blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 9  No. 1
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A Conversation with Jessica Lang

Mary Flinn: I’m Mary Flinn; I’m at the Richmond Ballet with Jessica Lang who’s a choreographer in residence, and who’s just made a new piece for the Richmond Ballet, Lines Squared. You said that you began thinking about this dance last April. I’m curious as to where the boundaries are between a commission and what you have in mind that you would like to work on yourself, as how that sort of blends together to make a beginning, where the boundaries are.

Jessica Lang: Right. Well, as I think a creative person, you’re constantly seeing inspiration and you’re coming up with ideas—and I keep a book. I just put my ideas down and hope someday they’ll become a reality. And it’s one of those things where it’s just the right company, the right timing, the right idea, the right commission, all coming together. I think I’ve thought about Mondrian since I was a senior in college. That was the first time I did anything with his work. And it was for a class called Bach to Braque and it was comparing artists and composers of the same time. And my friend and I had both gotten into Twyla Tharp’s company and we had no spare time, not even enough time to write a paper. And so we asked if we could dance the contrast and the comparison of two artists instead, and she loved the idea, and we did. And my artist was Mondrian. So I went in and I danced and we videotaped, and that was the first time, I guess, I thought about it.

And then, it came back through an ABT. My husband and I team-teach outreach for American Ballet Theatre, and we chose artists to use as our inspiration for the outreach. One school we did Pollock, another school we did Andy Warhol, and the other school we did Mondrian. And I fought for Mondrian because of the lines and I thought, Oh, this will be interesting for children. They’ll get it. It’s kind of simplistic. It was only a little five-minute piece. And that’s what I did last year, so it was really fresh in my mind. And when I started thinking about it, I thought, Oh my gosh, this is something I want to explore with a professional company, and so I had ideas and . . . I was coming here to Richmond to have a production meeting with Tamara Cobus who’s doing my costumes for Joffrey, for my commission for Joffrey Ballet. And I found music and thought, Oh, this is Mondrian’s music to me. And when I went to sleep, I had a dream about one of the dancers being in red, and it’s Maggie, the one who ends up in red. And I woke up thinking this is gonna be Richmond Ballet’s piece—I know it. And that was it.

MF: It’s interesting because I think a lot of writers and performers take a step off from paintings, and in poetry they call it ekphrastic work. And is it something meditative or is it something more directly interpretive in terms of how you respond to the painting? Are you responding more to the surface, or to something that takes you in beyond the surface?

JL: Definitely something beyond the surface. With Mondrian, it’s so graphic, but there’s meaning behind it to me. And I like how he was famous for taking landscape and making it into the rawest lines possible, and that’s how we came to see these graphic paintings. They’re not just lines. It started from something more, from reality and he abstracted it. And I liked that, and I tried to do it myself. When I did the piece; Women and the Sea: A Tribute to Will Barnet, that was . . . on surface, you see these women, and it gave us direction on how to shape the space, and how to define it with the colors and the objects in space. But, to me, there was a story behind each and every painting and so I took liberty and was inspired by that.

MF: So you took a narrative line.

JL: I did.

MF: And from what I can tell in Lines Squared, there’s not so much a narrative. It keeps to something of the abstraction and plays with how the lines extend into space. Is that one of the things you think about is the three-dimensionality that you’re working with, as opposed to the two-dimensionality of the painting?

JL: Absolutely. What can be realized on the stage versus what’s flat on a canvas. There’s options.

MF: And it’s also very, very theatrical and lively. And I’ve noticed in looking at the video clips that are up on your website, there is a lot of essential, emotive theatricality in your work—is that something that attracts you particularly?

JL: Absolutely. I think I’m an emotional person. I react to things emotionally. I think, right now, in dance, I have not been inspired by a lot of what I see because it doesn’t have emotion. It’s technical. It’s virtuosic. And it’s impressive on the surface, but there’s nothing substantial behind it. And so, without choosing, my work is completely opposite. I find it to be more emotional than some of the things that exist today.

MF: Now there’s been a period of kind of ironic detachment that’s been in a lot of art, and I know it’s been in poetry and fiction, and certainly in art-making in terms of painting and sculpture: I didn’t really do this; it doesn’t really mean anything. Have you seen that in dancing, too?

JL: Absolutely, absolutely. There’s been a major influence of the European choreographers.

MF: Who are some of them?

