Award-Winning Choreographers Kimberly Bartosik/daela and Joanna Kotze at Wexner Center Feb. 15-18
Dance is one of the most immediately, viscerally accessible art forms and sometimes the most abstract. The Wexner continues their trend of bringing innovative dance work that anyone with a taste for adventure can embrace in February, with two Bessie award-winning choreographers doing recent pieces for early runs outside of New York City: Kimberly Bartosik and Joanna Kotze. This is the first visit to the Wexner Center for Kotze – she visited as a student while attending Miami and taught recently at OU – and the first for Bartosik since her time in the Merce Cunningham company. I spoke with both choreographers by phone.
The first piece presented in the evening is Étroits sont les Vaisseaux by Kimberly Bartosik/daela and danced by Joanna Kotze and Lance Gries. The New Yorker calls Bartosik, “A savvy explorer of the interstices of intimacy.” “The prior curator, Chuck Helm, came to see it [at a 2017 APAP revival] and really responded to it. It hasn’t really toured besides that but the process of revisiting it between these high-profile presentations has been interesting. I’ve had week-long, intensive rehearsal periods with an informal showing at the end. Each time we come back to it, I learn more about my process and this piece: what kinds of things I was looking at that really came together in this small but potent work. How do I find this really dramatic, really emotional space without being dramatic and being emotional and without losing ideas about form?”
Joanna Kotze choreographed and appears in the evening’s second piece, It Happened It Had Happened It Is Happening It Will Happen. The New York Times called this piece “formidable and strange: a run-on sentence for the body.” The Kotze premiered in 2013 and is making its fourth appearance outside of NYC – after Bard College, Ottawa, and Seattle – with this Wexner Center run. A trio perform this work. Besides Kotze, it includes Netta Yerushalmy and Raja Feather Kelly. She said, “It’s wonderful to have the life of the work continue, especially as we grow and change as people and dancers and keep coming back to the work. There’s always something to rediscover in it.”
Kimberly Bartosik named Étroits sont les Vaisseaux after a massive Anselm Kiefer sculpture. Bartosik said “I purposely did not translate the title because I meant the title to be the same as the sculpture. I came upon [the sculpture] at MASS MoCA in late 2015. It has its own gallery. It’s an 82-foot long sculpture of undulating concrete. Coming out of the concrete are these huge spikes of rusty rebar, and there are crumbling pieces underneath.
“It had a huge emotional impact on me: its size, its weight, the unlikeliness of concrete being undulating. It had a combination of beauty and brutality and peace and pain, these very conflicting emotions and textures in something so mammoth and so beautiful. I saw it and said, Oh. That’s my piece.”
Talking about the way an artist transmutes material from one physical form into another, Bartosik said, “Originally, inspired by seeing it in the middle of the gallery, I thought I’d have my audience in the middle. I created this piece for a really, really small gallery space, about 16 feet wide and 30 feet long. The space was so small and restrictive, I had to abandon that idea. But I knew I didn’t want to make a piece for a small space. I wanted to make a piece that had ideas about scale around it. I didn’t want to make an evening-long piece, but I wanted real emotional depth.”
Kotze talked about the seeds of her It Happened It Had Happened It Is Happening It Will Happen. “Two questions that are always present for me are how we inhabit space together and create work, and how do we create change?” She expanded, “How do we allow for different parts of ourselves to be seen so we can constantly create change in our bodies?”
On the original spark in her piece, Kotze said, “I start a project by coming into a space with different people and generating things over a period of time. Eventually it leads to information that emerges rather than starting with an idea I want to conquer.”
Both choreographers channel their innate sensitivity for the space into these works. Bartosik commented, “Once I decided I didn’t want to make something long, I wanted to work with the sense of time passing. The sculpture had an unlikely feeling of waves to it. I’m from the coast of North Carolina and I thought about the oceanic tidal cycle. A full tide lasts 24 hours and 50 seconds. So I thought I’ll collapse hours into minutes and make a piece lasting 24:50. That was the frame and then the piece ended up being between 21 and 22 minutes. It needed to not be any longer than that. I learned something about making work that’s emotionally dense – after creating several evening-length pieces – but not long.”
Kotze concurred, “Every place we do it, the space is different, and the baseline is our three bodies in relation to the space and the viewers. We always have [audience members] on three sides but we’ve used space smaller and bigger than the Wexner. We’re always rediscovering how we inhabit thatspace?”
