slowdanger Q&A

May 31, 2016

a conversation between slowdanger and Jennifer N. Myers

I sat down with slowdanger recently at a coffee house to discuss their collaborative identity, their artistic process, and the story behind this new work being presented tonight, memory 4.  These two performers embody a whole range of experiences, emotions, pathways, and processes.  Their intuition is the guiding force in their practice, and the work feels like a mixture between ritual, technique, sudden epiphany, and deep engagement.  Their attention to stillness, awareness, sound and movement takes my breath away each time I experience it sonically, visually, emotionally, spiritually, and intuitively.   

Tell me first about your name, where did it come from, what does it mean to you?

Our name slowdanger has been incubating during the past six years of collaborating, but only became clear and spoken out loud two years ago.  It reflects our intuitive process as artists to movement, stillness, rigor, and risk.  We feel like it embodies who we are: when you see a sign on the street that says SLOW DANGER it means something is being fixed, repaired, in the process of decay and construction.  It is telling you there is a process taking place of transition, transformation, decay, repair.  It is a sign and symbol to slow down, pay attention, be aware, take in your surroundings.  This is us, what we are doing with our work, together and individually.  The name implies past structures, something shifting and being demolished and reconstructed.  Because that is what happens when things exist – they shift and change.  As slowdanger, we explore stillness and different states of being, what is dangerous, where the edge exists, and how close we can get to it.  We are really interested in making people slow down, pay attention, practice awareness. We push our audience to be patient, and then surprise them with unexpected moments of obliteration and drama.  

How long have you been a collaborative duo?

We met at Point Park University as students studying dance.  At first we kept our distance from each other, there was always a strong attraction, and then slowly we began to connect.  This took root as correspondence over Facebook messenger, where we essentially became pen pals and wrote back and forth to each other extensively.  It was like we found someone who spoke our precise, complex, personal language and suddenly there was so much to share.  It evolved in this manner, and we created our first presentation together in 2012.

Ok, great, that is my next question! What was your first work together?

The work was so slow, as slow as we could possibly make it.  We created the structure and then took time away from one another.   When we saw each other again for the first time it was on stage.  We stood across from each other staring into one another’s faces.  Until they shifted, changed, morphed, and it felt like we were hallucinating.  We slowly, slowly walked towards each other and right before embracing the lights went out.  That was our first piece, and really symbolizes so much about how, what, and where we were at the time and still today.

What a beautiful way to begin this journey together. Following this first creation, what has been the process for making and building your work together throughout the past six years and how has the process evolved?  

First of all, we see all our work as one fundamental work – an ongoing piece that evolves over time in different variations, manifestations, and points along the continuum.  It is all deeply informed by how we began: in stillness, in an almost artistic sense of infancy where wonder, awe, stillness, and awareness were paramount to the experience of creating.  Although we have gotten faster, taken different risks, and pushed ourselves in new ways with each work we create, that foundation is always present for us.

The process is very informed by us stating: let’s not think about kinetic energy, but instead about the potential energy here.  Let’s bring our awareness to all this potential, and really let ourselves soak in it.

We spent so many years being taught rigorous technique in dance conservatory, so much that our bodies required and demanded this stillness to really be able to absorb it all.  After four years of this kind of intense training, which is almost like a form of military training, the reflexive anxiety within us was palpable and present.  We had been moving so much, for so long, and so intensively and in such a disciplined way.  Being still with each other, as part of our process, was literally what our bodies required to absorb and hold all that had been happening.

How has sound entered your collaborative work?

We were both working independently on our own sound projects.  Anna has been studying voice since she was a child, and I (Taylor) was making bedroom beats,  not really showing them to anyone.  That was a really big spark that happened between us when we began to collaborate. We both realized we had these other interests, with sound and music, and it was a great opportunity to work on them together and figure them out as a team.  The work has been evolving ever since, and is something we are constantly working on.  It has now become totally integral and important to our movement-based work.  We build our songs from field recordings, from Anna’s endless notebooks, from songs we have been singing for years, from work we are influenced by as sampling, re-mixing.  There really are no limits to either of these pursuits.

I love hearing about your process, ; it is so intuitive and generative and beautiful.  It is a trusted, essential force that you both rely and depend upon and has yielded great things for you.  Let’s turn now to the work you are presenting here tonight, mMemory 4.  Where does this come from? I am assuming there is mMemory 1, 2, 3, that predates this work?

Yes, actually it began with memory 0:.….. in 2013.  The theme of this first work was distance and longing.  This was followed by memory 1: luminosity.  In this piece we explored energetic ties, and used yarn to tie each other together.  memory 2: demo, was created as a response to the first two and was about demolishing the past self to define and create the new self.  We explored trauma and used this work as a place of cleansing. It felt very much like a wash-cycle, we were going in circles, cleansing ourselves of our past and preparing for the future.  In memory 3: swimmoon, we were in a place of rebirth and renewal from the previous work and explored the unification and the beauty in interruption.  There was much less stillness in this piece.  We discovered here that time is a spiral.

That brings us to memory 4, which has no subtitle.  We have been working on this for over one year, which is the longest time we have ever had to develop and nurture a piece.  In this work we are bringing in two performers, Jasmine Hearn and PJ Roduta, to be with us on stage.  This is the first time we have opened it up to other performers in this series, and the work asked and demanded that we do it.  We are also collaborating with three other artists on the production of the work: Celeste Neuhaus, Mario Ashkar, and Mike Cooper.  mMemory 4 explores a sense of static overdrive, the demand and necessity of encountering and overcoming obstacles and tasks, and exploring parts of memory that are uncomfortable, and even untouchable and in this way become toxic.  We are examining this as a collective of artists to find a new language in collaboration and expression.  

