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beyond their normal comfort level'
It's a Thursday afternoon in West Philadelphia. The Community Education Center has opened its doors to let another day of its usual artistic traffic pass through. I'm here meeting with choreographer and friend Megan Bridge about her newest work, Subject In Two Parts, due to open May 2, for a three-day engagement in the Center’s Meeting House Theater.
Subject in Two Parts is a study of the performative nature of identity and the fragmented and slippery subject that is created by continuous exposure to media. Bridge and fellow dancers invoke figures as diverse as performance artist Carolee Schneeman, the mother of writer William S. Burroughs, and cultural icon Marilyn Monroe to create a work that is funny, dark, sexy, and smart.
Bridge received the 2007-2008 New Edge Resident Artist in Dance Award, a wonderful opportunity for both emerging and established Philadelphia-based artists to create original work. Each award recipient receives a modest stipend, free rehearsal space, a photo-shoot and a full-scale production of their work. Because the award is geared to experimental performance art, winning choreographers oftentimes feel less afraid to express more dissident creative ideas.
I’ve never met Megan in this context before: watching the artist at work. By now she's at the stage of creation where only small changes to the piece are being made. She has already shown excerpts from Subject In Two Parts at multiple venues, including The Performance Mix Festival in New York and Philadelphia’s Current Performance Series at Mascher Space Co-op. She has spent eight-plus years making her own work and performing in the choreography of major Philadelphia companies such as Group Motion Dance, The Bald Mermaids, SCRAP/Myra Bazell, Headlong Dance Theater, and Rennie Harris, and one can easily see how dancing has carved her into a powerful and confident artist.
Bridge greets me with a kiss, one hand holding her six-month-old son Tristan at her hip while the other remains free to direct her cast of four very familiar Philadelphia-based dancers: Meg Foley, Lorin Lyle, John Luna and Rebecca Sloan. Bridge’s longtime collaborator and partner Peter Price, who is designing the production’s sound and video, is also in the room helping the rehearsal run smoothly. The dancers rehearse their moves while Megan and I talk.
KOSOKO: How would you describe your current work? What does it offer to the Philly's contemporary dance scene?
BRIDGE: My work in general tends toward the dark, dystopian and sci-fi, often with ironic twists of humor and psychedelia. I think a lot of work in Philadelphia is often caught up with entertaining its audience, being accessible or being beautiful. I'm not particularly interested in any of those things in my work: I want to push my audiences beyond their normal comfort level and I hope that they'll leave not "getting it" but maybe thinking about "it," maybe asking questions about time, space, the world we live in and how meaning is constructed.
When I watch myself, I’m bored
KOSOKO: What concerns you most with American movement?
BRIDGE: Something that concerns me right now as a dancer is that I love doing movement that I am really tired of watching. In other words, I have a whole vocabulary of movement that’s built into my body through years of training, and these are the first things that "come out" when I am improvising and choreographing. They are my habits and my "go to" moves, moves that are comfortable and feel good on my body (for me specifically this is a lot of spinning, long leg and arm extensions, and in general very distal movement). But when I watch myself do this movement (on video or even in the studio mirror), I feel like it’s movement I've seen a thousand times— I am bored with it. In some way I address this conflict in my current work.
KOSOKO: We live in a YOUTUBE-GOOGLE-nation. How has technology influenced and/or hindered your creativity as a dance-maker?
BRIDGE: I've worked a lot with video since 2000, and almost every work that I've created in the last ten years has been danced to electronic music. So in those two examples, technology has clearly been very important. With this current work, I've found a new way to use technology as a tool: I videotaped all the dance material (as I always do), but rather than just watching it over and over again on my TV screen, this time I imported it all into iMovie. For the quartet, I broke all the material into separate clips and named them all. Then I started moving the clips around, and this was how I came up with the structure for the work. I had a lot of fun doing this and I think I'll definitely work this way again. Also, I found some of the sound source material for Subject on the internet through file sharing and YouTube.
Structure first, movement last
KOSOKO: Subject in Two Parts is broken into two sections: a solo and a group piece. Choreographically, what is different in the construction of your solo verses the group work?
BRIDGE: This was the first solo work that I've created with the help of an outside director, and I don't think I'll be able to go back to working without one in the future! Greg Giovanni came into my process very early in the creation of the solo. One of the first tasks he gave me was to create a structure, so before I even had any movement for the solo, I already had a lot of ideas and a timeline all mapped out. Movement came last— well, actually sound and video came last, but in terms of choreography the movement was the last to be created. The process for the quartet was completely different…we made material (and a TON of it) for about two weeks straight, and only in the third week did we start putting things together, overlapping, building a structure and making transitions. I think this makes the group work feel a bit more like a series of vignettes, or like the aperture of a camera lens opening and closing to reveal worlds and then hide them again, while the solo seems to have more of a temporal progression.
KOSOKO: You channel some pretty ironic and iconic characters in your new work. Why these characters in particular?
BRIDGE: To be honest, these are just characters that I've studied or come into contact with and that have inspired me at different times in my own life. They were all good jumping-off points, and all very rich characters to mine for information and inspiration. If I were a different person, or had a different past trajectory, I imagine that Marilyn Monroe, Carolee Schneeman, William S. Burroughs, and the Pookah could just as easily have been replaced with, say, Judy Garland, Valie Export, Charles Bukowski, and, well, the Pookah has to be the Pookah.
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