Interviews

Julia K Gleich on Bushwick’s New Collaborative Ballet

A view of Austin Thomas's set for the "Movement 1: Vectors" of "In the Use of Others…" before the dancers took to the stage. (photo by the author) (click to enlarge)

Last night, In the Use of Others for the Change premiered at the Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn. Choreographed by Julia K. Gleich, the new ballet featured collaborations with some familiar faces on the Bushwick art scene, including Audra Wolowiec, Austin Thomas, Kevin Regan and Andrew Hurst.

The Andrew Hurst cover of the limited edition "In the Use…" program, featuring art and text connected to the new ballet. (image by Kyle Chayka) (click to enlarge)

Currently based in London, Gleich is an accomplished choreographer and teacher in the field of dance. With the help of Norte Maar’s Jason Andrew, she put together a robust program of dance, including the highlight of the evening In the Use of Others…, which was the first modern ballet of its kind put together by members of Bushwick’s burgeoning arts community — Bushwick’s first ballet.

Last night, I attended the evening, which began with two short pieces — Ghost (For Martin) (2001) and the premiere of Summer in RP (2011) — on a minimal stage. This simple setting allowed those of us in the audience unfamiliar with Gleich’s choreography to acclimate ourselves to her style, and I quickly discovered her love of strong rhythms.

The second part of the program was In the Use of Others…, which was divided into three movements, each with its own set and music (though the second movement had no music and was performed to the sound of reading by Kevin Regan and others). In the compact space, the visuals, sounds and dancers whirled around in what felt like an immersive experience.

I spoke to Gleich today about the show, its challenges, its surprises and the differences between New York and London when it comes to contemporary ballet.

Hyperallergic is a proud media sponsor of In the Use of Other for the Change.

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The program for "In the Use of Others…" (click to enlarge)

Hrag Vartanian: Tell me about In the Use of Others for the Change, what is the thinking behind the ballet?

Julia K. Gleich: So much and so varied!

The main body of the evening is a series of collaborations, coming from different depths on the spectrum of collaboration. Andrew Hurst and I began talking about working together about a year ago. He showed me some of his work with the pen camera. So I began thinking about this and had some ideas of my own that seemed to connect. We did our first work together at Camp Pocket U(topia) the summer project generated by Austin Thomas and in collaboration with Norte Maar, in upstate New York.

In the local elemetary school gym rented by Jason [Andrew], we created loose and free, projection, improvisation and sound. The image used on the event poster captured by Lars Kremer, set up the casual yet intense focus on building choreography. I like how Andrew [Hurst] collects ideas and I think I do the same in my choreography. Only my ideas don’t take on visible form until the dancers enliven them.

In the Use of Others… seems to be all about memory. Memory of the past as well as the function of memory — what if you loose it? There is a celebration of memory and then an excavation of it through compositional devices such as decumulation, my own compositional idea.

Norte Maar's Jason Andrew introducing "In the Use of Others…" (image by the author) (click to enlarge)

HV: How did the choreography, music and art come together? Was there a central idea that was communicated to everyone or did you work to bind all the disparate elements of what people wanted to contribute?

JKG: A little of both. As with Andrew Hurst, we worked together a bit and then stayed in touch via Skype and e-mail — exchanging images and video files.

I knew Austin’s work and immediately saw how it connected with my own movement exploration in vectors — directed energy that lead to movement — but mine have indeterminate outcomes and are ephemeral. A lovely contrast to her sketches and collage.

Audra came in later with sound that seemed to me to reveal the inner working of the dancer. Also, she made audible the space or silences in speech, whereas I want the dancer to unlearn the breath in between movements for this particular work. There are many others involved too!

HV: What were the challenges as a choreographer for this piece?

JKG: Making work sometimes from far away was exciting and strange.

I live in Bushwick about nine weeks a year. Also, without being in a theatre in which you can experiment with the visuals you have only words and words are difficult when it comes to art. They can be subjective and confusing. There was some guessing. We spent precious time defining our language. And there is the development of trust over time.

I brought one dancer from London with me (she is American) who had worked with me in the development of some of my research. I think it was a privilege to get to indulge some of my more experimental interests.

The collaborations created a world in which I could work through different ideas and reveal some of my more scholarly tendencies, such as the decumulation. How do you represent the absence of something in movement? Stillness wasn’t sufficient. But I managed to create my own decumulation, sort of a homage to Trisha Brown, who is known for accumulations among many other things.

Left, a view of "Movement 1: Vectors" and, right, a view of "Movement 2: Beliefs Unlimited Exercise by John C. Lilly" of "In the Use…" (images courtesy Norte Maar)

HV: I wanted to ask about the first piece of the night, that wasn’t part of In the Use… It featured you and Jason Andrew and felt like a celebration of your friendship at first but then I felt like it was about memories of some sort. I’d love to know more about that piece. Can you give me some insight?

JKG: The piece is indeed about memory, love, friendship. It is a dance about loss. About romance of any and all kinds.

Jason and I performed it for my first season at the Joyce SoHo in 2001. Ironically, my brother Martin, died in an avalanche on that very weekend and since then it has been called Ghost (for Martin). There are lots of ideas in the work. I can’t see Jason when we dance — not directly — he is a memory in my mind that I want to hold, and he in turn is trying to hold me. Like any of us that have loved, Jason and I try to find each other and relate that connection to a memory of lost love.

A view of the duet by Claire McKeveny and Marc St-Pierre in "Movement 3" of "In the Use…" (image courtesy Norte Maar) (click to enlarge)

HV: Why do you think people should come and see this production? What should they expect?

JKG: Anybody who claims to work collaboratively could come and learn from this production. Jason has created a fertile situation for experimentation, a great platform for five artists to share their voices with each other and the public. Come to see just how well-rounded the artists are, including myself. This experience has expanded my voice. Jason feels that the event is historic, a culmination of Norte Maar’s friendships and bonds.

HV: How do you think the visual art elements in In the Use… worked? Were there any surprises for you?

JKG: Many happy surprises and some things were anticipated.

I think over the next two days we will be further exploring the visuals through the dance. They are so rich and offer so much to consider. I particularly like how the spatial aspects of the dance are heightened by projections. The Hurst work evokes a series of moods — he composed all the music for his movement. The Vector section is more mathematical, with the timing of the slides and and openness of the Audra Wolowiec score.

 

A view of dancer Marc St-Pierre's solo during Movement 3 of "In the Use of Others…" (photo courtesy Norte Maar)

HV: After soo many years in London, what do you think New York could learn about the dance scene there, and vice versa?

JKG: There are differences. I love NYC for the openness it offers the dance. There is great dance in London in the theatres, but the studio scene and the independent scene isn’t as strong and diverse.

New York embraces new dance of all kinds and dancers are at home here in contrast to the way that London is formal.

I work in contemporary ballet. Remember, in Europe they have a longer dance tradition that binds them. So they have the new and the old in a way that we don’t seem to. New York seems to be about blurring these distinctions in dance genre. But if I have my way, I’ll take both of them.

I have learned so much about the contemporary dance scene in Europe and worked with amazing colleagues at Laban in London. It has helped to expand my own aesthetic and blur my own lines. NYC, however, will always feel like home.

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In the Use of Others for Change continues today (Friday, April 15) and tomorrow (Saturday, April 16) at 7:30pm at the Center for Performance Research (361 Manhattan Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn). To purchase tickets online, visit their page on Eventbrite.

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