Kimberly Bartosik’s “You are my heat and glare” @ NYLA

I spoke with choreographer Kimberly Bartosik while she was enjoying an enviable reprieve from the polar vortex while working as a Guest Artist-in-Residence at Arizona State University in Tucson. Her newest work You are my heat and glare, a piece for body, light, and voice, opens at NYLA this Wednesday and runs through Saturday.

She considers her work to be primarily “idea bred and based”, saying, “I have an idea first and it has to go to my body for a long time before I can understand what it is. I don’t think about creating movement as much as physicalizing an idea.”

She also has a strong connection to language as an initial impulse for her work, manifesting in a string of literarily-derived titles (quotes from Luce Irigary, Faulkner, Milosz, Baudrillard, newspaper reviews, etc.).

The development period for You are my heat and glare has been something of a departure from past processes. She began working in December 2011, which she describes as a “difficult moment.”

“I wasn’t burnt out creatively but felt turned inside out by all of the administrative / business / grant-writing things that go along with being an independent choreographer. I knew that the only way out of a pretty significant post-show depression was to work on something new, and I decided to follow where my body and emotions were instead of worrying about when and where I would present it, securing funding, etc.”

Working with lighting designer / longtime collaborator (and spouse) Roderick Murray, she began to make “something completely non-hierarchical; an intimate conversation between light and body.” With an expectations-free beginning came “the sense that nothing is connected to anything — a powerful freedom.”

The basis of their early process of discovery was “if we think about a pure approach to our forms, what can we do?” Figuring out how to deal with each other as peer collaborators took time; they’ve shared several versions of the work over the last two years (notably at BEAT Festival and Festival Rencontres Internationales Seine-Sans Denis), but “everything until now has been about sharing with the public, about really interesting experiments. It feels like a premier now. I think this is the first piece of mine that will have realized it’s full life by the time we’re done at NYLA.”

I ask her about the subject matter alluded to in press materials, especially “intimacy,” “death,” and “violence.” She shares that the impetus came from Ann Carson‘s poetic essay “The Anthropology of Water”, dealing with “emotional and time-based journeys” in three male / female relationships, around which she based her structure.

“There’s a fine line between desire and violence. If I take apart my duet with Rick: we are married, we have a child, we have a personal history, we have a very complicated life. You never just love somebody. There are a lot of emotions in love and some of the emotions are not good ones. When you raise a kid with someone you see some parts of them that you want to kill but of course you never would…it’s about being with someone for a long time and really seeing them. Our duet for light and body is him seeing me in a lot of different ways…some very uncomfortable, some more aestheticizing.”

She considers the second duet (between Marc Mann and Joanna Kotze) to be “sort of the core of the work.” It is defined by Carson’s line, “what are we made of but hunger and rage?” and presents another version of intimacy: “I was thinking a lot about race and gender and conflations about desire and violence when you put black and white and male and female together. I wanted to see black man / white woman, just to see those bodies, and to cover and uncover them in different ways. I was playing with ‘how much can you get rid of your self, race, gender, identity,’ so we had these sort of hoodies, and then Trayvon Martin was killed and it became this cultural icon — I thought ‘no I can’t do this.’ But I was trying to follow this impulse, trying not to censor myself, so I followed it but became very conscious of how I was using that. I am most scared to share this section; usually my work is very aestheticized, but this is very, very emotional — I wanted to be able to explore things that are important to me.”

The third duet is between vocalists Gelsey Bell and Dave Ruder, “bringing some light and air into the space, a sense of beauty and a relief from the darkness.” I ask her about the process of making a duet for vocalists — where did she locate herself in that process as a choreographer? She told me about being able to unabashedly love Bell and Ruder’s work because she wasn’t looking at it critically like she does her own: “hearing their first song was so exciting because it’s a craft I don’t know much about. It’s just this beautiful thing I can admire. Dealing with their physical presence, who they are as performers, has been a very challenging process, because I’m not looking to choreograph them or transform them but considering the possibility to imagine sound as movement. I did a Robert Ashley experimental opera at The Kitchen with Gelsey and Dave and it was something I was so fascinated with but just did not understand. I thought, “what if I could make a piece where sound was movement?” so I’m really thinking about them in that way. They spent a lot of time moving in the dark, where the presence of the body is there but it’s a very ephemeral presence, more about presence of sound. I don’t have vocabulary for their craft so I know that I’ve said some things that offended them completely without knowing because I just don’t know how to talk about sound and music! They’ve been very patient and have taught me a lot.”

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I’m curious about her process of transferring a non-physical seed of an idea into the body; how can she consume something verbal or visual as the initial impulse and end up with a dance? Her answer starts with Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr. “He completely blew my mind. I’ve referred to him quite a lot. The way I see space, bodies, perspectives refers a lot to film. I see space as something that has dimension. To me, movement is meaningless; it could be anything. It takes me a long time to find physical language for what I’m thinking about. I have to understand the context, the space and time of it first. The body is the center of my work but what the body is actually doing comes later. There’s the step of connecting to something through physical research, then there’s taking it out of my body and putting it into someone else’s body, another step of transference. It’s a frustration for me; I am definitely a dancer, but dance is not the thing that comes first.”

I ask her about how the choreographic vocabulary came to be what it is now from its transference from language to an idea to her body to their bodies. “Marc and I have a long history and an extremely trusting relationship,” she answers. “We were working on some improvs about violent gestures and we suddenly understood something about energetic impulse that was completely non-verbal. We brought Joanna in who was incredibly insightful; once she was with Marc she figured it out. It was really through her body that their duet came to be.”

In writing about a work comprised of three mixed gender relationships she refers to her own body as “my female body” — I wonder how the idea of what bodies signal began to drive her thinking. “Gender was there from the start. In graduate school I starting thinking about how there might be things about my female body that these male choreographers [Merce Cunningham and Wally Cardona] couldn’t understand, and learned when I finally started to make work that there was a lot in my body that nobody had ever asked me to do before. The impulse about communication between sexes came from having a kid in 2006… I always thought that Rick and I understood each other so well, knew everything about each other, and having a kid made us realize how different we were. It changed everything; how we saw each other, the roles we were playing…suddenly we had no idea how to communicate. My work started to become more about things that were happening in the world, and I started thinking in a more real-world way about race and gender, which led to this project and away from working purely formally…which is good because I have a really hard time with movement! I’m not going to make not idea-based work anyway so I may as well figure out a different process and my identity in this choreographic world.”

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