Destruction, Renewal, and Creation: A Conversation with Tania Isaac
“I started to imagine all of these natural cycles of pressure and release that have created incredible phenomenon and the fact that natural forces woke in cycles of destruction, renewal and creation.”
Once called a “one-woman powerhouse of dance fusion,” Tania Isaac is bringing her fresh solo movement drama crazy beautiful to FringeArts for the first time. We got to have a quick conversation about her work and her process.
FringeArts: What made you think up the title crazy beautiful? Do you remember where you were?
Tania Isaac: I don’t remember where I was, but I had noticed one of those emoticon charts where you move the magnetic frame to the mood you’re in. I was trying to imagine creating a grid of moods using objects, then began to wonder why we spent so much time trying to be in the “right” mood all the time. I’m always plunging down a rabbit hole of questions about why everything exists as it does. I call it my eternal toddler. I started to be more curious about how anger and frustration and confusion and sadness became things we avoided and tried to fix rather than experience fully. Some time later I was in my kitchen watching my four-year-old old have a compete meltdown and was so envious for a moment that she got to feel all fully into it with every fiber of her being—and remembered that she laughed the same way. Everything she was feeling she was fully experiencing viscerally. So while I’m not advocating adult tantrums, I wondered what happened to all of that sensation and power as we got older. And if it didn’t go away, what did we do with it when we learned to behave? Who decided what was appropriate and when and how it was best to express it? THEN I started thinking about volcanoes—which I’ve loved since I was twelve—and the pressure and nature of eruptions. I started to imagine all of these natural cycles of pressure and release that have created incredible phenomenon and the fact that natural forces woke in cycles of destruction, renewal and creation. Balance—of a kind? Could we do it? So I started to imagine what it might be like.
FringeArts: Can you describe the open notebook process you’re created?
Tania Isaac: The open notebook has been my way of sharing the questions I try to answer (that eternal toddler). The questions are usually about how we choose to respond to something within our society. I am curious about how others see the world and wanted to create a space we could step into that would allow us to be immersed in what we were thinking about and reading and how that might become translated into movement, action, imagination, and performance. I tried to create a space that could explain to my family what I did, how I did it, and why I insisted it was important. And it was about the space for exchange, expression, and conversation. I wanted to give the people interested in my work or simply curious and questioning about the world, a chance to play with this platform. I wanted an immersive world where ideas could float in space and on a paper and be available to everyone—where we could respond and could be archived. So the notebook is a room divided and created by hanging paper walls, with notes and ideas collected in rooms. It shows videos and photos and asks questions and invites you to write and record and respond. It’s a small maze and a place to indulge and sink into your thoughts.
FringeArts: How has crazy beautiful evolved from within this process, and how do you use the idea of a room/installation?
Tania Isaac: crazy beautiful began as a question. In each notebook, I collected responses to the ideas of what emotions we show and when and how and where. I’ve collected images and gestures that have been turned into movement. I’ve added rooms and objects that have helped to create the environment for the story. I’ve recorded voices of multiple people reading the texts. The installation tries to toy with the idea of expanding one particulate moment in time and showing it from multiple perspectives and emotional states.
FringeArts: You mention a mix from dancehall reggae to austere gesture. What has brought about this mix of movements?
Tania Isaac: I am from the Caribbean. From St. Lucia. I grew up with folk dance and soca and reggae as well as modern dance. In high school socializing was all about dance parties. Two per weekend if I could convince my parents. As I began studying dance more formally in college, I loved the idea of post-modern dance as giving you permission to use everything within your experience and at your disposal in order to feed your idea—that’s how I define it anyway. I kept trying to find things that drove my curiosity about my body, about the way it could and did move and I could weave my rhythmic dancehall soca self with my love of deconstruction and visual composition. So I give myself permission to use everything. I don’t eliminate by genre. I go with idea, intention, sensation and action.
FringeArts: How do you play with text?
Tania Isaac: I write for everything I do. I write poems and prose. For this piece, as I dove into the idea of how we handle each other’s emotional states, I was drawn to classic allegorical heroic figures. I’m curious about our love for the struggling hero that is not usually matched by our capacity for empathy when that struggle is present in our lives and right next to us. I am taking the text from Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The Little Prince, The Old Man and the Sea and weaving it in with my own writing. The goal is to tell a story that is as fractured as how I imagine the experience of dislocation and isolation would translate. The text comes in and out of the piece. It is backdrop, narration, set, and music.
crazy beautiful ran at FringeArts April 27th-29th, 2017.
Interview by Josh McIlvain. Photos by LBrowning Photography.