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Conversation between Pioneer Winter and Olivia Ramos.
GIMP GAIT (2016)
thank you for joining me
WINTER: Hey, Olivia - good morning
good morning - how are you?
I'm good - just finished two back-to-back work-outs. Trying to up endurance for what I've gotten myself into for the February project.
what's going on in February?
kind of a dance / physical theatre work - some text involved - mostly biographic as far as what the performers bring to it
if it is biographic, then were the performers involved in the choreography or do you allow the performers improvisation freedom during the piece?
there are a number of things we can do to keep the movement authentic.
I'm not the type of choreographer who asks the performers to mimic anything
so it's a pretty democratic process - just as long as the intention is clear and defined
I ask series of questions, give prompts or directives, sometimes the performers all have different prompts - even conflicting imperatives, where they are not all trying to achieve the same thing
I still 'order' the movement in that choreography does not mean that you select dance steps from a vocabulary list - like ballet or traditional modern - but the movement is generated from tasks that usually manifest is something outside the boundaries of known movement
so then choreography looses it's technical requirements?
sometimes it's as easy as exhausting the performers - having them do the movements backward, etc.
choreography isn't supposed to have requirements
I think the expectations we notice in less risky work is based upon a system that caters to preserving rather than discovering
i like that
me too lol
and i believe it in painting for example
if i plan exactly what i will paint, there is really nothing for me in the experience of doing
i guess that is comparable to dance/performance
you want to have a general gesture and learn from the doing
right - we should try not to impose a final image on the work
sometimes I work from images - like flashes - and then I work backward from that point
but that's also why choosing your cast is so important
I like performers that are open to the process and don't want to just be told what to do
i wonder what it would be like to create a film this way
only situations of sorts
In 2012, we did a 'music video' in the then-abandoned 4th floor of LegalArt/Cannonball - we didn't plan a thing
But in the editing, a storyline of sorts was formed
It takes an intense amount of concentration
concentration + awareness + compassion + selflessness
and even then, they've created rules or phrases that are remixed or re-ordered, or there's a toolbox for the performers to choose from
all kinds of things to generate a narrative with others
Michael Klien also works this way
yes, or to take the narrative out of the hands of everyone involved - almost make it double-blind so to speak
I still prefer to control the trajectory of whatever narrative may be emerging, sometimes the narrative changes further along in the process and I'm happy to reassess and change too
let's shift a minute and tell me a little about Gimp Gait
It's the first time I've worked in mixed ability or physically integrated dance
That was truly collaborative in that I couldn't assume anything about the other performer - we worked as a duet - the concept and choreography my own, but the outcome was based upon reality informing concept
the reality of her body, her strength, my strength, my body, our ages and age differences - 28 going on 29 for me, 49 going on 50 for her
it is hard to describe as a viewer what forms of emotion are triggered
it is one of the most beautiful and honest performances
do you worry about her?
no i don't at all
do you think I'm exploiting her?
no not at all
i am so happy for her
those were some of our thoughts in making the work
more so live than the film adaptation
that never crossed my mind
i wouldn't think she didn't completely want to do this
and more than anything i admire both your courage for taking this on
how did you start this conversation?
started with a few little things
attempting to strap a speaker to my back, where the music would play from, so I would be encumbered and design some equity between us
tried having her drag me around at high speeds
eventually I realized that if I let the power wheelchair stay, I could fall into the same tropes many choreographers fall into when doing mixed ability work - that is, it become therapeutic
I hate therapeutic
or the 'able-bodied' dancer has a body dialogue/interacts with the chair more than the person sitting in the chair
so we x'd the chair - it's still present, sort of ominous, but she leaves it at the very start of the work and the viewer never sees her return to it
was this Marjorie's first performance?
No - Marjorie has been performing longer than me. I believe her first performance was in early 90's. she was 22-25 yrs of age I think
she's 50 now
but she's been mostly in her chair
she's been taken out of it before - carried, reclined on the floor, etc.
but not for an entire dance
and not in this 'fuck you' context
the chair makes her look small - it's around 460 lbs
i think Marj is a very imposing figure when removed from the freedoms/confines of the chair
we call it a solo for two - i take the back seat and enact Marjorie's power. I'm like a surrogate. But the will is Marjorie's.
and how do you feel during the performance? are you simply hyper aware of her movements and connected to her guidance?
yes - hyper-aware - following her pace
it's pretty uncomfortable for both of us
I feel a lot of intense back pain - I have an imperative that I can't drop her - trying to be aware of her vulnerability but not baby her
and she feels a lot of exhaustion from standing on her own legs, walking, rolling over, sitting up, keeping her head up
last year she had 3 surgeries - I believe neck and spine - so things like rolling over, crawling, and holding her head up take effort and concentration
But things will continue to get harder for her to do - that's why it's so important for us to make this work now
how would you describe the large scale intention of this work
When I was commissioned to make the duet with Marjorie, I was already working on a physical theatre work called HOST for five men. So there was a lot of bleeding between the two works initially - mostly looking at power, authority of the viewer's gaze, performative expectations
and beyond the performance, this is work that defies the norms in many ways, in the least hyper-inclusive
what is the intention beyond the industry?
The summer before I did a study with 5 sandbags - about 35 lbs each - another dancer stood on stage and gave me orders - I had to go for as long as possible. I found in that study that my will increased when my body sort of decayed or fatigued
I've found it's similar with Marj - it's pure willpower, hardheadedness, guts whatever
well, I think in general we tend to infantilize people living with disability
even expectations of dress are questionable
for example, another dancer who is also living with disability asked Marjorie "why'd Pioneer make you naked"
Ummmm it's a dance and she's wearing biker shorts and a sports bra - much more clothing than you'd see on most sugar plum fairies
even within the disabled community, there's an expectation to hide distortions in musculature, scar from surgeries, moomoos are preferable to de-sexualize
yes there is
Also I think Gimp Gait brought up some interesting layers of unintentional prejudice - introducing Marjorie to friends who automatically raise their voice, talk baby-talk, or somehow change the way they normally engage.