10 Minutes with Levi Gonzalez

This weekend, Levi Gonzales premiers his first completed work in 4 years at Brooklyn Arts Exchange.  The result of a year-long BAX Artist Residency, “Intimacy” is a solo performance that uses text, meditation and movement and was developed in collaboration with dramaturg Susan Mar Landau. I spoke with him briefly this morning.

I read in your recent Brooklyn Eagle interview that there were substantial financial issues, in addition to your artistic interest that fed the choice to make solo work. Can you talk a bit more about that? It was partly financial. I am still in debt from clusterfuck in 2007. I’ve been thinking about how to create a working process where I don’t compromise because of money and I’m working within my means. I don’t want to completely llimit myself to money, but keeping things within the realm of where resources are available without forcing myself to do less was an interesting challenge. Doing a solo seemed like it would be great with this residency. I didn’t have to worry about paying many people and I could just dig in. The way I make material is something I wanted to focus on. The role of being a director is more complicated than focusing on what it is about dance that I’m interested in. Also, knowing that I will soon be doing a group piece soon gave me permission to do a solo.

I’m interested in your use of meditation in the work. I recently wrote about watching performance as a meditative practice in response to Andy’s ‘watching performance as a spiritual act’ which was a response to Claudia LaRocco’s inspiring piece in the Brooklyn Rail about consciousness. The meditation that I’m doing is partially out of personal need. I’ve been very interested in Buddhism in the past year. It’s been a rough couple years in personal and artistic ways. I had one foot in dance and one foot out. I’ve been reconnecting to enjoying dance as a way of life. So, it’s been a hard couple years and meditation has been what has helped me. I’ve been secular about it while also studying it and reading. Because it was a practice I was already actively engaged in, I thought I’d see what I would do in the studio with it. It also anchored the solo practice. With solo work, I could get lost in confusion and insecurity, but instead it anchored my process, so that every rehearsal that began with seated meditation and movement improvisation. It was a little container that allowed me to build a practice of being in the studio and not just have that time about creating material. I kind of do meditation in the work. The whole experience for me in meditation has been about canceling out extra noise or my defenses or things that complicate or obscure. The structure of this piece has paralleled that in ways that allow me to take out elements of craft or production, to reduce it to something more direct, simple, clear, less complicated. That has in the last few months of the process been my guiding principle in uncovering the piece. The meditation practice I study is Shambhala. You sit with your eyes open and whenever your mind wanders you say  to yourself ‘thinking’ and saying that puts it in a container with the goal to do that without being upset with yourself. Even getting to the word ‘thinking’ is amazing. You can get so lost in your thoughts. In this work, people who have seen the showings catch this idea that there is this relationship between the effort to be present and the way we construct language or thoughts to avoid that; that the differences between talking about dancing and then, physically dancing are in some ways parallel to this meditative practice. Sometimes the thinking about it is the doing and sometimes the doing explodes the thinking about it. I’m trying to deal with the relationship between the two and working with text. It’s hard to work with text, it’s scary. It’s one of my biggest anxieties. I keep changing the text even today.

How are you relating the solo form itself? The piece is so much about performing and my personal relationship to dance. So the solo is perfect because I can’t hide behind craft and what I’ve learned is that that is what keeps getting distilled or removed. Anything that feels like traditional choreographic craft ends up feeling too calculated or removed. I started with ‘how do I arrive at form with dance.’ How can I manifest my interest in movement and the body, in presence, into form. Whenever I try to make movement I’ve been frustrated and end up cutting it mostly. Your most traditional idea of choreography tends to be what I remove from the work. Rather than define the shape and figure out how to perform it, I’m alone and figuring it out as I do it. I’m committed to making something that is more than just me and my steps. Also, by making a solo for myself, I don’t need to negotiate parameters with someone else.  I do have a dramaturg. When I have to communicate with Susan it makes it more concerte than when I’m just with myself and with her, she reminds me to be responsible to the ideas I’ve put out there, that I’ve spoken.

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