Five Questions for Julian Barnett

Choreographer Julian Barnett’s Super Natural is at DNA thru Sunday afternoon.  Jeremy mentions the show in this week’s roundup.

You’ve mentioned that a lot of artists seem stuck or tied to reliving Rainier’s No Manifesto; that many of today’s American artists are struggling with a rejection of form. How does this relate to your work right now? I think my work heavily utilizes form and I’m not resistant to using the body. I think I have a deeper understanding of how to use the body now, than I did before. I like movement and exploring ways to see how movement can come about.  It can come from outside of the body – historical or personal – but it always starts from that seed in the body.  I see my work in phases. I feel like the way that I’ve used movement in the past is different than how I’m using it now. It’s broadened to a really exciting place. I see movement in everything, in stillness. I’m not afraid of, rather, I enjoy the mechanics of the body. I enjoy seeing how the mechanics of momentum can be dissected into 32 categories. How that movement can resonate spatial and conceptual relationships.

How did this artistic broadening happening? It most clearly shifted in the past four years.  One clear thing: I started noticing what I didn’t like. There’s something about a familiarity and there was something that was redundant in the works of others and my own and my own familiar, habitual impulses. It was historical in my own doing and watching.  Really, when I began to work with Wally Cardona, he introduced a landscape of movement philosophies and use of the object that opened up a window into how ‘dance’ can be something from nothing. Dance isn’t something that isn’t familiar to a specific form. It is my deviation from specific forms of my training – hiphop, breaking, ballet, etc.  I started questioning: why do I feel like I want to move this way.  I took that and found a desire to seek a re-definition and  a new definition for my own authentic movement. That made me push a little harder. It takes time to challenge yourself out of the familiar. That effort does cultivate, new ways of moving. There’s this whole, exciting relationship to seeing how I can use the body, not being afraid to use movement. I used to feel alone or not appreciated in wanting to dance.  I mean, the context of my 20s was really vast. It was wide open. It was a time for gaining experience and learning how to perform and taking on these jobs and figuring out a way through this city. I wanted to make work and saw all this work around me and questioned how I fit in. My context was this weird thing where I needed to know which context I was going to be in. I was exploring which one I wanted to be in. It wasn’t until about 4 years ago when I relinquished that context.  It’s interesting, there was this moment when I was 26-years old, at Hubbard St. trying to chose for dancers for my work. I’m looking at headshots and watching barre and they were all amazing dancers, but I remembered thinking that none of them could do what I do. That was a realization when I understood that I naturally gravitate towards personal movement and it takes explaining and not just technique.

How does that effect who you work with now? It’s a long process finding dancers. I do make my work in relationship to where it’s going to be presented and how that’s going to be seen. In Super Natural we had a long audition process/open rehearsal where I found Phina.  We did structured improvisations for 4 hours a day.  I’d ask questions like: How do you divert momentum? How do you stay connected? How do you do this and add performance in relation to something? How do you perform a transcendent solo? How do you perform a solo about love in an unfamiliar way?  I’m looking for people who can make decisions and who share an understanding of the physical, spatial relationships. I’m looking for a specific kind of intelligence that looks for everything.  I want to performer to be able to place those elements in the moment themselves. I’m still figuring that out. I love the people I’m working with right now.  When I go back in January to Holland. I have to make a work on the students there.  I had to figure out: How do I make this relevant to them? Do I hold an audition? Do I have a workshop? Do I choose the students I notice? So, I saw several shows and invited the students who stood out to come to a physical playdate.

So, you’re in a Master’s Program in Dance Unlimited, ArtEZ’s Choreography Program in Arnhem. How did you choose this and get there? I wanted a period of time to stay tethered to NYC, but branch into Europe. The Amsterdam program was interesting and I’d talked with Jeanine (Durning) about it. It had an isolating structure to it. Two people. Independent practice. Rotterdam seemed more technical and I started building a correspondence with Joao (da Silva) at DU. There is a great NY-related history.  In the library, there are great videos of Ishmael Houston-Jones, Meg Stuart, and Yoshiko Chuma.  I applied and got a great feeling. The audition was really a two-day interview. The first day we were surprised and told that we had to teach a class to the 10 other auditionees – 20 minutes, on the spot. It gauged how we communicate? We had one group improvisation and then we got dressed and were interviewed.  After that, there was a individual interview with the entire panel when we talked about ourselves and our work. There was this one moment that triggered a noticeable shift in the room when I talked about how I wanted to come because I wanted to fail. Everyone shifted their butts and cleared their throats and wanted to know “What do you mean by fail?” I  said I wanted to have the luxury to go where I don’t know where I am going.  “What would you need to fail? What are the elements that you need to fail?” I wasn’t sure. I knew I wanted to go beyond my comfort and they kept trying to get more about how I viewed failure. I didn’t know because I think it is something that you aren’t regularly confronted with. I think it is something that you become aware of. I couldn’t anticipate my failure landing points. I could only aim for not-failing and if I did, to have the space to recognize it. Then I got a scholarship and was able to go.

How is graduate study impacting you? It has been fantastic. There’s time to read, write, talk and then apply it into practice, into making and exploring. It’s changing me quite dramatically. It’s changing how I write and through practice becoming a better writer. It’s also opened up a new way that I experience writing. I’m more cognizant of the potential that writing has versus  my previous view of it as a burden. It’s fascinating on from a cultural perspective.  I’ve been asked why did I need to leave New York.  But, I think I’m staying tethered and I have this sensation that I’m bringing it with me. It’s right alongside me there.

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