Without the Surrender You are Just a Robot – Abby Crain interviews Jeremy Wadeon Jan 21 in Article, Arts Building Consortia at Kunstoff, Blog Salon, Dramaturgy, Dramaturgy In Dance, Interview, Mapping, Special Presentation, VASE Program, WORKSHOP by admin
Jeremy Wade is coming to the Bay Area to present his piece FOUNTAIN at CounterPULSE on January 25th and 26th, 2013, followed by a weeklong [VASE] offering by The New Arts Building Consortium at Kunst-Stoff Arts titled Articulating Disorientation – A Workshop (Improvisation/Exploration) from January 28th – February 1st. (For more info see the end of this post).
As part of THEOFFCENTER’s Dramaturgy In Dance, San Francisco Choreographer Abby Crain, a longtime fan of Jeremy Wade’s work, chased him down via Skype while he was in residence at Joshua Tree this past month. She spoke with him about his work and his upcoming trip to San Francisco. Friend and collaborator Margit Galanter assisted Abby as co-editor for this piece.
ABBY: So, as I understand it, you are bringing the piece FOUNTAIN to CounterPULSE. One of the things that strikes me when reading about this piece is your choice to put the group experience of the audience in place of the traditional audience-performer dynamic paradigm as central to the work. You talk about this replacement as a way to shift the whole project of the work, and I wondered (a) what led you to the place of working in this way?, and (b) what did you find once you got there?
JEREMY: To start off (a): I have always been interested in audience participation. I started to do this series called Creature Feature in Berlin. There were 13 episodes of this event at a gallery in Kreuzberg. We worked with a mixed bill with five or six different things in the evening, and everything was very low-tech and about sharing works in progress. Creature Feature was looking at the aesthetics of ecstasy glitter monstrosity community sharing gift economies. There are all these official venues in Berlin where you need funding to show anything. Before moving to Berlin, I was used to just performing on a regular basis kind of no matter what, showing works in progress and improvising, and as there were not so many opportunities for this at that time in Berlin for my peers, Creature Feature was a great outlet.
At Creature Feature I basically just started to do these audience warm ups and to take the audience through these physical participatory excercises. One of the reasons that I did this was that although Creature Feature was in a gallery, the gallery had this super party atmosphere, and I was frustrated that people wouldn’t shut up and just surrender to what was happening, ‘cause we had some amazing amazing performers but no attention. My friends laughed at me that I was always asking people to shut the fuck up and smoke outside.
So, what happened was I pitched some pretty touchy-feely exercises like Skinner Releasing “partner graphics,” bear hug pile ups, vocal improvisation exercises – not having very high expectations – and people really started to participate. What started out as a warm-up and also as a joke turned into a beautiful event. Pretty much after the first event I started to dedicate lots of research and energy into crafting group experiences, and we got to explore lot of New Age exercises, traditional dance warm-up stuff, Skinner Releasing visualizations, making use of kind of choral arrangements, other experiments with sound, plus lots of fake healing/Tantric who-knows-what-it’s-for-but-it-doesn’t-matter. There are 100 people lying on the floor over under each other and they are shaking while humming “rhythm is a dancer, it’s the souls companion…”
Then this warm-up or intitiation really turned into part of the performance. People would have this big group experience with different layers, and then they would see a solo music concert from Geo Weyth and then maybe a duet from Jared Gradinger and Angela Schubot plus lectures on the history of faeries and feathers in performance (kind of a mini series-within-a-series) from Eike Wittrock. There were lots of layers in the evening. It was beautiful. You could process the event all together as one experience, but also as a series of singular actions.
I want to take the audience through a threshold. I want to create a space for transformation. I was touring my work at European festivals and really feeling like a product, really feeling like “ok, I’m just supposed to go on stage at this point in time and present my stuff to an audience that I can’t see, feel, hear, or touch, that I’ll never talk to again.” You know, being able to present the work is very exciting to me, but there is another thing that excites me, which is the political social spiritual implication of a group of people coming to see a show.
JEREMY: So, I got more interested in ritual. And now we can talk about FOUNTAIN a bit. At Creature Feature I did this structured improvisation around research I had been doing about gift science, transmission, and reception. Previously during that day I had a meeting with Keith Hennessy. We were talking about transgression and about ritual. I had also recently done this workshop with Robert Steijn called Sex, Death and Rebirth.
At the same time I was reading about the Buddhist Tantric practice called tonglen. Tonglen is like a compassionate science in which the object is to breathe in the pain and suffering of another and to exhale love and compassion. I became super fascinated with this and also these loving-kindness practices, and so I integrated it one night into one of the group experiences, and then this ended up becoming FOUNTAIN.
ABBY: Has your experience performing FOUNTAIN in fact subverted your experience of performing at European festivals and feeling like a product?
