So this is the last interview of 2018! It’s T-minus 4 days before opening night. Start of tech week.
At first I was asking people to describe their experience so far, but it’s been so far! So I’m wondering if you can talk about two or three pivotal moments over the semester?
I think the first pivot for me was the day I asked Faith to jump into my project where we had to do a response to one of the Fringe shows. It was post-September. September we were all pretty skeptical of each other still and no one was really collaborating. We had been given all solo assignments. And then for this assignment I was doing it about grief and needed another body. And I feel like I just recognized a willingness in Faith and she’s our smallest member, our smallest body, and I was like “I need you to crawl on top of me, is that okay?” And she was so excited to have been asked, and truly we just kept working together after that day. There’s a lot of trust between our bodies built from that moment, which I think is really beautiful. Her center of gravity is at her shoulders, and mine is like at my knees, so we meet in the middle.
I feel like as a group we pivoted in that Shavon class. Do you remember the Shavon class where we had to do a big group piece? We all had to draw our deepest fantasy of a work that could never exist, probably. We never shared what those were, which I never expected, but she recognized that that was actually too intimate, and instead we just put up the things and one person guided each other around the room. I think that’s the first time we did a large group collaboration. And it was just really joyful! It was like “Oh, this doesn’t have to be so serious or so precious, we can make this wild thing in half an hour.” And I feel like it was the first time I really saw everyone, saw everyone as an individual voice and and an individual artist. That moment was really precious for me, a lot of Shavon classes are really precious to me.
I feel like I want to talk about the coup, because it was our rebellion as a student body, it was another turning point. It was like we became a united front and recognized a group need and each other’s needs and it was like “Oh wow this is truly a group consensus that this is a problem that we’re not getting what we need from these classes.” And we really tested the program on its values as a group. We were like “You told us we could do this, or that we were supposed to speak up if we needed things, and this was a malleable program. How good are you going to be on that word? Because we’re speaking up.” And that was crazy! And very stressful. It was really tense to test an institution. But we did that and we had a lot of really hard conversations, and I feel like as a group we were very articulate and respectful and I was really proud of us for doing that.
You’ve been working on a piece that you’re going to show at the final showcase since the first Open Salon. Can you talk about the process of developing that piece and how being at HPI has informed its trajectory?
I can try! Ah that’s so funny, you’re right, Faith and I didn’t want to make that piece. Which is so funny! I did not feel ready to show anything. I was so mad, I didn’t want to show anything, I was not feeling inspired. I was like the most frustrated I had ever been, and David was like “You’re not taking advantage of your time, you need to show something.” And I was just having a really hard time, it was Brett Kavanaugh month, I was feeling like shit. And Faith and I were like “Fine we’ll show something” and we kind of spitefully made something. We took fifteen minutes in this room, we gave ourselves a prompt, and then were like “Great fine, that’s what we’re going to show, it’s going to be terrible.” Then we did it and people had very strong reactions to it, but also people were like there’s a lot there. And we were like “What, are you joking?” We wanted you to be like “Okay fine we’ll never make you show anything ever again.” But they didn’t do that, and that’s SO Headlong. And I think after doing it we were like “Oh, cool they were right.” Because we came up with things that really didn’t work, but some things really did work. Maybe we found little gems we could hold onto. We had a common inspiration during that month, as did a lot of people. It’s more experimentation than I’ve done on a piece, ever. Bard dance is very linear. And I feel like Headlong is very spiral. So when Tina brought up all those mattresses to show a solo of her in bed, I was like “We have mattresses in the basement?” And we were just rehearsing that day and were like “Maybe we could do this on the mattresses.” Weird serendipitous experiences like that made the thing happen. Or like that we could just spend the day being like “This whole group, we’re all going to run up from the basement and learn a Whitney Houston number and then two weeks later we can scrap it.” But like to watch the piece really holistically and naturally is new, and I really feel like I know where the world of the piece is right now, and that’s really exciting. I don’t feel like I usually have the time to get there. I feel like I usually need three more weeks after I’ve made something, I don’t usually have an understanding of the rules of the world.
So you grew up around Philly, you were an artist here as a child. How does it feel to land at HPI after going away to college?
I was a little suburb kid my whole life. I went to a little dance studio in Wayne, PA. Never went to the city in high school. It’s not something you do, because what would you do? You can’t go to a bar, you’re 17! We just don’t take the train that often but that feels so foolish now, because I think if I had come into the city to see dance in high school I would have been a completely different dancer by the time I got to college already. I took a year off between my sophomore and junior year at Bard and was trying to do the dance thing in Philly, in small ways, trying to do the dancer nonprofit thing. I worked the front desk at a dance company in center city, was trying to take classes there, which was really unsatisfying. Eventually was like “Okay, this is not where I want to land.” Left there, then just started doing a lot of nonprofit work, not really dancing, and being involved in “arts and culture” in a really general way. It felt really expansive and unfulfilling because I didn’t know who this community was either. And then I went back to school and was like “Oh no! I hate college!” But started developing this plan to go to HPI the spring of my junior year. I put together a Bard College exit strategy. It was a bound document, 20 pages, that developed for my junior-senior seminar where we actually used Andrew Simonet’s “Life of the Artist.” We did that workbook, which was super cool, but I had been researching Headlong even before that happened. So it felt like fate because I was talking about doing this and then I got that material and I was like “Ah! I’m headed there.” Just that book felt like all the right things. Being like “It’s going to be hard, we need you anyway. You are a scientist of culture.” And I agreed with all those things. So it was in the works, forever. Because I knew that I needed something smaller than being in a big dance program in a school far away. And I’ve always felt really connected to Philly, there’s always been a lot of people I really love here. I’ve been trying to convince people not to go to New York and to come to Philly forever. It’s just the right thing to do, it’s affordable, it feels really young and fresh still and accepting of this DIY lifestyle. And Headlong has been here for so long, it’s just kind of a testament to that fact that if you just keep doing the thing you’ll know everyone who’s doing the thing. I wasn’t trying to get to Bill T. Jones, I was just trying to get to who made it work for long enough. And if you stick around, you know all the people who still love that thing. It feels like this place is the center of a community, in kind of an underground way because there’s no markage on this building, at all. But really talking to Amy and David, you will meet someone in every class you go to in Philadelphia from now on. I went to the Leah Stein workshop on Sunday and there was a HPI alum taking the workshop. Small things like that where I feel like I hit the center of the web. That’s why I wanted to be here, it feels like a soft landing coming out of Bard that prepares you to be a dancer in New York. But I don’t want to be a dancer in New York, I want to be a dancer in Philadelphia, who can I talk to that can help me make work and help me meet people who are making dances in Philly and meet collaborators that I would want to work with. Like Lu Donovan! Haha!
I have to go to rehearsal, but do you have a fun fact?
Oh god! A fun fact! That’s just the most painful question. I’ve really enjoyed finding time outside of the studio to hang out with this group. We did a Secret Santa as an HPI community and I got all the fancy cheese I could muster. We had latkes going, spanakopita, I made mulled wine for the first time. And everyone gave really sweet thoughtful gifts and it just warmed my little heart to watch everybody loving on each other.