Bartosik was at her most effusive talking about her dancers in the piece, Lance Gries and Joanna Kotze. “I’ve been working with Joanna since 2009 so we have a deep knowledge of each other. But Lance Gries, I would seek out something about movement from his body – we didn’t know each other. We would be on tour at all the same festivals and I would just watch him. What is he doing that’s so different from what I know? I developed a long relationship with his artistic practice but we didn’t have our first conversation until 2016 when I invited him to do this project with me.”
“Lance and I started in the studio together before I brought Joanna in because I wanted to get to know him. But he’s a very complicated, emotional man, and very beautiful, and it was almost too much for me. So I almost had to wait until Joanna could come in to create some distance. I hadn’t worked with somebody who has that much emotion coming out of his pores. Part of that is who he is and part of it is he’s a little older and dealing in very real time with where his body is at. He’s such a sophisticated performer he knows how to work with those emotions so they work for the piece; it’s never about him. I feel very lucky to have had this exchange.”
Kotze also spoke about her time working as a dancer with Bartosik. “I met Kimberly because I replaced her in Wally Cardona’s company. Since she asked me to be a part of her work in 2009 I’ve done several pieces. There’s a deep connection as friends and collaborators. I’m a maker but, for me, I’m first a dancer. I really value being in processes with other choreographers; it feeds my process and me as a person. It lets me let go and embody someone else’s ideas for them in something that’s not necessarily what I would make: that’s a challenge for me that’s important. Kimberly is able to give me something that’s both collaborative and challenging; something where I can try to fulfill hervision.”
Kotze also raved about her dancers. “Netta Yerushalmy and I have been working together for many years; we’ve known each other since 2002-3. We’ve danced in other people’s projects. I’ve been in some of her work since 2008. There was something about her as a maker. Her brain, her body, her drive, the rigor she has in her own work. Those are all qualities important in my work. It was intriguing I knew a lot about her, but she’d never been engaged in my process… so I asked her to be in this which started work in 2011. Since this project, she’s been in two of my other projects.”
Kotze talked about the evolution from one dancer to another. “One of the interesting things about the evolution of [It Happened It Had Happened It Is Happening It Will Happen] is we replaced a dancer. Raja’s a newer dancer in the work; he’s helped give it a new life. We premiered with Stuart Singer, who I worked with in Wally Cardona’s company and wanted in my work. He continued in this piece and another piece until he went back to school instead of dancing full time this past year.”
Kotze continued, “Raja and I got to know each other after he saw this piece premiere. He engaged me, ‘I want to get together and talk about work and life.’ This got us together as friends and I watched him dance in other things. We kept dialoguing about work and when we reprised this for APAP in 2017, he came and watched the work again. He had a real connection to the work and a desire to know about it. When I was looking for a dancer to replace Stuart, I needed someone with a connection to the work, who felt like this was something they wanted to be part of. I also needed somebody unique, with a strong presence but who can really gel with the group.”
Balancing the abstract and concrete came up as a thematic concern for both choreographers. Bartosik said, “Coming out of my background with the formal Merce Cunningham, it’s taken me decades – sometimes feels like centuries – to speak on what about form has meaning. I don’t want to make dances that based on form: dance for dance’s sake isn’t what I’m doing. But I respond to highly trained bodies and a virtuosic approach. How do I use that to create a dramatic space? In this piece I figured something out about that. The proximity of the audience to the two bodies – at the Wexner we’re bringing the audience very close in. We feel their sweat, we feel their breathing, there’s a lot of drama in that intimacy without having to be dramatic. I’m trying to bring that specificity into a piece I’m making now [commissioned by BAM] and learning how I can make that last for 45 or 50 minutes.”
Kotze talked about similar threads, “I have things ruminating in my body – things absorbed that I’m reading or watching or what’s happening in the world – that inhabit the space we’re working in. I start with people, movement from my body, and structures and movement with the dancers as collaborators. The work emerges from that: the architecture of our bodies together and also our personalities.”
We spoke about residencies and educational institutions and their place in creating work. Bartosik said “I find residencies at universities to be very, very fruitful. Resources and studio spaces are usually a lot nicer than what I work in here in New York.” Kotze agreed, “The work I’ve made with my – always changing and evolving – company, I’ve been a performer in. But I don’t dance in commissions and work for other companies or for universities. I have a lot of opportunities to be outside of my work but the longer processes still have my body as a part. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to teach and I learn a lot from that challenge. I learn a lot about what’s important to me when I teach and how to articulate that both physically and verbally.”
This evening of dance promises to be a gem of this spring season. Anyone with a love of physical art happening right now and a taste for adventure: do not miss this.
This program runs February 15 through 18 with performances at 8:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more info, visit wexarts.org