Go Deeper

more.3 WAYS: Q&A with Headlong’s Amy Smith

Posted September 10th, 2009

To celebrate tonight’s opening of Headlong Dance Theater‘s new piece more. at the Live Arts Festival, we thought we’d talk to the principals involved: Amy Smith, Andrew Simonet, and David Brick. more. was put together in a much more individualized way than Headlong normally works, with Amy, Andrew, and David conceiving their work separately, before sharing it with each other for the first time at The Big Reveal in April (images here). Then, the melding began.

For a piece with a tripartite origin, we decided to present three separate Q&As—with the same set of questions—from the people who shaped more. Below: Amy Smith.

What were a few things about working with Tere O’Connor that changed how you thought about your own projects?
Tere’s choreographic approach is very different from the one we have traditionally followed in Headlong. Rather than starting from a conceptual idea (CELL, Explanatorium) or narrative (Shosha, ST*R W*RS) and generating material that fits inside that idea, editing for clarity and the advancement of a through-line, Tere invited us to start by generating movement without preconception, observing it non-judgmentally and following lines of research that tickle your choreographic fancy. Then, to edit by layering and juxtaposing sections, rather than keeping in what is ‘good’ and editing what is ‘bad.’ It has expanded how I think about starting points, process, and finishing a piece. And though I may not adopt this way of working forever, it has been a challenging and rewarding exploration for me, and I’ll definitely use what I’ve gleaned from Tere in all my future projects.

Why did you, personally, agree or decide it would be a good idea to work separately at the beginning of this project?
It was an assignment from Tere, a way of shaking up and disrupting our patterns as collaborators and choreographers. We had established a lot of patterns over 16 years, many of which are very functional, but some are dysfunctional or at least uninvestigated. So splitting up the collaboration forced us to examine those patterns from the outside, and allowed us to get closer to our individual choreographic impulses and interests.

The hardest thing about seeing each other’s work for the first time at the Big Reveal?
It wasn’t hard at all, it was hilarious, sad, and thought-provoking.

How far apart (or close together) did you feel aesthetically? And tell me about a sacrifice you had to make, in order for more. to come together.
In spite of how different our three pieces were, in the Big Reveal, on the spectrum of dance-making we are absolutely in the same color range. David’s piece was playful and psychedelic, Andrew’s was humorous and disturbing, and mine was formal with hints of setting and character. But they were all very Headlong in their way. We didn’t make any sacrifices making more. It was not a war between the three pieces, it was the result of the three of us coming together and playing with the questions we had been asking in our Big Reveal pieces. Continuing to ask those questions and answer them in choreographic research. The result was more.

Why did you take a retreat this summer? Did anything that fundamentally shaped more., or your idea of more., come out of that trip?
It’s always helpful for us to get away from our usual lives and have an intensive work time together. We bonded as friends and collaborators, working a lot, but also sharing communal meals and walking around in nature. The farm where we worked shaped our
thinking about the piece, especially in terms of the natural world (and our human relationship to it) coming into the piece. Humankind and nature are both on the stage in more.

What was the biggest challenge for you when integrating your work?
The sheer amount of material we generated with the dancers. It was hard to keep track of everything that was made. There were long lists of indescribable sections and index cards flying all over the place.

What elements did you like best about the work of the two others?
I loved the bravery and irreverance implicit in David’s piece—saying “fuck you” to a lot of theatrical conventions of appeasing and pleasing the audience. I loved the meticulously crafted chaos and highly idiosyncratic, almost spasmodic movement ideas in Andrew’s piece. Andrew’s piece also contained some very personal elements, which I loved as his friend of 20 years.

What’s the most surprising thing we’ll see come out of this process?
Devynn becomes a horse.

more. opens tonight at the Arts Bank, 601 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, and runs through Monday, September 14.

–Nicholas Gilewicz