How do you create a structure that you can pull metaphor from?
An interview with slowdanger
“Dance is the demonstration of life.” -Merce Cunningham
“The body doesn’t lie.” -Martha Graham
Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson are founding directors of slowdanger, a multidisciplinary performance duo that fuses sound and movement into an elusive, but illustrative combination of interpretative dance, found material, synthetic instrumentation, physiological centering and ontological examination.
A mouthful, huh? Well, it’s hard to put into words.
“We know the classical [dance] forms and we can abstract these in our body,” says Anna.
The effort is “cerebral at times, more about sensation” couples Taylor. It’s about “outside, filtering in and effecting insides.”
slowdanger is an abstraction, sure. The concept may be hard to describe, but allow Anna a quizzical maxim that might describe the impulse of slowdanger: what we make as the two for the space in between the two of us.
She adds, “seeing the other as a mirror…”
To which Taylor asks, “how do you create a relationship on stage that isn’t one-dimensional?”
And answers, “One goal is to not stop…”
“Staying power is a big thing for a group,” says Anna, “a foundation with a good bit of wind behind us.”
And Taylor adds, “to convey more symbolism. Show relationship. Slow casual effect. Light response.”
“Coming to conclusions together but separately,” Anna adds. “A lot of time it feels like you’re trying to gather smoke. The second you can grab on, it’s immaterial so it escapes. You guide a direction.”
slowdanger is “the physicalization of an organism that was memory, blurring individual identity and group identity.”
“A group of humans moving together is powerful…
“We don’t have that in our culture, with social media we’re heavily individualized…”
The goal of slowdanger’s movement is “to break the moment of the audience.”
“…a sculpture garden feel,” says Taylor.
“which builds over time,” adds Anna.
“A spectrum, within which we use space…” adds Taylor. “We see space around us being alive…how can we complement or contrast?”
“When a mover or dancer gets in a space it adapts the space,” says Anna. “It’s rooted in imagery”
“…kind of like instagram. If I took my hi-tension filter, how would this feel?” suggests Taylor.
And Anna adds, “we’re very process-created artists, each space or structure is open for us to use again”
slowdanger takes its name from signs of the construction zone…being demolished, reconstructed.
“Memory as the serial idea of human condition” Taylor explains.
“A constant repurposing” Anna clarifies, “we learn so much in each blip”
So therefore, “space” is an integral part of the dimension in which slowdanger not only acts and performs; but becomes. A space is a transmutation of a place and a personal reference. It is something that we feel, imagine, suppress and are reintroduced to; and somehow it’s always supposedly there.
slowdanger, as an entity, is about becoming a part of a space; working their movements, mind and body into the preternatural and instinctive nature of space. To experience their interaction with a space is to experience their becoming a part of the space, interacting with what’s there and to form a new identity, a new organism.
Pittsburgh, for its storied past and rust-belt opulence of hazardous post-industrial worlds is a terrific place to examine this live history.
“We can get away with a lot performing on the river, rolling down a sidewalk, a lot less restriction, bureaucracy,” says Anna. One performance piece had them rolling “like logs” down the sidewalks of downtown for a full afternoon. “You’re with [people] in this experience, you’re here to inform them.’”
“Take away the audience/performer thing, make a group” instructs Taylor. “Bring out the sense of mystery. People like a little danger”
“Titillation!” Anna interjects.
They are less about a message. But mostly about establishing the environment. About “memory”.
“Memory is ephemeral,” Taylor explains, “We try to universally communicate this through our work.”
“It’s about circles, relationships ‘we’re all human or are we?’” imposes Anna, “[it’s about bringing up] a feeling they might have sensed before…”
The cumulative essence of slowdanger’s artistic mission is realized in their main performance pieces, called “The Memory Series” (the fifth of which will be in December). slowdanger describes their process on their website as
performance as ritual practice to delve into patterns of the circular rhythm of life. Within this process, they use collected field recordings, writings, found objects and performative structures to create their episodic body of work, ‘the memory series’. With each work that is put forth, a deeper understanding is found through the practice of making. slowdanger generates a thickness of memory through filtering veiled remembrances until they are distilled to their simplest form…
“In creating how the unconscious mind and the conscious mind touch each other and set each other off…how the unconscious and conscious are touching and informing….we find intuitive, interpretation consciously.”
“It’s the idea of veils,” says Anna. “Swirl the veil; it gets caught up and lifted. Metaphors within simple things. Veils as historic artist-tools represent memory in baroque paintings. They are interpreted as Dream.”
slowdanger purports to “generate a thickness of memory through filtering veiled remembrances until they are distilled to their simplest form.”
There mission is to enact the tradition of dance as spiritual act: “Can we just stand still and emit energy from our bodies?”
These dance pieces start out with the simplest structures, entering a story towards another’s end, then song structures and an improvised movement to their own music.
“Repurposing their own product so it remains constantly in process. This ever evolving process is akin to the construction zone where inspiration was drawn for the name, slowdanger.”
Their dancers are given specific directives: an outline. Anchors or checkpoints to keep the ensemble in one place. Motifs are written and put into place.
Then it is allowed to become what it is: “sharing your self. Sitting there. Process together. Something to jump off from, then witness each other, guide each other in the moment,” explains Anna. “how do you create a structure that you can pull metaphor from?”
The theory is rooted from many origins such as the Judson Church in New York (of John Cage fame) and performance artists like FKA Twiggs, Ohad Naharin’s Gaga movement, and post-jazz, the theory from Pittsburgh’s own Pearl Ann Porter of The Space Upstairs. However, it is also strongly influenced by the Body-Mind Centering of Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen, an anatomical and physiological theory of movement encountering “the specificity with which each of the body systems can be personally embodied and integrated, the fundamental groundwork of developmental repatterning, and the utilization of a body-based language to describe movement and body-mind relationships.”
“We are taking modern day pathologies and transforming them into mythic, auditory vignettes,” says Taylor.
“Rebirth cycles,” says Anna. “taking a character and obliterating the self in that character, until you’re a shadow person, a vehicle for someone else’s vision. For example: portraying a tarot card.”
Perhaps the most tangible form of interaction that slowdanger has are their open-level movement classes. These classes fully utilize the acoustics and high ceilings of the once-church, now Neu Kirche center in the Northside. The stained glass windows and hundred year old floors are also a part of that dancing identity.
“it’s important for the 21st Century people to move and experience nonverbally a visceral reaction,” says Anna.
The classes are touted as a safe space. No experience required. It is guided movement and dance.
“When you move your body, the things inside bubble up to the surface,” explains Taylor. “[There are things] in the body, which can be processed without having to talk”
They describe it as movement therapy. Think of it as a dip into the multidisciplinary, a physical splash to compensate desire, charged with the notion of finding “what this movement might evoke…”
A class as much about mime and interpretation as it is about dance, for people with no dance background.
“So clear, people can understand the qualitative aspects.”
I took part in one of these classes, and I found that the core of it, the impetus; was to find the life of an organism: from primordial to transcendent. But that was wholly what I interpreted. Abstract movement is not something I come by easily, but the casual drift into the space, the lack of self-conscious worry and the freedom to interpret movement in liberal and personal ways was deeply invoking.
“Art and process is soil and nutrients for the plant,” says Taylor. “We’re all here and maybe as a part of a unified endeavor we’ll come to something together.”
Here are some helpful links:
slowdanger’s two official EP releases:
The Lightlab website (a spin-off project of slowdanger’s Taylor Knight and David Bernabo)
All photos courtesy of slowdanger’s website