Jane Comfort Brings Out the Humans in NYC

 In 2016, Archives, Best Of, Dd Exclusive

This week Jane Comfort and Company premieres a new work at the Kitchen as part of American Dance Institute’s New York season. We were lucky to be able to chat with Jane Comfort about You Are Here, which was created with support from ADI’s Incubator residency program, and is an ode to urban dwellers.

{ DIY dancer }, Candice Thompson: How long have you lived in NYC?

Jane Comfort: I moved here in 1971, on January 1st. When I first moved to NYC and I remember being in the canyons of midtown and thinking: they haven’t figured out how to control that yet? Surely they can stop it from raining in NYC. I grew up in Oakridge, TN, a town that was part of Manhattan project, so there were a bunch of theoretical physicists running around. Then I went to school in Chapel Hill, NC. Somehow I found these little yankee towns in the south. I had a lucky upbringing. Since 1978, I have been in Tribeca. I moved there because I needed space to make work. Who knew it would become the neighborhood it is now?

CT: How did you collect the stories about living in NYC for this work?


Photo by Liz Lynch.

Photo by Liz Lynch.

JC: When we did a piece called Beauty, it was based on years of dialogue with each other about women and their various beauty practices. So for this work, everyone just started bringing in their stories of the city to rehearsal. I have a Cuban American dancer who told us about getting caught in the rain, so he was running through SoHo to get to his destination. He was stopped and thrown up against a wall by cops who wanted to know why he was running, why was his heart rate elevated? Another cop eventually pulled up and said “oh its not him.” They were looking for someone who had not paid a cabbie. When they walked away from their mistake, they said to him, “this is your lucky day.” We put a form of this story in the piece. Another dancer told of a guy moving in on her aggressively in the subway. Just as she was about to leave and switch cars, a woman sat in between them and made a buffer. Another story of a dancer who grew up in the NYC suburbs: he would come in every weekend to see Hedwig at the Jane Hotel. He was there so much he even became an usher. Originally I did think there would language in the story, recorded stories like these about the city. Later I decided to remove the text, but these things still pop up in our work.

CT: What brought about your shift from narrative dance theater to more abstract works about place?

JC: The shift wasn’t intentionally about places. Beauty involved so much research, and before that a piece about torture, so I wanted to move out of my comfort level of text, and just work with time and space, no narrative or theme, like many choreographers do. I wanted to collaborate with my designers, Joe Levasseur and Brandon Walcott, and when I went into the studio I had in my mind the desert, the movement and timeframe was slow and this landscape became Altiplano. When Sean Donovan came into rehearsal with this skittery, insect energy, I decided this looked like an environment with creatures in it. So when it came to do grant writing, which Sean works with me on, I was thinking of environments. I decided I would like to do an urban living piece. When he wrote up the grant, he said, “this is your second piece about place.”

Photo by Liz Lynch.

Photo by Liz Lynch.

CT: Does grant writing always affect the creative process?

JC: Grants are good because they force you to focus on intention and develop these sentences that no one wants to write. And you know, Sean was right. But this time around is different. Altiplano was about scaring myself. This time with You Are Here, I am making a piece with abstract movement but it is about the tribe having to live with itself. In the this city, we don’t look at each other, we don’t touch each other, but somehow we make it work. We have all these relationships daily and then we go home and get ready to do it all over again. There will be plenty of group dancing and duets, but we also added video. I have had such spare sets my whole career, I couldn’t imagine it. But I saw this smart video at a La Mama show that Lianne Arnold did and knew immediately she has the right kind of brain for us. Now I don’t have to solve every challenge just with bodies on the stage.

Photo by Liz Lynch.

Photo by Liz Lynch.

CT: How will the Kitchen be set up? I have seen that space in several different configurations…

JC: Seats on risers. Knowing that there are no wings, no crossovers, only two entrances, we structured the piece around that. We can project on the back wall and slam into it. The ADI incubator in Rockville, MD, made it exactly like the performance space so we could practice. It was incredibly helpful. There is a surprise in the show and we were able to try it with an audience to see if it worked.

CT: What about the music?

JC: It is electronic. It captures moments when you are in your head alone and it is very quiet. In one section it is silent and then Brandon brings in these little piano arpeggios—it is so soft someone thought it was coming from down the hall—it is so beautiful. I hope no one accuses me of being pretty.

CT: Why would that be so terrible?


Photo by Liz Lynch.

Photo by Liz Lynch.

JC: When I get this close to a show I get this devil on my shoulder imagining the meanest critics. I imagine someone making a snarky comment about one of my favorite moments, and that is a completely unarmored moment. Liz Prince will do a white almost transparent costume. It is vulnerable. Everyone has a NY story, and we were always coming in with new stories, but anyone can take exception. Ultimately, it is still a very abstract work about people trying to live together, and in light of this political season, it is also plea for decency in people. A plea and need for calm decency.

Click here for tickets to You Are Here.
The Kitchen
June 16-18, 8 p.m.


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