JL: William Forsythe . . . Jiří Kylián is the exception. I think his work has a lot of humanity behind it, and I think you get a visceral reaction, especially from his older works. Nacho Duato. But these choreographers are famous and genius for a reason, and I understand that. But the technique of William Forsythe’s work is so easily imitated that, then, any dancer who’s danced for him thinks that they can then become a choreographer using his same technique. And that’s where it becomes a watered-down version. And the technique is requiring the dancer to come up with the movement, and a lot of improvisation, and I’m still from the mindset that a choreographer birthed the entire piece, and I don’t ask my dancers to improvise. I think it should all come from one voice. And that’s my belief, and I think that goes against some of the ideas that are happening today.

MF: It’s like two streams went out, at least in modern dance: one from Martha Graham, maybe, and one toward Merce Cunningham. And I saw Merce Cunningham when I was a student many years ago. I thought that what they did was fascinating and interesting.

JL: Oh, it is. Yes.

MF: Marcel Duchamp was fascinating and interesting, and a lot of people who have imitated Marcel Duchamp have not been so fascinating and interesting.

JL: Right, exactly! I actually find Merce Cunningham’s work completely fascinating. I just went to his last season at BAM, and was inspired, and thought it was incredible and I thought the dancers were incredible. And I understand where that movement is generated and how it’s generated, and find it interesting. But it’s the same idea: the watered down effect that follows.

MF: How much did dancing for Twyla Tharp influence how you see choreography?

JL: I think it influenced me more in how I work than anything else. I think she helped me see other options for how you make up movement yourself. She used a video camera a lot, and she would improvise, and we would follow her, and the video camera was capturing everything we were doing. It allowed her to be free at that moment and she didn’t have to think, What am I going to do, What did I just do? When you do that in your mind with movement, you get very confused and you can’t remember, and then all of a sudden you’re starting to make it so simple that it’s uninteresting anymore. So when I first started choreographing, I used that technique of videotaping myself improvising, and it really helped. Now, I’ve had so much experience that I don’t use the videotape for myself anymore, and I just improvise in front of the dancers, and I’m confident that something will come out of it.

MF: So you expect them to remember it, and then the variations sort of develop with that?

JL: Yeah. I do it slow enough that people can remember it and follow it, and then we start to form it—Oh, I didn’t like that, let’s try this instead—and then we just do about a minute phrase. And then I stop and watch what I did, and then I’ll stop and dust off the canvas and start again and go somewhere else, until I have like three or four or five phrases. And then I stop and I start to build. And I build wherever the piece is inspiring me the most, and use those phrases. And quite often, if I’ve made four phrases, all four phrases end up somewhere in the piece. I don’t usually throw out movement.

MF: Do you build then on variations from that movement in terms of how it can permutate out with different tempos or different people?

JL: It just begins the vocabulary that I’m going to use, and then I can shift it, morph it, but I do all of that. And you do it kind of unconsciously, that you keep reverting back to the same gestures, or spacing, or something that’s working within the phrase.

MF: Now do you ever find that you have to go back in and take out some of the repetition?

JL: Oh yes. It’s just constantly like a . . . draw and erase, draw and erase, a little bit, and crafting it in a way that makes sense.

MF: I was looking at the video and looking at the dance the other night. You have certain gestures and lifts and things that seem to echo. They’re not necessarily repeated, but I assume that you have certain ways that you like to see the body work, and in that kind of basic vocabulary. What are a few of those things that you like to do with line or with two dancers together or . . . ?

JL: For this piece in particular? It was an evolution of how I like to move. It’s something I feel comfortable doing. Really, everything was about lines for me, and squares, so the challenge was how many different ways I can come up with making that happen with the body. And there are kind of an infinite number of ways, and so it just began. I’d see images and make Tommy and Lauren try them and see. For example, the big basket square lift at the end, we call it the Carnicopter—the Carnival Helicopter. I didn’t know exactly what was gonna happen at that point. And it takes four dancers to do it and so I can’t practice it or anything. And I just knew that the music required some kind of spinning to me and that it would somehow elevate. And so when I got to that point I said, Okay, can you do this? And so I asked them to lift the girls up, and the girls had lines for their arms. They could do it, but the two men weren’t stable because the two women weren’t stable. So we asked them to grab on, and then the men could lift one solid body together. And then I said, Okay, bend your knees so that there were angles, and then I said, Spin. And then I didn’t know what it was gonna do. And we started laughing, it was hysterical. I said, Do it again, do it again! because I didn’t realize the body was gonna fly out as it did and become this kind of propeller. And so I’ve been told it’s a lot of fun to do. But I’m not gonna try it!