Tell me about this collective of performers and artists, and what their specific roles are in memory 4.

A big part of deciding collaborators was trust and resonance. Within the process of preparing for memory 4, we were lucky to look around and find real resonance with certain people in our circle.  The two performers in our work are Jasmine Hearn and PJ Roduta. We have worked with Jasmine and PJ on several other projects, and have always admired and looked up to their artistic sensibilities and commitment. As performers, we believe we share a desire to describe indescribables and live in the unknown, while simultaneously calling upon specificity, intentionality, and exploration of form both musical and physical. As a drummer, PJ can translate movement clearly and musically but without dance affectation, a quality we really value. He brought a knowledge of polyrhythms and musical complexity, as it pertains to rhythmic choices within movement. Jasmine and Anna had a past process exploring pleasure and vocal work. Jasmine has a way of taking something new, vocally, and making it feel familiar, a quality Jasmine and Anna worked with to restructure jazz and musical theater standards within memory 4. Is it an original song? Have I heard this before? That is something we hope to recall within the audience without them having to put a finger on what we are directly referencing.

Both PJ and Jasmine are ingenuitive improvisers and are able to work methodically and fearlessly within structured improvisations. Improvisation is a large part of our generative process and does not disappear within the anchoring and definition of a work. While elements of the piece are crafted and choreographed, ‘anchored improvisations’ are important for us to maintain in order to keep the freshness and freedom we desire within a performative context.

Celeste Neuhaus is an artist who understands intuitively the ways that materials contain, and become, memory.   Medical tubing, used easterEaster grass, cemetery wreaths, and VHS tapes are some of the materials she used to create ‘nests’ that hold and absorb memory in their very material.  They also become a receptacle to receive memory.  Celeste has a clear and refined way of listening to our directorial visions, asking questions, and offering perspective. In the objects she has designed for the show, she considered and evaluated every step of the process: from where the materials were found, to what memory they already held, to the energy behind them, to how they are assembled and the symbology tied to that. She looked at every part conceptually and intuitively to create a landscape that performs as it’s own system of memories.

Mario Ashkar’s process of generating imagery is what drew us to work with him. We had previously worked together on an animated series that was made entirely out of film photographs that took a little over two years to complete. It was the project that allowed us to know Mario as a friend and fellow artist.  This work was being made during the inception of our moniker, slowdanger. The visuals he contributed to memory 4 are derived from a layering technique he discovered by scrolling through his Iinstagram profile. Memories/images are layered and scrolled, and become animated to eventually create a field of static with a piercing line through it.  Mario’s visual element is an illustration of interference of information to the recollection of memory. It feels as if the floor iwas breaking apart due to an overload of information and static, which is a state we are exploring within the piece. With information and memory overload, static becomes the visualization of electromagnetic noise interfering with the frequency of a receiver. Mario’s process of creating imagery and using artifacts from his memory infuses the visualizations with the layers of experience that adds to the collective landscape of memory 4.

Mike Cooper is our other projectionist and collaborator. We asked him to be on the team due to his knowledge of projection mapping.  We needed this technique to be able to abstract our bodies and other elements within the show. Cooper has a way of listening to your concept and being able to think of the most practical solution to create the image desired within the concept. He works quickly and is very good at taking on new skills in order to adapt to a project.

You have a fantastic team!  Tell me a little about the short residency the four performers attended that became so essential to the creation of memory 4.

One of the most important things we did in preparing for this work was to go on a retreat with the other two performers during the month of April.  We had received a short residency in a very beautiful, natural setting and used this time to escape from the noise of the city and find solace and direction in how to approach our movement and sounds and structure for memory 4.  One of the first exercises we did was to place four objects in each of the four directions (North, South, East, West).  The exercise was to move into whatever direction spoke to you, and each of us gravitated to a different corner that was, we later discovered, related directly to our zodiac ruling element (Earth, Air, Fire, Water).  This astounded us, and allowed us to see that we were clearly on the right path.  During this residency we created a ton of material we could use, it was very informative and generative.  We allowed it to settle and then began discovering all the richness it brought us afterwards.  We also used the residency to make music, sounds, to write, create field recordings.  We were free and nothing was expected of us.  It was a critical experience to have in the creation of this new work.

What are some defining principles that guide you as artists in your community?

In application, we investigate multidisciplinary practices.  We consider this a practice of engagement, with ourselves and our community.  Our journey of how to meld our movement and sound was a catalyst and continues to be ever-changing and full of excitement, pleasure, struggle, and purpose. We usher ourselves to the points where we are up against our own thresholds and places of discomfort, and then we find ways to breakthrough or nudge the walls out.  Our process prompts a steady search for identity, coexistence, understanding, and necessity. We constantly are aiming to challenge ourselves within process, by asking each other questions like: What signal is this sending? What is our intention here? How do you feel within these directives? These principles translate into our teachings as well. Our weekly Sunday movement classes offer experiences informed by our collected trainings in somatic practices, yoga, BodyMindCentering, improvisational techniques, and compositional studies. These workshops are primarily made up of individuals with little or no traditional dance training. This creates an incubator for a pure, wellness- based session that connects the witness and practitioner to their own body. We believe if a viewer is given a personal movement experience, they will be more open and receptive to their kinesthetic reactions that happen naturally when viewing performance.

Finally, last question: how do you define Memory?

Memory is an archive.  It is something that is constantly evolving.  Memory is a continuous source we can draw from, one that is both personal and collective.   For us the collective unconsciousness is a really important part of what we are doing with our work.  We feel we are tapping into it, and find it sacred, essential, and infinite.