what does it mean to be a woman? what does it mean to be a woman in America?
how do we create an alternative geography that follows the existing map but develops from a logic other than the dominant logic of the nation state?
Beginning in 2018, Betsy Miller takes on a new ambitious national choreography project.
The first phase of the american / woman project includes collaborations with New England dance artists Shura Baryshnikov (RI), Ali Kenner Brodsky (MA), Alexandra James (ME), Kellie Ann Lynch and Rachel Boggia (CT), Jessie Jeanne Stinnett (NH), and Lida Winfield (VT).
These collaborations will result in the creation of six dance pieces which will be premiered at MAGMA in Gloucester, MA December 8-9.
Rehearsal footage, notes, and other artifacts from the collaborative processes will be shared below as they emerge:
J: I actually love being underestimated, by men in particular. This has happened, and continues to happen, a lot, whether it be by male choreographers, directors, colleagues, businessmen, etc etc etc. I really enjoy the moment of surprise when I, a woman, accomplish whatever it was that he/they thought that he/they would be more capable of doing.
How do you typically start making a new work when you choreograph?
Considering this culture, and your own personal history… what are aspects of being a woman that have presented tension in your life?
R: Well I didn’t like being sexually assaulted.
I didn’t like being sexually harassed.
I didn’t like being treated by my AP Chemistry teacher like I couldn’t pass the AP Chemistry Exam, even though I had the highest grade in the class.
You know, I didn’t like turning a certain age and having all of my Italian uncles assume that I had nothing good to say anymore, even though when I was a college student, they would all sit down and ask me what I thought about things, and then when I became a real woman they didn’t want to talk to me anymore.
I don’t like having stuff mansplained to me at my job, which happens a lot. I don’t like my male students questioning my expertise, which happens a lot.
I don’t like that in my dance training, my female body was not acceptable and needed to be changed…. especially because I kind of discovered that I have a beautiful body not very long ago, but for most of my life I thought it was a really unfortunate body, and too everything – too big, too curvy, too strong, too inflexible, too brown, you know, name it.
So I think it’s hard. I think there’s a lot of sadness inside of being a woman. But I feel like at this point in my life, none of that is existing as a storm in me anymore- they’re all kind of known quantities and they’re kind of sitting around the dinner table with me all the time, and mostly I know what they’re going to say and I don’t have to respond.
But for many years I think those difficult things ruled me from within …. and made me feel very disquieted, and you know, part of it— I think— is about wanting to prove my intelligence and my and get acceptance into what really still felt like a man’s world.
Why do you dance? Why do you make dance?
K: I feel like all at once I get to do and experience all of the things that really excite me— that really rev my engine— and also terrify me, simultaneously.
….Also it’s the only space I feel like I can be my most fully-realized self. In dance, everything is “YES,” everything is welcomed – your baggage, your greatest strengths, your mediocrity… everything is on the table.
What are some elements that make for positive dance-making experiences for you? What’s going on in the room when it feels healthy, positive, and makes you want to be there?
K: At the risk of sounding too simplistic— support. I think when you feel that there’s support for you to fail, or what you perceive as failing, and make mistakes, or not live up to the choreographer’s expectations, or your own. Having some spaciousness around that, I find that to be… not to dive into the sort of darker side of a rehearsal process, but you know, rehearsals can be really hard… and I think having space around those times when you feel like you aren’t living up to the expectations of the people in the room, but that’s ok, makes for a positive and healthy rehearsal experience for me.
S: I do really think that there’s something about being a woman- an American woman – we do have a certain need to prove ourselves that maybe I don’t see as much in even European women dancers. I both value that- like there’s something kind of gritty in the way that I dance (especially contact improvisation) that I know comes from my culture…. but there’s also tension around that: Why can’t there be more ease? Why can’t there be more flow? Why can’t there be more energetic openness, or comfort, or laxity in some ways? Do we need to be so on guard?
But we live in an environment where a young man this afternoon was just shot and killed outside of my daughter’s school. So yes, I think there’s a kind of grittiness in the way we bite into any physical practice that we are involved in because of the hostility of the world around us and that makes us strong and resilient. But it also is painful, and that trauma is stored in the body in some way. Those tensions are held. All those moments that we spend worrying or grieving over something are moments that our bodies are not at ease or at rest.
What are some words that describe you: (click here for video)
….as an artist?
Instinctual. Messy. Rigorous. Stubborn. Changeable. Easily influenced. Watery. Playful.
….as a human?
Probably almost all of the same things: hardworking, solitary, introverted, emotional, passionate, confused, deceptive, self-critical, sensual, sad.
….as an American?
Angry. Heartbroken. Confused. Distant.
….as a woman?
Maternal. Lonely. Sexual. Strong. Chameleon. Quiet. Processing.
What are some aspects of being a woman that you treasure? (click here for video)
A: There’s power. There’s an inherent power in being a woman.
And sometimes that feels very uplifting to me, and sometimes feels very intimidating to me.
Sometimes I embrace it. Sometimes, I shy away from it.
I immediately go into biology and physiology and having the experience of having been a mother. That is very informative to me. I genuinely feel like there is nothing more powerful than going through the birthing process, and having done that, I feel confident that I could bust down a lot of doors if I really needed to.
There’s something about knowing how to exist successfully in exhaustion that I feel like is something a woman knows really well and it’s frustrating sometimes to know that that’s normalized, and also empowering at the same time, because I think about our capacity if we weren’t so fucking tired all of the time.
IMAGINE what the fuck I could do, or we could do, and what we do in spite of it.
What are some aspects of being a woman/ a woman in this culture that present significant tension points in your life?
A: I feel tension in the expectation to perform in a certain way for people- the expectation about how I am supposed to be or who I’m supposed to be, and what it means if I deny somebody of that expectation, or satisfy that expectation, and the power that lies in either one of those things… I all at once want to live up to those things, and also smash them into a million pieces.
…there is something about the burden that a woman of color carries about this … satisfying a stereotype about the strength that that is supposed to have- how much work and how much trauma that also means you carry, in spite of everything.
And again… reveling in that.
And also being so burdened by it at the same time, and just being so exhausted of it.
What drives you as an artist? Why do you dance/make dance? (click here for audio version)
L: Sometimes I think I have a really clear answer to that, and sometimes I don’t. What I return to is a couple of parts… One, I think that we have wisdom and knowledge that is not linear and that is not exclusively in our brains, so I think there’s knowledge deep inside me and deep inside you and deep inside us that we can only access through our physicality.
So that’s one. The other is: I actually do not care about dance at all.
I think…obviously I do… right, like I care about dance, I’ve dedicated my life to it, but… dance is just the tool that I happen to know to do something bigger. And, so it it’s a vehicle to care deeply about the world and our humanity, and courage and fear, sadness, joy, bravery, community, connection, and I only know how to do that through dance. So that’s what I’m trying to do.
What drives you as an artist? Why do you dance/make dance?
A: i feel compelled to make work. i have this need to be making-to be expressing. when i am in the studio creating i feel calm…it is where things make sense for me. i have always had a difficult time expressing myself with words. i use dance and creating dance to get out what’s inside.
What are some things that make for a good / positive / enjoyable / fulfilling creative process for you?
A: making work with people that understand me….where we leave our egos at the door. where we have fun and are able to bounce ideas off of the other to make something better…to push the process forward. …a process where no one has to be top chicken!
(Click here for a clip of what we’re working on)
american / woman is funded in part by New England Foundation for the Arts’ New England Dance Fund, with generous support from the Aliad Fund at the Boston Foundation.