Benjamin Levy’s modern dance company LEVYdance comes to Z Space this weekend with its 2010 home season, featuring his interactive duet Everyone Intimate Alone Visibly. Levy’s earned tons of recognition since he founded his company in 2002; he’s been named a “Top 25 Choreographers to Watch” in 2005, won a Goldie for Outstanding Artistic Achievement, and received an Emerging Choreographer Award from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation. Levy’s most recent dance piece is described as “an exploration of instant-access communications as both moderator and interference in human connectivity” and includes contributions by new media artist Mary Franck, composer Jeremy Zuckerman, writer Lucy Corin, and lighting designer Lucas Krech.
What: LEVYdancePresents: Everyone Intimate Alone Visibly
Where: Z Space at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St., San Francisco
When: Thursday-Saturday, April 1-3, 8PM
Tickets: $20-50; online or in-person night of the show
Everything is an interactive performance, using cameras to create “hot zones,” triggering “the projection of animations, video, and lighting effects that respond to the choreography and audience in real time.” And it rightly investigates just that–interactions. For example, how much of “us” is out there in the ether? What does knowing what someone’s eaten for lunch for the past eight weeks coupled with some association of likes and dislikes mean? How do we make connections with others that go beyond general factoids? And deep down, what does community really mean? During Everything, audience members will be moving and walking through the space, and while there may be some sitting, you, too, will be a part of the show (see below for details regarding a contact for requesting accommodations for elderly or disabled audience members).
Yearning for a taste of what LEVYdance is all about, I shared an email exchange with Aline Wachsmuth, a company dancer and one of two dancers in Everything (the other being Levy himself).
Not only was I psyched to talk with someone named Aline (I have a very distant cousin named Aline, my great grandmother was named Aline, and I’m named after her: my middle name is Aline. Perhaps “Aline” will one day make a comeback…), but I thought back to a few years ago when, in an in-depth SPARK feature, Levy said, “For me, the dance and the choreography and the movement are just a vessel. It’s a really fantastic, subversive way to get a captive audience and really create honest alchemy on stage.” Honestly, I felt giddy about speaking with a dancer about Levy’s creative experience and their collaboration together.
Becca Hirschman: Tell me about your dance background.
Aline Wachsmuth: I began dancing (like many little girls) at the age of 3. I trained at Ballet Florida and Palm Beach Ballet Center, in addition to participating in my school’s performing arts events. I attended various ballet summer programs around the country including Virginia School of the Arts, Vail International Dance Festival, and Ballet Austin. My major growth spurt as an artist happened while studying dance at Florida State University. I was able to immerse myself in the dance world physically, educationally, and emotionally. It was a time of true exploration. After graduating, I moved to San Francisco, and have been continuing my training taking classes and workshops around the city.
I’ll admit that I checked out your bio on the LEVYdance website (no, this is not Google stalking), and it says that you were first exposed to LEVYdance through the choreographers center at Florida State University.
Initially, Ben Levy came to my university as a choreographic fellow for the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography. He invited some of the dancers from the department to work with him in his creative process. Although I was a bit intimidated at first, I fearlessly threw myself into as many rehearsals as I could with him. We worked for up to five hours a day together for two weeks! By the end of our time together, we had developed a real friendship and artistic relationship. We stayed in touch for the following two years I had left of university.
So what brought you to San Francisco?
Ben Levy! He invited me to come out to SF to meet the company and join in on the rehearsal process for two weeks in May of 2008. After two weeks of hard work and play, Ben and the dancers welcomed me to the LEVYdance family with open arms. Everything seemed to effortlessly fall into place.
Now the vaguest question ever: what’s it like being a dancer with the company?
We bring our real life experiences into the art making process. I love being called company artist because it shares the extent of our creative collaboration. Ben and I have a really honest working relationship, so whatever we bring into the space gets used. Oftentimes it is surprising how much that stuff can be translated and worked out through movement. It makes the work emotionally dense and personal for us, allowing us to share what’s true in our own lives with people who watch. Being a dancer in this particular company has given me room for growth as a mover, a choreographer, a dance viewer, and a person. I’m really grateful to have such an amazing collaborative relationship with Ben.
