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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Choreographer David Dorfman

by Lauren Morrow

David Dorfman; photo by Adam Campos
David Dorfman Dance returns to BAM this week with Come, and Back Again, a new work that explores how hope and humility help to manage the messiness of daily life. Dorfman, who is also the chair of the Connecticut College dance department, took some time to answer the BAM Blog Questionnaire.

How has the choreographic experience of Come, and Back Again been different from other processes?
Well, the biggest thing is that we began with Patti Smith’s music and made numerous sketches to her fine work. Then we switched to Smoke—almost like a choreographic exercise I'd give my advanced comp class at Connecticut College. But besides the music factor, we’ve returned to a smaller group—a quartet, for the first time in a decade, and that’s been intimate and fulfilling. And it’s the first time in longer than a decade that we’ve had a live band by our side throughout the process and performance—completely delightful! CABA, although sensitive and inspired by music every step of the way, has really been a return to a more personal way of working on a dance, mining what issues are coming up for me and for the company as the center of the evening. With CABA we’ve moved from larger social issues to more intimate, personal issues.

How did you come upon Benjamin Smoke’s music, and what  compelled you to include it in the piece?
Our musical director Sam Crawford had been alerted to Smoke’s music a few years back, and he turned me on to it. I then realized that I was around Atlanta at the band’s height and had heard the buzz about them but had never seen a show. The connection between Patti Smith and Benjamin Smoke, one of mutual adoration, was key in that we had begun our original explorations with her music. The genuineness of Smoke’s voice and the unusual genre-defying instrumentation and plaintive sound drew me in immediately.

What was it like to work with family (wife Lisa and son Sam) in this piece?
Sam and I have been working on a new brief duet as a part of the show, and it has been exhilarating! He is so focused and into it. He also has absolutely no alignment of his knees over his feet, so when he jumps straight up and down, it’s scary looking! Lisa has a lovely new solo section, and to see her go for it and then do a brief circle dance with her has been perfect. Sadly, in recent years, we just haven’t danced together a lot—we’ve been so busy.

Which artist do you admire from a field other than your own?

I was just up at MASS MoCA putting finishing touches on Come, and Back Again, and they’ve opened an Anselm Kiefer exhibit that I couldn't wait to see. I’ve followed and been influenced by him for most of my professional career. His sense of “mess” and texture, time and trouble has been important to me. In theater, Simon McBurney’s work has been strong for me. The spectacle and underlying depth of The Street of Crocodiles, and (particularly the opening images of) Mnemonic have stayed with me for a long time. Streets is based on the book by Bruno Schulz, a Polish writer, who is alluded to heavily in David Grossman’s book See Under Love, which has been a “bible” for me for a very long time as well. One character in his book, who lives for only a day, but goes through all stages of his life in that one day, has led to countless movement explorations of compacted time and urgency for me. And lastly, the South African production Truth in Translation about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from the viewpoint of the translators was an amazing mix of pathos and humor. And of course, my director/writer pal Alex Timbers, who co-directed underground, our last production at BAM, is someone I think about all the time when I’m making decisions in the theater. He’s got the “accessible avant-garde” thing down, and I love how he too packs in entertaining scene after entertaining scene that contain multiple levels of investigation and import.
What is your favorite thing about performing at BAM?
The first time we were at BAM in 2000, we closed with a matinee on a Sunday, and I simply did not want to leave the theater. I also remember running in circles with a jovial crew member as a warm-up. That’s not usual in the biz, but very BAM-like for me. In 2000, Harvey Lichtenstein [BAM's ex-president and executive producer] himself rushed backstage to congratulate me. I’ll never forget that, and now after all these years of feeling astute mentorship and deep friendship from Joe Melillo [executive producer], I feel very, very lucky to be a part of the Next Wave Festival scene. This connection and history has truly been so important in my development as an artist, and I see BAM as the one institution that has stood by me.

What ritual or superstition do you have on performance days?
I do try to do the same thing on most days in any given performance run—same amount of sleep, same warm-up, same dirty rehearsal socks!

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