JEREMY: I think it really depends on the context. For instance, I performed in American Realness last year and the piece was a total flop. No, I was a flop, but APAP is tough; people are there to shop [American Realness is a performance Festival in New York City created by Benjamin Snapp Pryor/tbspmgmt that takes place alongside a national presenting conference called APAP]. They see tons of shows in one day and get a bit numb to experience one thing after the next after the next, and some people weren’t willing to participate at all. This is golden fine, totally get it by all means, but then the piece somehow doesn’t work.
Every show is different. Every city is different and that is what you get when you make the choice to do something with no chairs that relies on audience participation. I made that choice. I had to make this thing and it is often difficult. I love it because of the risk and so, yes, this event is my heart and much more than a product.
However I’m also not denigrating this product, this piece thing, because I can have powerful transformative experiences in the theater, period. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I go to the theater. I do think integrating the actual practice that we do in the studio with what’s happening on stage is giving people deeper insight into how something is made. This practice stopped being an exercise for me and started being the piece that I practice.
ABBY: As you talk about your process and thinking, it leads me to think about surrender, which seems to factor heavily in your work.
JEREMY: Oh yeah.
ABBY: I hear about it when you talk about wanting the audience at Creature Feature to surrender to the experience; when you talk about FOUNTAIN working or not working depending on the audience, that you have sort of structurally surrendered how the piece goes because you have stepped down from the role of making yourself central; and then I see it also in your physicality and performance. I am interested in the way that surrender plays into your practice of constructing and also performing the work.
JEREMY: It’s a big interest of mine, I think it even goes back to Glory and Self Abducting Hypocon (my first two pieces). I’m always interested in the basis of man and woman versus the untenable as a central spiritual concern; the relation between the body and infinite space; and how one reconciles with the untenable. When you are at Bryce Canyon and you see this massive expanse, or when you see something that touches you deeply, you can’t help but to question your size or your will in relationship to this massive thing. The notion of grace is also a huge theme for me. I wasn’t a trained dancer, and I basically learned how to work with my body through failure and awkwardness and learning to embrace that. Learning to embrace this disorientation, and in embracing that disorientation also surrendering to it, I move towards towards virtuosity. I am interested in grace because it is a paradox between surrender and control, because it is like the expression of high technique. Without the surrender you are just a robot. You got to let go with great awareness.
JEREMY: So yeah, I think surrender and letting go play a huge role in accessing any kind of flow or the pursuit of freedom within improvisation.
And of course, there is a whole other aesthetic side to surrender. The new piece I am working on is called Mesmer. FOUNTAIN is very much about transmission, about sending, sending, sending, and Mesmer is going to be very much about receptivity. (Eric is giggling behind me because he is torturing me with that goddam word!)
ABBY: He is torturing you or you are torturing him?
JEREMY: He is torturing me, because I access a lot of what about I do through these extreme states, but also through a sense of physical actionist obliteration. The new project is looking at Eros, compassion, presence, sensitivity, receptivity, so it will have a lot to do with surrender and receptivity versus ecstasy via obliteration excess ecstasy.
ABBY: So you are going towards the receptive, from a transmission point of view — that’s super interesting…
Another thing that I have been thinking about in relation to your work, is the way that you play in an aesthetic and physicality that is hyperreal, exaggerated, maybe even cartoonish, or you use the word monstrous. You mix this with a sense of the sublime or magical. I was thinking about this in relationship to the hypermediated solo There Is No End To More that you set on Jared Gradinger, which had extremely elaborate staging and visuals. It strikes me that there is a way that you can work in a realm of aesthetics that plays with the fantastic and extreme, but also gives me as an audience a very deep visceral response. If I was watching a cartoon, which is also very fantastic and extreme, my bodily experience of what I am seeing would get somehow obliterated; in other words, I can watch someone get run over in a cartoon and it doesn’t (sadly) mean much to me. The opposite seems to happen with your work. My bodily reaction is very and deeply felt, on many different levels. I wonder about the use of sensation and perception in the way that you are approaching the physicality; perhaps that has something to do with it. I guess this is not so much a question, as it is an observation and something that I wonder about, because you can be in both the realm of something that is exaggerated and hyperreal and almost fanciful, and yet it’s not at all. It’s very right there. It’s very with me. Do you know what I mean?
JEREMY: Well thank you, I mean a lot of things come up when you say that. I guess it comes from a practice of Authentic Movement. It really comes from working with Yvonne [Meier]. Miguel [Gutierrez] says that I am at war with my impulses. For me, what that looks like is a kind of plasticity on a geometric plane, plasticity on an emotional plane, and plasticity on a behavioral plane, so then there are a lot of different palettes on a lot of different levels to work with. It’s only through a practice of listening to my impulses, and being able to not only surrender to them but also to really guide them and drive them, that I can get to this sort of monstrosity and also this presence and clarity. I have been doing a lot of improvisations and I often come back to these same monstrous configurations, so it is kind of an old relationship with friends, or impulses, in these realms.
ABBY: What about ecstasy and the ecstatic: you organized a conference in 2009 called The Politics of Ecstasy. I remember when we were in Brooklyn around 2006, you were talking about ecstasy. This has been an interest of yours, it seems, for a while.
