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Steve Sucato
Wexner Center for the Arts
United States
Columbus, OH

Unseen Influences

by Steve Sucato
September 18, 2008
Wexner Center for the Arts
Mershon Auditorium
The Ohio State University
1871 North High Street

Columbus, OH 43210-1393
(614) 292-0330
An Interview with choreographer Bebe Miller about her new work Necessary Beauty
On the eve of the world premiere of Bebe Miller's Necessary Beauty, October 1-5, 2008 at Ohio State University's Wexner Center in Columbus. I talked with the choreographer about the program and about her 23-year-old Bebe Miller Company going "virtual".

Steve Sucato: Tell me about the title Necessary Beauty?

Bebe Miller: A couple years ago I was driving between Dayton and Columbus, Ohio
having just rehearsed a work with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. It was one of those gray rainy kind-of days in which I was feeling nagged by a problem. During the ride I happened to see a flock of birds take off flapping seemingly in time with my windshield wipers, while at the same instant I got the resolution to my problem. It was one of those small transcendent moments that struck me as very artful and became the impetus of this piece; hence the title Necessary Beauty.

SS: I have read that this work is a continuation of a line of investigation begun in your Bessie award-winning work Landing/Place, how so?

BM: It is a continuation of working with pretty much the same team but what we are investigating is different. Like Landing/Place we are using video, animation, live music, and dance. My work (nowadays) is about "story-ness", not quite a story, but there is definitely a sense in Necessary Beauty of a fable. It is also not a story that completes itself at all; rather it is contained in the gesture of the work.

SS: How does the theory of dark matter fit into the work?

BM: When we were working on this project I got to talking to a physics post-graduate student about dark matter and that 85% of the universe is made up of something we cannot see. It is more a thing you see the result of because of its influence on what is around it. It felt like this idea of unseen influence was behind our story-ness. You don't know why things effect you the way they do but you feel their import from something that is not visible. Our job in Necessary Beauty was not to try to re-create the bird story I mentioned and its a-ha moment, but to reveal the possibility of finding a-ha moments out of the banal.

SS: Writer Ain Gordon is a collaborator on the work, what is his role?

BM: He has written the text for us. It comes from interviews he had with the dancers about things that happened to them when they were young and other memories. You hear their answers and eventually the questions but in a way that is more like overheard conversations. It is Ain's reading on the concept of unseen influence.

SS: You had worked with Gordon once before; how long ago was that?

BM: Fifteen years ago in 1993. It was a different kind of piece. For me it was the first time I had worked with a theater director. He didn't really direct the piece but I was interested in his language and as a collaborator. It was a key piece for me in my working process. A leap theatrically in the kinds of works I thought I could make. It is nice to return to working with him again.

SS: What is it you liked about his language?

BM: He has a very dry tone. Rather than going into the overly descriptive of these moments of necessary beauty, I was looking for another way of expressing these out of the corner of one's eye, moments that seem to register after the fact.

SS: Tell me about Albert Mathias' original score for the work?

BM: Albert was a part of the making of the previous work Landing/Place, and I got spoiled by him being present for pretty much every rehearsal. He would arrive with the dancers, setup in the corner and take notes. What I like about working with him is he gives the piece a sense of immediacy, he is right there in the building process of the score as well as right there for the performance of it, which he will do again live.

SS: What does it sound like?

BM: He references a cowboy tune and small fragments of music that seem slightly familiar. It feels very referential and contemporary. He uses ambient sounds such as wind and a sonar blip. It is an eclectic gathering of bits that has a certain funkiness to it.

SS: How did you decide how much video or text to use?

BM: You make certain decisions along the way and you have to live with them. For Necessary Beauty we made the decision early on to rear project images on large screens. We realized however, that when there was nothing on the screens, they were really dull to look at. So then we had to go back and figure out how to make it so there was something up on the screens the entire time. Time passes very differently in front of an image than it does just watching dance. We don't want these images to just be background. But how do you gage this passage of time and interest so the eye can really delve into what is up there and not making back and forth decisions as to what to watch? It is very complicated. Then with Ain arriving at the place of using interviews was also a long process of him bringing in prose and us figuring out what it is we are trying to trigger between ourselves and the audience.

SS: What can someone who has never seen your work or your company expect coming to Necessary Beauty?

BM: It is a quiet piece, full of light and imagery. The performers are on a white floor with large white screens. It is a three-dimensional experience and not just a dance experience. My hope is that it will allow you the time to just settle back and receive it.

SS: Your company is now described as "virtual", meaning that the dancers only come together for specific projects. What kinds of challenges has that presented?

BM: Money. It is really expensive, but right now it is worth it. I am able to work with artists who have there own lives and careers in different places. We come together and work intensely for 2-3 weeks at a time several times a year to create works. What is also interesting is that on the off time with the dancers, my collaborators get to work. The writer gets to write, the animator gets to animate and then we come back together and go forward again.

For More information visit www.bebemillercompany.org
Bebe Miller Company in Necessary Beauty

Bebe Miller Company in Necessary Beauty

Photo © & courtesy of Julieta Cervantes

Bebe Miller Company in Necessary Beauty

Bebe Miller Company in Necessary Beauty

Photo © & courtesy of Julieta Cervantes

Bebe Miller Company in Necessary Beauty

Bebe Miller Company in Necessary Beauty

Photo © & courtesy of Julieta Cervantes

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