MF: Now how long ago did you stop dancing?

JL: It was not a defined moment in my life. I think it was somewhere around 2004. I truly stopped dancing after Twyla Tharp, which was in ’99. And then I did a couple more projects in New York and danced. But at that point I started to choreograph, and it was just one of these things—which one’s gonna come through for me? But once you dance for somebody like Twyla Tharp and you’re performing in venues all around the world, and it’s this great, exciting adventure and everything’s paid for, and, you know, it’s really first class all the way. And then you come back and you have a gig and they ask you to bring your own costume—it’s kind of like, well, this used to be taken care of for me, and do I want to do that? How much do I love that?

In my heart of hearts, I’m not in love with the idea of performing. We were talking last night about the half-hour, the hour, before they perform. That part as a performer drove me crazy. I just wanted to go out and do it. I didn’t want to stand around and wait for the audience to come in and sit down. And that made me nervous. And then I grew impatient with that. As a choreographer, you can hang around and eat and drink and, you know, you just sit down and watch the show whenever it happens. But it’s not the same anticipation as a dancer.

MF: One of the things that must be hard for most dancers is the fact that you have a limited period where you can work and if you get an injury it can just wipe you out.

JL: Yes.

MF: And so being a choreographer gives you a much longer period that you can be in the dance—how old was Merce Cunningham? Ninety-two?

JL: I realized the benefits after I started doing it, too. I started going, Oh, wow, I can do this. You know, who wants to retire if you love what you do? I don’t plan to stop, and I hope I don’t have to stop, and it’s something that I see the longevity is much greater than being a performer.

MF: Now how do you get your commissions? I know you’ve got an established relationship with the Richmond Ballet. Do you meet other groups through people who’ve seen pieces that you’ve done and it sort of folds out that way? Or how much do you have to hustle?

JL: I hustle. I do both. It’s sending your information out, it’s telling people what you’re doing and people speaking highly of you, and if you’ve been successful in the company they’ll call other artistic directors on your behalf. Or they’ll tell them in conversation that this was really successful when we did this, and then . . . The more your name gets tossed around, the more people start to call. And it’s been like a snowball effect and it’s working for me.

MF: That’s good. Do you find that any of them have expectations of something based on your last piece that they want to see repeated, and is that a difficulty?

JL: Absolutely. I just came from a company that really, really wanted me to create something new based on a costume that I had created, and based on a piece that I used this costume in. And it’s a significant, beautiful image, and I have done it for several different companies in different ways, that I was wanting to try and to get these images out of my head—but I’m done with that. And when they asked me could I just create one more, I was like, No, because I don’t want to get known as a one-trick pony. You know, you only have so many opportunities to show the same person your work, and if you show them the same thing three times, they’re not gonna come back. So I don’t want my work to ever be repeated in that way. So I asked them if they would buy one of the existing works, or I actually said I would walk away from the commission. Because it meant that much to me—that I didn’t want to do anything detrimental to my reputation as a choreographer, and what inspires me. And I knew going into it that if I had said yes, it would’ve been a bad work because I was not inspired. And that’s the most important thing, is that I want to do it.

MF: Now do you find puzzles for yourself like working at the Mondrian or other things to sort of use that as a point to get you going?

JL: I basically go into the commission knowing what I want, what my inspiration is. And then, the puzzle to solve is how do I show that that is my inspiration, or where is it gonna take me. And I follow it. I don’t try to hold myself back too much. I try and think, Well, this image came to my mind, I want to try and get that into the piece, and I don’t know why, or where it’s leading me, but I’m gonna do it. And then once I’ve done that, I’ll see something else, and then I’ll just keep following it around the room, and pulling it back when it goes too far, or pushing it out when it doesn’t go enough, and molding it as I go.

MF: And you have the number of dancers in the company that you’re working with, so that’s a factor.

