Go Deeper

New To Philly Fringe, Tori Lawrence Talks About Making It Work For Her

Posted August 13th, 2010

Philly Fringe brings a lot of new folks into the Philadelphia performance fold. I recently emailed with dancer and choreographer Tori Lawrence about producing her first Philly Fringe show—Source—and how she came to the city and the festival.

Why did you decide to present work at Philly Fringe?
I felt that it was a wonderful opportunity for a young artist like myself to be seen and noticed in the Philly arts community. My mentor, Pamela Vail, introduced me to the Fringe (she choreographed and performed in Something Striking at the Performance Garage in last year’s Philly Fringe).

How did you get to Philadelphia?
I’m originally from Alpharetta, Georgia, a suburb north of Atlanta. My family and I moved to Georgia in the fourth grade. After graduating high school, I decided to go to Franklin & Marshall College. I had in my mind that I wanted to be a doctor and do the whole pre-med track. But then I found modern dance. F&M supported and nurtured me as a young artist: I was taught by wonderful dance professors and was given many grants to fund my choreography. I soon realized that I needed to pursue dance as a career. I just needed to.

After the jump: finding collaborators, finding video, finding venues.
I was lucky to find a talented dancer, Emily Herchenroether, to work alongside with at F&M. She’s been in all of my site-specific works and we’ve taken a couple proscenium works to the 2009 and 2010 American College Dance Festivals. She and I decided that we wanted start up our own company after college. Last summer, Emily lived in Philly while interning at the nEW Festival and said to me after, “Tori, we HAVE to live here!” The Philly arts community is very friendly and supportive; so, we thought it’d be the perfect place for young artists like ourselves to start up a modern dance company.

When did you start integrating video into your work?
After taking a videodance course at F&M, led by Pamela Vail and Jeremy Moss. I was introduced to dance on film legends such as Maya Deren, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Amy Greenfield, etc. I was blown away by how video-editing, location, and sound could expand a choreographer’s voice.

I found that creating videodances could help me better express my artistic voice. I’ve seen choreographers, such as Bebe Miller, integrate film into their work, creating a more vivid and rich experience for the audience member. I feel that people are innately drawn to “the screen”—there’s something very powerful about it that just grabs people’s attention.

As I began creating Source about a year ago, I knew that I wanted to experiment with water and see how it could inform my movement. I wanted to bring the audience to a new world—I wanted to give them an experience so that they felt like they were no longer in an old warehouse or factory—I wanted to bring them into a world where water seemed to be the very source and force of being.

I took my three other dancers to the edge of York, Pennsylvania, where there was an old decrepit dock that stretched into the Susquehanna River. It was there where I created the short videodance and it was there where my ideas and inspiration for Source came into play.

This piece has been performed before, but has site-specific elements. So how did you go about finding the right venue for it?
Yeah, that was a hard one. This piece was originally performed in a historic market space in downtown Lancaster. The space was beautiful and enormous, with high ceilings, exposed brick walls, cement floors, the occasional pigeon, and large domed windows outlining the walls. It was old, dark, and offered itself to the somber atmosphere of the piece. I had my choreography and dancers interact with every inch of the space… the garage-door entrance, window ledges, dark corners, soot-covered floor, and deteriorating walls.

In my creative process, I pay immense attention to the architecture and detail of the space. I spend so much time in the space, trying to understand it, that it eventually becomes a sort of home for me. And when the site becomes my home, it seems that whatever movement I create in it will die if I transplant it to another site.

So, trying to maintain the world of Source, I set out to find a perfect new home in Philadelphia for it. I knew that the work needed something old, dark, historic, and dirty. I was attracted to old factories, power plants, warehouses, armories, and basically any sort of building that looked as if it was about to fall apart. Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard getting permission to hold a dance in an abandoned warehouse—so, it took me a while to find a place that I liked and was actually allowed to hold a dance in.

I got lucky and found the basement of Power Plant Productions. The space is beautifully old, dirty, and dark. It was perfect to me. It is much smaller than the market space where Source premiered last April, and it is also below the ground. Unlike the market, the basement doesn’t have windows, so that will alter my lighting choices and where I will place the video projection and old television sets. So, the piece will inevitably change, yes. But, the world of Source as a whole will be the same. I’m really excited about installing the piece into the power plant space—there is just so much to explore with!

Writing is an integral part of your creative process. Why do you verbalize the concepts you work with? Or is it that you work out the concepts through your writing?
Writing and verbalizing my thoughts helps me better understand my artistic choices, desires, and intuitive thoughts. I use improvisation a lot when I choreograph. In order to understand these improvisations and decipher how and why I make such choices, I often turn to researching related books and then writing about them. For instance, with Source, I read a collection of books and articles on architecture, perception, memory, water, improvisation, and site-specific dance. These books helped me understand my creative process and helped me work out the concepts through writing.

When you understand why you choose to create certain things, you understand more about yourself—the muse and editor within you become more balanced.

Source, from the Lawrence-Herchenroether Dance Company, will be up September 11 at Power Plant Productions, 230 North 2nd Street, Old City. 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, $20.

–Nicholas Gilewicz