6 Questions: Dylan Crossman - La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival
Dylan Crossman performs in his piece EVERY ME SEES THOU A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY in The La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival May 9-11, 2014, on a shared bill with Ashely Chen. He took time to sit down with Sam Alper for an in-person six questions.
1. What is it like to dance in your own choreography alongside other performers? Is that something you do often?
No actually, not really. I just recently started my company in 2013 - sort of restarted it - and since the rebirth I've only done solos, because it's cheaper to create and take on the road and doesn't involve dealing with peoples' schedules. In New York City, where most artists are freelancers or have three other jobs, that gets really complicated. I also wanted to figure out what I was interested in, what my style was, on my own, before adding more people.
The performing part is great. It's really fun. It's the creation part that's a little more complicated because you can't be an outsider when you're also performing. So what I've done is have collaborators I trust, outside eyes, come in regularly. We're using a lot of text and I have a background in theatre but I'm not a director. I can tell when something sounds wrong but I'm not sure how to direct them. So I think somebody who is an outsider - who isn't as connected emotionally to the piece - it's much easier for them to say "ok, this works. This doesn't work" or "I know what you're trying to do but try something else." So that's been really helpful. Also, I'm someone who loves connecting with people onstage, in general, I really appreciate that. But somehow, when it's your own work, it's a little different. Maybe because you're always slightly aware of what's happening, trying to control the situation, trying to be aware of where it's going. But it's really fun. I love performing with the great dancers that dance for me.
2. How do you incorporate text into your work and how do you feel about using text in dance?
I actually started doing theatre, or drama, at seven years old, and I only started dancing at ten. I only did dance for two years and then I went through the teenage phase of 'being a dancer for a boy is social suicide, so I'm not doing it,' but I kept doing theatre. Then, around 18, I got to the place where I had to decide. I was aware that dance is something physical, you can't do it forever, in very specific ways. Also, in theatre I was too young to play the roles I was interested in. I'd been studying theatre for 10 or 11 years and I was still getting the role of the young, innocent boy who gets killed halfway through the piece because he's trying to save the girl, basically. So I thought, "you know, I think I'm going to go for dance."
I was dancing with the Cunningham Company until its closing in 2011 and that's quite the opposite of theatre. It's very movement-for-the-sake-of-movement, very abstract. And coming out of that company people assume you're going to make that kind of work. So it was important for me to A) go back to my roots and B) show people that just because I enjoyed dancing in Merce's Company didn't mean I was going to make that kind of work myself.
I was raised in France and I grew up there. Now I very much associate with North American culture, but I have those the languages, french and english in me.There's Dylan the french speaker and Dylan the english speaker, but not a lot of people know both. So I thought language was an interesting way to talk about adapting to multiple environments, or having different personalities, which is what I'm talking about in this piece.
I also feel like, as dancers, we learn how to dance well and execute things and hide whatever emotions we have behind what the choreographers wants us to show, but the voice is something that isn't trained for a dancer. Making a dancer speak is so much more revealing than making them dance. So that is also interesting to me, revealing my performers to the audience. Not how they wish to be seen. Not how they've constructed their persona over the years. How they really are.
3. What about the theme of split personalities, or multiplicity within an individual, attracts you?
I guess that comes from a little bit of a personal experience. Besides the split background, I have been living in this country for seven years, but I'm still only on a temporary visa. I feel like I belong here because I've been here for seven years - I'm part of the dance world, I dance, I make work, I have relationships here, I feel like I have a family here - and yet I don't belong here. Every time my visa expires I'm faced with a decision. Stay in this country or leave?' Should I go back to France? Should I go to Canada? Should I stay here? Who am I? Where do I belong? That was, kind of, the whole starting point for this.
It's also about how much we grow in our own lives. Leaving a company like Merce Cunningham, that has a very strong stigma that comes with it. People think, 'you're a Cunningham dancer: you're very technical, you're great at what you do, but you're kind of like a robot and you can only do a certain kind of dance.' I disagree, but that's how people see us. So again that's, 'who I am versus who you think I am.'
And then, there's the whole 'be happy, be nice, be polite.' All these things that society puts on us. I feel like a lot of times in social groups we get in a role. You're the fixer. You're the happy person. You're the troublemaker. Then we get stuck in those roles. I think as I get older I've started to realize what kind of roles I put myself into and I'm striving to not necessarily be in those positions anymore. So that relates to those themes too. What do I actually want to be?
4. Is there a different kind of piece, or a larger piece, that you would create if you had infinite resources?
Actually I'm starting to work on a piece this summer. It's the first part of a trilogy based on the idea of belonging somewhere, to something, someone, just that concept. I think I would like the trilogy to be a male trio, a female trio and a then a trio that would be 'others', which, I'm not sure exactly what that would be yet. But, three takes on the same subject. Ultimately I'd like to bring those three trios together into an evening length. I'm going to start working on that little by little, but if I did have infinite resources I would do it right now. I would have a great residency and a great space. I would have all my performers there together, as opposed to - I'm going to work on this bit by bit and maybe in like 3-5 years I'll have the whole thing.
5. Are there other artists in the festival that you're particularly excited to see?
I'm actually really excited to share a program with Ashley Chen. He was in the Cunningham Company way before I arrived there, but I've always enjoyed his dancing through watching him on video, from learning parts. I'm excited to see his work. I'm excited to see Cedric Andrieux here. I also like Compagnie Affari-Esteri. I took class with Shlomi Tuizer in France. I was teaching a Master class there and he was teaching the rest of the week. Rebecca Lazier, as well. I just think this festival is full of surprises, it's full of interesting people. Sadly I'm not going to be able to see a lot of it, because I'm leaving after my own show to go to Canada, but I'm super excited to be a part of it.
6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?
There are two things. I've always had a relationship with (La MaMa Moves! Curator) Nicky Paraiso. Since I got to New York he's pretty much seen every show I've been in, so he knows me as a performer very well and he's seen me do a lot of work, from Cunningham to ballet to more modern things. We talked for a while about getting me on some sort of shared program and the opportunity came when he saw my piece in February and said, "I think this would be great for La MaMa Moves." The other thing is, this is one of the first theaters I actually saw a show in, when I first got to New York. I saw something in the Club, and something in the Ellen Stewart Theatre and... I love this place. I think it's great. Both in terms of the options it offers - the spaces it has - and the curation of it. I feel like, even in this economy, La MaMa is still taking risks on who they present. I think that's the way to go. I know not everyone can afford to do that, but I think it's great that there's still a space in New York that's showing emerging, underground - or work that isn't going to be easy to watch. Because there needs to be a home for that. It's an honor to be here, and I think what La MaMa is doing is really important.
La MaMa presents
Shared Program: Dylan Crossman & Ashley Chen
May 9 – May 11, 2014
Dylan Crossman: EVERY ME SEES THOU A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY
Ashley Chen: HABITS/HABITS
Tickets: $15 ; ten $10 tickets are available, in advance only via web, phone or box office as part of La MaMa's 10@$10 ticketing program. 10@$10 tickets not available day of show.