Anneke Hansen & Lydia Mokdessi

 Anneke Hansen‘s hymn was devised as a solo and performed by two women and five men on December 2-5 2015 at The Irondale Center. Anneke and I spoke about dance world family trees, the practice of applying attention, transcribing a solo onto multiple bodies, and the impossibility of abstraction.

Photo of Anneke Hansen by Matt Harvey

Photo of Anneke Hansen by Matt Harvey


Claudia LaRocco said in ArtForum that you “come from a strong New York tradition of nuanced movement.” What does that characterization mean to you? What “New York tradition” do you feel connected to?

I’m interested in our family trees as dancers and the kinds of influences that exist somatically. I was aware in my 20s of the fact that I was cultivating my participation in a tradition, in a lineage. Out of school I started working with Sara Rudner right away, and a little bit after with Russell Dumas and also spent time in close proximity to Susan Rethorst. I really had an experience of kinship with those three artists. Those three have great reverence for physical intelligence which includes a great appetite for detail and for work. That quote to me identifies those shared appetites that I trace back to Trisha and Twyla and Merce; that lineage gets layered in via these other people. Both Sara and Russell have a lot of interest in anatomy. My heritage and practice are very steeped in a fascination with physicality as expression of intelligence, with a sense of, “what if?” “Can I do that?” “Let me try.” It always leads to curiosity about what is possible physically, endurance, strength, but also nuance, expression, what meanings movement can hold. I have a soft spot for New York dance from the 70s. There is a way of working that is perpetuating those interests, those core values about how we spend time, what it means to commit, the importance of embodiment, a conduit to movement for the person who’s not performing.

That relates to something else I am curious about which is the language around this work; the title is hymn, the word “devotional” is used in press blurbs, you’re talking about work and labor… Can you talk about this religious / spiritual language and how that connects with labor? I am thinking about the way that visible effort is praised or valued by watchers of dance; it feels like we have this automatic reverence for work happening in front of us in an embodied way, maybe because that’s kind of unusual at this point in time, and I’m wondering if that’s present here for you.

Part of it is an affirmative of the undeniably physical nature of existence. We are animals, there is nothing pejorative about that, it is just a fact. That reverential response can come from…this culture we’re living in doesn’t particularly value the body, you’re meant to vacate yourself in as many ways as possible, sensation isn’t particularly valued, and what can happen with really good dance, if the performance is really highly embodied, is that it can open up a space in which the viewers get to return to their skin. That is really important to me as a value to strive for as a dance artist. Any big religious questions are kind of above my pay grade. My business is the dancing. But within that there is an opportunity; as you hone your craft and technical skills you can hone yourself as a being in the world. We have ways of practicing applying attention, and we don’t often have access to developing those skills in other ways with the same kind of clarity. I don’t want to pretend that being alive is not a big deal. I’m here, you’re here, our minds get to meet. I want to recognize that there’s some glory in that.

hymn was originally a solo and is now performed by you with Ezra Goh, Samuel Hanson, Belinda He, Russell Stuart Lilie, Austin Selden, and Chafin Seymour. I’m wondering how you did that. I have done that process myself, taking a completed solo and including other bodies, and have found that to be the most beastly way of making dance. I’m wondering how you think about that, why you did that, how that was possible for you.

Yes. I really hate doing solos, so it’s a peculiar choice. I actually think this is still a solo; a solo that has a total of seven people performing in it. I still have questions about how we exist and if we are actually all there. I don’t know if we’re all really there. There’s a stretchiness to the boundaries of space and time in my imagination of what’s happening here. When I decided to make this work evening length, I knew that I wanted to work with men and I was interested in exploring, after all of this intense work with women about how we are read as performers, as movers, particularly a lot of press language about my “femininity” and “sensuality” which I don’t have a problem with, but this question of, “is it me that they’re reading or are they reading the movement?” And what would that mean? Is there such a thing as female movement?

Photo of Austin Selden and Sam Hanson by Matt Harvey

Photo of Austin Selden and Sam Hanson by Matt Harvey


That gender stuff is something that stands out to me in how your work has been talked about; “manly” and “womanly” are descriptors that are floating around about hymn, and I know that these ideas are troubled or made complex in your process; but did you start with any agreed-upon characteristics or jumping off points that apply to manliness or womanliness?

I didn’t entertain the idea of making “manly” movement for very long because it seems like an uninteresting impossibility. To me, strength, effort, endurance are often associated with concepts of masculinity, in the dance world and beyond, and sensuality and sensitivity have been pegged as very female and determined to be our domain. So what does that look like; can men do this? Why don’t we consider the sensuality of men? What do I want for men and what do I want for women, for all people? I made this phrase that’s very signature Anneke in a particular way, movement from the pelvis, sequential movement of the limbs radiating from center, very voluptuous, and started bringing the men in and working with them on it which led to conversations about feminine movement. When we hear masculinity as it relates to movement, what we think of? I was more interested in their thoughts than my own. For men it was about effort, rigidity, athleticism. For women it was about hips, softness, breasts. So what was interesting to me early on was that my use of pelvis was kind of challenging initially for this group of really fantastic men. I don’t think there’s an anatomical imperative there that we’re coming up against. Men are not frequently having the same kind of intense sensation in their pelvises, they don’t menstruate, so that’s biological, but most of it is culturally not something that men experience to as great an extent. Our way of being in the world in some ways enforces our awareness of our pelvises. Men aren’t walking around aware that people are always watching their pelvises.

My last question has to do with this language about “constant abstract action juxtaposed with mercurial and poetic dancing.” Can you say more about those ideas and how you see them as at odds or in contrast?

That has to do with two particular roles in this piece; one person has a more or less metronomic role, there is a steadfastness, there is virtuosity in something that is incredible simple to watch, though not simple to do. It’s a quite simply abstracted action. I don’t believe that true abstraction is possible in dance so I don’t make much effort in that direction. But juxtaposed with the other dancing, particularly my own role, one performance is definitely encompassing a much broader palate, a more changeable stare; it’s less bordered.

Photo of Anneke Hansen by Matt Harvey

Photo of Anneke Hansen by Matt Harvey

DANCERS: Ezra Goh, Anneke Hansen, Samuel Hanson, Belinda He, Russell Stuart Lilie, Austin Selden, Chafin Seymour
DESIGN: Baille Younkman
PHOTOS + VIDEO: Matt Harvey

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