Go Deeper

Artist Profile: Megan Mazarick Makes Dorky Work About Dorks

Posted August 12th, 2009

Entranced by its dance community, Megan Mazarick came to Philadelphia to be a part of the scene. After earning her BFA in dance from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, she enrolled in Temple University’s MFA program.

Megan had met Paule Turner, and after seeing his work—”I think it was a section of In the Mud“—she decided she wanted to move to Philly. “North Carolina was so conservative, and I wanted to be in a place where work like Turner’s was produced.”

After moving to the city, Megan immersed herself in Philadelphia’s new work, working with Marianela Boan (a classmate from Temple), kate watson-wallace/anonymous bodies (in House, Car, Living Room, and Mentalist), and Merián Soto, among others.

“I learned a lot from Merián, Marianella, and Kate,” Megan says. “My entrance to the Philly dance community was through Kate, and I did artistsU.”

Megan’s own work was in each of the Fringe Festivals immediately after her arrival. She says they were all collaborative, small pieces: Devastation Vs. Pop Culture in 2005, Avenge the Void in 2006, and Flight of the Cuttlefish and Mysteries of the Deep in 2007.

“I started wanting to produce my own work as soon as I got here. I moved to Philly to be a part of the community.”

After the jump: promoting her own choreography, Megan’s Kill Me Now characters tell you about themselves, and a cool video of a cuttlefish.

In the 2009 Live Arts Festival, Megan is performing in Kill Me Now from Melanie Stewart Dance Theater, and she’s also competing in The A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2009: Philadelphia. Megan met Melanie Stewart at the nEW Festvial, for which her boyfriend, Les Rivera, was doing videography. Melanie saw her senior thesis, Roadkill, and invited Megan to be a resident artist at the 2007 festival, for which Megan reworked the piece.

Over the past two years, Megan has gotten increasingly involved with the nEW festival, largely through giving its classes an organizational structure they didn’t have before her arrival. Megan suggested that participating artists teach as volunteers, and that the classes be structured as pay-what-you-can, with receipts divvied among the nEW festival artists.

“It generates a lot of support for the festival,” Megan says. “Students come to shows to support their teachers.”

Megan’s been working on Kill Me Now for more than a year. In the show, performers take on the roles of both contestants in a dance competition and judges in the same. But with the theater audience determining which contestants advance, the dancers have both of their characters well-prepared for their semi-improvisational situations.

Megan’s judge character, Dixie Crystal, is pulled from real life. “It was the name of a drag queen in a trailer park drag show I used to go to in North Carolina,” says Megan. “It’s also loosely based on my sort of Southern alter-ego, [name redacted], my friend from school who was on drill team.”

“Dixie Crystal talks like maybe a girl I know from North Carolina.” Megan shifts into a gentle Southern-belle kind of accent. “Sweet, lilting, Southern thing, maybe my second cousin even.”

Dixie Crystal will also host the Rocky’s—the awards for physical performance given by members of Philadelphia’s dance community to members of Philadelphia’s dance community—which, Megan says, “is basically an excuse for me to talk like this for a really long time.”

Tina Marina is her contestant character, a former stripper whose character evolved from her voice. “It was another imitation of a friend, one who talked without consonants, this stoner hippie girl. This lazy stripper slutty girl came out of the voice.”

“The characters are like the yin and yang of my personality: slutty alcoholic versus Southern belle.”

Megan says that in rehearsals, they would work for hours at a time to find their characters physically and verbally. For some actors, the characters were born through physicality. “Tina was born through pelvic gyrations and ass-shaking, in the torque.”

“The show I’m in before The A.W.A.R.D. Show! kind of satirizes the idea of the award.”

Megan is using her participation in The A.W.A.R.D. Show! to showcase her own choreography at Live Arts.

“I’ve tried to pull out of doing other people’s work for the most part,” Megan says. “I’m trying to limit my performer gigs to try to promote my choreographer gigs. You can do both in Philly, but I want to focus on choreography.”

At The A.W.A.R.D. Show!, Megan will perform her solo, Cuttlefish.

“The piece is about fitting in,” she says. “Cuttlefish are cephalopods, who change the colors, patterns, and texture of their skin.”

“Some are bioluminous; they have three or four layers of skin, and the cells contract in different ways. The piece uses the creature as a metaphor for the ways people, and maybe women in particular, try to fit in.

“At Johnny Brenda’s, this waitress was being really mean to us. I figure that if you compliment people, it disarms them. So I complimented her sweater, and she started talking about how it was only two dollars, and where she found it, and who made it, blah blah blah.”

During the performance, audience members are given 3D glasses. When I ask her how that’s going to work, she replies, “I did Cuttlefish at Dance New Amsterdam and the usher was this bitchy queen who asked me the same question. I’m trying to make 3D more 3D. The costume is bright, and more vibrant with 3D glasses. The video projection for the show is anaglyph video.”

Megan created the video design herself. “It’s me and fish and silly cartoon-type stuff. I went to a pet store on Columbus Boulevard and videotaped all their fish, used and picked out old undersea movies. I have this cheesy fake giant octopus clip. I cut them all together.”

Megan took some videography classes at Temple, but she’s largely self-taught, and small budgets are the mother of invention. For Avatard, Megan used sheets of window screen material to get a projection effect where the audience could see dancers through the images. For Cuttlefish, she’s using a shower curtain as a screen, framed like a picture, with the image rear-projected onto the curtain.

“I’m really broke. I can’t afford expensive collaborators, so I’ve learned to do it myself.”

Cuttlefish also features manipulated recorded speech. “The text is of a female changing or talking to somebody about her outfit, and it’s all about approval: your own opinion reflecting off what people give you. I see it as this real hipster mentality, waffling with opinions, and I do it myself, so I’m making fun of myself a bit too. I rely highly upon other people for bar, restaurant, movie, activities on a Saturday afternoon with really good friends. Waffling about things happens for me every day.”

Megan’s use of technology is closely tied to how she wants to create now work.

“I have some specific ideas about dance. I’m interested in making dorky work about dorks. My pieces have been getting funnier and sillier. I’m making pieces that I would want to see—and not just me who dorks out on dance, but the 15-year-old-me. It’s about being an awkward person in the world.”

“Video and dance can happen at the same time. Doing it myself allows me to start picturing what I’d like. I’ve started working on the whole visual effect, rather than treating visuals as an afterthought. Creating both at the same time makes it easier to watch as a whole. The more video projection happens, the more important it is for it to really be a part of the piece.”

But, Megan says, “[Video projection] can overtake the work. I think the technology can support the themes of the work, especially because modern dance can be such a misunderstood form. I’m not interested in making work where people don’t explicitly understand it.

“My dad says modern dance is like jazz: practitioners go see it, but that’s it. I snorted at ‘accessibility’ at first, but as an audience member, I started thinking about it. I like entertainment, to make people laugh, to be moved or intrigued . . . and work that has different meaning too.”

After the 20th century’s avant-garde dance revolution, Megan can imagine dance re-embracing storytelling again, and further humanizing the medium.

“I see a couple different schools of modern dance, which started as a rebellion against the narrative of ballet. I’m starting to think it’s time to go back and embrace narrative, not make art that’s tedious and beyond human experience.”

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Photo by Alan Kolc; videos by Les Rivera.