APAP 2012 Showcase: Dan Safer on Witness Relocation’s “Small Incision…”

Heather Anderson in "Small Incision" at the Bushwick Starr (2010), photo by Shameel Arafin

Witness Relocation, the dance theater company led by Dan Safer, is a perennial favorite on the downtown scene. This January, they’re reprising I’m Going to Make a Small Incision Behind Your Ear to Check and See If You’re Actually Human, which debuted in 2010 at the Bushwick Starr (see here for our review), at DNA for two weekends (Jan. 5-6 and 12-14; tickets $17). The show is a series of vignettes including music, dance, games, and scenes from the sci-fi show V (from which the work takes its title), where the order is determined through a lottery at the beginning. Director/choreographer Dan Safer recently responded to questions via email.

What was the process of generating the material like? You use movement, text, music (if I recall correctly)–how did you try to balance these diverse creative processes with ensuring that in the end, it still formed a singular piece?

A lot of this piece comes from techniques we’ve been working on for a few years–task based and endurance based games, and methods of getting people to really do things on stage, as opposed to act like they’re doing things. All of the sections of the show could be construed as “Learn To Be Human: 101 Lessons for an Invading Alien Race”–the unifying theme stems from that idea, how could they all be hypothetically utilized to do that (with varying degrees of absurdism).

How improvisational or chance-based are the scenes themselves?

The scenes with dialogue from the TV show V are always with the same people. The choreographed “dance numbers” are set. Besides that, everything is up to the performers. We’ve developed a technique called “co-opetition” (I think Kourtney Rutherord came up with the name), where you fight to do the scenes you want to do when they come up, but don’t hog it all. Basically, nobody knows who is doing what until each scene is starting–whoever gets up there does it. It’s an orchestrated catastrophe.

Having already performed a run of the show, what surprised you about it? Were there any orderings that seemed to work better or worse? Any particular performance that revealed something to you that you hadn’t expected?

I love it when the curtain call is really early in the show; conversely, we had a run once where the final scene was “Curtain Call”, so we did that, then the show ended, and we did the actual curtain call. A centerpiece of the show is an extended scene called “Faster/ Slower” that is a development of a game from This Ring of Fire, a duet I co-created and performed with Ishmael Huston-Jones. That scene almost always goes really deep and exposes the performers in a fantastic, hysterical, disturbing way. I like when that scene happens towards the middle of the show.

Will there be any substantial differences between this run and the original at the Bushwick Starr?

We’ve added a scene, revamped some scenes, reworked some of the scenes from V. The show is constantly evolving every time we do it, so as we learn more, it keeps getting sharper/darker/funnier.

Witness Relocation tends to be a very busy company, and I know you work with others. What’s next for you/Witness Relo?

I’m teaching at NYU and Princeton in the Spring, choreographing Alec Duffy’s show at Incubator, and WR is working up to the next show Chuck Mee has written for us (at La MaMa in April 2013). Plus, I’m choreographing The Rite of Spring for the Philadelphia Orchestra with Ridge Theater in Feb of 2013. And a few other projects are bubbling up…

For more on Witness Relocation, see our reviews of Vicious Dogs in Summer (2008), Haggadah (2009), Five Days in March (2010) and Heaven on Earth (2011). For all our coverage of events related to APAP 2012, see here.

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