By Elyse Derosia
Jen Rosenblit is a dancer and choreographer living and working in New York City. During the month of January, she is living and working at Bodega. Throughout the month she has been using the space and the public to research, digest, and publicly workshop her piece In-Mouth which will debut at New York Live Arts in February.
Let’s start off with you sharing a bit about yourself and your work.
I am from Maine, rural places and people feel familiar to me. I have lived in New York City for 7 years now. It has become increasingly relevant for me to feel like I have a home that is comfortable. I spend a lot of time in my home, working and drinking wine. I rearrange things constantly, mostly as a distraction from getting work done; it is hard to settle if little spatial moments don’t feel at ease. My work deals directly in distraction. I’m interested in the idea of departure; I depart from ideas and concepts in hopes of locating a new space or feeling that is more often than not in direct conversation with what I chose to move away from.
I make dances, I need a studio with an even wood, or preferably, marley flooring. It needs to be clean, have some daylight for sanity, and feel private. It needs to be large enough that I can stand with some distance to look at what I am making. This is rare. I work in small spaces, can often hear people in the hallway, have florescent lighting, a mirror that reminds me how I should exercise more, and there is inevitably dirt, hair, and dust on the floor. Situations are not ideal or perfect. It works for me. Dance making is a process of moving away from the ideal. We are always in conversation with it in some way but it is about locating something else, something potent, a tangent, moving away from language as a set structure and more into a poetic space.
I work mostly with Addys Gonzalez who is a dear friend. I love working with more people but it is really hard for me. Since I like arranging space I tend to create these crazy ensembles where everyone is always doing something. With Addys, there is more space; we let each other breathe a bit. I think it is actually more of a challenge for me to work with only one other person, but it has proved to be expansive, intense and focused. That being said, I choreograph the work but also consider myself a performer of the work. These two roles are directly related for me. I am inside of it, Addys also points out to me moments when I tend to keep myself removed, which helps.
I’m surprised to hear you say that working with people is hard for you! Throughout your month of programming at Bodega, I’ve witnessed you collaborate with not only other dancers and performers, but with a larger community of your artistic peers and with the public. Bodega has been a hub not only for performance, but for lectures, rehearsals, research, exchange, and engagement. How has all of this activity affected the development of In Mouth?
In Mouth has been a year-long process, but is truly harnessing everything we have ever made or thought of or not done out of fear or embarrassment. Living and working at Bodega has given the work this really nice gestation period. It seems silly, but just to sit in a large space and talk or imagine is exactly what the work needed. The first event was great and gave me this perspective of thinking about our costuming as art for people to look at rather than functional costuming for dance. The lecture blew my mind with the time passing and casual eating and serious questions that came from the group of people who attended. The transitions from casual to hyper-attention was fascinating, and pulling together all my ideas on performance theory, this current work, and the politics of the body really helped me harness my relationship to the dance and my place in it. It seems funny that I might not know my place in my own work, but that is often the case. I make it with Addys but there comes a point when I have to reconsider myself, not as the maker, but as the doer. I almost have to atone to the dance in order to perform it. We have been needing an ending for this work and finally just found it! We were sitting in the kitchen chatting (with wine) and I expressed the desire to not wrap it up, or offer an element of completion or ease with the end. Earlier in the process we asked each other what we want out of this work and I said I wanted an awesome ending. This idea of the tangent, or the unexplained, or something about being illegible. The first half of the work has known itself for some time now and I didn’t want to leave the end in this space of having to live up to the maturity of the beginning. We created a tangent structure that allows for ideas to lead to one another and not have to be justified. I really feel like In Mouth got to live in Philly for a month and found its ease and place, and at the same time, its complexity.
As I understand it, the event you’ve organized for the 28th will have multiple performers performing simultaneously and, much like the first event on the 14th, the performances will be ongoing and not hold the audience captive. I know that you also often perform in a more traditional manner, with a piece that has a beginning, middle, and end, on stage, and in front of an audience. Does how you present your work to an audience depend on the piece, or the venue, or both, or something different altogether?
