think in some cases it was read that way, as an abusive piece. But I think there are many ways for justice to be found within the structure of choreography, and the justice of my work, again and again, I seek to place within the hands of the people who enact it.
AL: What is post-dance and how/when did this term come up for you? Who/what are some of your influences (dance and non-dance) in making work right now?
LD: This brings me to the issue of post-dance, a term I used to justify the presence of dance artists within the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival. I invented the term to deal with dance that finds itself within the Performance Art context for one reason or another. In my case, I am so much more interested in constructing the system that causes something to happen than I am in how the thing that happens looks, and how that act is therefore interpreted on the basis of how it looks within the performance context. Though often involving dance, my works won’t make sense if read simply as dances. And so, I find it increasingly difficult to produce my work within the dance scene in New York City, and have found, instead, new colleagues and presenters within the Performance Art scene. People like Esther Neff of Panoply Lab, Ivy Castellanos of IV Soldiers, Laurie Berg and Dirks-Goodman of AUNTS, and Ian Colletti of Vaudeville Park have all shown me an ability to flow with the supremely different production needs of works from emerging/non-fixed performance genres. I am endlessly thankful that such artist/curators exist in New York City. Without people like that, I would have probably stopped making work in New York City because I would have found no one willing to present it within the dance scene here. And because the curators who support my work tend to work within the Performance Art community, I started to, with great hesitation, identify my own work as Performance Art.
The fact remains, however, that my work isn’t Performance Art, at least, not in the textbook sense of the term. My work continues to be dance, but it is dance without being able to be produced as dance unless producers will let me cause problems along the way. As it turns out, I am too early in my career to cause problems without risking being uninvited. And so, for me, post-dance is a problem of production, it is a problem that arises when production itself assumes the shape a dance can take by being staged.