In 2008 the choreographer Faye Driscoll’s 837 Venice Boulevard was hailed as one of the top five dances of the year by the New York Times, and in 2009, her video Loneliness was featured in “Younger than Jesus,” the first edition of the New Museum triennial. Her latest dance piece, There is so much mad in me, has its world premiere through April 3 at Dance Theater Workshop in New York.
THERE IS SO MUCH MAD IN ME grew out of a commission last summer for American Dance Festival at Duke University. My starting point was the idea of ecstatic physical states, which then led me to consider extreme states of consciousness. What happens to human beings when they are in extreme suffering or extreme bliss?
I had nine people to work with at the festival, so I began to think not just on the individual level but also in the context of a group or a mob. I researched images from the past fifty years at the university’s library. I brought images of ecstatic states into rehearsals and we began to make tableaus from them, but that got boring pretty quickly. We began to animate the images, and it became for me an examination of the processes of viewing: It wasn’t about interiority, but about what it means to view. I considered what it means to live in a time when we are constantly able to see one another. What makes a particular image salient? How do these technologies of viewing become modes of entertainment? I had this large, interesting international cast that also contributed to the process. It was very different, because my last piece, 837 Venice Boulevard, was so personal. Venice was a direct emotional narrative about my childhood, and I had a craving to look outward rather than inward.
To limit the research, I began to look at images from places that the cast members were actually from. I then made a list of particular kinds of ritual events—funerals, weddings, torture, etc.—and I just followed a trail. There’s that iconic image by Nick Ut, for instance, of the Vietnamese woman, Phan Thị Kim Phúc, who was just hit with napalm. I saw this video of her from decades later. She had become a Christian and forgiven the man who had apparently organized the bomb strike. These extreme states just begin to bleed and morph into one another. Given the availability of images, just when you think you are in one state you are suddenly in another.
Sometimes the choreography is literal and sometimes it’s abstract. People get sexual. People get drunk or violent. The “literalness” is an interesting problem, because it is also performance. How real are we? How authentic can we be? I play a lot with things that are chaotic which then fall into order; even things that are really messy are rigorously choreographed. It didn’t work to leave sections of the dance unchoreographed, because the initial rawness of an improvisation wouldn’t translate the second time. We had to shape it. In Venice there’s a solo by the dancer Nikki Zialcita (who is also in the current piece) where she is kind of morphing identity. I wanted to do that solo on a macro level. There is a similar sense of rhythmic shift inside There is so much mad in me.
The text was partially developed through improvisation with performers, and partially sourced from videos and YouTube. There is one morphing talk-show section that we developed directly from clips of Tyra Banks and Jerry Springer. We spent a week doing exact characters from those shows; it was a way to examine the exploitation and strange healing that takes place there.
The last conversation in the piece involves a couple having a fight. We developed the language for it from an improvisation in which I asked the performers to write down what they are most scared of as well as what they hate. We then recited the lines to one another as though it were a conversation between a couple: Like, “I hate that you are going to abandon me.” Or, “I hate that you are going to come into my window at night and hold me at gunpoint.”
The body is a dangerous thing. It is impermanent and exciting and vulnerable. I love that—the liveness of it. I love pushing the limits of our physicality, seeing what happens to other human beings when they watch other bodies going though that. It’s very powerful. I don’t know why, but a lot of dance tries to escape the idea of the body. A lot of dance becomes asexual and . . . I guess about some idea of transcendence.