10 Minutes With Jen Rosenblit

Jen Rosenblit will be concluding her 100-hour creative residency for DTWs Studio Series with showings of Salivate if you could” this Friday and Saturday at 6pm.

In a recent open invite posted on DTW’s blog, you mention your work with your primary collaborator, Addys Gonzalez, and how he quit and then came back while the two of you were up at Hampshire College working together. Can you talk a little bit about this process? We met as students at Hampshire where I was really gungho for dance. I really wanted to take composition classes and make work.  I knew I wasn’t having fun dancing for others. I meet Addys when he was teaching some girls how to partner and turn in some sort of salsa-like major, so we met in a casual environment. He was studying dance a little but mostly studying literature and rebelling against dance scholarship.  We were in a very liberal dance environment. It’s an open program, but even there everyone pretty much does the same thing – they take classes on all of the other [Five College] campuses, they dance in all the productions, take technique all the time, anatomy, etc.  It’s a pretty typical approach to studying dance. We didn’t have the language at the time, but we wanted to develop the lifestyle of artistry rather than simply do all the things we were supposed to do as dancers. Of course, now with my calf injuries, we were laughing that if I’d taken anatomy maybe I could have prevented this. When we both came to NYC after graduating, we wanted to see how our lives could be in dance without taking lots of classes and for me, how to make a presence without dancing for other people.  That fed into our lives and that fed into a collaborative relationship of making. His process is not to come into the studio and make a dance. That’s my role and he’s more of a dramaturg. He takes the ideas and opens me up to what I’m presenting a little bit. A lot of times he’s referencing literature when he’s thinking about the work or reimagining it for me. It’s strenuous – we rely on it a little bit. Me, especially on him more than the other people I work with. He’s my sustainable practice. I rely on him to constantly shift, expand, absorb ideas. We did a little residency in the fall at Hampshire. I wanted that clarity and intensive  working experience – here it’s once a week for 3 hours and I needed to be with him all day for several days. At once point he kind of declared that it was too much and he didn’t want to do it and didn’t want to be involved any more. It was confusing and unclear, but he walked out. He came back some hours late, I still don’t know what he did while I was sitting alone in the studio waiting for him to come back. The work at that point was really rough, unexpectedly of dark matter.  He has to deal with me focusing so much on him since I am the maker, I think he just needed a second for himself without me right there, he needed the option to not be so involved.  He’s had moments like that before. He questions, does he wants to do this – always digging at himself and performing, does he want this responsibility and this unending commitment to this form?  This plays into our work.  Addys just wants to live in a cabin in Maine and be simple and fix things when they are broken.  I understand it, I like this quality.

