The Brooklyn Commune’s Cultural Democracy and Representation Team, led by Kyoung H. Park, has designed an artist survey to invite artists to share their experiences working in the field in order to open up public discussions regarding diversity and inclusion in the performing arts. Over the course of the next few months, we will highlight interviews with artists who are in conversation with the Brooklyn Commune’s Cultural Democracy and Representation Team, and we invite members of our community to help us gather more information by completing our survey here. Our team will synthesize our findings and share these interviews and our findings online.
1. How do you identify yourself? How does your identity influence or inform your work?
Generally I say to people or whoever’s asking that I make shows. I make performances. If I’m talking to a non-dance audience I say I make dance-based performance. If I’m talking to a dance audience I say I make performance. If someone calls me a choreographer I get annoyed and say that I am a dance artist or that I just make shows. If someone calls me a performance artist it makes me crazy and I say that I am a choreographer. I am deeply attached to my upbringing in dance but I am not attached to what this might mean about what my work “should” look like. I feel lucky to work in the dance world I feel sort of stuck there too. I hate when dance reviewers come to my work because I feel like the work should be reviewed by performance or theater folks sometimes. But I hate the rules of conventional theater so please don’t send a boring person. I like to tell people that I make songs I write poems I make shows. I don’t generally say that I’m a musician or a poet or a showmaker.
2. Do you face challenges in the field based on the way you identify yourself?
Maybe. I’m not sure. It’s unfortunate that the world is still divided, especially in the United States, into these disciplinary divisions between “dance” and “theater” and then even worse in dance, stupid divisions like “modern” and “ballet” and the ultimately hateful “experimental.” in the american dance/performance “market,” if we may use such a term, it feels like we’re really stuck with this idea of what is mainstream and what is not. I hate this. but whatever I just go ahead and make my work and don’t worry too much about it.
3. Where do you (or can you) locate representations of your culture [community] within contemporary performance?
All over the world. I am very lucky in that I get to travel all over the world to work. it’s been like this, at least 6 years or so, so I get to encounter people whose work intrigues me in many different parts of the world. I have lost a sense of feeling super tied to the NYC dance and performance community, even though I still identify as being part of it. however, because of all of the travel I see that NYC is a region and that its aesthetics are determined by its geography and history, just like everywhere else. I am interested in certain artists who are based there but I’m also informed by work I see everywhere else I the world, other u.s. cities, other countries, and other scenes besides dance, like visual arts or “performance” coming out of the visual art tradition, music and film. I think a lot of what happens in the dance world in the u.s. is very conservative and dull and so I have to look elsewhere.
4. Are there moments in which your cultural identity [community] is misrepresented or underrepresented, and how do you address this?
I don’t know if you are talking about my identity as a dance/performance person or my identity as a “latino” artist. I’ll talk about the first one. I think most “lay”people have no fucking clue what I’m making if they haven’t seen it or if they don’t have some kind of intimacy with the world of performance that I’m in. most people as soon as you tell them you’re a dancer think you’re this super fit person who is very flexible who is spending the whole day in a studio perfecting some stupid step or turn. they don’t necessarily know or understand that I see my work essentially as philosophical research and that I’m interested in pursuing this research inside of embodied actions that involve movement sure, but also sound making or writing and the whole kit and kaboodle of the interactive elements within a show (light, music, the space)… even in the dance world I think there are terrible misrepresentations coming from the mainstream dance world about what it means to be aligned with a “downtown” dance history. basically it’s like there are all of these high art histories and then there’s just being “weird” over here in this corner, as if the being weird has no history or legacy or only exists in resistance to the mainstream. this is tedious to say the least.
how do I address all of this? I just MAKE MY WORK and I hustle like a motherfucker to show it in as many places that feel appropriate to the work that I can. I don’t assume that “you” can’t “get it” just cuz you haven’t seen it before or haven’t heard about it. I advocate for my work all the time by doing interviews or post performance discussions or unpaid questionnaires LIKE THIS ONE HOLLAH!
5. Have you been a working artist in another culture [community]? Has this experience exposed something about current practices that we can learn from?
because I travel so much I sort of feel like I’m in other communities all of the time. in fact I see my “community” as being a cross section of artists and influences from many different places. things are super different everywhere you go. obviously when I work in europe some of the obvious differences are that people get paid for the work as cultural employees, and there’s the understanding and expectation that what you’re doing IS your job, as opposed to the perennial “hobbyism” that plagues american dance and performance economic reality. from city to city there are different aesthetic standards and histories. in most u.s. cities I perceive a resentment or frustration towards NYC because of it seeing itself as central or the most important place for live art in the states. in many foreign cities I perceive little to no interest in what is happening in the united states, which is fascinating. i recently came back from beirut where a small collective of artists shares the cost of a one bedroom apartment which functions as their studio and a residency center to invite artists from other countries. they’re certainly not in a better financial position than anyone in nyc but why no one in the states has thought to do this kind of thing is an interesting question of cultural difference.
