Ryan Underbakke and Emily King were two of the intrepid performers at this year’s Choreographers’ Evening. Both graduates from the University of Minnesota, they have performed collaborations in London in addition to their work here. Ryan has a background in theater and has performed with Son of Semele and City Garage Theater companies in L.A., in addition to being a founding member of Giant Bird theater group. Emily’s background is in dance, and she just finished performing in Jon Ferguson’s Super Monkey in October at the Guthrie, and worked this past summer with choreographer Morgan Thorson on her piece Heaven, which will be shown at the Walker in March. I asked their opinions on the state of the local dance and theater communities and picked their brains on some of the separations between audiences and the arts. If only I had space herewith to chronicle all the dots that we connected! Here are some selections from an interview with them last week.
Jesse Leaneagh: Emily, I think we’ve talked about Morgan Thorson before, her Heaven piece that’s coming [to the Walker]…but I was interested in the extent you’ve worked with her in the past, your experiences with her?
Emily King: I met Morgan—I was working with Karen Sherman, her partner, two years ago, on a piece, that Karen did last fall at the Southern Theater, called Copperhead, kind of based on aggressor-victim violence/Manson family connections. Part one of Copperhead was a piece she did in her basement about mainly the Manson family and the Manson women. So I did that, and that’s kind of how I met Morgan. And they collaborated on a piece at the [University of Minnesota] that I was in, called Double Rainbow; it was because I worked with Karen, and then I worked with them together, and then for Heaven, I came on as an understudy and personal assistant to Morgan.
So I was with them all summer through the creation process…I would do whatever she needed; I would dance if somebody was gone, or I would videotape if she needed some rehearsal footage, or I would talk to her as an outside eye.
JL: Where did that all happen, was that in town here?
EK: That was here [in Minneapolis], and then she did a residency at the Walker for two weeks in August.
JL: These are bigger questions, but they’re things the Walker is thinking about lately…I was wondering for the both of you, if you feel there’s a better way to connect our generation [twentysomethings] to dance, or a way to connect new audiences to dance, people who are unfamiliar with the medium?
EK: Well, we can both answer, but I think Ryan should answer first, because I’m curious to hear what would bring him into dance, as someone who is theater-trained, and coming into dance-based work….
Ryan Underbakke: I have to openly admit that, being trained in theater—different kinds of theater, realism, naturalism, Lecoq and abstraction—dance was always something that was frowned upon. In all of the training, it was even kind of a deterrent: it’s too dance-y, it looks like a dance piece—it was a bad thing. So meeting Emily and having conversations about what she thought was important in dance and what she saw in dance kind of trained my eye as well…I want to tell a story Emily told me—we saw quite a bit of dance in London and talked a lot about dance—Emily explained there’s this move called the arabesque, a ballet position, and it originated from this idea that seems very theatrical and very physical-theater, if I do say so myself, of trying to point to the moon—
EK: of trying to reach the moon—
RU: to reach the moon to the best of your ability, and it slowly became you tried to reach so high that your leg went up a little bit and higher and higher until it’s become this movement of just the leg going up without the connection to the moon necessarily, it’s become quite codified. I think that for me, as somebody who is just taking their first baby steps into a world that is much more recognizable to you [Emily], it’s that kind of codified work that keeps us out, and I think that goes across a lot of art, it’s a matter of—
JL: of seeing the meanings that were there in the beginning?
RU: exactly, and also what I mean by codified, there’s a code that an audience might not understand, and that’s very alienating. At LISPA (the London International School of Performing Arts) they always used this great term which is “the innocent audience”…so how can you connect with an innocent audience? I think that’s it, how do we get someone who’s been watching dance for 20 years, and someone who’s never seen dance, how does the innocent audience and the understood audience both enjoy it for the same reason?
EK: And it’s interesting too, the Walker is such a great place, there’s been so many amazing performances here, historically, I think about Trisha Brown who did some of her first experimental pieces in Loring Park… but so much dance occurs, almost in a way, behind closed doors, in these inaccessible places, and I think for kids our age that’s not appealing to put on a suit and go see that, or it’s just not a reality for a lot of people.
I’m curious about bringing art, and movement-based art, a little bit closer to people and having it be something they can interact with on a tangible level rather than something they have to seek out. I think for a place like the Walker, that brings in so many different movement and theater artists, as artists ourselves we can say we think this kind of piece connects better with people. But it’s interesting to think about how do you just bring a range of things to people?
Neither of us are on Twitter, but we talk to our friends about it, because we’re curious, but you can search for a subject, and everything that everybody all over the world has said about that subject that day will come up, so I’ve been thinking about that lately in terms of art, and getting it to more people, is that any little subject that this art deals with can easily be accessed by all these people, everywhere, and not just your facebook friends—
JL: like a global broadcast…
My last question is I was wondering if you could share a current piece of inspiration. It could be connected to Choreographers’ Evening or something unrelated?
EK: Something that inspires us? Or that is meant to be inspirational for other people? [laughter]
RU: Like a cat poster…of a cat hanging, something like that?
EK: Hang in there!
RU: What’s actually inspiring us? Or what would inspire the masses, is that what you’re saying? [laughter]
JL: I need you to come up with a maxim, that I can publish, I’m making a book of inspirational quotes… No, I guess I just meant a piece of music, or art, or you can share something that would inspire others, [laughter] I’ll change that wording for the next interview: cut inspiration
RU: No, I love it, it’s way more inspirational, I’m inspired by people asking me about inspiration.
I think to be completely honest, Lost, the TV show, is an amazing inspiration. And by that I mean, it’s a primetime TV show, but what it does that I think is inspiring is that it lives in the question, I don’t think it’s afraid of the question, and the entire show is a great deal of questions, and I feel like it inspires a great deal of discussion and feedback, negative or positive, but it’s a good example of something that exists in kind of this global market that we talk about, this overarching thing that everyone can see, that’s not didactic, that’s not out to tell us anything, it’s out to ask us questions, and I think that’s extremely inspiring for me, to be honest.