Go Deeper

More more more. 3 WAYS: Q&A with Headlong’s David Brick

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. Previously: Amy Smith and Andrew Simonet. Below: David Brick

What were a few things about working with Tere O’Connor that changed how you thought about your own projects?
Tere has an extremely elegant approach to making work that systematizes to some degree a process of deeply intuitive engagement in alternation with a kind of objective zooming out and seeing the work from afar and apart from oneself. And he lays out a philosophical framework for seeing choreography as an ideal form for dealing with emergent content.

That is: the process of making is also a profound process of discovery. One lets the work begin to speak about what it should be—the artist is helping the work to be born as itself, not as an imposition of a bunch of external ideas that the art should fulfill. It’s a profound rejection of the banner or tag line approach to art making. Basically, if you could sum it up, it wouldn’t be worth making. I think that by Tere’s drawing attention to the structure as being “the whole trip” of a dance, I have begun to see a kind of politics to consciousness and attention more clearly. I feel like it’s caused me to notice how I, and so many artists I admire, are groping towards a way to make work that is interesting and meaningful without playing into the incredibly controlling values of a consumerist entertainment culture. What is the structure that rejects that, but isn’t boring and pompous? Or just inscrutable?

Why did you, personally, agree or decide it would be a good idea to work separately at the beginning of this project?
Tere suggested it and we were all immediately on board. Actually, Tere said, “When you guys come to rehearsal, 2 of you should have paper bags over your heads and sit in the corner.”

The hardest thing about seeing each other’s work for the first time at the Big Reveal?
I didn’t find it difficult, though I know Andrew did. I was thrilled to see their ideas and voices unadulterated by us other two directors.

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.
After The Big Reveal, I assumed we would have to decide to follow one person’s idea. Or else start over entirely. They seemed to be really far from one another in their concerns. But then following Tere’s ideas about including the problem in the answer I thought, what if we throw our arms around the impossibility of these pieces sharing a concern. After that, something started to emerge that did in fact, resonate from all of our original work. The biggest sacrifice for me was a piece of research I had begun in my original Reveal piece that I call the Angel Gone section. It was a structure that involved me giving instructions to dancers non-verbally through performing for them. Then they would get up and improvise as a group the dance they witnessed me do. We did that each time they performed the piece and a way of communicating choreographic ideas from me to them started to emerge that I just adored. It was hard to let that process go, but I will return to it in another piece. Another sacrifice was giving the dance over to Andrew to be in charge of finishing. Its a bit of a departure for us in this kind of collaboration. I think that what the dance has become is so, so beautiful, I have no doubts about that or our decision. Truly, I felt that where I wanted the dance to go was tending towards Andrew’s sweet spot, so it made sense. But I’m a control freak and a hog and I love making work more than anything in the world, so its a sacrifice to back off. Even a little!

Why did you take a retreat this summer? Did anything that fundamentally shaped more., or your idea of more., come out of that trip?
That trip shaped more in so many ways: Maiko Matsushima, our designer
(and my fiance!) [and the subject of a long delayed feature that should run tomorrow! – NG] would create these elaborate installations for us to rehearse the piece in. They were combinations of found objects and nature. Also, the secret rehearsals were key. They allowed us to throw meticulously crafted sections together in intuitive ways. And one night we did a dance with horses in the pitch dark. At least I think it was horses . . ..

What was the biggest challenge for you when integrating your work?
I think the biggest challenge was time. We didn’t have as much time as I would like to have had post the retreat, so there’s this pressure to make every moment count, to have the perfect idea to move things forward in every rehearsal. I really hate that feeling. I don’t like pressure, I like a decadent amount of time and fooling around in rehearsals as if time doesn’t matter at all. That’s when I often make my biggest discoveries. Its when my intentional self and my intuitive self come together in the best possible way.

What elements did you like best about the work of the two others?
There was a sadness in Andrew’s work, a longing and an unabashed despair. I loved that being out so nakedly, both as an artist and a friend. I loved seeing Amy let herself go and go into uncharted territory. Amy’s work was both so formal and playful. And it was
loose with almost no literalness. I loved seeing that from Amy, who can be a bit of a minimalist and loves the literal as well.

What’s the most surprising thing we’ll see come out of this process?
Stillness. Lots of stillness.

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

–Nicholas Gilewicz