So, when bringing other people in, I had to question our relationship in the process of making dances.  I would make these epic duets and the other performers would end up being  our backup dancers. The dancers actually brought that up to me, that they sort of felt dispensable. So for the first time I saw what I wasn’t recognizing and was being lazy about in terms of building relationships and letting that be experienced in performance.   After my Fresh Tracks residency, I saw my duets with him as a sustainable practice, this thing that we would keep coming back to and learning from and building off of that was really shaping a process of doing.   For Juliette Mapp’s platform at Danspace Project, I made a duet for us and it was clear and easier in a way because it was just us and our language between us. So this time, I decided with all I know I should work with people again. I realize that I have that relationship with him that doesn’t require a lot of explaining, but by having other people in the process my language that I found so comfortable with Addys is even being more pointed and true to what I mean. I don’t always get to the point where I can fill in the gaps with other people. Im not saying I have successfully found a way of working with others that is just like how I work with Addys, but I see how I want to apporach people and how I want them to be invested in their own investigation. As soon as Addys and I made this duet section, it clarified for me what I needed from the work and what I wanted to get at and what I needed from the other performers. I tried to work at that bond with everyone else. I’m trying to find a unified practice of working with other people, where they find their own authority and authorship as I am finding mine. It’s been a lot of negotiating and taking my comfortable and emotionally charged relationship with Addys as a model of expectation for working with other  people. Just yesterday, I had this conversation with Jean Butler, who has a whole different training than anyone I’ve ever worked with.  Jean has this history of performing and delivering and being loved!  I found it extra hard talking with her about what I want in the studio. I can’t really tell you where to take responsibility and authority you just have to take it. Not the way it was to be with Tere O’Connor or with Irish step dancing, but just Jean Butler as a person.  I wanted a more fluid conversation between all these various performative lives of Jean.  It is a different kind of expectation level. It’s funny, I had never seen her dance, we met in RoseAnne’s Spradlin’s class and I was drawn to her sass, and of course her body.  I tell her all the time that when Im dancing I totally feel like I have a body like hers.   Im interested in Jean Butler and I think it has less and less to do with dance the more I get to know her.  I have come to rely on Molly Leiber’s sensibility for improvisatory investigation.  Molly has a lot of training and it shows, and she also has the experience for working in many different modes and processes as well as her own ways as a maker.   I have created moments for her to go wild, to be contained, for her body to make noise and for us to see her and she blows me away with the ease that she harnesses.  Caitlin Marz woke up one day with her veins throbbing, blood dripping from her lips and every time she moved it was as if she generated a fragrance in the air.  She really sunk into this and has been cultivating it more and more in very subtle ways every time We have run this work.  I see her satisfied by her body and the air around her and a sort of hunter quality comes over her.  I have learned a lot from working with these people.  I specifically thought about them, set this work on them, invited them to fill it.  That was maybe the clearest part of this process.

It is interesting to hear you talk about Addys as a dramaturg. Vanessa Anspaugh and I talked about that in relation to her work for Studio Series two weeks ago. Susan Mar Landau, her dramaturg, and I were talking about developing a symposium around dramaturgy in dance. We could use more dramaturgs in our field. People we trust who work with us on maintaining the integrity of our work, by challenging us but trusting us too. I think words are exciting. When you get a label, it can be  exciting if it fits. When I said to Addys “I think you’re my dramaturg, “He laughed. I often have a dual responsibility. I consider myself a performer of my work. When I perform it, I’m not even a slave to my rules. I’m doing research in my performance. We have dual things, dual aspects of research inside of that. And we’ve been talking to the other performers about their responsibilities of research. At one point Jean mentioned that she wasn’t even thinking about dance outside of rehearsals.  After that something clicked for her in the work.  It was more about shifting the process to thinking rather than pushing through the set movement and getting it right.  Dance is not just about coming to rehearsal and moving.  Addys and I are swamped by the work constantly, it takes over as a lifestyle, not a thing you can leave and come back to.   I will admit I’m a little power hungry and I love controlling the look of things, so I’m learning when to let go and when to trust other people. Just during the run yesterday, people were doing things that I hadn’t seen before. I was giggling and it was thrilling. I’m learning to let go of my grip of how precious it can all be.

How did Studio Series change things for you? I feel a shift. I don’t have concrete answers. I had a calf tear on my right leg and a calf pull on my left and having a real injury on my body has forced me to step out and step back and letting go of that strong hold. I think that this process and the expectations and lack of expectations with the series, let me focus on teaching a little bit. I’ve really considered – talking with Hilary Clark who I do pilates and strengthening with and talking to my physical therapist and people who have a practice of teaching as their job or alongside their job – how I use language to get to ideas and when I can deem language not relevant.  When do I say to just watch and learn it in your body. I ‘m learning where words work well and where they hinder. Something about teaching, language and how to pass information along is coming up from this process. And, also, I guess, it took longer to form the things I can call the dance – to get to the fluid order of things. I didn’t have this burning desire to put things together. I’m normally pretty rigid and want to see things as early as possible. It all just came together yesterday. And, I didn’t approach it like oh it’s just a studio series and I don’t have to push myself. It doesn’t feel less valued than a theater show, there’s more excitement about what is going on. Marya Wether’s response when she saw it yesterday was much more pointed to me than when she’s seen my more produced work. It’s been more generative of a conversation.

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