JL: That’s absolutely a factor. And also, it can get really interesting with AGMA, where they say, We’re having a performance and Corsaire is being performed before your work, and it’s these two dancers every other night and these two dancers every other night. If these two dancers are in opening night, they can’t be in your piece because they need a ten-minute turnaround or an intermission, because they’re AGMA. So then you walk into the studio and you know who you can’t cast and why. It’s just a technical AGMA rule that the union says you can’t do this to them. And it makes sense if there’s no intermission. It’s just trying to fulfill the programming. Sometimes the director will say . . . for example, Colorado Ballet, the first time I worked with them, they said, The first piece on the program is Paul Taylor’s Company B. And the last piece on the program is Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs. We want you to create a middle piece. So I knew that I wouldn’t use vocals in any way—opera or pop, or any way—and so I went with just Schumann’s piano music because I know that would give the audience a break. And, it’s like building a meal. You have to have your beginning-main course-dessert experience. Then every piece is highlighted.

MF: Now, because I know being on the same program with Balanchine’s Apollo here, it’s got to be hard in any case. It’s three dancers, it’s very stylized and classical, in the sense of the lines it creates. And then you come on with something that’s electronic and lively, and it’s a good contrast. Was that something that you knew when you were building this ballet?

JL: I knew that they were doing Apollo. I knew that. I guess it was unconsciously in my mind as I was deciding that Mondrian would work. When I thought, Oh, Mondrian will be for Richmond—perfect! It’s gonna to make a great program because Apollo’s on the program. That’s it.

MF: Did you see the big Mondrian retrospective?

JL: I did not. I know I’ve heard about it, but I did not, unfortunately.

MF: Now one of the fascinating things about it is you saw where it went from the trees to the landscape through to Broadway Boogie Woogie and the late work, and it was fascinating to see how that evolved.

JL: It was fascinating, and I loved that. It became these graphic lines, but it wasn’t just because he was interested in graphics. It came from the complete paring down to the rawest vertical and horizontal line of a tree.

MF: In your use of the color in this dance—the red, the yellow, and the blue—were you purposefully going essentially with what people assume to be the values of those colors like calm with the blue, or sadness. And then with the red, something hotter. And with the yellow, something breezier. Were those . . .

JL: Purposeful?

MF: Yeah.

JL: Yes.

MF: You wanted to keep it fairly like the flat of a canvas, rather than have it be metaphorically connected?

JL: Yes, exactly. I just did the obvious, and felt like that was enough. There was enough in that to give me inspiration for movement.

MF: You often use set pieces. I guess I’m thinking of the rolled-out black lines and the lines that imitate it. And part of the theatricality were the dancers who appeared from behind the panel—the black panel in the back—particularly when it opened and one came out in blue. And I noticed in the Will Barnet piece that’s on the website and the one about the piano keys—

JL: To Familiar Spaces in Dream.; Yes.

MF: Is that one of the other things you like to throw into the mix? And how do you like to use that?

JL: I love using inanimate objects. I think they always have to support the piece. And that’s another thing that’s also happening today, that a lot of people think it’s interesting to throw props or big set pieces on the stage, but then they never use them. And it drives my mind crazy because I want to climb on it and move it and flip it over and see what it can do, and how it can become another body in the space, and how can the dancer elevate it’s own body in the space or get under it, or however they can hide behind it in these magic tricks, so to speak, of being behind it and being revealed that my Mondrian does. I had this set idea for a long time. I had tried it in a different ballet and it worked. And it was a great reaction and great little trick. And I didn’t do it clean enough for me. I wanted it to be sharper lines, and so that’s where I said, Michael, can we do this in this space? I know there’s no fly, but can you put pulleys, and can we make it go up and down? And is there enough room for a dancer to fit behind it? And I want them to go over it and hide under it and . . . I love that about this work. And it does make it three-dimensional in that way.

I don’t have many works that don’t use props. I have just created one for Kansas City Ballet and the last time I was here for Richmond Ballet, I created La Belle Danse. And they’re both works that just rely completely on the craft of movement with the craft of music, and looking at the score, and following the score, and it telling me where I do my movement, and when to do it, and how to repeat it, and when to invert it, and so . . . using that as my guide. But I’m inspired by lots of things. So architecture and the piano keys and having . . . you know, on the first day of creating To Familiar Spaces in Dream, with these eight boxes and eight dancers—there were sixteen things in the room that day that I had to create with—and that was my challenge. And I love that. And I think dancers love it. And even though it’s hard to haul them around the space and try and do it again and repeat it, you’re creating with them. The excitement in the air is so interesting and refreshing that people never complain.

MF: You danced with Twyla Tharp. You put dances, I guess, on both ballet companies and modern dance companies, too. It seems to me in the last generation that the line has become much blurrier in terms of ballet companies that do contemporary pieces and modern dance companies that might be tied to a single choreographer. Is that something that’s opened up that field more as far as you can tell?

