Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton, two established choreographers, take their artistic relationship to the next level this weekend. With the debut of their joint company, Garrett+Moulton Productions, they’ll also be premiering their new collaborative choreography, “The Experience of Flight in Dreams”, at ODC Theater in the Mission. In addition, the couple is prepping for a trip to Uganda this fall.
Becca Klarin: I’d love to know how your partnership began; this is now several workings now that you’ve done together. What sparked the connection for you two?
Moulton: We had been life partners for ten years before we started working on dance together; both of us are choreographers, and both of us danced in New York. We came out here and began living together. We’d known each other in New York, but really joined together in our lives here [Bay Area]. Really, in the beginning of our relationship, neither of us really thought about this.
Garrett(laughing): Yeah, we each had our own separate paths and directions with our work, and Charlie, you know, had a very successful company in New York for many years when he was working there. I started my company here in 2002. Then Charlie moved out here, and we started living together, spending time together–we obviously had some overlap in watching each others work.
What: Garret+Moulton Productions
Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th Street @ Shotwell
When: Jun 9-11, 8PM; June 11-12, 2PM; June 12, 7PM
Tickets: $24-30, online
But I think it was 2005 when we decided that Charlie would do a piece on my company’s rep program. That was kind of the beginning. At that point, we were still doing very separate work, but we were sharing work on a program: Charlie would show some of his work; I would share some of mine.
At the tail end of 2007, we decided that we wanted to very specifically create works together–again, it would be a shared format, and we wanted to use live music. We started out on a venture with the Del Sol String Quartet, initially thinking that Charlie would make a couple pieces on dancers, and I would create a couple of pieces, and we would have the string quartet perform live for all of the work.
But what ended up happening was that, though the process, we became much more interested in creating a work together. And that was our first official collaboration, which was a piece called “StringWreck“. That was really the beginning of the official journey of working together. We enjoyed making a work together, and it felt like really fertile ground, in terms of creative exploration and complementing each others work in different ways.
From there to now with “The Experience of Flight in Dreams”, do you feel that the way in which you work has changed or progressed?
Moulton: Janice and my work as choreographers is very different. I think the collaboration was very, very enriching, but there were also questions about was this going to work. I think both of us were kind of surprised about the success of “StringWreck”. It worked amazing. It really began as an experiment and it was very, very popular. We recently just performed it again at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
So the first piece was really an experiment and the second– “The Illustrated Book of Invisible Stories” [see YouTube video above]–it was an ambitious project. It had a full crew of musicians (nine) and an eighteen-person movement choir. It had six soloists. I think this second project really taxed our logistics abilities as much as our creative ability to get something that big up and going, to work with it.
My feeling about this [current] project is that we really have established a vocabulary together now. I feel that we both remain with independent voices, yet there’s a familiarity there, and a skill level there in terms of blending those voices. It’s really allowing ourselves to become more eloquent in a way.
Garrett: It’s interesting, Charlie, hearing what you’re saying right now. I’m just thinking of the layers of experience in working together. One part, Becca, of what’s adding to the complexity of our working together and how it’s changing is that this year is our official launch of our shared organization, so we’ve really made the transition from my having a company here and Charlie of course having his company in New York and now we’re really merging into having an organization here. We’re growing and learning about the creative process and also how to invent an organization together that works for both of us.
There’s many levels of discovery and challenge inherent in the process. It’s one thing to be making the work together and it’s another to be figuring out what’s the infrastructure to support that. We also not only have different choreographic styles, but we have different personal styles in how we organize our lives and what our priorities are, so there’s lots and lots of dialogue and things that continue to need discussion and sorting out. These aren’t separate tracks; they echo back and forth between the creativity and organizational part.
Is there a point where you can put the work away for awhile and just lead your personal life or does it tend to all bleed together?
Moulton: Yes. I think that because we were a couple for so long before we began this process, that we have well established relational routines. We really do know how to get away from the work. I think that when we did become a couple, it was our goal to do this.
Garrett: Hahaha. It’s quite the opposite, I think.
Moulton: What’s interesting about the organizational growth and joining together and looking at the various aspects of working in a not-for-profit environment, has been the questions that we’ve asked. On my own, as a choreographer, I have a well-trod set of patterns that I was involved in. And now that we’re looking organizationally at the problems, we’re saying, “What new areas are we interested in discovering and supporting?”
One of the projects that we’re working on is we’re going to Uganda in late September to work on a project at the Stand Tall Primary School, which is a school for kids from other populations. That kind of a project came out of us going, “What are we not doing that we need to do?” There’s been a lot of support for new ideas and new ways of looking at things as well.
Before we get into Uganda too much, I want to rewind a bit. How did the concept of the movement choir come about and what continues to draw you back to it?
