“I am happiest when I don’t have to talk, or think, when my body can do the talking/thinking for me.”
For an artist whose bio begins with the notion of kinetics trumping conversation, incorporating the language of the Ivory Tower as a leitmotif could seem like a misstep. However, Daniel Gwirtzman is as precise with his ideas as his performances are with movement. His work is not marred by robotic syncopation. Rather, he is the rare contemporary dancer who actually appears to be enjoying himself. I recently spoke to Daniel about his upcoming performance “The Lecture”.
JL: Why take on the University?
DG: I’m not sure I am taking on the Ivory Tower or Academia so much as exploring the idea that we have multiple intelligences. We tend to stratify things and confine them to their separate subjects. With “The Lecture” it’s exciting to explore this fusion that interests me. What is challenging to the intellectual side of one and what is challenging to the physical side, and where these two intersect. I’m not trying to make any judgment or case. It’s not a pitting against, rather it’s a bringing together.
JL: How does your piece address the disconnect between action and thought?
DG: What’s nice about having a score of lectures is there is a concrete platform. What I am aspiring to do is utilize that, and create a context so an audience member can do just that, see how we can marry action and thought. I am interested in starting with the obvious and stripping away layers to see how far I can go into the abstract world without losing an audience. For me, as a dancer, the idea of action and thought being separate is kind of foreign.
JL: Does “The Lecture” deal with distractibility, with this notion of being overloaded by stimuli?
DG: I think “The Lecture” is focused on reduction and simplification more than distractibility. The distractibility is allowing the audience member to process the audio and visual components of the piece at the same time. I am being attentive to over stuffing as well. I am not having video work. I am considering that these lectures are complete thoughts by themselves. It requires a different level of concentration. Hearing about the evolution of language, the evolution of our brains, of gender and how that affects behavior, the challenge is to give honor to these lectures, not competing with them, but letting them have a supporting role. What “The Lecture” is trying to do is synthesize something that is intellectual and give it a physical shape.
JL: Where are the university segments derived from and how does your experience as a teacher shape the performance?
DG: As an educator I love to teach, but I am not interested in making something didactic. I can’t say there is one university professor or lecture that inspired the performance. I was pretty adamant that mentioning Charlie Rose would be part of the press release because that is a huge source of inspiration for me, particularly his series on the brain. Watching him feels like granola for my brain.
JL: How can dance deal with the bridge between the literal and the abstract?
DG: First and foremost the dance must create a jolt; there must be a physical impact. One of the problems with the general audience member viewing Modern dance is they can’t get passed the fact that they are watching a person. They are not able to see it in an abstract way or in the same formalistic terms as you would view a Mondrian. There is a lot of resistance to getting passed the fact you are watching bodies. We are a puritanical culture. The literal in dance is something that is available to us immediately and what “The Lecture” is aspiring to do is show that just as a word has morphed over 1500 years, the same thing can happen to dance. We can start to find comfort in the palette of movement on its own merits and it does not need to be wedded to a specific narrative. I am interested in a certain neutrality of movement, a neutrality of the body. In my class work I am teaching, I am interested in cultivating a kind of anti-technique, in understanding symmetry, equality, a purity of movement without a specific style. With “The Lecture” I am starting with a place of comfort so we can then go to that place of abstraction.
The Lecture will be performedat The Ailey Citigroup Theater.
Jonathan Lang is a film critic and writer. His graphic novel FEEDING GROUND is forthcoming in October from Archaia. You can follow him on twitter at @SwiftyLang
Essential links for this post: