Go Deeper

8 Redux: Meet Olive Prince

Posted September 9th, 2010

All summer, we’ve been profiling the amazing Philadelphia choreographers whose work the 2010 Live Arts Festival is showcasing in 8: eight choreographers/eight new works, and we’re revisiting those profiles this week. Below, learn more about Olive Prince’s I desire, which you can see tonight and Sunday afternoon. For details and tickets, click here.

“To be satisfied with everything I do.”

“To feel, look like, and have a million bucks.”

“To have sex with 50 Cent.”

These are just some of the responses scrawled on the notecards that Olive Prince hands out to friends, family, and even people she meets on the street, asking them to write or draw their answer to the same question: “What do you desire?”

Olive is using the notecards as Post Secret-esque research for her new dance I desire which will be performed in 8 (eight choreographers / eight new works) at the Live Arts Festival. The piece is centered around the idea of humans becoming machines, inspired by Olive’s observation of people rushing to work as if on an assembly line. She imagines that flesh and bone and individuality and desire are lost as people “go through their day with blinders on.”

Olive is not playing the role of enlightened artist, free from the 9-to-5, however. “I’m part of it,” she admits. “I just wonder what would happen if we messed it up.”

After the jump: Olive’s desires.

The choreographer, whose day job for the past two years has been teaching dance at Drexel University, is similarly conscious of how the images that first inspire her work may not be evident to an audience. Olive uses what she calls “movement metaphors” to transform the literal images in her head into the movements that the audience sees.

“The way you take a movement and repeat it, shape it, and find variation takes on a meaning, like a phrase in a song.” As she speaks about the inspiration behind I desire she shuffles through the notecards, then mentions images as vastly different as “a tree that’s very much underground, very rooted,” and “family snapshots” all in one breath.

“I don’t even really like talking about it, because most people, when they watch it, will have no idea that it came from what I’m talking about.”

Whether or not the audience sees a tree (or a family snapshot or something else entirely) the piece is no less grounded in Olive’s sense of her own desires. She hasn’t filled out one of the notecards herself, but in 6th grade her school had a “Stepping Up Night” in which they put together a book of all their hopes for the future. Olive’s? “To be a dancer or dance teacher.”

As a kid growing up in Rochester, New York, enacting that desire meant choreographing dances in her basement to Lionel Richie songs and lip-synching her part in Rush-Henrietta High School’s musical so that she could dance in it. She also had a little help from her dad, a carpenter, who was “always the dad handing out programs at recitals,” and her Aunt Mo who drove her to lessons (and still calls her “Miss Dancer”). After graduating from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, however, she became distracted from that aspiration when she worked for three years as an educational consultant in Boston. Like the machine-people of her imagination, she felt she was losing hold of her desires in that job.

“I knew the only way I was going to get back into dancing and take it seriously was to immerse myself in the dance community,” she says. One of her professors at undergrad was from Temple, so Olive moved to Philly to get an MFA in choreography.

Though her 6th grade self’s desires would probably feel pretty fulfilled, Olive seems determined not to settle. Expressing intention and individuality is not only a theme of I desire, but something she teaches as well. In one of her courses at Drexel, called Dance and Identity, she encourages students to locate topics that relate to their identity and express them through movement. This could be almost anything: race, class, gender, or in Olive’s case, her secret affinity for illegal parking. She doesn’t expect her students to all become dancers, she says, but she does want them to be creative thinkers.

Perhaps this is what she means when she talks about “messing it up.”

–Ellen Freeman

Photos by Ellen Freeman