Claudia La Rocco

Kaitlyn Gilliland and Will Rawls, #loveyoumeanit, part 1, 2015. Performance view, Danspace Project, New York, NY, February 19, 2015. Kaitlyn Gilliland and Will Rawls. Photo: Ian Douglas.

As part of its continuing fortieth anniversary celebrations, Danspace Project invited the poet and critic Claudia La Rocco to curate an iteration of its Platform series of performances and events. Titled “Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets” after poet-critic Edwin Denby’s 1965 essay of the same name, La Rocco has produced a wide-ranging catalogue and brought together thirteen dance artists working in the “three nodal points of Balanchine, Cunningham, and the Judson Dance Theater” to engage in dialogues, workshops, and performances. The Platform runs through March 28.

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, as I was phasing out of being a daily newspaper critic, Danspace director Judy Hussie-Taylor and I were talking about this stubborn gulf that exists between various aspects of the New York dance world. Everybody thinks we should have better words for the “uptown”/“downtown” split but we don’t. Why does this gulf persist, and would there be a way to mess with it?

“Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets” is the ninth iteration of Danspace’s “Platform” series, which began with Hussie-Taylor thinking about how to create a context for dance that is richer and more specific than a traditional “season.” She imagined different ways for Danspace to exist in the world. Danspace Project actually grew out of the Poetry Project. In 1974, a group calling themselves The Natural History of the American Dancer approached Larry Fagin, who was the assistant director of the Poetry Project. They were interested in performing in the sanctuary at Saint Mark’s Church, where the Poetry Project was (and still is) in residence. Fagin had been watching dance for a long time, and had credited the poet-critic Edwin Denby with teaching him how to see. There’s a sentence on the Poetry Project’s website that mentions that Fagin had been “shuttling between New York City’s three nodal points of Balanchine, Cunningham, and the Judson Dance Theater.”

This got me thinking about where those nodal points are in 2015. There’s a historical grounding here, but I’m not looking at this as a historical platform. I thought about who some of the artists are that I’m most interested in who are working in those traditions right now. I decided I would take twelve dance artists and make combinations out of pairings.

Really the interest was in finding smart and curious people who would be comfortable moving away from the standard way of operating where you have a gig and you make a piece and there it is. Could we create something that’s more about conversation and research? Something that could result in a finished work or open a window into a process that had really no “results” to show for itself? I really love the idea of the mobile body archive. I wanted to create a container in which failure wouldn’t be a bad thing.

The artists are not meant to be doing anything beyond being in some form of conversation. We’re calling all the evenings “dance dialogues.” It could happen in the form of actual conversations, it could happen in the form of them teaching repertory to each other. At one point, one of the pairings was going to do a carpentry project.

The first weekend, February 19–21, is Kaitlyn Gilliland and Will Rawls and Silas Riener and Adrian Danchig-Waring. Then the second weekend is Sara Mearns and Rashaun Mitchell and Jodi Melnick and Sterling Hyltin. The final weekend is Jillian Peña and Troy Shumacher and Emily Coates and Yve Laris Cohen. Then Pam Tanowitz, who works in all three of these traditions, has a full day, March 23, in which she is building a work with both City Ballet dancers and two former Cunningham dancers with whom she regularly collaborates. The entire thing will be created in a day, with its “premiere” that evening.

A number of these artists are coming from New York City Ballet, the house of Balanchine, and this will be the first time most of them will have worked in Danspace. Many of them had never even been there as audience members. Artists working in ballet and downtown New York traditions can have very different processes. In the downtown milieu, you could work for an entire year or two years and then the piece goes up for three days, whereas at City Ballet you put something together in a few weeks and that could be in the repertory for decades. It’s interesting to bring together artists and audiences who have such different expectations. To think about creating a third possibility.

It felt very important to honor these histories and at the same time to see how one could mess around with them in the present day. It’s just my New York, and this Platform feels very much like a love letter to the city.