Site-Specific Hypothetical Modern Dance in Palo Alto

I interview Oakland-based dancer Mary Armentrout about her upcoming Oakland shows and imagine producing her shows down here in Palo Alto someday.

This is a preview for Mary Armentrout's upcoming modern dance show in Palo Alto. She is known for inter-active and site-specific work, a la Trish Brown on Manhattan rooftops, but her Palo Alto piece will be unique for all of us because there really is no dance venue here plus she only vaguely agreed that we should continue our dialogue with me promoting her work here. She does, however, has a run of shows coming up in East Oakland, at the Sunshine Biscuit Factory, for the impatient and unimaginitive, and adventurous. She's been in residence nearby at Djerassi but not in their speaker series that had been held at Palo Alto Art Center. She is based in Oakland, and works a day-job at the excellent Rivoli Restaurant on Solano (which is sort of like a scaled down Zibbibo, perhaps).

I spoke to Mary Armentrout, the Oakland based dancer and choreographer, for 32 minutes Friday (much longer than my 90 second interview with musician Mike Park, patched previously). I would love to bring her down to KZSU, where I had in recent years did a run of about a dozen musician interviews and performances; Mary gives good talk. Granted dance on the radio is a little tricky; reminds me of the time I tried to get the blind New Orleans piano player Henry Butler a gig writing music for Pilobolous. I did not record the 32 minute interview mechanically (32:12 actually) but did train for six weeks at the Peninsula Times Tribune so can come pretty close to the gist of what she was trying to say, methinks (at least close enough by memorialized Shakespeare standards; if she said "oh that my too solid flesh would melt" and I report it as "oh that my too sullied flesh would melt" we can edit to add).

Me: Is your work site-specific?

Mary Armentrout: I am doing the shows at the Sunshine Biscuit factory. In portions I take the audience outside, through a window, we even removed the window from their hinges, to the landlords chagrin, but its fun. It is highly site-specific and interactive. More so than the famous Trish Brown piece. There's also a piece where we take the audience into the bathroom and they either watch us direct or watch us in the mirror. I work with how image and presence are disconnected. I'm a little worried if like last year which sold out that not everyone can fit into the bathroom to see the work from the precise angle.

Me: It sounds like a Rashomon effect.

Mary: Yes.

(I was thinking and wrote in my notes PLATO ALLEGORY OF CAVE? but didn't mention it).

Mary: Identity is multivarious. That's a big part of my work. Like with the piece you saw, a couple years ago, the consumer piece, with your friend Emily Britton, my student, who you just said is now a Phd. psychologist in Massachusetts. 

Me: Is that multivarious with a "f" or a "v" (I was imagining a word that is somehow like "nefarious"??? Keep in mind my main job is rock concert promoter; so hearing loss is always a possibility)

Mary: V.

Me: So this is a reprise of a piece you did last season?

Mary: It's a re-do. Not a re-mount. Just a re-do. Polishing. There is a part of the piece that utilizes the sunset; last time it went longer, the entire program, so we missed part of the sunset effect. But we do utilize BART, which passes by. I'm into the Judson School, Judson Church thing, but more modern. The soundscore is by Evelin Zaccaria, who came up to the roof and recorded the BART sounds and she also used by Beethoven's 7th, which had some skips, and she augmented the skips with more skips. And she recorded a text that I read. And the show has live mixing and pre-recorded and ambient sound.

Me: And how would the very astute classical listener now of Evelyn Ficcaro's work?

Mary: She was based in London for many years and is finishing a degree at UC Berkeley. I met her at Djerassi. We have a mutual friend and collaborator in film-maker Ian Winters. 

Me: Is this piece anything like the Elizabeth Streb piece I saw at Stanford in which the dancers glided across a floor but their lines and images were projected at 9o degrees onto a screen; we were meant to watch the screen -- maybe I know just enough modern dance to sound stupid -- I am no Joan Accocello but I did read her Mark Morris biography.

Mary: I know her work, Streb, but did not see the piece. Other than what you say about the contrived viewing opportunity. A more immediate comparison is John Jaspers piece I saw at DTW Dance Theater Workshop of New York, in which he gave everyone in the audience a little mirror, and it was a duet and the two dancers were stationed in the house not the stage and it was complicated. But it all relates directly back to my work with layers. "What do I really want?" "Do I want tea?" "Do I want a snack?" 

Me: What year was that previous piece, I saw?

Mary: It debuted in 1999, and played again in 2002.

Me: I must have seen it in 2002. I was in Brooklyn in 2001 and saw a lot of dance. My friend Emily studied classical -- ballet -- with you and was expecting that, but I guessed otherwise and was not put off.

Mary: Well I hope you make it to the shows. Also, say hi to my friend Aleta Hayes at the Stanford Jazz department. Hopefully we can work something out for down there and continue this dialogue.

Me: Thanks for talking with me. Good luck with the show. My girlfriend the visual artist and Palo Alto arts commissioner Terry Acebo Davis and I will try to come. And I will try to get this up on Patch dot com -- not sure how many readers I have 'though.


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mark Weiss June 30, 2011 at 02:24 PM
Edit to add: East Bay Express recommends Mary Armentrout at Sunshine Biscuits Factory: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/the-woman-invisible-to-herself/Event?oid=2859566


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