For post number three in our Questions from the Audience Series, we’ll be taking a closer look at guest artistic director and dancer/choreographer Marc Brew’s newest work, Divide (check out the introduction to this series, part one and part two). This piece inspired quite a bit of feedback from our audience members, who called it “intricate and engaging”, “inspiring” and “like no other dance performance they’d ever seen”, among other things. We recently had a chance to sit down with Marc and ask him some of the questions you all posed after Home Season weekend.
Marc, could you start by telling me a little bit about your new piece, Divide? Where does the name come from? And what themes are you exploring here?
Well, for this piece I wanted to start by exploring a minimalist approach to choreography by setting a very simple angular and linear arm phrase which I taught the dancers. In my work, I often like to play with set and design, but for Divide I’ve stripped it back to form and shape.
From this more conceptual viewpoint, I’m exploring the divide in human interaction in movement, space and time.…What are the different ways we can use the space? How do our interactions between each other shift along our journey through space and in time and how do we manage with or without the structures we form?
Mostly, I’m interested in human interaction through physical movement. The piece is an entanglement between the dancers, and I’m looking at the push and pull, the getting into knots and finding separations - how do we divide relationships between ourselves and others, own space, build boundaries and barriers or break them down? And then how do we physicalize that and set that in time with music? It’s very much an abstract piece.
What was your starting point for creating this piece?
I started with inspiration drawn from visual art and design. A while ago I was going through my design book on minimalism and the work by visual artist Carl Andre really appealed to me, the simplicity and beauty of his work, “Copper Ribbon,” “8 Cuts,” and “Spill.” They all have a very architectural use of space and divide the space up in different ways. These works formed the starting point for me in imagining how division might be manifested physically – a lot of the work in creating the piece was exploring that marriage of idea and image in movement…you know, I can come to the studio with inspiration from a particular image, but I don’t know until I’m there and working with the dancers what that inspiration will generate.
Can you describe a little more of the process of creating the work in the studio?
I create almost all of my work collaboratively with the dancers. I like to come in with choreographic material or specific tasks, and then have the dancers interpret and embody that material or task. After, I would manipulate the material they created to fit in the piece and fulfill my artistic vision for the work.
For example, one way I created material for this piece was to just improvise myself – figuring out how to embody the concepts I was playing with around “division.” So I went into the corner in the studio, facing the wall, to really simplify and isolate myself in the space I was working with, and just started looking at how I move when I’m isolated in a corner? What are all the ways to divide this space up with linear movement? That investigation generated the base phrase of the piece, and then working on that material with the dancers created a lot of the movement in the piece today.
Another way was giving the dancers tasks. For example, I came in one day with a whole load of Scrabble tiles and spilled them all over the floor in the studio. I had the dancers each choose seven letters and create words with those letters, and then use the spatial pattern created by the tiles on the floor and the words they made to create five movement phrases. Then the question was, how do we put this together?
Wow, how did you come up with that one?
Carl Andre’s work “Spill,” , it looks like a load of scrabble tiles all over the floor.
Ah, true, I see it… You worked with AXIS back in 2011 when you created “Full of Words.” How is this process similar or different to working on FOW?
Lots of my work stems from a desire to bring out the human in people, so we’re not just like, “oh, we’re being dancers” onstage. That was true in FOW, and is true in Divide. FOW was two years in the planning, and it was about three different couples in distinct settings with distinct narratives and very defined relationships drawing from the dancers and their offerings. In Divide, I’m working more in the abstract, and the piece is about motifs and spatial design. But the piece is also about these three people - what they bring to the work, how they work as a unit. There are common themes, but I want the audience to take away their own ideas from the work - I’m definitely trying to push and challenge my own artistic practice.
In terms of process, Divide was also quite a division, in a way, from the way that I usually work. I often start with a very cinematic vision of “this is the beginning, the middle, and the end”, but with Divide, I really didn’t have a clear structure or how it looked in my head before I began. I had inspiration from the visual art world, but I didn’t know what it was going to generate and I didn’t know what task I would offer until I got in and started working with the dancers, they are also my inspiration. Working with such professional, generous and artistic dancers made my process a huge joy, and a wonder of possibilities.
Is there anything else you’d like the audience to know about the piece?
There is no particular narrative to the work. It’s not as rooted in gesture and character as my other pieces have been. I hope the audience remains open to their own interpretations and experiences of the work and allows those impressions to keep changing even after having seen it!
Didn’t get a chance to fill out the survey but thought of a question you’d like to ask the company? Didn’t make it to the performance but got something on your mind? We want to hear from you! Leave us a comment or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.