Getting to Know Laura Neese!

I have met some incredibly interesting people in the process of these interviews and Laura Neese doesn't disappoint!  You can catch her work at the CoolNY 2014 Dance Festival on Friday, February 7th at 9:00pm & Sunday, February 9th at 6:00pm.  All performances are held at the WHITE WAVE John Ryan Theatre, 25 Jay St., Brooklyn, NY and are FREE! -Nicole

KitchenSink Collective-
L to R Caroline Martin, Laura Neese, Claire Baum, Katie Vason
photo by Bryan Winter
N:  The piece you'll be performing at the CoolNY Dance Festival involves "shoe-less" tap dancing combined with modern vocabulary. As both a modern and tap dancer myself I am always excited to see work that combines the two! I also saw that you have a background in Irish dance. Can you talk a little about ways you work to combine these backgrounds as you create new pieces?

LN:  I find something inherently individually expressive about tap/percussive improvisation. If you ask me to just dance, I’ll spiral my torso and explore spine articulation like a good modern dancer, but my feet will probably start a nonmetred, illegitimate, un-time step… (something to do with the mixed up tap and Irish dance history in my training, and the natural inclination of people to tap their feet to music..)

photo by David Cruse
I’ve noticed in processes and improvisations, (& on the ferry) that my feet really want to speak up. For this new work, I wanted to listen and explore this impulse as a part of my creative work.

Though it reads differently than the emotionality of shape, audio imagery – the mathematical logic or illogic of rhythm, spontaneity, and the way that reverberates in the body – I think can create an experience just as rich with feeling. Right now I’m experimenting to see how I can incorporate this part of me into my work.

My work with Darrah Carr Dance, and guest choreographer Sean Curran, has also been influential in opening me up to the possibility of combining elements of dance forms. Darrah’s work combines traditional Irish and contemporary modern dance, and Curran’s work for the company is always imbued with strong rhythmic sensibility.

N:  You are a founding member of KitchenSink Collective. When I was reading your website I notices that each of the co-founders has a title (mathematician, wordsmith, body whisperer, master schedule machine). Can you tell me a bit about the collective, its founders, and their titles?

 Darrah Carr Dance Company-
Laura Neese, Timmy Kochka
photo by Erin Baiano
LN:  KitchenSink Collective is a creative experiment that keeps the members grounded in the process of creating and performing contemporary/modern dance while we each attempt to navigate our individual artist & human lives. In an environment in which our artistic work -unpaid, as a general rule- is usually project-based, inconsistent, competitive, and of course expensive to make if you want to do it yourself, we have found a means of working together to help keep us all engaged and motivated to dance, despite chaos of our “other lives.”

We met at Dance New Amsterdam, actually. Without having previously known each other well, we started to make a dance -just to make one- which led to more dances, which snowballed into a regularly meeting company or “collective,” and bringing other dancers in along the way. It has been a remarkable baptism by fire.

We all contribute our resources and talents to make it possible to offer each other not only consistent involvement in a rehearsal process as a performer, but also the opportunity to explore choreographic ideas with a company of supportive bodies. We pass the choreographic baton in rotation, and capitalize on our individual skills to keep the organization going- hence our nifty titles… though we each may do a little bit of everything.

Claire (our “master schedule machine,” and an arts administrator in her other life) is one of the most detail-oriented people I’ve ever met; Joanna (“mathematician,” our financial manager) has a gift for data and numbers – and a math degree. Katie (“body whisperer”) is a Pilates instructor with remarkable knowledge of the body and intelligent recommendations for various dancerly ailments- a gem in rehearsal. As “wordsmith” I write and edit text for company use… I’m somewhat fastidious about apostrophes.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to work with these remarkable women and for their having fallen into my life, (or I into theirs?)

photo by Laura Neese
N:  We had a very brief conversation about the insular-ness of many dance communities. While struggling to acquire very limited resources it's easy to take on a "me against the world" attitude. What are some ways that you have tried to fight against that mentality for yourself and those around you? What do you see as the benefits of creating a broader, more communicative and sharing dance community?

LN:  KitchenSink definitely helps ameliorate some of the “me against the world” feelings… though as an outer borough dwelling artist (of that obscure, “pretentious,” modern dance kind of art) the issue can become quite pernicious. However even in Staten Island, the borough most underserved in arts education and venues, I have found a resilient though somewhat fragmented arts community. Knocking on doors, finding out about and participating in creative events (especially those that bleed outside of your own discipline) I have found to be invaluable in a) meeting new, interesting people, with new, interesting perspectives, b) leading to new opportunities, c) finding people really do appreciate your strange art form if they have a reason and chance to see it. d) new reasons to share what you do with other people and to help people share what they do…. And it keeps going.

Diving into explorations of other arts- taking workshops in different things- helps me to recognize the continuity of the creative process across mediums, recognize strengths and weaknesses of different modes of working, and to remember to not take myself too seriously (though to take the craft seriously).

Some of my most interesting dance related experiences as a performer, choreographer, and otherwise creative conspirator have occurred in non-traditional dance settings: collaborating with musicians, filmmakers, theatre practitioners, photographers, and “normal” community members.

I believe it is important to not only keep dialogues going within the dance community, but also to extend the invitation beyond the dance regulars. Face it, we get esoteric, we get stuffy, we get into patterns of what is “in” and “isn’t.” We get stuck in ruts. And we get frustrated when no one shows up.

If we individually want to improve our art making – and stay interested & interesting - I believe it is vital to experience many other kinds of art as a spectator or participant. (Maybe art is painting, or storytelling, or a craft, or acting, teaching, computer programming?)

If we, individually, invite other people who would or could be interested in dance -if they were exposed to it- into the conversation, would the field not be richer indeed?

photo by Eric Bandiero
N:  People in the arts often develop strong mentor/mentee relationships. Did/do you have a mentor throughout your career? Do you have a person or people that you have taken the mentorship role for now that you're a more established artist? How do you feel those relationships change your work?

LN:  My first, and perhaps most influential mentor in dance was my first teacher Rosemary Cappozalo. She was passionate about clean, healthy, refined technique, but also about the idea of generosity in performance. Performance without love behind it didn’t mean anything.

I didn’t know at the time, but she instilled in me a subconscious understanding of this at an early age. She trained me in basics of teaching, and inspired me to take the art form seriously, and notice the positive impact arts can have in communities if allowed to thrive. Although she’s no longer here, I often think of her when I’m stuck, or frustrated, or need guidance.

Now as an educator myself I function as a mentor at times for specific dance students, (and academic tutees). For these individuals, I usually find myself acting as a confidence coach. Whether they are performing on stage or on an exam I recognize that students need to find the desire and determination within themselves to put in the necessary work, and then trust their own abilities to do it. This sort of consistent engagement with students is a reminder to appreciate process in general.

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