Garrett: We started working with some movement choir in “The Illustrated Book of Invisible Stories”, our last collaboration. And Charlie, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this. For me, there was a combination. Charlie has this body of work called precision ball passing, where people work on stationary platforms. Built into that kind of work he’s done, there’s kind of a choir element, like people standing on bleachers or platforms.
And there was this idea, at least for me, of what if we take that format and being to expand what the performers do. It wouldn’t be passing balls; it would be doing other kinds of movement and vocalization that would both comment upon or contextualize or amplify what was going on with the dance soloists in the piece.
It became like another voice in the piece, one that felt important for that work that we were doing. I know for me, again, from having done it with “The Illustrated Book of Invisible Stories” and worked with the movement choir, it raised a lot of questions like, “Hmm, this is interesting working with this kind of a group in this context. What more or what different might we do and how can we continue that journey?”
Moulton: I agree completely. We want our organization to be open for all. I think the movement choir has been a really great place to meet new people, work with community members–for me, the precision ball passing was all about that. And it’s just an interest of ours, the idea of developing and working with community.
Garrett: And to tie this together with the Uganda project that we’re going to be doing, that’s precisely what we’re planning. We’ll be working with 75 kids at this school, working…with the same idea of exploring how the community works with sound and movement to create this communal voice and sense of connection between people that really comes out of participating in an intense and hopefully wonderful performance experience. There’s kind of bonding that goes on with performers in that creative process that is a kind of community building.
How are you getting to Uganda? How are you making this happen?
Garrett: This is all made possible through donors and people who are supporting the vision of our work. This is all a new direction for us organizationally.
Will you be journalling or maintaining a blog while you’re there in Uganda?
Moulton: Yes, you’ll be able to follow the project on our website. This adventure will be…
It’s something completely different than what anyone else is doing these days, so work like this is important for people to hear about and see the impact that you can make, how arts can change the ways in which children interact, play, and attack the work their doing.
Coming back full circle, would you tell me about your process in creating “The Experience of Flight in Dreams”?
Moulton: I think that the work that Janice and I are doing together really looks at the human experience through relationships. “The Experience of Flight in Dreams”: the idea of dreaming has been so interesting to both of us. The concept of dreams being the tool for people in overcoming internal and external obstacles. We have looked at this idea of “The Experience of Flight in Dreams” as a metaphor for how people can use their imaginations in some ways to visualize and act upon–how would you say it, Jan–… somehow this experience cross all sorts of cultural boundaries in a way, in that this experience of light and desire for lightness.
Garrett: Yeah, the root of it for me lives in the territory of the contrast between daily experiences that we have of feeling grounded or tethered to the earth or bounded or a sense at times of constraints of our earthly limitations. And that some of what I feel is a universal experience of lifting out of that whether that’s a moment where we float out of our lives and have more of an aerial view of existence or whether it’s literally lifting out into our dreaming state at night. Or little fleeting moments of what feels to me like grace, lifting out of the mire of daily life and having a sense of “Aaah!”
There’s some higher order or principle operating here that I know I aspire to and I think many people do. I think as the piece is beginning to take form now, there’s a lot in it that feels to me like day-to-day or simple moments in life where there’s a gentle lifting up-and-out or a yearning for a higher state of grace within one’s self and the world. So there’s that, for me, duality or dichotomy of that struggle and challenge and places where we’re not so much experiencing that.
Do you have any experience for younger choreographers or those that are just starting out, creating the base of their movement vocabulary? Maybe some words of wisdom?
Garrett: Ha! Not today.
Moulton: When you’re young, you imagine that there’s a right way of doing things. And I just think that working in any creative field, whether that’s choreography or visual art or writing, it’s just a constant learning stream. So Janice and I are still learning. We’re learning new things about choreography, about what choreography can say, how it can work in the world. And I think it’s easy–I teach choreography at Dominican University– for younger people to become overwhelmed with imagining that there’s such a thing as a complete choreographer, somebody who supposedly knows what they’re doing.
People who are artists, who are vital in their work, are constantly taking on new challenges, and it’s that trying-to-do-the-impossible that’s fascinating about it. And at every level of your growth, those are the questions that you have to ask, “What can’t I do what I need to do?” And then finding a way to do it, discovering ways of doing it.
Garrett: I know for me it’s been really important to stay as consistently attuned as I can to where my life is so that I can try to create my work from within: from a deeply grounded, internal place within myself. The external part of this work, meaning whether there’s an audience or money flows into the organization, the popularity or non-popularity of one’s work is a very fickle thing.
And I think it has really been both challenging and helpful for me to stay as connected as I can to my internal process and what Charles has said, that my growth is driving forward. Because the satisfaction and what is enlivening that comes out of that counteracts all of the other stresses and challenges.