It's a weird situation with forms that are not founded on principles, of "there is a right and wrong." When you're in a contact room, you're not usually being presented with that model of there is a "right" and this is how we do it, i.e under lights, etc. Now several choreographers include that work on a stage, so what does that do to it?
In Contact in performance, there is an expectation that it had better be physically heightened. You'd better be really athletic and able to lift and fall - as more and more people do it, well why are you performing instead of someone else? So it's a paradox of Contact that there can be an emphasis on physical virtuosity like acrobatics, sometimes works with a heightened artistic vision, and at the same time serves as a community-based non-hierarchal form.
Do you think it loses sight of its foundation or philosophical roots when that happens?
It could, but why not combine both? As Lisa Nelson once said, CI is basically a choreography that has been performed many thousand times. So why not use the vocabulary and do something particular with it.
Is that something you've tried to do in your work? What does that look like?
There was a group I worked with for a long time, Channel Z - it was CI-based, but we got back together in 1983. At that point I'd been in the Meredith Monk Company for several years, the other members, Stephen Petronio, Diane Madden and Randy Warshaw were working with Trisha Brown; Nina Martin was working with David Gordon, Danny Lepkoff was working with Steve and Lisa Nelson, and Robin Feld was doing therapy-based work and CI. So we reunited after having more experience working with the particular visions of people who were suddenly becoming very influential and well-known in dance We were all coming from extensive performing and touring and an understanding of more performative values. So we created these crazy evenings where there were markers of things that would happen. We started using film, and props, we would have big arguments about what the hell to do, how to put an evening together. I wanted to be more theatrical and use my voice more, others wanted to embed set phrases in - but it was a really rich experience, to use our shared Contact experience to create evenings that really were very theatrical, and were paced, and added up to something, oddly enough. The dancing was always improvised.
Where did you do those?
Performance Space 122, the Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, Washington Square Methodist Church, PepsiCo Summer Fair at SUNY Purchase, and at Movement Research which at that time was at the Ethnic Folk Arts Center... Channel Z was accepted rather quickly, partly because we were working with well-known choreographers.
Was it a set group or changing?
It was a set group. Robin Feld and Stephen Petronio dropped out rather quickly, after the first performance. Stephen especially was very excited about his new company and wanted to focus on that.
As these choreographers became more and more known, was there spillover outside of the dance world? Were they known in the fine arts world, dance, everywhere, outside of your community?
Well it was a really exciting time, because every year something else would happen that was interesting not just to me personally but fascinating in terms of how the culture at large was starting to receive this work. For instance, in 1976 Meredith Monk did Quarry at La MaMa Theatre -in terms of acceptance of her work it was a breakthrough piece, with a fantastic cast. I think of Quarry as an imagistic piece about WWII. That same year Philip Glass and Lucinda Childs and Robert Wilson did Einstein on the Beach at Lincoln Center. People like Laurie Anderson and Steve Reich were starting to make work. There was this sense that post-modern dance, music and theater was spilling over into other venues and larger venues and international venues - in every direction, there was explosive growth in new forms ofperformance. There was a tremendous synergy between performance art, music and dance at that time.
It's coming back to that overlap between fields - the performance art and dance worlds seem to reinforce each other. Would you say that some of the more dynamic people in each of those respective fields have a mutual interest?
I think so. One thing that mystifies me is how much of the performance art world has missed me, or I've missed it. It's another network than the dance world, and yet it's very similar in terms of ideas. And, oddly, I have a BFA in visual arts.
Wasn't that Simone Forti's entry point?
She's very much in the performance art world, but I met her as a dancer and a choreographer/improviser who was coming out of Judson - that was my initial connection to her. In fact, you and I were just involved in doing Huddle on the High Line. She and I talked about her start in performance. I had no idea that at one point Simone had been married to Bob Morris, the sculptor - going back to the '60s. His visual arts colleagues were connected to the Judson choreographers and Merce Cunningham's work.