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.