Go Deeper

Gregory Holt Talks LAB (and His Fringe Show Opens Tonight!)

Posted September 9th, 2011

“I didn’t dance, and had no exposure to dance, until high school,” said Greg Holt, a Live Arts Brewery Fellow during the 2010-2011 program. His 2011 Philly Fringe show with Green Chair Dance Group, A Vegan Kid’s Dance for Adults with Nudity, opens tonight. The show also features Gabrielle Revlock and devynn emory.

Greg was a student at Northfield Mt. Hermon when he began swing dancing, and gained what he said was surprisingly early exposure to contact improvisation. He said that dance was just a hobby even as an undergraduate at Swarthmore, where he studied sociolinguistics. But he began to take the possibility of a dance career more seriously after interning with a dance company during a semester abroad in Poland.

“It was really difficult,” Greg said. “I was very isolated in some ways, but I was exposed to a whole world I didn’t know existed. There was a moment when I realized people are doing this. I was either going to do more linguistics or take dancing more seriously.”

He applied for a Fulbright and didn’t get it. “It was great, because I wasn’t ready.”

After the jump: rebounding into a dance career

While Greg was in Poland, he met a number of teachers from the Austrian Institute for Dance Art, at the Anton Bruckner Privatuniversität, where he managed to get a fellowship.

“It was mostly just technique. I had strong theoretical interests. This school was trying [on the theoretical end] but wasn’t that strong. But that wasn’t what I needed. I needed to be pushed on the technical side,” said Greg.

Greg was in the program for three years. After a Budapest residency, in 2008 he moved back to Philadelphia, where he knew there was a lot of funding support for emerging artists, and where he had numerous contacts from his time at Swarthmore College. Most recently, the LAB Fellows program filled in his year (in addition to his own work, he worked with Jumatatu Poe’s research in July).

“This was a great time for me to have this fellowship. I had been pursuing certain sets of interests. I had this gap, and didn’t know what was coming up. To get the fellowship and have support for space and research and exploration was great,” Greg said.

During his fellowship, Greg said he was interested in exploring ideas around differentiation.

“A lot of time in dance, we create the dance, and it’s unclear how dancers fit in relation to the dance. I’m interested in how to differentiate people, but not interested in theater and characters. I invented this idea of figures, collections of symbols or representations, intersections of ideas instead of a life history.”

So how do you convey that to a viewer?

“Making it clear is hard,” Greg says. “Somebody enters a space, moves a certain way, and instantly a broad range of information is impressed on you. Being dance, it’s going to be a bit abstract. Where it becomes difficult on my part is taking the time-based nature of dance and duration, and take an identity that can happen over time, so you can get a sense of a field where dancer is, and a field where another dancer is, where they overlap and where they don’t.”

Describing himself as a “dictator,” Greg said that he forced dancers working with him to do a lot of improv work, in order to flesh out his ideas.

“To clear the air, I’d tell them to move continuously for the next 15 minutes–a clearing out of mind and body and becomes a space of small impulses and intuitions and we could follow them more clearly. Then I’d make something up: act like a pig in mud, make another balance in an impossible position,” Greg said.

“There was a little period where I tried to do dances that weren’t hard to make. In a research mode, the value becomes how much you’ve looked into it. So I tried to do stuff that took very little development.”

In April, Greg performed a body practice/performance art piece at the Collage Collaborative Arts Festival, where he performed a piece called Topology–the concept was to imagine that you could expand or contract your surface area, infinitely.

“I’m afraid of some of the simplicity of these things,” Greg said, although he doesn’t think of himself as a conceptual choreographer or performer.

“It’s not conceptual, but phenomenological,” he said. “There is conceptual dance, but it’s hard for it to exist because dance is so rooted in the world of inhabiting the body. Any conceptions we have are a logical extension of physical experience. It’s like an inversion of the Cartesian experience,” referring to ‘I think therefore I am’

“For Topology, we are trying to occupy our own bodies, but it continually fails because the way attention is spread, you can only inhabit so much. The experience of that undermines the ideology of governance and territory being linked. You can’t even do it yourself,” Greg said.

In that failure, and in his successes, Greg strives to strike something resonant and physically sympathetic in viewers, where they feel their own experiences by watching his dances. But he’s not necessarily striving to convey specific themes or ideas.

“I don’t have demands of my viewers in general. I have very specific ideas of what’s sparked in me when I’m viewing the dances that I’ve made. If it’s not sparked in someone else, I’m not disappointed. I’m usually more surprised when what people see lines up with what I see than when it doesn’t.”

“I don’t share what I’m thinking unless viewers specifically ask. In general, I’m curious about what somebody has responded to. People have said its very alive, very strange, things like ‘I don’t know what’s going on but something’s going on.'”

“I often ride this ambivalent line between humor and something more dark. When people have seen early versions, they’ve seen more funny or ironic stuff, but in the final product its’ destabilized to be not funny anymore. I like the tension of that kind of ambiguity. I really like the tension of moments of anticipation, dancing with this house-of-cards effect: all this potential movement is stacked in place but hasn’t happened yet, then it tumbles and all happens at once and these things change drastically.”

A Vegan Kid’s Dance for Adults With Nudity opens tonight at 10:00 pm at Mascher Space Co-op, 155 Cecil B. Moore Avenue #2B, Kensington. Also on Spetember 10 at 2:00 pm, and September 11 at 7:00 pm. All shows $18.

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Greg Holt portrait by Elena Camp.
Studio photos courtesy Greg Holt.