In 2014 Monkeyhouse interviewed many of the participants in the CoolNY Dance Festival, including Jordan Rosin of the Ume Group, who celebrates a birthday this month! Originally posted here on 01/28/2014.
By Nicole Harris
Our next interview in the CoolNY 2014 Dance Festival series is with Jordan Rosin of The Ume Group. You can see his work on Friday, February 7 at 9:00pm & Sunday, February 9 at 6:00pm. All performances are held at the WHITE WAVE John Ryan Theatre, 25 Jay St., Brooklyn, NY and are FREE! -Nicole.
N: Butoh is such a distinct movement style. How do you find it blends with the other movement styles you experiment with? Are there things that you struggle to meld due to the nature of Butoh?
JR: While from the outside eye it may appear that there is not much in common between butoh and some of the other physical disciplines we practice (like gymnastics or kung fu), there hasn't yet been a movement style we've hands-down failed to meld with Butoh. Mostly, I think this is because of the fact that we view Butoh more as a philosophy and as a physical / spiritual discipline than as a movement style in and of itself. There are certain characters and situations in drama where our most self-sacrificial Butoh practices may seem out of place in performance, but things like embracing the physical hardship of a choreography or offering our dance to the benefit of others can really only deepen the resonance of a given performance (in any style).
N: Your company, The Ume Group, is called a physical theatre company. Can you talk a bit about what that means and how it differs from dance or dance theatre?
JR: Primarily, our core ensemble has come from the world of theatre. All of us have trained in method-based acting and a realistic approach to telling stories onstage. The word "physical" comes in because we aim to train our bodies and to practice our art with the self-discipline and dedication characteristic of athletes or dancers. Every 2nd & 4th Tuesday for example, our core ensemble and community of followers join together in a free & open-to-the-public event known as "Open Training" where 3 teachers share 3 radically different approaches to training the physical body of a performer. I'm excited that in February we'll also begin our first weekly "Company Classes" which will focus (at least initially) on tightly goal-oriented training in gymnastics, yoga, and butoh for our most frequent performers. Many would say that the work we do is like dance, but not coming from that world myself, I wouldn't really know.
N: It looks like your work is a very intense and hands on. How do you find the people you work with? How much say do they have in the creation process?
JR: In the last year or so we instituted a physical training program known as the Training Ensemble, where for three months at a time one day each week a group of 6 artists gather to learn a variety of physical disciplines, create new work together, and practice their own skill as teachers. From this program - now in its third quarter - most of our principle dancers have emerged, including Marie Putko and Dave Herigstadwhom you will see perform when you join us at the CoolNY Festival on Feb. 7 and 9. In our first two years as a company, membership was all about participation in our flagship martial-arts / butoh-dance epic, BUTOH ELECTRA which we produced at numerous venues and for which casts of actors and actor/dancers selected from extensive rounds of auditioning trained and rehearsed for months at a time. That's how we met Yokko and Hannah Scott, who still teach and dance with us on a regular basis. Now we've begun - through the Training Ensemble - to develop a more formal, but still remarkably organic way of initiating new artists into our creative process. As far as that creative process is concerned, it is always truly varied and highly ensemble-based. As a "choreographer", I pick a few of the landmarks (sometimes themes, music, words; occasionally the body positions) which I think will render the most interesting or resonant journey for the artists to undergo in front of an audience and then I ask the artists to practice that journey, discovering their own landmarks with sometimes similar, sometimes different destinations. Their commitment to moment-to-moment honesty with themselves and with the universe around them is more important than any combination of poses or words, which I think of as part of that final destination.
N: People in the arts often develop strong mentor/mentee relationships. Did/do you have a mentor throughout your career? Do you have a person or people that you have taken the mentorship role for now that you're a more established artist? How do you feel those relationships change your work?
JR: Awesome question. I believe that mentor-ship is fantastically important. I was lucky enough when I was in acting school to have a teacher by the name of Steven Cross who truly pushed me to explore alternate ideas of what "theatre" could mean. As one of the school's two "movement" teachers in the acting program, he not only advised all of my directing work, but was also the first one to introduce me to the tools-of-the-body I use on a regular basis today... yogic asanas, whole-body listening, handstands (which are a fabulously useful trick for anyone to explore), and centering myself with breath. From these seeds I developed a whole variety of interests in disciplines as diverse as butoh and competition-style gymnastics, but perhaps more importantly, he helped me develop an awareness of my body as a playground and a temple, across which my spirit is thrilled to dance and play in new ways every day. That's what I aim to cultivate in the artists I mentor when I am blessed to teach in The Ume Group's workshops and Open Training sessions.
