Trajal Harrel interviews himself as Alexandre Roccoli
AR: How long have you been working in France?
TH: All together, I am in residency for eight weeks.
AR: Why did you choose to work in France?
TH: I had been doing research in France since 2003 and developing some professional relationships here. I had worked there before, but this time was the most supported in terms of time and economy. But one could say, “we chose each other.”
AR: And where? Paris?
TH: No, I was working at three national choreographic centers. CCN Montpellier, CCN Belfort, and CNDC Angers.
AR: Working on?
TH: A new group piece entitled Quartet for the End of Time.
AR: What is it about?
TH: I have a hard time talking about it before it’s finished, but suffice to say it’s about sincerity.
AR: Sincerity, in what way?
TH: I cannot say. I am too “in it” right now. I don’t want to talk so much about it…I know that’s quite difficult for an interview but perhaps we can talk more about the last piece I made, Showpony, which we performed in France.
AR: Yes, I saw it on dvd.
TH: Yes, I think it is related to the work you did in New York.
AR: In what way?
TH: ln that the work deals with the notion of dance community.
AR: Can you say more?
TH: No, absolutely not… I’m kidding! The work is about the relationship between competition, support, and rapport and how they define dance community. Through this inquiry, the work attempts to blur the boundaries between audience, community, and performer through the frames of visibility/invisibility, attention/non-attention, recognition/non-recognition. All being things which define what gets valued in community and in particular in artistic community.
AR: Who defines these values?
TH: I think we all define these values: audiences, performers, makers, programmers, funders. And mind you, often the audience is also made of professionals in the dance community alongside people with no relationship to the dance community. So, I think performance is a place where this set of values is performed on many levels some more subtle than others, of course. Showpony tries to bring this frame and performance of values to the forefront of the performance rather than allowing it to remain the underlying subtext.
AR: Is it confrontational?
TH: I wouldn’t say it is confrontational. In fact, it might be the opposite. Its non-confrontational. It doesn’t force you to look at or examine anything. There are many choices presented and this array of possibilities forces you to confront or perhaps align yourself with what you value as an audience--- what you pay attention to or recognize or make visible. Or rather I could say it opens up a space of attention and non-attention and all those various things I talked about --- yes, a space of visibility and invisibility, etc.
AR: Can you be more concrete?
TH: Well, you could spend the whole piece looking at the audience if you want . The architecture of the seating allows you to look at the audience quite a bit and we, the performers, sit in the same seats as the audience. So, you don’t have to look at the dance, per se. Maybe you just look at the two people sitting across from you. I am tremendously fascinated by watching audiences. I am the annoying person sitting in front of you at a performance who keeps looking around at people. What is the dance in other words? I mean this is the question we keep asking, no? And how we perform as audiences is inextricably linked to how value is assigned in the dance community. Or at least it is one way. And one way among many that we try to forefront in Showpony.
AR: Do you think every performance is a dance community?
TH: Well, I think every dance performance is an opportunity to perform community, yes.
AR: How did you start this research?
TH: It started with the piece I did before Showpony. It was called Before Intermission and after this work, I had major post-performance depression. And I thought, why do this? I had been onstage for eight minutes total of the thirty-minute piece and the piece didn’t tour. So, I worked for a year and a half on something, and my own stage experience of it was sixteen minutes in total. I thought wow there is something wrong in this equation.
I decided that for the next work I would be onstage every minute of the piece. I didn’t want to miss a second of it. So, I began to consider the economy and value of that time. How it could be defined? Who would define it? And what were the potential consequences?
At some point, I realized too that I had found another link between the Judson postmodern tradition and the voguing tradition. This link being that they were/are intense communities and that the notion of community has propelled both of these traditions.
AR: So you see community as defining the value?
TH: No, I think it’s quite complex. Community is a filter through which we can see how values get assigned, negotiated, perpetuated, created, etc.
AR: And is there a difference in how they get assigned in Voguing versus Judson?
TH: Of course.
TH: Again it’s complex but in Voguing one way in which value is assigned is through competition. Voguing is a form of competition first and foremost. I wouldn’t say that value in the Judson tradition is not assigned as well through competition. Of course, it is, but it is more subtle and a subtext. In Showpony, we both try to be subtle while simultaneously framing aspects of competition.
AR: I don’t quite follow, how is the Judson tradition competitive?
TH: Well, every performance relies on some degree of comparison with other performances. This all gets extenuated through critical reflection on the part of the spectator as well as through the critical industry surrounding the artwork through curatorship, economic support, clapping, reviews, etc. Yet, what I think is incredibly important is that this competition is balanced by a tremendous amount of support on the parts of all these structures as well. And both of these communities—Judson and Voguing--- reflect that culture of support as well. As well as the third aspect, I spoke about, rapport.
I think in dance unlike any other field, the support from those with whom you compete for support is as critical. How many of us could have any kind of work without the professional support of our colleagues? The same colleagues we compete with for money, gigs, recognition, etc.
AR: More than any other field? Are you sure?
TH: No, I am not sure, but I think the precarious economics of dance requires a kind of mutual collegiality that isn’t necessary in say the visual arts where there is more potential for economic freedom. It is kind of lame to invoke the visual art comparison but I think the same is true for music, theater, film, etc. It’s all quite relative for sure, but what I am talking about is different than collaboration.
AR: In what way?
TH: I think if we were to do a study of all the art industries, I think one would find a greater percentage of people in dance sharing economies. There is more gift economy, I think. People do more things for free, little, or no money. There is also more necessity to share economies administratively and to share space. I think of course you have people working for free on film as well, but you also have 100 million dollar films. You don’t have so many 100 million dollar dances, so the potential for complete economic independence or sustainability is less. Not that a 100 million dollar film is independent. I am just saying that in an economy of that size you have individuals benefiting at economic levels that foster independence from the kind of support and economic need at the individual level that most contemporary dance runs on. It’s one of our strengths and one of our weaknesses. So many artists in other fields are able to own their means of production and sometimes even the means of distribution. This is rarely so in dance. I don’t know if it would even be a worthy goal. That’s a good question. The fact that we need and rely on each other in order to sustain our work and potential growth fosters something quite human in scale which perhaps is one of the great beauties of dance. Which I think in some way connects quite directly to performing community.
The slideshow at the end of Showpony begins with a series of photos of beds. David Bergé, who collaborates with me on the slideshow, and I are both constantly collecting pictures of dance community beds. People in the dance community have a kind of unwritten apartment share code embedded in the community. People are always hosting each other and/or hosting friends and colleagues of each other. Because people move around for work and travel so much, yet most often don’t have budgets for hotels unless it’s an official institutionalized gig, there’s quite a bit of this kind of unofficial sleepover going on. An empty room or bed, sofa, or sometimes a whole apartment waiting for someone whose in town to perform, rehearse for a project with little funding, maybe looking for work or doing research or whatever. Sometimes there’s money exchanged, sometimes not. Most often, not, I would say. It’s not even really a barter system, but definitely a feature of this economic interdependence and gift economy. Then too, there are also the beds in the different residency centers which, we as invited artists invited at different times inevitably share as well as the beds in hotels which certain venues routinely book for artists. These too form a part of this economy. All together, those photos of the beds further symbolize the beauty of that kind of very human scale connection and performance of community.