Alexandra Beller's milkdreams comes to La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre on June 11th as part of the 10th Annual La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival. Alexandra took time out from rehearsals to answer our six questions about milkdreams, her approach to creating work and working at La MaMa!
1. milkdreams was created by translating the movement of your young children (14 months and 5 years) onto the bodies of adult dancers. Were there any challenges in this process which surprised you?
The biggest challenge in creating milkdreams was finding the balance between detailed analysis and meaning. Finding the authentic qualities of baby dancing requires an extremely deep and meticulous analysis. We must inhibit integration that we have spent a lifetime building, find ourselves in disequilibrium, engage in a fearlessness that is not natural. This requires an unbelievable attention to the details of each movement. We did this, but then somehow seemed to lose the meaning of why we were doing any of this. It required stepping back again to look at the gestalt of the piece and remembering that the disequilibrium was about allowing the audience to see us without any of the ways we try to control ourselves and our environment. It wasn't just about a hell bone/sitzbones connectivity; it was about being a human with no ability to control the world.
2. You mention that the work is for "five dancers of strikingly different physiques." Many dancers I have interviewed have mentioned a pressure to be of a certain body type. Have you or your collaborators encountered this? What drives you to feature physical heterogeneity in your work?
There are actually now four dancers in the work.
I make dances that are about my experience of being human in the big world, which is a place where you see a lot of difference; difference abounds to the point that it can no longer be considered "different," that there is no "norm." In my ideal company, no two people would look alike, and you would have a sense of the stage as a microcosm. But I also have fallen in love with these four people at this particular moment, and they are not as diverse as the world proper. While I am open and hopeful that the company will mirror the world, image is not my priority. So sometimes I find myself with a more heterogeneous company than others.
I have battled the dance world my whole life for having a body type that is not considered appropriate for dance. I still battle the expectations daily, even as a choreographer and teacher off the main stage. It is an issue that I have resisted taking on, because it is not what I am making work about and I often feel that fighting it gives it more attention than it deserves. Yes, I believe anyone can dance, of any body type, with any number of limbs, with ability or disability, of any height, weight, race, training, nationality, etc. That seems obvious to me and I wonder why we are still discussing it. But, of course, not everyone is there, and for many people, it is still shocking to see a dancer who doesn't fit their physical expectations. Let's just say I acknowledge but don't accept that.
3. You also teach dance - Is there a particular age of student you especially enjoy instructing -or- find especially difficult to instruct?
I am really a teacher of adults. I admire greatly people who are skilled children's teachers, but it is not where either my passion or my talents lie. the things I am interested in are gleaned from years of questions about anatomy, morality, politics, sex, love, and fear. These are not things that mesh well with teaching other people's children... I love teaching both beginner and advanced adults, from college to older adults. The physical capability is not the quintessential thing for me. The openness to connecting meaning to movement is where my deep inquiry occurs, and I believe any curious, engaged adult can do that.
4. What was the process of collaborating with composer Robert Poss like? When did you introduce music into dance rehearsals and how much did one influence the creation of the other?
Robert Poss and I have worked together for 10 years. His ability to create a mood that affects me on a visceral level, and shifts my attention is very powerful. I created the dances in silence, as I almost always do (music is way to intense a motivator for me to use it right away). I found this old track he had made 10 years ago and started using it and, right away, it put us into a state that was immersive and fluid. He and I began working together to revise and adapt the score to the dance. So I would say that the score set the tone and then the dance drove the structure.
5. How did collaborating with Developmental Movement Experts change your approach to this piece? As a parent, did you gain any new insights into the developmental process of your children?
Without the scientific scaffolding, there was only so much that we could do in rehearsal to figure out what was happening in any one moment of disequilibrium. We could mimic and approach the movement, but working with BMC experts (Body Mind Centering) allowed us to get exponentially deeper and more authentic and more present with the material. Working with this material from my children has been transformative and very meaningful. There is always a rending, as a parent/artist, to the act of making work, and the act of not making work to parent, that can be very stinting and painful. This piece allowed me to create work while being involved with my children (even through the act of watching them over and over on video, and embodying their dances), and it gave me a special lens through which to watch them while we played in real life, that kept my artistic practice alive while I was parenting. This piece has become as much a spiritual practice as an artistic one. It is the first work I've made where I don't feel any separation between my "artist" perspective, my female perspective, my mother perspective, my human perspective. There are no lenses for me in this work. It is central to all of me. Babies are as close to whatever we are not, whatever is before and after us, as we will get until we approach death. To get into the mind, the body of a baby, to develop understanding of what it feels like to BE them, has been an immensely spiritual activity.
6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?
To have this work, which is so important to me, at la MaMa, which has been on an altar of creativity for such a long time, is empowering and inspiring. La MaMa, for me, represents exactly what this work is attempting: to build on history while constantly seeking a new way to communicate, to bridge relationships, to foster a future. Both La MaMa and this work are seeking a new artistic model, a new way to create, and a way to use the present to manifest a future. I feel so very lucky to be presenting this work in this space, with these incredible art-lovers at the helm. And on a personal note, to be at an institution run by a mother of small children feels like a great blessing.
Here is the video that inspired the dance, over 1 billion views and counting:
- - - - -
La MaMa presents
by Alexandra Beller/Dances
part of La MaMa Moves! 2015 Dance Festival
June 11 - 21, 2015
Thursday - Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 4pm
The Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 East 4th Street
(between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003
Tickets: $25 adults; $20 students/seniors; ten tickets priced at $10 each are available for every performance - pre- sale only!
For Tickets & Info: CLICK HERE