Joanne Zimbler (JZ): Please describe the piece you'll be performing at Celebrate Dance.
Laura Karlin (LK): This is a new piece, called Give Me Wings. It's a play on words (I love puns, thanks Dad!) because it's not about wings-as-in-bird-wings – it's based on the fact that I haven't choreographed for a proscenium stage with wings in quite a long time. Stage wings are a fascinating choreographic element. They are an in-between space, a place of transitions, not quite onstage, not quite offstage. They are a place for entrances and exits, arrivals and departures. They are about what an audience does and does not see. There's a lot to play with, theatrically and choreographically!
JZ: You emphasize collaboration in your work? Who have you collaborated with for the piece for Celebrate Dance? What has this collaboration allowed you to achieve that would not have been possible without it?
LK: The very first phase of a piece is very much an internal process for me. I have a spark of an idea and I roll it around in my brain for awhile until it's ready to share and develop. After that, I work collaboratively on almost every element - the movement, the music, the costumes.
The dancers and I create most of the movement together - I teach some of the choreography and we create the rest in the studio together. They have so many ideas in their bodies. They are all fiercely intelligent movers and wonderfully playful collaborators. I need dancers I can play with - while I am sometimes very specific about what I want and how we achieve it, I often talk to them about an abstract idea I have and we work together to bring it to life. I value their contributions deeply - the piece could not be what it is without their generosity.
For the music, I worked with my brother, Toby Karlin, who is a fantastic composer and musician. He came to rehearsals and jammed along to get the feel of the piece, and then we met at his home studio so he could develop a full-bodied track. He plays over 20 instruments, so we had a rich palette from which to create. He's very willing to take my weird, abstract cues ("Can it be more whooooosh without losing its yellow?") and turn them into music that beautifully expresses the ideas and emotions of a piece. We've been working together professionally for 6 years now and I can't imagine a better relationship, creatively or fraternally.
The costumes are a first-time collaboration with Kate Bishop, whose talent blows my mind. I have zero talent for costuming, but I did have sort-of-kind-of-a-little-maybe an idea of what I wanted. Kate knew just how to brainstorm, articulate and dramatically expand upon those ideas, and she created these beautiful, whimsical confections.
JZ: Is this a new piece for Saturday's show?
LK: Yes. I keep joking that I'm treating this like a site-specific piece, even though it's a classic proscenium stage. The stage setting inspired Give Me Wings.
JZ: What is the most important thing you'd like audience members to pay attention to for the show?
LK: A lot of people watch dance and worry about whether they're "getting it" - thinking the right thing, feeling the right thing. There is no one correct way to experience it, so I'd most like audience members to give themselves permission to experience and enjoy the show. Whatever you see, whatever you feel, whatever you think - that's completely right!
That said, there's a lot going on visually in this piece. Here are some things to watch for. In the first section, there is a split between Onstage and Offstage spaces. Watch for the relationship between what goes on Onstage and what happens Offstage. In the second section, we're totally in an Offstage world. Watch for the little moments, the small dramas, the backstage rituals. The third section is entirely Onstage - it's all about entrances and exits, arrivals and departures.
JZ: How did your experiences in Europe inform your aesthetic sensibilities and choreography?
LK: Before studying in London, I was in an environment steeped in Cunningham minimalism, and while it's a valuable aesthetic, I didn't feel at home with it. I wanted to make work that had context, character, connection. I have a whimsical sense of surrealism and a playful approach to subject matter, but I didn't find a voice until I went to London. When I was there, I trained intensively and I went to see every show I could. I experienced dance theatre that was so visceral, so intelligent, so connected to humanity. I felt liberated to balance intellect and humour. I think it gave me a chance to look around and say, "Yes! I have a context!"
JZ: Your choreography is inspired by many international dance styles. What is your experience with these styles?
LK: I'm like a magpie - I pick up shiny things and weave them into my work. I have studied different dance styles like tango, kathak and capoeira, and they all influence the movement I bring into the studio. The sensual connections of tango, the unfurling of limbs in kathak, the weighted abandon of capoeira, . . they are all part of who I am when I move.
JZ: How did you become interested in offering dance classes to people living with Parkinson's?
LK: A very dear family friend Linda was diagnosed with PD 6 years ago. She takes dance classes regularly and she was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up. We talked about dancing together and I thought it would be great to make up a class that was a real dance class, just a little adjusted to best suit people with PD. I found out about the Mark Morris Dance Group's program, Dance for PD, and we went to trainings in Brooklyn and Pasadena. We created the classes with Andrea Hodos, of Moving Body Pilates. Our Dancing Through Parkinson's classes are so packed full of joy and humour - and people really dance! The participants are amazing!
JZ: Please describe the educational work that you do and the dance classes that you offer to the community?
LK: Our education program is called InvertED. In the past (and I hope the future!), we've worked with Inner-City Arts to create performance-workshops and a 6-week residency. The principles are the same as our Dancing Through Parkinson's classes and our performances - it's about making connections and fostering empowerment through the creative process. I also like bringing in the element of collaboration - InvertED classes usually feature some music components. We gave 35 4th-graders drums, which was brave!
For more information, please visit www.invertigodance.org