By Courtney Wagner
C: What was your interest and/or involvement with dance and the arts world prior to Karen contacting you after reading about you in The Believer magazine?
B: In the summer of 1997, I attended a performance of “Swan Lake” in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Before Karen got in touch with me, that was the extent of my involvement with dance.
C: Can you talk a little bit about what it's been like to work with Karen and Nikki and have your work adapted for or integrated into dance?
B: I wish I could say that I realized from the very beginning that the collaboration would be successful. It's true that it's been wildly successful, and it's also true that I had no idea that it would work. From the start, probably from the time she read the first sentence of the article in The Believer, it was Karen who had the vision for the piece. As I recall, I accepted the commission for three reasons:
1. It was the first time anyone ever offered to pay me for writing palindromes.
2. I had confidence in Karen's confidence.
3. It seemed to me that it would be almost impossible to do, and I like a challenge. (It turned out not to be impossible, but I'm not exactly disappointed.)
I've said time and again (to anyone who will listen) that this collaboration has been more important for me than for Karen and Nikki. Here's what I mean: Karen and Nikki have most likely at one time or another been involved in collaborations that weren't so great. Not the end of the world, right? They deal with it, they move on. But, if this collaboration hadn't gone well, I probably would have said to myself, “What was I thinking when I agreed to write palindromes for a dance?! Palindrome writing is a solitary profession, and I'm just going back to my couch and my legal pad and not working with anyone again.” Instead, my experience with Monkeyhouse has opened me up, expanded my mind, and caused me to rethink reversible text and the ways it can be used. Now I welcome the idea of collaboration. Also, I met Cynthia Roberts for the first time in August. She's the typographer who's collaborating on the dance. Her work is really startling and adds another dimension to the piece.
Karen and Nikki have never greeted a suggestion of mine with “Just go away” or “Sorry, too late.” One reason is that they both have very generous spirits. But it also occurs to me that this flexibility – this willingness to consider other ideas, try different things, incorporate new moves – may be an occupational virtue of dancers and choreographers. If so, then I hope I'll get many more opportunities to work with dance companies. Maybe it will even become my specialty! Anyway, this seemingly unlikely combination – the relative rigidity of reversible text set against the fluidity of movement – has somehow produced something very special: Back Going No Going Back. Gosh, how did I not see that from the jump?
C: Your own path seems to have led you to somewhere very interesting with a dance collaboration and a documentary! How do you think you will mesh traveling your own path with future collaborations (either the ones already mentioned or ones you hope to work on)?
B: I think it's because I've gone my own way that I'm in (some) demand right now. Recently, a comedy group asked if I could write something reversible for them. I look forward to exploring all sorts of collaborations. Now I've reached a point where I can write on pretty much any topic, and I'm hoping this versatility will make me a valuable (or, at least, interesting) collaborator.
C: What has it been like to be the star of an upcoming documentary? What are you most excited about for that project? What is your least favorite part of the project?
B: I recently mentioned to my friend Paul that I'm the star of The Master Palindromist; he helpfully pointed out that I'm the subject, not the star. It was very flattering when filmmaker Michael Rossi suggested making this documentary, as it was when Greg Kornbluh asked if he might write a profile of me (which eventually became the article in The Believer). My hope is that the film will be a huge success, and that Michael will receive the attention he deserves. My least favorite part of this project is having to fiddle with my clothing to put on the microphone. But I do want the movie to have sound!