Kim Brandt’s smart, affecting, weird-form dances never take for granted the bodily habits or functional protocols of modern choreography and its users. Here she talks about her latest work, Clear Night, 2016, commissioned by Issue Project Room, comprising eight unique, daily performances from Friday May 20th to Friday May 27th at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn.
I LEARNED TO DANCE from a former Rockette in rural New Hampshire. She had a studio that was in the middle of a parking lot that separated two trailer parks. I loved it, and I was in love with her. At some point in my teens I was ready to branch out. In high school I found modern dance, and I was like, here are my people.
At the same time that I was learning how to dance I was surrounded by other bodies in pain, bodies struggling, bodies giving up, bodies trying to escape themselves. I felt my body was at risk a lot of the time. I watched a man nodding out on the subway platform yesterday and I almost had an anxiety attack. I saw that on a nightly basis as a child. I went through a long period of being dissociated from my body. And I’m still wading through how much that has influenced my adult approach to dance, which is very much from the outside-in.
So I’m coming to dance right now as a maker, through my eyeballs. It’s not a physical exploration for me—I’m asking the dancers to explore through movement while I explore through sight, hearing. Each day of Clear Night there will be a different performance; there are many ways to move from here to there (wherever there is) and I wanted to explore a variety. Sometimes that journey is fast and sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes there is a clear ending and sometimes there isn’t. I’m trying to make decisions that are in service of the work, that aren’t driven by what I think is a good idea.
There’s no sound and no lighting—no artificial lighting and no constructed sound, I should say. There are beautiful windows in Pioneer Works, and the shows are at different times of day to make use of variations in natural light. It’s also a multiuse space, so the sound of the works could include public radio played from a resident artist’s studio, or tugboats nearby in the river. It begins at 8 PM on Friday and ends at 8 PM the following Friday, and the discrete performances add up to this experience of one thing. One show.
I started working with large groups of people for a piece at the Kitchen, part of the 2014 Dance and Process series. The instructions for that score were for twenty-four people to construct a large pile, and to hold the form as long as possible. When they can’t hold it anymore, they dissolve it across the space. It established a movement vocabulary I wanted to continue exploring. And if I can explore what the criteria is to execute that vocabulary, there’s a huge range of how those materials (space, bodies, time, light, etc.) affect the viewing and performing experience. The range of experience between the performer in the work and the viewer seeing the work is vast. I’m always talking with the dancers about the ocean of difference between what it feels like for them and what it looks like to me. I like communicating in this liminal space.
During a residency last year at Issue Project Room, I worked with a core group of ten dancers and brought in more as performance opportunities arose. Some of the scores in the show I’ve done in the past; some are modified. Most are new. The space at Pioneer Works is huge, with two balconies, and I’m taking advantage of looking at movement on both a micro and macro level—cellular and galactic.
I’m thinking about the viewer, trying to make a more open experience for them. They can sit wherever they want, come and leave whenever. There’s no cleverness to this, no surprises. It’s an invitation to bear witness to the process of performing this work. Maybe I approached it as, like, my own group show. A group show of just Kim.