Week 1 of Momentum: New Dance Works Festival 2017 is July 13-15. We talked with the companies presenting works in Week 1 about their development process and what links and separates their pieces. This interview features LA-based sound poet Tom Comitta; Billy Mullaney and Emily Gastineau of Fire Drill; and Deja Stowers, Founder and Artistic Director of BLAQ.
The Momentum artists worked on their projects for just over a year’s time. What has the long development process enabled you to do that you otherwise would not be able to?
Tom Comitta: I’m the librettist and lead vocalist of Bill: The Musikill. In 2012, I started to write sound poems and music for this piece that were separate pieces that then came together in some kind of narrative that’s set in the future. But then, Fire Drill came to town and we by chance performed together. They had an idea of an exhaustion musical that they wanted to work on. My idea of a futuristic capitalistic nightmare and their exhaustion musical seemed to go well together and of course the ideas developed. That was about two years ago.
Billy Mullaney: Tom mentioned that Fire Drill came to town. That town was San Francisco, and Tom’s currently based in LA. This time has allowed us to have a collaboration across the country and develop work with our cast. And then Tom would come in for a very intense week or so and then go off and we would work on our separate parts and we would not have been able to do that without the time.
Deja Stowers: The time allowed BLAQ to procrastinate, which is a great thing because there’s constant realizations along the way. It’s like working on a really big paper for a long time: it doesn’t really work out — for me. I’ve got to do a little of this, a little of that. I might get up and make some noodles and do other stuff. So the time allowed me to fully develop the concept and to workshop and develop the work without even knowing I was workshopping and developing the work.
Darrius Strong: I loved it because it gave me time to actually connect with my cast more. We were already friends jumping into this space, but how do we see each other as artists, and how do I play the role of artistic director? That’s something I’ve been working on in this space, is how do I give voice to my dancers; to my artists I’m working with. Having us go back and edit the work and having conversations about the work and really trying to understand the depth of the work — I feel like the time given to us made that possible.
Dolo McComb: We started working loosely in November-December of last year. Just having that amount of time has allowed for a lot of exploration and a lot of time for throwaway and a lot of time for playing around and a lot of divergences. In the last couple of months things have started coalescing more and probably will continue to take shape.
How do all of the Momentum pieces complement and differ from one another? What unites the companies aesthetically and what is unique to each of you?
Deja Stowers: I think that it’s very opposite as far as exhaustion. Fire Drill’s exhaustion is like, “you have to do this so many times,” and our exhaustion is like, “I cannot contain myself, this is my song, so I’m going to do it until I can’t breathe.” And then the relationship to the observers. I think Fire Drill is really frontal: “This is for you, what do you think?” And BLAQ is more like, “it’s not for you, it’s for us, and join if you want to, and if you don’t, that’s cool, too.” So our relationships to observers are different.
How we take the space too is very different. BLAQ takes a circular, cyclical approach. //CATHEDRAL\\ has all these different shapes with this red cloth and Fire Drill has a “wall of performance” and STRONGmovement has really strong lines. So I think the ways we approach the space, the “stage,” are very different, but they complement each other well.
Emily Gastineau: They’re almost opposite strategies to related problems of how to deal with theatricality and the constraints of that space and those conventions. For Tom, we went straight into that; the piece is totally frontal and Deja’s work is not using that frame at all. So I feel like they pull on each other.
Darrius Strong: All the work explores this perspective of humanity and where we come from. Thinking about //CATHEDRAL\\’s work, we’ve been noticing the storytelling and how that overlaps. I think both of our pieces are going to be powerful. In a sense, we’re telling stories, but have different approaches on how to do that.
How do you hope people will feel leaving after this experience of two groups sharing an evening?
Emily Gastineau: I think that our evening, in its range, can leave people with an expanded concept of what performance is and can do with really wildly divergent approaches. The form of performance can hold all of that at the same time, and more.
Deja Stowers: I hope people learn about themselves. How they experience joy, how they view joy, how they react to joy. I just want them to learn. I want them to be more introspective rather than placing whatever they’ve got going on in their heads onto the performers or artists or people onstage. I also, specifically for BLAQ, want people to do and then reflect later. Like, “why is the back of my shirt wet? I danced for 30 minutes.”
Just really put yourself out there and don’t box yourself in as an audience member. Really be engaged, really be here. There’s so much stuff going on in this round of Momentum that there’s no way you can just be here. It’s so crazy to just do this. So I just want people to learn more about themselves.
Dolo McComb: I’m sharing an evening with Darrius, and in a lot of ways, I’ve had this thought that Darrius and I are, if not telling the same story, exploring a lot of the same themes. I think there’s something potentially powerful in just looking at how the same story can be told and how different that looks and feels and how different that makes you feel.
Darrius Strong: I’m really hoping that people come to the show in hopes to meet someone new; to see work they might not have stepped out of the house to see. They may be coming for my company or //CATHEDRAL\\, but regardless they want to see both of the works, and how they complement each other. I think that’s very powerful, just thinking about different perspectives and how you understand that; how you have the patience to sit back and hear someone’s voice. I really hope that we can make a stronger community. We have an opportunity here to combine communities.
Photo: Dolo McComb (//CATHEDRAL\\, Week 2), Darrius Strong (STRONGmovement, Week 2), Deja Stowers (BLAQ Week 1), Billy Mullaney and Emily Gastineau (Fire Drill, Week 1). Photo courtesy of Walker Art Center, by Gene Pittman.