6. Have you worked in other cities/regions and can you tell us about the reception of your work there in comparison to NYC?
I generally have pretty great experiences performing my work in and out of nyc. I hate generalizing based on location because I really truly believe that the difference in the experience of one performance to the next has a lot to do with the specificity of THAT particular audience THAT night in X city, rather than the entire audience of X city if you know what I’m saying. that said, sure, there are differences. I think most american audiences can handle more than what most american presenters think they can handle. it’s a shame so much american presenting is so conservative but I guess people are afraid of repercussions. recently I was in salt lake city and I was asked if my performance was going to have nudity (it didn’t) because the presenter was freaked out about the possibility of people getting mad at him. I mean, I sort of get it but I’m also like, so what? let the person get mad if they get mad and then get into a conversations/argument with them, whatever. obviously in europe most places no one gives a fuck if you’re naked on stage, so there’s that. people in western europe are often embedded in a a very active and intricate network of performance so what you’re doing just isn’t that special because they’re at X festival and they’re seeing a zillion shows a week or there were a zillion shows that season at the local theater. so people are more jaded and less precious and sometimes more sophisticated in what they’ve seen. it really varies in other countries. australia has a very active if isolated community. they’ve always seemed super open to ideas from abroad cuz like hello they’re a million miles away from everyone. in latin america I get the sense that people are more interested in what is coming out of and from europe than from their northern american counterparts. oh I dunno, this question is so annoying and endless. in paris they’ll boo and walk out. in beirut they stand up. in russia the clapping happens in rhythm. I mean what do you wanna hear here?
7. Describe an ideal situation in which your work is presented. Is there anything you’d like your audience to know about you before viewing your work?
there is no ideal situation but let’s pretend. in an ideal situation:
– everything you’ve asked for on your tech rider is possible (Ha!)
– you get the fee you asked for and there’s no negotiating!
– the presenter is gracious and says hi to you as soon as you get to the city/venue and then they’re very present during your time there and take you out to dinner or something or have seen enough of your work to be able to talk with you about it with a level of ease and confidence
-the marketing has gone out far enough in advance that there actually IS an audience. the press person has worked hard to get you interviews with local papers or institutions. someone at the venue has spent some time with your work to realize that maybe it would be interesting to other kinds of audiences besides the usual dance folks and they go out of their way to identify and draw in that kind of audience.
– the houses are full every night!
– because it’s a great fucking venue with an awesomely smart curator the audience is used to seeing different kinds of challenging work so they can put your work into a larger context without you needing to spoonfeed it to them
– the audience is a mix of young and old, diverse in racial mix and sexualities and all of that kinda stuff. the venue is handicap accessible
– if you’re in a festival, it’s set up in such a way that you can actually meet other artists and see their work and have them see your work. almost NEVER is this the case. the venue/presenter can pay for you to stay extra days or come early so that you can see other work meet other folks
– the person who moderates your post performance discussion has done their homework and asks you great questions!
– there are showers in the dressing room that work
– you get paid in a timely manner, like right away
in terms of what I want the audience to “know…” again it really depends on the piece. a lot of times it’s great when they know very very little and other times it’s helpful if there’s been an interview or some kind of writing/program that they can refer to. I don’t have one idea about it. in general we’ve been trending for a while to explicatory programs and interviews and I dunno to what extent this is useful. it’s not always my taste but I can understand why it’s good for others…
Miguel Gutierrez, a 2010 Guggenheim Fellow in choreography, is a performance-maker based in NYC. His pieces include Last Meadow, HEAVENS WHAT HAVE I DONE, and And lose the name of action. His work has been presented by venues such as ImPulsTanz in Vienna, Bipod Festival in Beirut and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He has received fellowships from the Foundation for Contemporary Art, United States Artists, and the New York Foundation for the Arts, as well as support from Rockefeller MAP Fund, Jerome Foundation, Creative Capital, and the NEA. He has received three NY Dance and Performance ‘Bessie’ Awards, has choreographed music videos and he volunteers as a mentor for TDF’s Open Doors program. As a singer he has worked with Antony and the Johnsons, Vincent Segal, and Holcombe Waller. He leads workshops in his approach to creative practice all over the world. His book WHEN YOU RISE UP is available from 53rd State Press. He invented DEEP AEROBICS. http://www.miguelgutierrez.org