Norte Maar’s CounterPointe10 – JEANNE VERDOUX and JOVONNA PARKS

Out of the Vessel, Choreography and Dance : JoVonna Parks. Visual Art and Video Projection: Jeanne Verdoux. Photo: Jeanne Verdoux

The impetus for this series of conversations between a visual artist and a choreographer comes directly from my recent collaborative work with a choreographer as part of Norte Maar’s CounterPointe10. In this unique project a choreographer is paired with a visual artist to create together over two months a dance performance that integrates the two disciplines into a cohesive vision. Here is the conversation between artist Jeanne Verdoux and choreographer / dancer JoVonna Parks.

Tell us about your collaborative process.

Jeanne: We met for the first time in a coffee shop in the village. I felt connected with you instantly. I had never worked with a choreographer and it was exciting to chat about all the possibilities of what we could create together.

Jo: I was also excited albeit nervous to meet you; which is generally how I feel whenever I am at the beginning of a new creative project. Because CounterPointe 10 marked my third experience with this festival I had a bit more confidence in explaining what my ideas were and the overall flow of the special collaborative process. I never come in with too many ideas, if I have any at all, because I like to get to know my collaborator, to see what their interests are so that we can find a common thread and follow it together. I never like to impose anything because that feels very inauthentic to me. Immediately, however, I knew we would make a wonderful partnership because Jeanne is incredibly open and interested in trying new things, as well as the weirdness factor which we both find home. Also she has a good sense of humor which for me- and I believe for her as well- is important to the creative process.

Jeanne: I started experimenting with materials in my studio and sending you images. You were open to everything which gave me a lot of confidence in our process. I decided video projection would be the best medium to combine my images and your choreography on the stage. I showed you a nine second stop animation of a disassembled body flying out of a vessel and you felt you could develop a choreography based on it.

Jo: It took me a long while before any real movement was able to manifest . It wasn’t until Jeanne sent me the nine second stop animation which I fell in love with because it was so different and weird. I felt it was a great way to push into movement creation, especially because it enabled us to incorporate humor into our work. Once I was back in the studio and had a solid reference point, things really began to flow. My guide was just finding a way to mimic the movements I was seeing the body make in the stop animation whether the body was disassembled or not.

Jeanne: We met again to create a storyboard to define the timing of the sequences. Then I started sending you parts of the animation as I was building it.

Jo: At this second in-person meeting I still did not have much to show you which made me nervous, but I was fully confident in our ability to create something fun and thought provoking. Later on, having a longer stop animation video to work with was even more helpful because I was able to see, understand and help develop the landscape along with you on the screen while simultaneously creating a landscape in the physical realm. The next step was finding a way to marry the two landscapes.

Jeanne: Using photos of you, I created a collage in motion with parts of your body flying over the city, ticking as a clock, acting as birds and gathering back inside a vessel that was doubled as a prop on the stage. It was a lot of work to develop the animation from the original nine second clip into a seven minute video so I sent you the final sequence very late in the process. I don’t know how you managed to figure out your part in so little time…

Jo: When you asked me to send photos of myself; face and full body images I remember thinking “Oh, my goodness, why is she asking me for those things? What is she going to do?” Jeanne also helped me decide on music soundscape and it turned out to be a really nice audio accompaniment for our collaborative landscape.

Jeanne: The rehearsal was powerful. Seeing you perform in front of my giant projected images was amazing. Based on the lighting director’s feedback, I reversed all of the light images to dark overnight to improve the stage light on your body. Every following performance got better and better as you interacted more and more with the visual narrative on the screen.

Jo: I’m glad you mentioned the interaction between me and the visual narrative! Julia, Jeanne and I had a conversation post tech/dress rehearsal about my interaction with the visual narrative on the screen. It was not clear what my relationship was to the visual narrative even though my actual face and body were a part of the visual narrative. There was a disconnection that I needed to find a solution in about a 24 hour period. My solution was to face the visual and interact with the changing scenery and climate throughout. In order to do that I had to study Jeanne’s video and make notes on where to create interactions with myself in and outside the visual narrative. It was an interesting experience to dance and be aware of steps and transitions and all the things that dancers think about when they are performing but to also watch oneself on a projection to interact with that version of yourself simultaneously is a bit strange, but also felt totally normal. In the end it came together beautifully. It is incredible to watch your work unfold as choreographer and dancer.

What is your take away from this collaboration?

Jeanne:: Our collaboration opened up lots of new ideas and I loved being ‘thrown’ on a stage for the first time. Jo’s beautiful choreography and live performance gave a new dimension to my images. Both our work became one while Jo performed. I would love to repeat this experience.

Jo: Couldn’t agree more. We had a very organic working relationship throughout the creative process. It is amazing how well things can come together in such a short time. I enjoy being a part of CounterPointe because it allows me to tap into new creative experiences and experiments, forces me to trust the creative process and to not treat my work so preciously. I have found that whenever I make something I use this advice, “First thought, best thought.” With a unique collaborative experience like CounterPointe it is the best way to not over analyze every step of the creative process and let self- discovery take the lead.

Out of the Vessel, Choreography and Dance: JoVonna Parks. Visual Art and Video Projection: Jeanne Verdoux. Photo Jeanne Verdoux

About the artist: Jeanne Verdoux is a French American mixed media artist focused on drawings and ceramics. She uses sustainable materials, draws using water soluble media on found papers and cardboards, and sculpts in natural clay. All her art pieces are symbolic representations of ideas drawn from her personal iconography. Her field of research is the feminine body, an expression of her experience as a woman: daughter, wife, and mother. She has received grants and fellowships from NYSCA, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, The Bronx Museum, NYFA, LMCC, The French Institute, the French Ministry of Culture. Her work has been exhibited internationally and reviewed in The New York Times, Huffington Post and Boston Globe. Jeanne Verdoux earned an MFA from The Royal College of Art (London) and a BFA from Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliqués (Paris). She is an Associate Professor at Parsons The New School and New York University. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

About the choreographer: JoVonna Parks is a Philadelphia native. She is a graduate of the Ailey/Fordham BFA, class of 2012. JoVonna performed with Elisa Monte Dance under the direction of both Elisa Monte and Tiffany Rea-Fisher from 2014-2019. Whether performing or creating, she also teaches ballet, modern and contemporary techniques in the greater NYC and New Jersey area. She is currently a freelance dance artist in NYC with Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company, Clymove and Konverjdans. Her own creations have been performed at Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company: Solo Suites as well as the all female collaborative choreography festival CounterPointe in 2019, 2022 and 2023. JoVonna is a recipient of the NYFA City Corps Grant as well as a recipient of the 2021/2022 UMEZ grant from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture as choreographer in collaboration with Nite Bjuti. She is also the recipient of a microgrant from The Map Fund in its first microgrant initiative.