The following interview is part of a larger publication of collected interviews among Center for Performance Research’s New Voices in Live Performance artists: Sidra Bell, Antonio Ramos, Elisabeth Motley, and Alexis Zacarello. The publication edited by Elisabeth Motley and J. Haggis provides a platform for shared dialogue and conversation for both the participating artists and public.
Elisabeth talks with Sidra on the phone:
EM: I’ve just read your mission statement, which addresses a female-centric approach. What about your work is particularly female?
SB: Our mission statement is sort of flexible. I suppose I feel like I’m filling in the blanks…. I’m filling in the blanks as a woman, connecting to my journey and life. I wouldn’t say that the work is political. I guess at times… For me it’s always been a personal journey about things that concern everything from relationships to evolving as a woman. It’s not overt. Some of the context that I’ve created on stage… A lot of the research I’m doing is in a thematic way that feels very connected to making work as a woman.You can’t step away from that either. Since I don’t dance in my work, I’m able to explore the context and frame as a director, playing with “the who” and “the why” and “the what.” Sometimes it’s been noted that there is some gender play. For me, it’s never been a concern. Gender is very fluid for me on stage. In terms of those contextual points…the consideration is just the dance world that I come from—a very formal place. In that world, those can be fixed points. For me as a woman giving movement to men, those things are not even a consideration for me. I’ve become more conscious of those statements as I make more work. As you go along, you can’t help but be.
EM: Your mission statement also speaks to research over product. What does your research look like?
SB: I suppose it is different every time. With the company, there is a sense that we’ve been on a continuum for a while. This group I’ve been working with has been together between 5 and 10 years. There has been a shift that has happened with the way we approach the movement. I think research is inherent in everything; I guess the mode is different. Now I’m working closer to who I am. I have a visual arts interest, and I’ve been using that to craft, to instill a lot of movement in the studio. Our research has been based around creating a world. Or, taking the dancers through durational periods, where I’m talking a lot and allowing them to intuit. There are times where the dancers are generating for up to an hour. The music is very important too. I love the studio environment. There is a lot of back and forth and play, and times where we are just enjoying each other. Or, it’s project based and there is just a lot of doing, doing, because you have to get it done. The spontaneity there is an urgency, which is incredible….Right now the work we are working on has been going on since last June. Performing a lot helps with the research too. A lot gets understood with performance. It’s an evolving process. It keeps getting richer.
EM: Favorite place you have presented your work?
SB: Each presentation has been unique and special because the venues have taken a chance on us. The venues can be nontraditional settings, like Tanz Farm in Atlanta, which is an old cotton mill factory. The space is magical and has tons of residencies. It’s in Atlanta, but you drive off the path to get there, and there are farm animals all around. I really like what they are doing. I like building relationships with other communities. In New Orleans at the Contemporary Arts Center—the space itself is a warehouse, but we did this contemporary vaudevillian-like piece. A lot of the places I like aren’t dance destinations necessarily. I like places that really include the community and allow us to start a dialogue with the community. I’m really grateful for these places. Recently, in Baton Rouge I went to a juvenile detention center. I’ve done prison work in the past with JoAnne Tucker (Avodah Dance Ensemble) when I was part of the company. In Baton Rouge, I worked with 13- 17-year-old boys for 45-minute sessions. It was great. We did a short warmup, some improvisational task work, and we got to do some contact work. They had done some work with a Shakespeare person, so they were primed for this. I was just pleased with what they were able to sustain and how happy they were. We did a phrase at the end, one little boy, his face just lit up. What’s interesting is that you don’t talk about why they are there. They just experience a creative atmosphere. These opportunities where we immerse ourselves in communities is essential to building relationships.
EM: Can you talk a little about the work you’ll be sharing at CPR?
SB: I’m not actually sure. It’s right after our New York season. I might show a rendering of some of the ideas I don’t often get to show—outside projects, a stew of things…
I’m actually doing a workshop right after where we will be processing, creating, and then having a showing. It’s called module. It will be an experiment, but I’m thinking of it as a project. I’m excited about the artists: There will be a wide variety of both young and more experienced.