Dance In Conversation
Ecstasy and Exorcism in Kimberly Bartosik’s I hunger for you
I hunger for you
BAM FISHER | OCTOBER 31 – NOVEMBER 3, 2018
Kimberly Bartosik kicked off her professional career with a nine-year-long adventure dancing for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (1987 – 1996), the work for which she then received a Bessie Award in 1997. Since then, she has been steadily and methodically building a choreographic body of work, characterized by a rigorously detailed exploration of physicality and a keen interested in creating multidisciplinary performance environments. Her work as a choreographer garnered her many accolades—including a prestigious Grant to Artists award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts—and yet, 2018 feels like the year of Bartosik, with a string of firsts. This year, the adventurous choreographer received her first award from New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, in order to create her new evening-length work, I hunger for you. The work will be one of the inaugural productions at Lumberyard’s brand new venue in Catskill, NY later this month before its New York premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival. By happenstance, Bartosik and I were peer artists during a three-week residency at the Marble House Project in Vermont earlier this summer, where I had the opportunity to witness her creative process. Back in Brooklyn in August, we took the time to catch up via Messenger and converse about her upcoming BAM performances.
Ivan Talijancic (Rail): When we were talking about your new piece in Vermont, there was a series of keywords that seemed really important to the work. Can you talk about these notions and how they prompted you to begin creating I hunger for you?
Kimberly Bartosik: The keywords or themes have emerged after quite a lot of research and practice. They are: faith, violence, compassion, and life force. What prompted me to make the work is a hugely complex question. If I were to summarize, I would say that I felt desperate to find a way to understand how we got to a place in our country after the 2016 election where we couldn’t speak to one another without breaking into violence.
I come from a family in North Carolina, where we were/are split right down the middle politically. I’m definitely someone—one of many—who experienced an inability to communicate with family members who voted for Trump. It’s so deeply personal, while being a symptom of living through this particular cultural moment. I keep thinking of dance as a way to communicate beyond language. Language, talking, is where we get fucked up; our bodies are another reality. That’s how my community practice emerged: personally, I feel a kind of rage that we are in a place where our familial relationships are deeply impacted by our political realities.
Now, with my piece, I feel like I keep trying to understand faith—the need to believe in something outside ourselves. Why so many people who voted for Trump have deep belief systems? At the same time, I am clear that I’m not interested in religion, but in ideas about faith—what draws someone to look outside this material world.
I feel a weird kind of privilege in coming from a family where several of us voted for Trump and hold his values. I can’t be like many of my friends who are able to dismiss this population. Rather, I need to try to understand them. That’s where compassion comes in: we are all human, but how did we get so far apart? We all get one life—how can we make sure that we don’t let external forces determine how we spend this time connecting to one another on this earth, while holding on to our own values? I feel the violence of love. The violence of separation. The violence of desire to stay together.
Rail: Hearing you talk about all the streams of thought that feed into the piece, it almost feels like an exorcism. How are you working with your dancers to allow these threads to filter in?
Bartosik: Yes, it sort of is. It’s a way for me to feel like I can accept the honor of making art in an age of extreme violence, dissonance, and disruption.
This is the first full-length work I’ve made in several years and the first ever that’s received significant support, so we’ve been able to engage in rather complex processes. Each performer is distinctly individual and each brings their own ideas about faith into the process. We don’t really talk about it; I offer physical practices that take the body into extreme states and, well, it’s like we can find our “god” in those spaces. Everything begins with the body—there’s no indulgence or extraneous theater. But then, there’s so much drama in the body and once we tap into it, you never know what you can find. It’s been just over a year of process, but it is all really beginning to come together.
I grew up going to evangelical churches, but only one performer in my group has ever experienced that. It’s not something one can easily relay, so we discover spaces of ecstasy—I think it’s really about identifying a hunger for connection.
Rail: Speaking of connection—it seems to me that you are thinking about this notion very widely. This project has received major support from the National Dance Project, which will allow you to share your work with diverse locales across the United States. How do you envision the opportunities for community engagement in these regions?
Bartosik: Yes! With this project, I’ve been wildly dedicated to finding ways to create possibilities for connection, and focusing a lot on populations outside our “dance world,” and outside our political comfort. I don’t want to only “speak” to those who share my values. How can dance, a non-verbal artform, create the possibility to speak across our own boundaries?
A huge plea for my National Dance Project grant was speaking from my heart. As I said, I feel a kind of privilege in coming from a place where I need to understand those who do not share my belief, or I risk ostracizing them and myself. Life is way too short to risk that, but I keep thinking about how we can speak without yelling. How language—rational language—leads to violence. Where is the place where we can just connect? I think that place is our bodies: we all have one, no matter what we believe. We are all mortal, we all have flesh, blood, desire, emotion . . .
Besides making my work, I wanted to develop a space where our bodies could be moving in the same, shared space. Could we find a place where our beliefs were less important than our humanity? And, in that space, can we just look at, and acknowledge one another, and not need to kill each other? My project isn’t really that lofty, or political, but I do believe adamantly in what Merce Cunningham said was “that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.” Maybe that is enough for now.
What’s so cool—and wild—about the journey of making this project, is all the ways in which it has been challenging my own fear, desires, assumptions. I never just dance for the sake of moving. I’m extremely shy, and yet I developed my community engagement practice around the power of moving together in a shared space, without hesitation or judgement. So the work is pushing me, out of necessity, way beyond myself. But, as you witnessed, I needed three weeks of being in a studio alone to figure out how to do that!
Rail: Better late than never: just remember how much effort it takes that butterfly to get out of the cocoon!
One more question: it sounds like a given that we’ll be in for some really intense physicality. However, your work is also known for your use of design. Who are your key collaborators in bringing this vision to life—or, should I say, to the stage?
Bartosik: Indeed, design is very important to me, and I feel like to you as well! For I hunger for you, the set is the ephemeral element of light. Roderick Murray, my longtime collaborator (and husband) is creating this design. For the first time ever, he’s going to have the opportunity to heavily experiment during our upcoming residency at The National Center for Choreography at the University of Akron, Ohio. This is also the first time I get to work with a composer and a costume designer! Sivan Jacobovitz is creating the score and Harriet Jung (of Reid & Harriet) is creating what people will wear (because I don’t like “costumes”) and there’s a very new exciting development in the cast—
Rail: Pray tell! Or, is this going to be a cliffhanger?
Bartosik: While we were rehearsing in France this summer, I realized there was one element missing: a young witness. Having been so deeply impacted by the work of the choreographer Thierry Thieû Niang, I’ve added a very special role. And, yes, let’s leave it at that.