What’s the creative process with Ben like, particularly with Everyone Intimate Alone Visibly?
The earliest stages of the creative process began with open ended questions about technologically advanced forms of communication (email/Facebook/MySpace/etc). We explored how feelings of watching or being watched could manifest themselves physically. How could our bodies portray the linear and systematic aspects of technology, and the opposing organic qualities of movement found in nature? As we dug deeper into these questions, more questions came up: topics of loss, change, uprootedness.
Because there are only two of us in the piece, the process was extremely intimate and collaborative.
And as audience members are a part of the performance experience, does this mean that each performance is unique? What remains the same from night to night?
We never know how each audience member is going to react. Some people embrace the shared human experience of audience and performer, while others choose to hold onto the unspoken rules of “appropriate theater behavior.”
The only constant in this experiment is the stage space. Although the movement map is set, the interpretation of it changes depending on where people are standing in the space, how we use their emotional reactions, and how we use what’s true for us in each moment. Even the projections are triggered by live movement in the space by both the audience members and the performers.
LEVYdance does tours and such, and you’ve also spent time in Europe on via FSU’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Award where you investigated the development of contemporary dance before and after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Have you had a favorite tour or place to perform? Or perhaps a place that’s significantly inspired your personal creativity?
LEVYdance had its home season outdoors last year. We built three custom stages that we set up in the alley outside of our studio. Audience members were sipping on hot cocoa and mulled wine in a pillow pit in front of the stage while we danced under the stars. It was unbelievably exciting and inspiring to bring our art out of the proscenium box into the open space of our daily lives.
Everyone Intimate Alone Visibly has heightened my performance experience more than any other piece. It offers me the opportunity to share personal space with the audience members, and challenges my choreographic choices within the map Ben has created for us. Having people in the space with us, reacting differently in each performance, brings a new level of freshness and immediacy to the work.
Besides LEVYdance, how else are you involved in the local dance scene (or perhaps you’re not, which is absolutely, totally fine!)?
LEVYdance is my main committment, and whatever time I have outside of that I try to find other things to do that keep me moving, exploring, and asking questions about dance. I’m a member of Michelle Fletcher’s Here Now Dance Collective, and occasionally work with Alex Ketley’s company, the Foundry.
I also try to see as much dance as I can afford. It helps me keep a broad perspective on the field I am so deeply invested in. It’s easy to get lost in one’s own artistic process, so it feels important for me to see other work. It also helps me articulate thoughts about things that spark my interest, or not.
Is dancing with LEVYdance your day and night job?
Yes. I was working at lululemon athletica for a while when I first moved here, but then decided I needed to pursue something with more depth. I just recently received my certification as a massage therapist and health educator from the National Holistic Institute. I am planning on going to the Rolf Institute to continue my education towards become a certified Rolf Practitioner. I have always been drawn towards bodywork, and it seems to be a perfect complimentary career to being a dancer. Studying the body has greatly influenced the way I approach and experience movement. I am looking forward to fine tuning those skills as my career unfolds.
[In an email back to me, Aline added:]
After rereading [our emails regarding the creative process and the uniqueness of each performance]… These answers feel choppy/fragmented and incomplete. Its hard to convey the experience as a whole because the process was just about following our intuition. One thing led us to the next. Putting something so expansive into words is exactly one of the challenges we looked at—how can we translate a visceral sensation into an email?
I think you did a fantastic job of putting your experience with LEVYdance into words. Many, many thanks. [And I have to add that there’s some sort of irony lingering in the fact that we did this exchange via email.]
Note: This performance is interactive, and the audience will be moving and walking through the space. Audience members will not be seated for the entire show. Accommodations can be made for elderly or disabled audience members by contacting LEVYdance at info at levydance dot org .