Five Questions for Deborah Black

Name: Deborah Black
Title/Occupation:  performer

1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?

I grew up in rural, western Pennsylvania, about 1.5 hours southeast of Pittsburgh in the Appalachian Mountains.  My grandfather had a fairly large dairy farm and my mom, dad, sister, and I lived in a farmhouse on his property.  We were surrounded by cornfields.  My mom signed me up for dance classes at the age of five, and because my family had a ‘no quitting’ policy, I stuck with it.  In high school I started traveling to Pittsburgh to train as a ballerina and then attended The Ailey School’s summer programs in New York.  I went to college for one year in Erie, PA, but couldn’t shake my desire to be in New York.  I moved here in 1998, worked briefly for the Anna Sokolow’s Players Project, and then attended and graduated from NYU with a double major in dance and art history in 2002.  I loved studying the Judson Church movement in Deborah Jowitt’s Dance History class and slowly began peeling away the years of classical training.  After meeting and being mentored by Deborah Hay staring in 2006, I began my current research that bridges dance and performance art and improvisation with a concentration on collaboration across disciplines.   This summer I will be training with Anne Bogart and the SITI Company at Skidmore College.

2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?

Wow… it is hard to narrow this down, but I remember one of my first ‘aha’ art moments was seeing a Mark Rothko retrospective at the Whitney in the fall of 1998 and thinking that I understood, for the first time the, process of an abstract artist.  It was very emotional for me and I think that I’ve sought out a way to make process in my work primary and fulfilling.  Other big influences were Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi Is Dead at BAM in 2003 and Handel’s Alcina at the Paris Opera Ballet in the summer of 2004.  These two works made me fall in love with essential, although abstract, movement direction used to forward the plot and aesthetics of theatre and opera.

3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?

I wish I was better with technology.  I am very analog and can rarely get my electronics to work efficiently.

4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.

My day job is working on the wardrobe crews of Broadway shows.  Currently, I am backstage at Wicked, In the Heights, and La Cage aux Folles.  A normal day for me usually includes a rehearsal in the morning (my own work or others), several hours in the theatre sewing or prepping clothes, and then going to see a show or doing administration or research for my own work.

5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?

I have to thank my supervisors for making my job flexible and because of them, can almost always choose my art.  I remember a big opportunity came up for me to dance for Susan Rethorst in 2007.  I took three or four weeks off of work to do the project for which Susan eventually won a Bessie.  Last fall, I wasn’t quite making the quota set forth by my union to keep my health insurance, so I took a job at White Christmas doing the laundry full-time and still managed to keep my artistic projects alive.  It is a huge balancing act with money and someday I imagine it to be much simpler!

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