Kimberleigh Holman & Merli Guerra: What was your first experience with Loie Fuller's style?
Jody Sperling: In 1997, the Library of Congress celebrated the centennial of its Jefferson Building with an evening of dances reminiscent of the 1890s. Elizabeth Aldrich, the choreographer of that event, decided to make a “Butterfly Dance” à la Loïe for me. She fashioned a costume with huge pink silk wings, a black dress and a green skull cap with antennae. I had such fun sweeping, with my 14-feet wingspan, into the Library's rotunda to the tune of Wagner's “Ride of the Valkyries” played by a live 18-piece brass band. It was a blast! Up until that solo I was pretty much a post-modern, contact-y, roll-on-the floor kind of dancer.
K&M: What drew you Fuller's work, and how did you decide to base your own work on interpreting, reconstructing and exploring those iconic visual elements?
JS: The experience of doing the “Butterfly” was so great that I wanted to try it again. The thing that has kept me interested all these years is the kinesthetic thrill of extending so far into space. You are larger than life and that is powerful, intoxicating. When I'm performing, I have the very clear sensation of being connected to forces outside myself and of making moving 3D sculptures that relate to these forces, i.e. the architectural space, the music, the rotation of the earth and heavenly bodies.
With the fabric you can really create a strong visual impact. When I was a kid, people thought that I would be a visual artist, not a dancer. And in a way, this medium fulfills my need to make visual patterns as much as my desire to move. There are so many possibilities for working with moving fabric, light, shadow and projections that I've never gotten bored and I feel there is so much more to explore.
K&M: We read about the Principles of Time Lapse Dance on your website; fractal pathways, whirling, using fabric. What is the most difficult aspect of the company's technique to master, and how long does it generally take to learn how to work with the fabric?
JS: Over the years I developed a very specific personal movement practice to help keep me fit and able to do this work. One challenge has been adapting this practice for the company and boiling it down to the essentials for students.
When you work with the Loie capes, you have to think of the costume as a prosthesis, as an extension of your own body. You have to expand your awareness and understand your movement pathways very clearly. An imprecise thought will lead to a tangled action.
The experience accumulates over time and the dancers become more adept at handling the silk in unpredictable situations, i.e. wind. The silk is like an animal, you have to tame it, drive it, but you also have to give it freedom to move. If you force it too hard it can rebel or be mischievous.
The hardest thing we do as a company is sustained patterned spinning. It takes a while to build a tolerance for spinning so you don't get dizzy or nauseated. And it takes extreme precision for the dancers to able to make group patterns in specific rhythms while they whirl. A further challenge is keeping your bearings under the glare of stage lights. Our newest piece has an 8 minute section that is almost continuous whirling and it is really hard!
K&M: Both your company and ours have a focus on utilizing lighting to creatively accentuate the work onstage. Can you speak to your artistic choices through lighting?
JS: I work very closely with David Ferri, my lighting designer. We are lucky that he runs the Frances Daly Fergusson Theater at Vassar so we can often develop new work there with lighting as an integral part of the choreography.
For me, the music inspires the lighting. I've been inspired by the synaesthetic concepts of Kandinsky, and also Loie of course, who sensed correspondences between sound and color. For ''Debussy Soirée," one of my signature Loie-style solos David and I went into a studio with 6 color scrollers and “choreographed” the lights to the music before I even made the dance.
Fuller has this theory of “color harmony” that she spells out in her memoirs. Basically, the way an orchestra might have a single instrument carry a melody and use other instruments to harmonize with that melody, so could a single thematic color (say green), be harmonized by supporting hues (say pink, orange, blue, etc.). I always try to construct the lighting in this way, thinking about harmonizing the colors with each other as well as the music, dance and costuming.
K&M: Does your company have a favorite piece to perform? What makes it special/more enjoyable for you all to present?
JS: I'm most proud of "Turbulence" (2011) which is danced by the full company of six women. With this piece I wanted to take the Loie idiom and make something fresh out of it, something with big full-bodied dancing. The score by Quentin Chiappetta is very complicated rhythmically with shifting meters and layers of percussion mixed with electronics. I feel like “Turbulence” gives Loie a nod, but truly comes from me, the dancers and our time.
Thursday, October 3 at 7:30pm
University of Massachusetts, Amherst; The Fine Arts Concert Hall
151 Presidents Drive, Amherst, MA 01003
General Admission $35, $30 and $15
Five College/GCC/STCC Students/Youth 17 & under $10
*On-site preconcert talk at 6:45pm