In celebration of Laura Neese's birthday here's the interview we did with her back in 2014
I have met some incredibly interesting people in the process of these interviews and Laura Neese doesn't disappoint! You can catch her work at the CoolNY 2014 Dance Festival on Friday, February 7th at 9:00pm & Sunday, February 9th at 6:00pm. All performances are held at the WHITE WAVE John Ryan Theatre, 25 Jay St., Brooklyn, NY and are FREE! -Nicole
N: The piece you'll be performing at the CoolNY Dance Festival involves "shoe-less" tap dancing combined with modern vocabulary. As both a modern and tap dancer myself I am always excited to see work that combines the two! I also saw that you have a background in Irish dance. Can you talk a little about ways you work to combine these backgrounds as you create new pieces?
LN: I find something inherently individually expressive about tap/percussive improvisation. If you ask me to just dance, I’ll spiral my torso and explore spine articulation like a good modern dancer, but my feet will probably start a nonmetred, illegitimate, un-time step… (something to do with the mixed up tap and Irish dance history in my training, and the natural inclination of people to tap their feet to music..)
I’ve noticed in processes and improvisations, (& on the ferry) that my feet really want to speak up. For this new work, I wanted to listen and explore this impulse as a part of my creative work.
Though it reads differently than the emotionality of shape, audio imagery – the mathematical logic or illogic of rhythm, spontaneity, and the way that reverberates in the body – I think can create an experience just as rich with feeling. Right now I’m experimenting to see how I can incorporate this part of me into my work.
My work with Darrah Carr Dance, and guest choreographer Sean Curran, has also been influential in opening me up to the possibility of combining elements of dance forms. Darrah’s work combines traditional Irish and contemporary modern dance, and Curran’s work for the company is always imbued with strong rhythmic sensibility.
We met at Dance New Amsterdam, actually. Without having previously known each other well, we started to make a dance -just to make one- which led to more dances, which snowballed into a regularly meeting company or “collective,” and bringing other dancers in along the way. It has been a remarkable baptism by fire.
We all contribute our resources and talents to make it possible to offer each other not only consistent involvement in a rehearsal process as a performer, but also the opportunity to explore choreographic ideas with a company of supportive bodies. We pass the choreographic baton in rotation, and capitalize on our individual skills to keep the organization going- hence our nifty titles… though we each may do a little bit of everything.
Claire (our “master schedule machine,” and an arts administrator in her other life) is one of the most detail-oriented people I’ve ever met; Joanna (“mathematician,” our financial manager) has a gift for data and numbers – and a math degree. Katie (“body whisperer”) is a Pilates instructor with remarkable knowledge of the body and intelligent recommendations for various dancerly ailments- a gem in rehearsal. As “wordsmith” I write and edit text for company use… I’m somewhat fastidious about apostrophes.
I’m very grateful for the opportunity to work with these remarkable women and for their having fallen into my life, (or I into theirs?)
N: We had a very brief conversation about the insular-ness of many dance communities. While struggling to acquire very limited resources it's easy to take on a "me against the world" attitude. What are some ways that you have tried to fight against that mentality for yourself and those around you? What do you see as the benefits of creating a broader, more communicative and sharing dance community?
LN: KitchenSink definitely helps ameliorate some of the “me against the world” feelings… though as an outer borough dwelling artist (of that obscure, “pretentious,” modern dance kind of art) the issue can become quite pernicious. However even in Staten Island, the borough most underserved in arts education and venues, I have found a resilient though somewhat fragmented arts community. Knocking on doors, finding out about and participating in creative events (especially those that bleed outside of your own discipline) I have found to be invaluable in a) meeting new, interesting people, with new, interesting perspectives, b) leading to new opportunities, c) finding people really do appreciate your strange art form if they have a reason and chance to see it. d) new reasons to share what you do with other people and to help people share what they do…. And it keeps going.
Diving into explorations of other arts- taking workshops in different things- helps me to recognize the continuity of the creative process across mediums, recognize strengths and weaknesses of different modes of working, and to remember to not take myself too seriously (though to take the craft seriously).
Some of my most interesting dance related experiences as a performer, choreographer, and otherwise creative conspirator have occurred in non-traditional dance settings: collaborating with musicians, filmmakers, theatre practitioners, photographers, and “normal” community members.
I believe it is important to not only keep dialogues going within the dance community, but also to extend the invitation beyond the dance regulars. Face it, we get esoteric, we get stuffy, we get into patterns of what is “in” and “isn’t.” We get stuck in ruts. And we get frustrated when no one shows up.
If we individually want to improve our art making – and stay interested & interesting - I believe it is vital to experience many other kinds of art as a spectator or participant. (Maybe art is painting, or storytelling, or a craft, or acting, teaching, computer programming?)
If we, individually, invite other people who would or could be interested in dance -if they were exposed to it- into the conversation, would the field not be richer indeed?
Now as an educator myself I function as a mentor at times for specific dance students, (and academic tutees). For these individuals, I usually find myself acting as a confidence coach. Whether they are performing on stage or on an exam I recognize that students need to find the desire and determination within themselves to put in the necessary work, and then trust their own abilities to do it. This sort of consistent engagement with students is a reminder to appreciate process in general.