Some of the work on the 28th will demand the attention of the audience but in the nature of the way I curated the event, they are not held captive. The work I make for the stage, whether I want to or not, demands a commitment from both audience and performer and the stage or theater. Expectation lingers over this situation. Crammed into the middle of a row you have to pay attention, you have to hate it or love it, one or the other. ON the stage you don’t get breaks, you have to deliver at every moment. I try to work with and against these ideas and there are ways of cultivating audiences and situations to ease the pain of commitment, but it is still ever-present. I love that, but I also appreciate more casual environments for performance exploration. I find value in performing on top of an audience member and seeing what that does, how it shifts qualitative states. Not having a stage to hide on, to feel like dance CAN and DOES happen HERE, is an interesting place to explore dance from. I think it is important to acknowledge where you are showing your work, what the expectations might be and how you want to be in conversation with them. Dance as a practice can fit anywhere but the reality of using your body in a time-based manner, exploring certain levels of technique and training all the way from pedestrian movement to Vaganova requires appropriate accommodations. Dance as a form is not one thing though, so if we can continue a contemporary conversation with what we are doing and where, dance can be on rooftops, in clubs, outside, in galleries and museums. Dance is as much a state of mind and a way of looking and experiencing as it is a constant practice and negotiation of the body.
So what’s after In Mouth?
After In Mouth, Addys and I are engaged in a performance at Issue Project Room in downtown Brooklyn, opening May 11 2012. They just moved into a gorgeous old marbled space, high ceilings, epic Roman/Gothic architectural feel! Musician Jules Gimbrone and I are collaborating on the creation of this work. She has been involved in the performances here in Philly to explore her ideas with the construction of these instruments made out of old light domes. We have been working with each other off and on for a few years now; I really respond to her artistry and improvisational culture and approach to a constant practice of making things. She will be setting music on cellist Reenat Pinchas. I have these ideas of putting Reenat up on a platform, wrapping her in large amounts of cloth that drape down to the floor, where Addys is sitting with his hands in his thighs, legs extended forward. Jules and I will be in the work as outsiders altering, destroying, and shifting these set bodies and ideas and sounds. Beyond this, I have just received a lovely and crazy amazing grant from The Foundation of Contemporary Performance! I was honored from a silent panel. I didn’t even know I was nominated so this just feels wild to me. The funds are unrestricted, so I’m gonna pay off my credit card bill, possibly quit one of my jobs as momentum for finding a new one, and budget funds for Addys and myself to get some bodywork, take classes, and tend to some overdue healthcare! I would like to travel a bit this summer, maybe to the Southwest? Who knows after that! I’ll most likely begin making a new piece as soon as the Issue Project Room is over. It is just part of my lifestyle.
Jen Rosenblit has been making dances in NYC since 2005 after graduating from Hampshire College. From rural Maine, Rosenblit spends most of her time rearranging her apartment, currently obsessed with things being on the floor. Rosenblit has worked with performer and friend, Addys Gonzalez for ten years now. Rosenblit has only performed for Yvonne Meire and Kimberly Brandt. Rosenblit has taught for CLASSCLASSCLASS, Bowdoin College, Hollins University as well as organized independent lab-like classes on performance and improvisation. Rosenblit’s work has taken her to Denmark, Moscow and Milan as well as premiered at Dance Theater Workshop’s 2009 Fresh Tacks Series, Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church Platform 2010 curated by Julliete Mapp and Dance Theater Workshop’s 2011 studio series. Rosenblit is a recipient of the Foundation for Contemporary Performance 2012 grant. In collaboration with artist Jules Gimbrone, Rosenblit was chosen for an EAC commission toward a new work that will premiere at Issue Project Room May 11 2012. Her newest work, In-Mouth, is engaged to premiere at New York Live Arts February 15-18 2012. www.bottomheavies.blogspot.com
Elyse Derosia is an artist and a co-director of Bodega, an exhibition and performance space in Philadelphia founded in 2010.