Arianne MacBean first premiered her "Arianne MacBean Ballets" at Highways Performance Space in 2000. Eight years later, she's revisiting this collection of highly regarded dances through a new lens. Performed at the Unknown Theater, the ballets will make good use of the unconventional space – the dancers will be starting the show on the sidewalk across the street and entering the stage through the theatre's large "garage" doors. I caught up with Arianne as she prepared for a performance that is sure to turn things inside out.
Rachel Levin: What prompted you to revisit the ballets?
Arianne MacBean: At the time when I first did them I was just out of grad school at Cal Arts, I was really into analyzing, I was really into theory. I had gotten a double MFA in dance and critical writing. I was really in a heady place. It was very much about analyzing and deconstructing, trying to assert myself as a thinking woman through dance. I really wanted everyone to know "Hey, you can be smart and be a dancer." But now I'm kind of not making dances for that reason anymore. It's not about asserting myself or proving that I am anything, but it's sort of just a way to really examine feminine identity and also enjoy the beautiful fleeting sadness in a lovely dance.
RL: Are the pieces still concerned with issues of femininity?
AMB: Absolutely. It's literally like using dance as a lens through which to understand what it means to be a woman. I mean I really feel like my identity as a woman is reflected in the roles that are laid out in the structure of a dance performance. The viewer, the passive person, the one who's the analytical one, the critiquer, the one who just says yes to everything, the mother, the temptress, every single role in my life has reflected somehow in a role, whether it's the dancer, the choreographer, the audience member, the many different dancers that have different roles to play.
RL: How have the pieces changed?
AMB: There's still a lot of deconstructing and decoding in this version of the ballet…years later in a different place in my life I'm realizing that there is no way to peel the layers of a dance back far enough where you can reveal any kind of essence of ego or ultimate truth. I have come full circle in a lot of ways through all my choreographic work and feel that dances are actually greater than each one of us, greater than any kind of deconstruction. They exist on their own, and sometimes they even save us from ourselves.
RL: What do you mean when you say art can save us from ourselves?
AMB: That's where I landed when I revisited the work was that I really don't make dances anymore for the same reasons that I did when I was younger. I think where I landed was that movement itself and the sort of sad and beautiful aesthetic of bodies moving has become…at a certain point, you're unable to deconstruct it. You can't deconstruct it further and it really is just art, and it's greater than any postmodern theory. It's greater than us. And in that moment if you can let go of all the turmoil that you go through as an artist and for me as a woman, you put all that in your work. At some point you have to let all that go and let it exist on its own in its own kind of beautiful sad place and it can totally move beyond or surpass any of that turmoil.
RL: How will the audience participate in the performance?
AMB: The audience gets to assume an alternate identity for the evening. They are very much involved in this piece. There's actually T-shirts for every single person in the audience and on the T-shirts they have an alternate identity. "I am Lewis Segal." "I am Arianne MacBean." "I am my mother." Every T-shirt is different. They're all people who have influenced the work somehow, either consciously or unconsciously. I'm getting names off the reservation list. There's people who will just look down the row and see, "Oh, somebody else over there is me."
RL: Why did you decide to include the audience in this way?
AMB: I think one of the themes that is running through the work is this idea of who is the ultimate owner of a dance and plays with the idea that everybody is really…implicated in this sort of existence of a dance, that meaning the audience, the dancer, the choreographer, the dance critic, you sitting here with me. Kind of not really pretending anymore that we live in different worlds, but really kind of saying, "Look, this is an ecology. The whole dance experience is kind of like…has a very natural ecological balance to it. We all need each other."