JL: I think so. I mean, I think that there’s an evolution of the dancer, what it can do, what he or she is trained to do. The ballet dancer does, hopefully, take modern, so that when they come into a ballet company, knowing that today’s company does do contemporary work—you have to do everything. You can’t just do the classics. Maybe you can in a larger company, and then you’re only cast in the classical works. And then there are some dancers who are only cast in the contemporary works. But I think it’s better if it’s a well-rounded dancer, so that you do both, and both well. I think it’s just our evolution of understanding the body, and how to hone it better through good training, and make it ready for that.

MF: Would you like to have your own company? To just work on the same bodies on a regular basis to see what you can do with that?

JL: Sure I would. I think there’s something to be said about having the same dancers to work on. I kind of feel like I understand that experience by returning to Richmond Ballet five times and knowing these dancers, and thinking if they were my company, but they’re not. But it’s the closest thing I have to understanding what it would be like to have a company. And because I have that benefit of coming back to the same company—and I do the same thing with Colorado Ballet and American Ballet Theatre’s second company—I’ve worked with the same people a lot, and there’s something nice about that. However, the hard part is, as somebody who’s focusing on art and creating, it’s hard to then create a marketing department, and creating a name for the company. There’s so much that has to be done to build a company, and in this economy, and in America, it just is unsupported. And so I figure, well, there’s two options. You can have your own company, and the benefit is having the same dancers. There are so many cons because how do you pay those dancers? And I’m somebody who’s so aware—I can’t ask people to do anything for free. I’d be concerned about their health insurance. I’d be concerned about their hotel accommodations, their traveling, how many weeks they work. And I’m too conscientious to just be oblivious to that. Then, the other hand is to do what I do, which is freelance. And as much as it’s hard to get the commissions, once I have them— and it’s been working for me because I would’ve had to try a different way if it wasn’t working—but because it’s working, I get the opportunity, I get the space, I get the time, I get the dancers. They’re paid, they’re fed, they’re housed. There’s a costume shop, there’s a marketing department, there’s all of these pros to that. And the only con is I don’t get the same dancers, or I don’t get to choose the dancers, or I hope the dancers, when I arrive, are the artists that I want to work with. And, yes, there’s sometimes a compromise that has to be made, but, for the most part, there are dancers that inspire me everywhere I go.

MF: What I’ve noticed in looking at people who work in performance, that it’s always a collaborative process anyway. That, with playwrights who then are dependent on the actors and the directors, or with music, in any way, you’re dependent on somebody who plays it actually. So do you like that collaborative process of working with the company to make something that’s in your head, but also they’ve put into it?

JL: Absolutely. I can say, Oh, I created Mondrian, but many people helped me create it. For example, the set—I came up with that idea. That was my idea. I want this. But I could’ve never done it. I couldn’t have said, Yes, well, this has to be hung on this kind of wire, and it has to be cut like this. That’s where I turn to Michael Stewart and I say, This is what it looks like, this is in my head, this is what it does. I can describe it as much as I can. Then he can sit down at his computer and use the right program, and then put it all into his terms, and his wording. And then he shares it all with his production staff who then also help, and say, Well, Michael, wouldn’t this be better, and could we do this, and oh, yes—and then they figure that part out. And then I turn to Tamara, and I say, This is what I’m thinking, I want four people in blue, a blue section, a yellow section, a red section, and I want four-four-four, but I want the costume to be slightly different, and I see them being sportier, very sleek. And she goes with that—just the description—and she goes back to me says, This is what I’ve made, Blair and Margaret and I have all sat down here, and we’re fixing this and we’re sewing that—and they just do it, otherwise . . . That’s what I can’t do. I can’t have my own company and be the only one running the ship. You drown.

I haven’t had my own company, but I’ve had projects. The first project I had was I did a tour to Buffalo. And a very kind woman who was very supportive of me said, I have money, and we have this space, and do you want to come and dance? Or do you want to come and see if you’d like to have your own company and bring your own work? I said I want to see if I’d like to have my own company. I didn’t. After I did that, I lost a costume that was designed—it was in my bag one minute and the next minute it’s not there because I was running here to get this and . . . it was such an overwhelming experience. I did it, and it was fun, but I can’t imagine doing that, you know, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. It was too much.

