Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Notes from a radical choreographer

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Elizabeth Streb

I am a criminal, and we are a blunt instrument charging forward.

I don’t want to say I have a completely broken body, because I’m still walking and talking, but I am the person who has won twenty wars, and I am now sending you out there, and, live or die, it’s time to fly. I am rough like that, and I don’t apologize.

What does this movement mean? It became a question that plagued me. If you can’t answer that question, I thought, you are lying to the audience. No more step, step, step, leap. No more arabesques. No more promenades. If I didn’t know what I was doing, or why, I shouldn’t do it. In movement terms, it would be tantamount to lying.

You have to develop a technique to confront your sense of peril.

[Dance is] not a young person’s form. It’s a mature form, because of the responsibility.

If you tilt before you land, you’re going to get walloped.

I’m probably not doing dance. That’s probably not what I’m doing. I think that’s why people have a problem with it. It contradicts their understanding of dance. People ask how I would like my work described. The usual reply is “That’s not my job.”

Forces! The Movical

So what is this animal, this action animal? It’s maybe not modern dance, it’s not sports, it’s not circus. It’s easier to say what it is not. Why not circus? I am attached to building paragraphs of action. Circus does prepositions, meaning their sentences are short, and they stop a lot. Their grammar and syntax are less complex, and they ask for less time from the viewer’s eye. They keep stopping and getting applause. The circus has the capacity to amaze but not to move.

Chaos is what we want. How do we legislate that?

Harder, faster, sooner, higher.

I’m always thinking, What’s a cheap new piece I could make? Cinder blocks? No. I-beams? No. I’ve been walking around thinking about a piece I could buy at a lumberyard or a hardware store. Like railroad ties. But I can’t think of one other thing. Glass? No. Sheet metal? No. I did a sheet-metal dance once, and it didn’t really work.

My dream, what I hope for most of all, is that this inquiry of mine is a transferable methodology. If it’s accurate in terms of time, space, forces, and body, and an astute mind could take that frame into the future, then it will have a bigger life than just me.

I think maybe the future of dance is not a single person bossing people around until he or she dies. Maybe it’s the generation of an inquiry, based on a system, a methodology that gets established somehow, maybe through a single person’s provocation. Something more like an oral history than the work of a single author. I didn’t really invent this format, because physics exists. I just combined the conditions I was obsessed with, like hardware and action, and then spent thirty years fiddling with them. Who knows where it could go if I get out of the way.

Elizabeth Streb, to Alec Wilkinson in The New Yorker

Written by nevalalee

June 30, 2015 at 9:29 am

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