Photo by Peter Kerlin

Photo of Molly Lieber by Peter Kerlin

New York-based dancer/choreographer Anna Sperber presents The Superseded Third at The Chocolate Factory Theater this Wednesday, April 24 through May 4 (Wednesday-Saturday, 8pm). She performs with Molly Lieber in a work partially developed as one of Gibney Dance’s Dance in Progress (DiP) Resident Artists during the inaugural season of the program.

Anna has consistently taken a very open approach to making dances, and describes the process of this work as “instinctual, impulsive, and free-associative.” She had envisioned the work as a trio, but ended up working alone with Molly in July and never adding a third person.

“Molly and I started by improvising together, a way that I often start. I thought about it as getting to know each other in this new context. We did a lot of solo improvisations and I was really interested in each rehearsal being an intimate performance for each other.”

She has taken a more directorial role in her work for the past couple of years, relying on “a more compositional instinct.” This time she wanted to remain on the interior of the process, and the intimate, one-on-one practice she and Molly shared seemed to support that desire.

“I haven’t danced in my own work for a long time, and I was interested in being able to stay with my own dancing in a grounded way. In past works I’ve ended up stepping out a lot, making decisions from the outside, and I wanted to be inside of it more. It just felt right, and it felt good to be working together — it enabled me to focus on our dancing and I could remain inside and locate that.”

We talk about her decision to make a duet, and the associations that can come with that structure: “it’s funny…in the writing I did, I almost intentionally didn’t call it a duet, even though it is. It’s evolved for me, why there are two people. It’s not a narrative thing where there’s a drama between us, it’s more about an energetic thing. There is a different energy that is generated and pushed when there are two of us. There’s a lot of unison in the work and we played with doing it alone and together, seeing how the feeling of it shifts so much when it is together. It is a simple idea, maybe, kind of obvious, but it is a whole different experience when it becomes this other thing.”

The central idea of “the third” appears in multiple places in her thinking: “There are a lot of thirds: the third space between Molly and I, the different energy we each generate and the collective energy between us, and the space that’s created between us and the viewer, which is clearly felt in the structure of the space. There’s a lot of room for that idea to arise.” She talks about the influence of the performance space itself, describing it as surprisingly intimate despite its length: “I liked that feeling of a long expanse to be able to traverse and still be close to viewers. We can be in close proximity to the viewers but not feel constrained movement-wise…we still have a lot of freedom.”

The Superseded Third is not improvised, but she talks about open-ended rehearsal exercises related to responding to the space, improvised timed solos, and speaking while dancing. I ask her about the scores she started with and how they were eventually limited as set material entered in.

“We improvise a lot to create a dialogue and get a practice going, and then that informs the direction we take. Authentic movement is a really specific practice, but I start with something very loosely derived from that. I really like for everyone in the room to be inhabiting their dancing in a strong, really honest way, and it gives me a lot of information about who someone is as a dancer. Even though I may ultimately be giving movement that I generated, there are certain things I may see that I am interested in getting at with a dancer, and I see where people connect. It becomes a practice that we are familiar with and can just drop into. This time we also recorded a lot on video and learned verbatim what happened during an improvisation, which I hadn’t done much in the past.”

When asked about her physical practice, she describes her time in the studio as facilitating spontaneous and free decision-making: “I try to be really, fully warm, where my body is as open as possible to fulfill whatever impulses I have. I do a lot of editing and honing in that is really intuitive…that’s how I go from dancing to making choreography. That process runs parallel to other, larger ideas, and those factors converge once I am farther along.”

We talk about the experience of working together on a duet as a choreographer/dancer twosome, which is especially significant when the material is borne out of awareness of independent and combined energies. She describes how her thinking about those roles has evolved.

“As the work went on I began to realize that I really valued a dialogue between Molly and I, and that was able to happen more and more freely. In the beginning it was a little more delineated in how material was directed. Molly works with Eleanor [Smith] also, on collaborative duets, and this is a different process. But at the same time I realized that collaboration was part of my process too, even though the roles have been a little more defined. We became more able to talk about ideas together, and it has been a really rich and supportive process. For both of us there is a real value in dancing, and there is a lot of depth in the investigation of that. In a lot of ways the piece is really simple in the larger structure, but there are parts that are incredibly complex and challenging. It’s been interesting to think about those things existing together.”

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