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Paul Langland Dance

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

Page 8

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The performer and choreographer in me continues. I've started working on a project that combines dance, image, and text. I am wrestling with using text to create image, not story. I want to challenge myself to make work that uses anything that occurs that will work. I have always been inspired by Meredith Monk to combine forms.

That cracks open what makes text sometimes mystifying or difficult to access for people - if you can create a conversation between text and image, that's exciting ground - music videos are that, in a way, you're listening to a lyric and the sound of the music. This is true of musical theatre too.
One could say that in the past you couldn't understand a theater performance unless there was a clear narrative to it. For example boy meets girl, loses girl, gets girl back. Now maybe we are evolving as a society where people don't need that linear narrative in performance. In dance, Merce Cunningham was one of the first to create work that was purely abstract. Robert Wilson, Ping Chong, and Richard Foreman were early theater directors who use text as image not story. In the visual arts, this battle was waged in the early twetieth century by the likes of Kandinsky and Picasso. There are plenty of linear narratives on TV, movies, and onstage. People are perhaps craving more imagistic or other ways of communicating. Whether that's a good or bad thing I don't know - because sometimes we get flashes of images from the commercial world that are really affecting us in ways we don't consciously understand, but there's also tremendous value in communicating nonverbally, which I guess most people who are into dance are passionate about anyway. 

I have one more question - what do you hope is your legacy within both the dance world and outside of it?
One of my big passions - coming from visual arts -- was valuing that as you study and grow you embrace your own vision. When I started performing, in the dance world there was a general focus (unless you became a choreographer) on fitting into a corps, an ensemble. I would like to be remembered as someone who supported dancers' individual visions so they could be truly themselves. And maybe they could also fit into a group, be quick studies and do any kind of work they want to do. But in my teaching, performing, and writing, I aim to support individual evolution, so that the individuation of the person gets its best shot and that people personally and artistically go as far as they can with the gifts they have. That's my most passionate goal for my students and for myself. And if I can't always get there myself, then I ‘m very gratified when some of my students do - and some already have.

I can speak to that to some degree- I know that the year I had with you changed my approach to working on my own in a big way - and it's funny because I wasn't doing my work in your class, but I was developing a comfort with myself and other people in a room, and a vocabulary.
That's huge sometimes - if you start to trust your body and imagination, that's like 90% of it.

You said something about if you can't get there yourself - do you feel like you do get there yourself? You must...
Sure. For many years, I was directing and choreographing a lot, Almost Rapture, Honor, Normal Kansas, Full Floral Smack - I was doing an evening-length piece every year or two. Keeping up full-time teaching and choreographing and performing as much as I had been is sometimes too full a plate. So I haven't made as much work as I thought I might have, in the last 10-15 years. It's important to keep catching that ride for me. And, it's great to know that ETW students especially are out there forging ahead with adventures in performing.

Another thing I want to be remembered for is -- you could call it eclecticism - a postmodern value. What has become so interesting to me is to have an individual vision in dance or theatre or performance art that is completely different from others. And I like to change the work radically from piece to piece. I like all kinds of styles and genres, as long as it's seriously considered. I love ballet, modern dance, performance art, and theater that asks new questions and succeeds. I enjoy making and seeing strong work of any style. I don't think there's a right or wrong way to make great art or that there's a best genre. One of my joys is including and being interested in many different dance genres and I support that in my students for sure.

And in your own work - you've said that as a vocalist you have an eclectic interest in different kinds of music. Does that carry over for dance and choreography too, when you're making work?
Yes, when I'm making work I make pods of material, and some are imagistic, maybe minimal moments, and then another moment will be a big huge dance explosion, and then another section might have voice in it, and we link them up like train cars.

That's evident in the kind of support you offer too - I see you out at different kinds of performances all the time.
I'm curious! I just want to know what everyone is up to.

There's often a feeling that as a creator or as a distinctive personality in the art world that you have to claim one thing and maybe even denigrate other things, and you really don't have that temperament.
True. When I do get edgy is when I don't like the work, it doesn't have to do with the genre. It's more about the craft of the work for me—and that includes deliberately creating sloppy work that can be great if handled well. I hope that I'm patient enough to explain why I like or dislike a work, because sometimes I don't know right away why a work feels really fantastic to me, or why it seems not to work. It's important to develop a vocabulary for critical thinking in art. That has been a blessing of being at New York University, because the exploration of work, and the ability to talk about artistic values is heightened, intellectually and experientially.

In post-modernism, there is an inclusion of many different kinds of forms - postmodernism is perhaps eclectic by its very nature - in talking about using various forms I may reflecting these times where there isn't a hegemony of one kind of work, but if you're seriously involved in dance or theatre or performance art, you really have to be prepared to go to a show that could be ballet, a strange imagistic piece, a fun-house, "mainstream" modern, and you have to understand how to evaluate and receive it. I think genius is always obvious, strong work is always obvious, and it's all good.

*Ani Taj is the artistic director of the Dance Cartel. Her company recently completed an extended run at the Ace Hotel, NY. This Spring, she was a featured dancer in Dan Safer's choreography for the 100th anniversary of The Rite of Spring, performing with the Philadelphia Symphony. Ani is a graduate of the Experimental Theater Wing at NYU.

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