Five Questions for David Thomson
David Thomson appears in Ralph Lemon’s “How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere” at BAM this week. The work’s development was detailed here on Culturebot.
You’re about half way through the tour and just got back from San Francisco yesterday. How are you doing? Well, it’s a grueling work, what I call an ice-bag piece. The work is such an intense physical journey that by the end of each performance, you are very spent. You are at a place of exhaustion and you find yourself crying and don’t know why. Your defenses are so worn down; it’s like peeling an onion. The piece has a confessional and memorial aspect to it. This is really like life. It is art, but it’s also living. The Q&A sessions have been fascinating. There was a woman at The Krannert Center who said she’s seen a lot of dance and wanted to leave, but stayed to the end and got it. As much as it is art, it has this human quality to it that honors life.
How was this working process with Ralph? It is very collaborative in that much of the movement vocabulary is unique to each of us. It is developed via a number of processes, with discrete structures inside it that the audience might not actually see. You might see commonality and not know what the structure is. This work developed out of Ralph’s last work. It’s a progression from the last work, which had much more narrative, but, this is one is about reduction. There is purity or essentialness that is on offer. During the process of building we worked on re-patterning our bodies and agreeing on the process and form. We each have individual source material and journeys throughout the piece, but we also share key words that were used in the building process. We didn’t have a lot of time in development. It was about 12 weeks over 2.5 years, separated over large gaps of 6 months in between. We would have to relearn material, re-develop stamina. Each time it was another mountain to climb.
What else makes Ralph’s work important to you? There are several components to the work aside from our performance of it. Ralph has been presenting the other creative art work and source material that is related to what happens on stage. This time, there is “Meditation” at The Kitchen on Oct 17 and the other aspects of “House.” I think it is important to understand that the identity of an artist is not simply tied to the live performance. Our work is not simply what happens on the stage; we’re limiting the art form thinking that way. We should be expanding the dialogue and Ralph does that. But, while he is a very special artist, he’s not alone – Trisha and Merce toured their ‘other’ art work. Given technology and our multidisciplinary capabilities there can be more support for multifaceted manifestations of an artists vision. What I love about Ralph is that he gives space for people to enter the work from different angles. So, at BAM he’s selling the text from his monologue and that gives the audience something to hold onto. The text becomes an artifact, and artifacts become important. Call it artifact, call it product, it memento – it holds value and can serve as a source of income. It opens up more possibilities.
What do you plan to do with your upcoming Studio Series Residency at DTW? Before Studio Series, I’m doing Sarah Maxfield’s “One Shot” internet video relay on the 24th of October. For me, the DTW residency is just about play and time and a chance to just invite people into the process. I’m waiting to see what I’m developing once I’m in the studio. I don’t want to become a choreographer, this creative time is simply another route for exploration and not the first step in my choreographic career. I’ve collaborated with many choreographers, I’m not interested in pursuing that career. It’s antithetical to my desires.
How have you changed as a dancer over the years? Well, 20 years ago I was working with Trisha. I remember coming here to NY and saying “Wow” when I met people who had danced with Merce in the 60s. It doesn’t feel as long ago as it sounds. One of the beauties of this piece with Ralph is that it is helping me to understand to let go of judgment. I’m trying to not look for outside approval, which I think is an inherent struggle – whether you get a good review or dealing with what people say afterwards. I approach this piece with a certain amount of fear because it is so physically difficult, but also I can now say “This may be the last time you ever get to dance, so Live.” I think it takes a lot of strength to do what you want to do. I think especially in this community, knowing how many eyes are on you and dealing with your own personal judgments. I’m re-examining my fears and the recurring idea of retiring. But, if I didn’t get such interesting projects, I probably wouldn’t do it. I’ll say I’m done, but then, Ralph calls and I think: “Wow, this is crazy. And now, here we are.”