JEREMY: I think my relationship to ecstasy is changing. It’s actually moving from this super ecstatic state to more of this sense of community, commonality, and presence. I don’t know, I mean ecstasy is fascinating to me in that it is a paradox; it’s this space of hyper-awareness and yet a loss of control. Ecstasy was always an interesting metaphor of improvisation for me. Someone is watching, but yet their body is moving them.You hear these Jungian quotes, when he is talking about active imagination, he discusses the relationship between moving and being moved, or speaking and being spoken through, or something is being spoken through you. Ecstasy; it is definitely one of those constant themes that I have been interested in, and it has definitely shifted over time. Through trance, religion, and religious ecstatic experiences. Constructs. One of my favorite examples is the Baptist church on the corner of White street (in Brooklyn). It is this empty building, and then it’s filled, but then through repetition, and through all these various signs, and through this very specific intuitive language, the construct is shattered; the expectation is that you move beyond it by activating it. I have always been interested in the ecstatic construct, the body, and how to improvise and activate that, and move beyond the self somehow.
ABBY: And would you say FOUNTAIN traffics in the super ecstatic or more of this sense of community, commonality, presence?
JEREMY: Well, FOUNTAIN is definitely ecstatic. I am definitely working through it in different ways. It is kind of an energetic practice, but it is me obliterating myself for you. It is one of those performances where I finish and I think, “Okay one more year of this and that’s just about it.” For now I am still accessing that super ecstatic state physically, and the new piece will deal more with objects and threading.
ABBY: I am GLAD you are going to do this piece in the Bay Area.
JEREMY: Me too!
ABBY: I am really interested to see what happens when this work is seen here, given all the other things that are happening and being talked about these days. Can you tell me why you are bringing FOUNTAIN here, and what you even know about the Bay Area? What do you think it’s going to be like to perform in San Francisco?
JEREMY: First of all, I’ve never been to the West Coast, ever. And I basically wanted to get out of Berlin. You know this time of year I want OUT OUT OUT. Literally my brother said, “I am going to take a road trip after Christmas. Do you want to come?” and I said yes. So this was a perfect opportunity for me to book a gig in San Francisco and of course I have always been super fascinated by the West Coast and what y’all are doing. There has been a huge dialog between Berlin and San Francisco, and it has lately been expanding even more — with Keith, and now, I am working with Jassem Hindi [Hindi, experimental sound artist, participated recently in Turbulence, directed by Keith Hennessy]. There is a lot of dialog about the queer scene in San Francisco and you know, I’m ready! (Laughs) Although I must say, between you and me, I really don’t know how the audience is going to react. They might be so progresssive they may say, “Fuck you, I’m not doing what you tell me to do!”… Who knows?!
ABBY: I don’t think that they will, but yeah, who knows?! … It’s very interesting because it seems like this piece has a big crossover with things that go on here regularly as a part of the culture: these group experiences, talking about energy, etc., but the way that you are approaching or addressing them is at a slightly oblique angle. I am interested in how this will play out. I am looking forward to see the piece in real life for crying out loud! Jeremy Wade in San Francisco! Thank God… finally!
We should wrap up, but can you speak for a minute about the workshop you will be teaching?
JEREMY: Sure. It is something that I have been doing for a long time. It has been an interesting practice that I fine tune with each round. In the morning we do sort of fake yoga, because I am not really a yoga teacher you know, and I have been getting into doing these Kundalini excercises in a group way, which I find very FOUNTAIN-y. And then we go into Skinner Releasing trips and Ideokinesis. Ideokinesis is my new boyfriend and it’s really amazing. It is just very simply looking at anatomy and exploring with music. The morning is dedicated to principles concerned with scanning, how to send your awareness through the body, how to surrender to the impulse, and then how to take a ride. The scanning is great because it gets really fucking imaginative. We go through all this Ideokinesis work where we start to work with the bones, and then we do this Skinner Releasing work where the bones start to do strange things. They start to spiral, they start to expand, they start to become hollow. Then the afternoon is dealing with Authentic Movement. And with it, I begin to explore these deconstructed filters. These are scores that have this Yvonne Meier/ Deborah Hay BIG BIG BIG sort of perspective. So once people really start getting comfortable with what is an impulse, we start to take it apart.
ABBY: That sounds amazing. Ok, it’s late and you are beautiful. Thank you so much Jeremy!
Jeremy: Ok, bye!
About Jeremy’s Workshop and Performance
If questions about the workshop send Jeremy an Jeremy Wade’s website.. For more information visit
Edited by Margit Galanter
Dramaturgy in Dance – is a series of conversations instigated to promote discourse/dialogue around dance performance/theatre and its various processes from a maker’s perspective.
THEOFFCENTER would like to thank Abby Crain for her initiative, drive and voice, Abby made this interview possible.We would also like to thank Jeremy Wade for giving us of his time, his questions and of his work,