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Paul Langland Dance

Paul Langland Interviewed by Ani Taj*
published in Morning to Morning June 2013

Page 3

So that's the start of your pathway as a performer. You're also a creator and an educator, so at what point and how did those things start to intersect?
I got very nervy as soon as I got into the more social world of performance and post modern dance where a lot of old forms were being broken and a lot of new discoveries were being made. And, there really were not very many people to work with. It was a small world where seemingly everyone in the downtown scene knew each other.

I talked with Wendell Beavers about this recently - there were a total of maybe fifty performers working with maybe twelve new dance choreographers in all of NY. People working with Steve Paxton or Lucinda Childs or Trisha Brown or Meredith Monk - everyone was in everyone else's company! For example, Wendell was working with Mary Overlie, Lucinda Childs, and Barbara Dilley; I was working with Steve, Mary Overlie, and Meredith Monk; Nina Martin was working with David Gordon, and Mary Overlie; Cynthia Hedstrom was doing Contact and working with Lucinda Childs. Danny Lepkoff was working with Lisa Nelson and Steve Paxton.... It was a pretty small gang! To have more people to dance with - the only way I could to do that, since there were so few people, was to teach, even though I knew so little. So shortly after I moved to New York, I started teaching Contact classes.

So you filled the gap that you'd noticed? You mentioned there wasn't really Contact here. It was basically almost unknown. A few people had seen the John Weber performance in late 1972, but in 1973 Contact was still kind of a rumor.
It hadn't really caught on in the city. It was brand new. It did catch on quickly as more and more people started doing it but for a while I was the only teacher doing teaching Contact. The only other person was David Woodbury - I think I just saw a poster on the street saying "CI Class taught by David Woodbury" - whom I'd never met and didn't know. I took his class and we got together a performance at what later became the Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church. And then he stopped teaching - he gave me Steve's mat - and David's class had maybe 6 or 8 people in it, and mine had maybe 6 and then 10 and gradually grew over a couple of years. But it was a brand-new form, virtually unknown!

Did you remain one of the main people to go to for Contact for a while?
Yes. And then the scene accumulated quickly - people like Danny Lepkoff started teaching, Nina Martin, Stephen Petronio, Cynthia Hedstrom, David Woodbury... Wendell Beavers and Mary Overlie were part of this group too, a core group that performed together a lot, taught a lot of classes, and created events of all kinds having to do with Contact. And we were all in touch with Steve Paxton and a growing network of Contactors, including Nancy Stark Smith who started the Contact Newsletter, but her work was based out in California and then Northampton, Mass, so in New York, there was a small group of people that started the popularity and the spread of Contact in New York. That was going on at the same time as I was working with Meredith and doing my own work and others' work as well.

So then what was your introduction to the Allan Wayne work and the other methodologies that you engaged with?
I realized I needed some kind of heightened technique besides Contact. Stretch, strength, placement work - it became obvious that I needed training to continue. So a friend of mine Anne Hammel knew of Allan Wayne, and we went to his class together and I just really loved it - it was experiential, it was emotional, it had all of the ballet/classical alignment and placement work, and it was a kind of technique I could commit to being largely uninterested in established dance techniques.

But he didn't like to call it a technique, is that right?
He didn't, he felt the word technique closed down possibilities for discovery... I don't mind the word "technique" - You know, that was an important point he was making, because in his classes and now mine you go from a basic repetitive series of alignment movements into a big exploration of functional, and improvisational breakthroughs.

How long did you study with him?
Three years, '76-'78. He died very suddenly in '78. And again, not having trained as a teacher with him at all I was at a loss. I had a loft with a dance floor, and I invited people over because we were grieving. We decided to do some of his work together and before I knew it, I was teaching classes of his work.

So it's a trend with you - out of very little experience, launching and figuring it out - The minute I started dancing, I started teaching. It took a lot of nerve, I suppose...

Maybe that's what it takes? Being an initiator?
Well it was just in me, it was part of who I was, and still is... I like to shmooze and to share information and what better place to do that than in a class. I even noticed that back in college - I was very turned by everything at the Edinburgh Festival, this is going back to the summer of '73 before I came to New York. I was looking at some old notes from then and apparently I taught a 5am yoga class on the top of Arthur's Seat which is a mountain in the middle of Edinburgh and I don't remember doing it! But there it is, I was putting out flyers, 5am yoga! Whatever little yoga I had learned I had learned from Steve Paxton as part of the Contact warm-up.

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