The world premiere of Jane Comfort's ALTIPLANO opens tonight at 8pm and runs until May 31st in The Ellen Stewart Theatre! Jane took the time out of her busy week of rehearsals to sit down and answer 6 questions to let us know more about her inspirations, the abstract, the Peace Corps, and working with LaMaMa.
Jane Comfort is a choreographer, writer, and director who has broken boundaries in dance performance since the late 70's. She is a Guggenheim Fellow whose work has been performed throughout the US, in Europe, and in Latin America.
Described as "one of the most fertile minds in the theater of mixed forms," by The New York Times
Altiplano is an abstract dance that originates in movement structures that range from spare images of the desert to highly physical and complex configurations, like a flash flood or violent winds. It references the evolution of animals and social communication with its gradually increasing physicality and hive-like density.
Photo by: JinYoul Lim
1. What was the original inspiration for ALTIPLANO?
I just got home from a full day of tech and dress rehearsal at La MaMa, so the years are fuzzy right now, but a while back Sean Donovan, a longtime performer in my company who also helps me write grant proposals, said, “Jane, I know you don’t want to think about this now, but with the NEA, NYSCA, and DCA deadlines coming up, what could you imagine your next piece being about?” And I thought...how about nothing? How about an abstract piece that is based on movement structures alone, where you don’t have to justify every movement you make to support the narrative? I’ve spent my entire career making dance theater that comments on political and social issues, and as we develop each piece we construct our movement to support or subvert the story. The thought of making work based on movement alone, on compositional structure alone, sounded really great.
2. How is ALTIPLANO different from your previous text driven works?
Well, see above. I had hardly ever made an abstract dance in 37 years, although that is what is considered choreography. One thing going for the decision was that I try to scare myself with each new piece, to keep myself off balance as an artist, and abstract dance was the scariest thing I could think of. I started with imagery from the desert. I went into the first rehearsal with Leslie Cuyjet and Petra van Noort and a few spare moves and a picture of a vast dry space. At a later point I said to Sean, what about insect, lizard energy bisecting that plane? The fast against the slow? The jittery against the smooth? And he brought in a reptilian character that we couldn’t ignore. Once the designers Joe Levasseur and Brandon Wolcott saw a run-through of what we had, they said, “We want to see more of that (lizard life)." So there you go. Back to character, if not narrative. Definitely a theme.
What Joe, Brandon, and Liz Prince have created with their lighting, music, and costumes is incredibly beautiful. We just saw it in the dress rehearsal tonight, and it is a special world that hovers between landscape, abstraction, and sudden disconnects like industrial sounds in the midst of crickets, a flash of sequin within earth tones, blinding lights after dusk.
3. What did you discover new working on ALTIPLANO?
That abstract is just as hard as narrative. You are still composing a piece of work with structure, energy shifts, trajectory toward an ending. With narrative you are building your case of a story, and with abstract you are doing the same with formal structure.
4. Who has influenced you?
Reading Faulkner and Garcia Marquez was hugely influential in my youth. Being a Peace Corps volunteer in Latin America, and traveling all over the continent. Being a painting major in college. Once in New York I studied with Merce Cunningham, where I learned clarity of body and rhythm. The art and performance world of the 70’s, when I first came to New York, hugely influenced me. I am so grateful to artists like David Gordon, Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Philip Glass, Kenneth King, Jamie Cunningham, Steve Paxton, Sarah Rudner, Merce…….. What an amazing time it was to be young and going to loft concerts and art openings in Soho, and then to PS1, just opened in Queens. Just an amazing time. In the 80’s our children grew up listening to Einstein On the Beach on vinyl.
Photo by: JinYoul Lim
5. What is your favorite animal? Why?
I have no idea.
6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?
La MaMa is an amazing place. They love and support artists above all, and I am so in awe of that. They are so bold with their political support of artists, especially international artists. They have to raise money just like all the other theaters, but if an artist needs something that is going to cost some extra cash, they most likely will come down on the side of the artist. We all feel that when we work there. La MaMa also has some quirky traditions, like WHY are the wings in the Ellen Stewart Theatre silver??? Probably because Ellen had them painted silver decades ago and they are going to stay that way forever, even though they reflect light back onto the stage and reveal the dancers crossing in the wings. If anyone gave me permission, I would personally paint them black before our opening tomorrow, but I bet that isn’t going to happen.
By: Jane Comfort & Company
May 28 - May 31
Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 4pm
Ellen Stewart Theatre | 66 East 4th Street (2nd Floor)