A Chat With Martha Clarke

Note: This was an earlier interview that we are posting again.

Some of you may remember meeting an enthusiastic, high school, volunteer named Kelly Long at the Monkeyhouse fundraiser at the Cantata several years ago. Since then she has gone on to major in dance at Hofstra University. When we heard that Martha Clarke, one of the founding members of Pilobolus, would be a guest artist at Hofstra this year and that Kelly had been selected to dance for her, we begged Kelly to interview Martha for us. There is something really exciting about having a former student work with one of your idols.

KL: How and/or why did you start choreographing?

MC: Not to make money, that's for sure. I had to. I was at Juilliard, and before that, I studied with a very famous choreographer teacher named Louis Horst, who was Martha Graham's musical mentor. I started choreographing when I was 15 as a student at the American Dance Festival, and he liked me. Even though he was mean, he encouraged me. But I did not know I wanted to be a choreographer. I KNEW I wanted to be a performer.

KL: How do you record your choreography?

MC: I use videotape, in portions of rehearsals that I find interesting, or I will film 10 or 15 seconds of something so I can remember it so when I'm working I can put it in snip-its. I only record work that I like.

KL: In general, do you show your work to people while you are developing it?

MC: No.

KL: Why?

MC: Until I know what I want, I don't want input from others. From within the company, of course - of course I take input. I don't want outside opinions because if I don't know where I'm going, why should I expect them to?

KL: What do you remember about the first public performance of your work?

MC: For my graduation from Juilliard, I made a solo to Dylan Thomas, reading from a poem he wrote called "A Winter's Tale" oddly enough. And I took a white china silk dress from the costume shop with a beautiful full skirt, and I remember spinning... and I actually remember some of the movement, and I did it at Dance Theater Workshop. It was my first work of my own done outside of school. And at the time I thought it was good enough to go on a program. I don't know what I'd think today. But it probably had the seeds... working with text, language, costuming... the seeds of the elements of theater that I still have. Even the style of movement. Other than that, it was inconsequential.

KL: Who are some of your favorite choreographers?

MC: Anthony Tudor.

KL: Anyone else?

MC: Federico Fellini. Igmar Bergman

KL: How do you spell his last name Fell-?

MC: Oh! You don't know Federico Fellini?

KL: No.

MC: Put that for my favorite director. The Great Italian film director from the 50s and 60s. Federico Fellini. Go watch 8 ½..

KL: Okay I'll see if I can find it on-line for Thursday.
KL: What was the first thing you ever choreographed?

MC: The first thing I remember with affection was this study in composition class from Louis Horst, but I performed it at 1 o' clock concert at Julliard. You know, we had these student productions. It was kind of earthy, primitive. I looked like a crouching vulture.

KL: What was the transition like from being a performer to being a choreographer?

MC: I was in Anna Sokolow's company. Um, I started really being a choreographer when I joined Pilobolus as a founding member. And... so I was performing my own work. So that anything that was on stage was something I made up, so it was rather seamless actually, the transition. One feels more vulnerable doing one's own work, because if people don't like it they can say "Oh I thought you were wonderful, but I didn't like the piece," you know? It's one in the same.

KL: Have you seen any significant shifts in your work or the creation of your work?

MC: It's gone from... well, a recent transition is from super-refined and elegant, to kind of... to... much rougher, more visceral style. More spontaneity.

KL: What do you think caused that shift?

MC: It's just natural evolution. You can't keep repeating yourself. And I try with each piece to do a new vocabulary, but it always looks like my work, for better or for worse. Or Pie's work, when it's really good. (Referencing her most adorable puppy dog Pie, chewing his biscuit on the floor.)

KL: When is your birthday?

MC: June 3rd...1802.

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