Five Questions with slowdanger
slowdanger is a performance duo from Pittsburgh. They are Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, who speak their minds both alone and together. We talk about the queerness of being a multidisciplinary artist and the influence of technology on dance work, among much more.
Their collaboration with MICHIYAYA dance, titled fôr, will premiere at CPR-Center for Performance Research on December 2nd and 3rd at 7:30 both evenings (tickets $15).
- I met Anna at a dance workshop a couple years ago when I was spending my summer in Pittsburgh. I remember her putting my dance skills to absolute shame. Shortly after, I took an improvisational workshop from you both, but I’ve only ever experienced your work in a classroom or workshop setting. What are your philosophies on training, and how do they feed your personal work together?
Anna Thompson: Ah that hazy memory! It was one of those meetings where I was like, ‘Do I know you?’ I think you had shown up in my ‘People You May Know’ section. Training and teaching are integral tools for our creative and mental processing. In a classroom space I am focused and open, allowing for newness to come in but not asking for it specifically. I like to think of that mind space, whether rehearsing a predetermined sequence or an improvisational score, as the perfect point of entry into process. Being in class is similar to meditation for me, and it’s a way for me to process non-verbally. Plus, being in groups working together helps us connect the dots. Our minds and thoughts resonate subconsciously together.
Taylor Knight: I wish I had been in that workshop! I’m now thankful for the intense conservatory training I got in my late teens and early twenties. It gave me an understanding and excitement about finding rigor and fatigue in the body. As I neared graduation, I began training in improvisational and somatic methodologies. Those new styles, in addition to presenting my own work, made me want to reject conservatory training and deprogram my mind. However, I also view my training as a support system for my risk taking now. I desired to create another language by developing a personal practice that rendered my internal emotional state visible to the outside. This was new. I had spent the eighteen years prior taking class and learning choreography from others. Committing to my own performance and creative practice, and eventually to my own teaching practice, gave me time to explore the nuances of my own body. Through improvisation I was no longer trying to fit into a mold. I was creating my own. When I started working heavily with Anna, we began to develop a trust and shared language that is pure, magical, and breathes life into me.
- Under the moniker “slowdanger” you make music, dance work, and showcase visuals. During a given set, you alternate turns dancing on the floor and vocalizing from behind the DJ table. What are your tactics for building your work in an interdisciplinary way?
TK: We have always connected to sound as an atmosphere or landscape that makes the world for the performance. When we started being asked us to perform on music bills, we began to create ‘sets’ that now have a large repertoire of song and movement pairings. These live music sets are rooted in concept and emotional landscape. We take the shape of many containers but remain tethered to the authenticity inside us. Movement is at the core of everything we do; it’s what we have spent the majority of our lives studying, but developing music together has fed our process in a large way.
AT: Yeah, now it feels like sound is an extension of our bodies. It is the frequency that allows the witness to vibrate with us. I am fascinated by how our bodies feel sound before our brains perceive it. Our tactics for building are very fluid. I often feel we are housing multiple brains, allowing one to come forward at a given time. For example, my analytical brain and my subconscious mind can’t speak at the same time, yet they both inform and enrich the process. Often, we use sound as an anchor to time and story. When finding words, I repurpose old songs (Broadway and jazz standards), books about mythology, or free associate with my personal journal entries and poems. We see the structure of music through dance and its many styles: both art forms are inescapably referential and are a framework for energy to fill.
- How do you feel the landscape is changing for interdisciplinary artists? And, how does slowdanger navigate the art world as a performance duo that defies genre?
AT: The future is intersectional, non-binary and multidisciplinary. Specialization in form can be very limiting. Where do you go after you have pushed yourself to the brink of your container? I enjoy looking at work more holistically. The work I’ve seen that achieves this always feels like an artist has broken open a portal for their audience to step into. People still ask us if we’re a dance company or a band. While we’re still finding the words for what we are and do, when our work is felt I hope it speaks for itself.
TK: The societal norms and mainstream sensibilities about performance have kept the audience and performer separate. We see importance in minimizing that separation. We think movement has the power to heal and educate. Our work begs the observer to sense their own embodiment and presence in a space.
- Technology seems integral to the audiovisual elements of what you make. Yet, your dance work is so corporeally felt and rooted in flesh. How does slowdanger’s work untangle the relationship between the sterility of technology and the visceral living body?
AT/TK: The body is our greatest piece of technology. It is still, and perhaps will always be, in the process of being fully understood. That being said, we firmly believe that technology can and should be used to deepen and enhance embodiment and ontological study. It should not try to simulate human experience, but instead enhance and deepen it. We still have hope that such a thing is possible. We are becoming aware that we can use technology to be more inclusive with our work. For example, technology can provide space for people who are not neurotypical to feel and interpret our work. We have been exploring using virtual reality as a performance tool in combination with our years of teaching movement to non-traditional movers.
- What do you want audiences to know going into “fôr,” your upcoming collaboration with MICHIYAYA dance?
AT/TK: We want observers to consider the notion that everything is in a constant state of decay and change. Nothing is complete or final. We want to invite the audience into our world, and ask them to release expectation. The collaborative initiative with MICHIYAYA was started because all of us are questioning how we can build more bridges between metropolitan communities through collaborative exchange. We are living in a digital world that is constantly connected. We translate that interconnectivity through projects that allow us to share our communities with each other through performance and process.