Go Deeper

Making Art in 2017: Talia Mason on Onion Dances

Posted September 14th, 2017

Talia Mason. Photo by Irina Varina.

Name: Talia Mason

Show in 2017 Festival: Onion Dances

FringeArts: Tell us a bit about your show.

Talia MasonOnion Dances is an autobiographical solo examining the role that memories play in shaping one’s past, present, and future. It is is equally interested in how we remember and how we forget our inherited stories. There is dancing, storytelling, singing, reminiscing, and lots of questioning. Onion Dances is a work of dance theater that digs into what it means to be Jewish, and what it means to be a Jewish American during a Trump presidency. The world of the piece is gauzy, dusty, wrinkly, weathered, stinky (loaded down with the smells of time), and honest.

The concept for the piece came out of my time at the Headlong Performance Institute. One assignment was to create a constellation—an array of unrelated things that connections could eventually be drawn between. I had a sliced onion and a photo of my grandfather in my constellation. The rawness of the onion and the peculiarity of my grandfather’s expression made me want to learn more about my roots and my family’s journey to the United States in the 1870s. The piece developed from there.

Photo by Talia Mason.

Throughout the process, I have asked myself lots of questions: What does it mean to be a Jewish American? Does being a Jewish American mean the same thing for different generations? Why do we remember certain details and forget others? Why did Jews migrate across the United States when the large Jewish hubs were Manhattan, Baltimore, and Philadelphia? What did my ancestors like to eat? What traditions did they have that they then passed down? How do I know if what I remember is right or wrong? What happens to the people and events that we forget? How can a personal story become universal to audiences? How can this piece be accessible to Jews and non-Jews alike? I find myself trying to tackle some of these questions by using my family’s direct experiences as evidence as well as imagining what things may have been like for my ancestors in the 1870s.

FringeArts: How have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year? 

Photo by Talia Mason.

Talia Mason: I’ve found myself being drawn to storytelling in its different forms, from podcasts to story slams to oral histories. My creative process usually starts with using writing to develop movement. With Onion Dances, I’ve used what I hear to inform my movement development. Some of these sound sources are my grandmother’s stories, music that I grew up listening to, Jewish prayers in Hebrew or Yiddish, civil war era music, and more. I’ve also discovered that I am interested in messier works of dance and theater that take audiences on meandering journeys. I teach movement to preschool through kindergarteners and their sense of wonder has found its way into Onion Dances. I find myself being interested in the arc of human lives, and how our memories evolve as we age. In that respect, I find myself considering whether certain parts of the piece will speak to my five year old students, other millennials, baby boomers and the Great Generation (my grandparents’ generation).

FringeArts: Tell us about an instance from 2017 when your interaction with art provided some much needed solace or refuge from outside troubles.

Talia Mason: I go to the theater to escape. For me, Nichole Canuso’s The Garden of Forking Paths was that escape. Nichole created a world within each of the spaces that she explored in the Bok building and allowed her audiences to feel transported in time and space. I found myself momentarily forgetting about the outside world, and diving into this circuitous journey with total abandon and wonder. I left Bok feeling like I had lived a different experience and was seeing the world transform from black and white to Technicolor, kind of like when you go to a modern art exhibit and you walk out feeling like there is art all around you and that everything is art. The Garden of Forking Paths reminded me that anything can become magical when given the right attention, from post-it notes to dark stairwells. The show let me become a three year old again, and play within Nichole’s imagined world. That notion of play let me erase personal fears and anxieties and exist within the moment.


Onion Dances
Talia Mason

$15 / 60 minutes

Sept 22-24 @ Community Education Center, 3500 Lancaster Ave