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 co-founder, director, and choreographer: Julia K. Gleich and artist: Tamara Gonzales.
Tell us about your collaborative process.
Tamara: This was an anniversary for us – Julia and I collaborated on The Brodmann Areas just over 10 years ago.
Julia: I did a little research and found that we collaborated on a program in Asheville, NC in 2011, called Untitled (As of Yet). You had to strategize the visuals for a stage in a Masonic Lodge that had about 20 sets of scenic flats!
Tamara: Oh yes, that was the first time I was exposed to dance choreography. As a studio artist I work mostly alone so collaborating with people and watching a piece take form over several weeks with music and moving bodies was thrilling. For me to visualize wardrobe and art sets, attending rehearsals is key. Watching each dancer move and the different energy and mood that occurs as more and more of the dance vignettes get woven together. The dancers are incredibly skilled and watching Julia choreographing, is really cool. She is a movement poet. She would do a few steps and turns humming the beat “TA TA TA” and maybe describe a feeling or movement “let the hand lead” and then within minutes four people are doing it in sync with music including spins, leaps, and pointe. To me it felt like they spoke a secret dance language. And then the dancers stretching at the bar or on the floor, adjusting their shoes and warming up, all brought to mind Edgar Degas’ paintings and sketches of which I’m a huge fan.
For our 2023 re-union I felt really supported and I think the fact that Julia is familiar with my work was an important factor. We started with one idea but when another creative story line emerged as the rehearsals went on, we both had the confidence to let that process happen. Which is another way of saying that everything came together with costumes and sets in the last week!
Julia: It’s true! Our process was very fluid, evolving as new ideas are generated (or stumbled upon). I don’t think we consciously rejected any big ideas, they just morphed and evolved–the process was deeply collaborative and very fluid. I felt like I wanted to “go to Tamara.” I wanted to make a ballet that was motivated intensely by her creativity. I know Tamara’s work and have admired her over many years. There are recurrent themes in her art that are deeply connected with what I see as a pragmatic and playful spirituality. During my first studio visit I picked up on the figures, sort of portraits of beings, and then I was drawn by the framing, in lines and patterns, of those forms. I was especially focused on her use of space in a kind of decorative spotlight–a curvy, four loop space which houses a central figure. I thought this could be a strong element of the dance and started to generate phrases using loopy spatial projection and pathways. I also wanted to shift space from the central presentational location that dancers feel compelled to occupy–or compress space. But I wasn’t sure how we would achieve this.
I started to immerse myself in Tamara’s three-legged forms and made a small duet. Envisioning the costumes is difficult for me but Tamara brought in colors and texture. We share a vision of inclusive individuality. So each dancer had their own look/identity; unique, but somehow shared. Maybe it was the color palate or the fabric choices? There was a dress that we all fell in love with that became a kind of a romanticized representation of Frida Kahlo figure. Dianna Warren danced it, and I know that both Tamara and I saw ourselves in this character—it embodied a mature presence that added breadth to the world of dancing.
But color is something I don’t always visualize, and I really wanted to be hands-off. So, when Tamara added all that color the ballet was suddenly “dressed” and it became more narrative with each dancer more distinctive and eccentric–right down to the neon pointe shoes.
What is your takeaway from this collaboration?
Tamara: Besides the fact that I got to meet new people and hang with two of my favorite humans, Julia and Jason, I found a new way at looking at my work…coming off the canvas that is and moving into a sculptural space. I hand created an image from one of my paintings onto foam core. Julia suggested breaking it down into pieces so that each dancer could interact with a specific part. Julia and I had the idea that the pieces would be painted black on one side and would lie flat onstage hidden from view until the end moment when each dancer would take their piece and reassemble the whole. Then for practical reasons Jason had the idea to balance the individual pieces together in a pile, and suddenly we had something else…a painting sculpture!
Julia: It suddenly gave me the spatial restriction that I desired. And the added sculptural element was like a pyre.
Tamara: It morphed (like a transformer) and also became a focal point for the dancers to interact with throughout the performance. It was such a strong element, like we had a new person that joined the dance. It is an idea I hope to explore more fully in the studio this summer.
Julia: For me collaboration requires openness to any idea. That is both a blessing and a curse. It means that we try everything, which is time-consuming and not always satisfying, but it also means that we discover things we might have rejected if we closed down to a singular vision. Tamara was so chill about this process. We didn’t control the outcomes, even right up until the final tech rehearsal, when we decided to rethink our ending and had to reach out to our other collaborator, composer/musician Amery Kessler, for a re-jigging of the sound for the ending.
This collaboration reinforced my love for the immediacy of dance and art. It is stressful and joyous when it comes together and enjoying the process is key. I guess I am never happy to finish the work as the studio is where the life of the work emerges for me. And having Tamara there to discuss and ponder with is the beating heart of creation. Maybe one day we can do a whole program of the works we have made together.
Tamara Gonzales during tech rehearsal with set for Colibri. Dancers: Margot Hartley and Dianna Warren and choreographer Julia K. Gleich in background. Photo: Jason Andrew
About artist: Tamara Gonzales works with a variety of painted patterned motifs both in figuration and abstraction. Textiles and nature often inspire her works, while others are created through her own generative mark-making on paper or canvas. Over the last ten years Gonzales’ travels to Peru, and her visionary experiences and friendships with the Shipibo people have become a source of both inspiration and collaboration in her work. Working in her studio in Brooklyn and upstate New York, Gonzales develops her own visual language, resulting in a wonderful mixture of exuberant color, energetic line, and archetypal imagery.
About choreographer: Julia K. Gleich has been making dances for 25 years, investigating relationships between the traditional and contemporary with a particular focus on collaboration. After 15 years on conservatory faculties at Laban and at London Studio Centre in London, UK she gave up institutional academia, returning to NYC to independent creation and to work with longtime artistic partner Jason Andrew. Together they co-founded Norte Maar (2004) and produce the CounterPointe collaborations, supporting new work by women for pointe created in collaboration with visual artists, celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2023. Gleich Dances has recently been in residence at the University of Buffalo and at The Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore. Her book chapters about canon and the margins of ballet with collaborator Molly Faulkner, are published in (Re:) Claiming Ballet and The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet. Gleich teaches open classes at Peridance Center in NYC and co-manages Artist Estate Studio.