MF: Do you think that as a culture, an arts culture, that we’ve become more dependent on the institutional groups like the Richmond Ballet that can manage to have the money and the stability to deal with new work? Whereas, I know VCU’s dance department brings in choreographers from time to time, occasional sort of companies, but it just doesn’t seem to me there are as many companies on the road as there used to be.

JL: Right. I agree. I actually just had some good conversation with some colleagues about this, about . . . I don’t remember there being quite so many freelance choreographers. I remember there being a lot more companies the size of David Parsons’ and traveling. Those are the companies I was looking to dance for. And that’s when I was dancing with Twyla. It’s not that long ago, ten years ago. And now I feel like, because of the financial situation, and the way the money is laid out for the arts, it’s so hard to keep the smaller companies alive, and healthy, and able to have that choreographer making work on their small company. It’s a very difficult challenge. And there’s ways to succeed still.

MF: But there were so many companies that seemed to proliferate in the sixties and the seventies, that they were all over the place.

JL: I know!

MF: That you would have dancers breaking out of one group, like Gus Solomon, who’d been with Merce Cunningham, and going on to start a company, and then somebody would go out of Solomon’s company and start another company, and . . . They don’t seem to sustain for the length of the time that something like the institutional ballet companies do.

JL: Right. Oh, I agree. I think because of the funding. I really do. It comes down to money.

MF: Money. It’s money every time. Do you think part of the reason this is able to sustain itself is how the ballet companies have changed in terms of what they’re willing to take a chance on?

JL: I agree. Absolutely. They’re not just doing The Nutcracker and Cinderella. They’re going, oh, okay, wait, we do have the dancers. Because the dancer is now trained to do other things, they can hire people like myself. And I think there was a generation of, you know, Twyla Tharp, Mark Morris, Alvin Ailey, who did have their own companies. They do have their own companies, but they themselves were so successful that they broke the boundary into a ballet company, that American Ballet Theatre would hire Alvin Ailey to create a piece, or Mark Morris, or Twyla. That was huge. That was a huge breakthrough. And I think those choreographers enable my generation to do something similar, maybe without even having had a company. I’m not famous because I had a company, that’s for sure. But they all were, and that’s an interesting thought.

MF: Because instead of the route, say thirty, forty years ago, you would’ve had to work to have your own company, and make it a starring sort of . . .

JL: Absolutely. I think so. And I think that I would’ve been able to. There’s reasons that those companies succeeded back then. The work was good, but also the idea of making art was really interesting to everyone. You know, it comes again back down to money, that dancers will say, Well, how much does it pay? That’s the first question out of their mouth, instead of, Wow, I want to do that, because it’s your work. And I have a lot of dancers ask me whenever I have a company can I be in it? And my hope is that—I don’t know where I see myself in ten years—but I would like to have a company. I would like to be in a situation where I have taken over a company as opposed to building a company from the ground up. I just don’t ever see myself doing that. Or inventing a new way of having a company that is only sustainable for a certain amount of time, or introduce a new concept.

MF: Would you like the freedom to collaborate, say, with a visual artist to do something specifically tied to that work? I was thinking of the way Cunningham worked with Jasper Johns or Rauschenberg.

JL: I would welcome that any day. I would. I love that idea.

MF: Do you get around to see a lot of what’s new in terms of visual art in New York?

JL: I do. We live right next to the PS122 in Long Island City, and I went out and looked at some of the work. It was interesting, I think, if it was that specific exhibition. It wasn’t proper for dance, that’s for sure. It was fine. It was interesting, but it wasn’t anything that would become a ballet.

MF: Have you ever thought of collaborating with somebody like a poet rather than music?

JL: Yeah, absolutely. Anything. Poetry, writers, stories, composers—anything, really. There’s an interesting concept that Memphis Ballet is doing, that every year they do something inspired by another profession. And one year it was chefs, and ballets were danced inspired by food. My year—I didn’t do it, but I was asked to do it—was architecture. I was like, Oh, I got a good year, if I do this. That would be really cool. I’d love to work with somebody and be inspired by their profession, their art.

MF: Is there something that if you had all the freedom to make, that you could just choose to do—the money was there, the dancers were there—what’s the first thing that would come to your mind that you would love to do?

JL: I don’t know. I would love to do a story piece. I would love to do a full evening. I would love to do opera. And I would love to do dance in museums. I would love that. I would love to make a company that would be something that traveled from museum to museum, and it didn’t perform in a theater, but it performed in the museum space somewhere, somehow—that’s what we did, we took dance to art and to artists and opened up that connection.


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