Victoria Bradford works in the fields of arts administration, arts advocacy, and arts practice. She is the Program Director for Chicago Dancemakers Forum(CDF) and has been with the organization for over two years, directing the activities of the Lab Artist Program, and supporting the development of the Regional Dance Development Initiative as well as CDF Public Programs, the Breakout fundraising campaign, and the annual Lab Artist Award Celebration. While working for CDF, she also serves as a Program Assistant/Archive Researcher in the Department of Grants at the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and continues to contribute editorials to Chicago Artists Resource. Victoria is a practicing studio artist invested in image-making, public performance, and text-based systems for movement. Through time-intensive projects, her work investigates personal narrative and the psychological gestures embedded in the body. She creates improvisation projects that subtly intersect with social practice, and she collaborates with artists of all disciplines while bringing work to public sites, private homes, galleries, stages, and the internet. Victoria received an MFA in Performance from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her recent work has been shown at the Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery, Chicago Architecture Biennial, Chicago Artists Month, High Concept Labs, DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Open House Chicago, Chicago Artists Coalition, and Design Cloud Gallery.
Dancing Off-Kilter: Systems, Uncertainties, Ground
Ginger Krebs ventures into uncharted territories
On a cold December day in Chicago, I walked into the Dance Studio at the Chicago Cultural Center to sit in on a rehearsal of Ginger Krebs’ Buffer Overrun. The room was overtaken by a large pitched platform, the angled surface on which the dancers perform. As I watched, references to “scooching” and “skittery” movement piqued my attention. Dancers [Sabrina Baranda, Elise Cowin, Joanna Furnans, and Krebs] found themselves “apprehensive about equilibrium” and the layered thought and exhortation that “everything is in relation to everything else” echoed across the sloping landscape of rehearsal.
Krebs’ Buffer Overrun has been in incubation for nearly 18 months as a part of her tenure as a Lab Artist with Chicago Dancemakers Forum (CDF). Four dancemakers are selected from a pool of applicants to participate in the CDF Lab Artist program. Each selected artist receives $15,000 to support their artistic growth through the research, development, and presentation of a new work.
VB: You’ve got a show coming up, and I think the unique thing about your process is that it’s been a really long incubation period. You’ve also received multiple awards that are supporting the project—the Lab Artist Award, the MAP Fund, this residency with DCASE. You’ve had a number of different showings, and so a lot of different feedback.
In a way, I feel like I’ve seen the piece, but I haven’t seen the piece. And so that’s really interesting, because even seeing rehearsal just now is like, oh I’ve see that part of it but in a different arrangement or composition, and now I’m seeing it this way…
There are parts of it, that because I saw it first in this other way—like when you see something for the first time how you end up having a kind of affiliation or preference for it—like I miss the other way! So I wonder, are the performers all going to have socks on, are they all going to be in stripes, all the things I’ve seen in the past versions, are they all going to be the same? Or like in the first version, I think it was the first version here in the dance studio, you had the colored tape all over the floor, … now the tape is back on the platform, and it’s just not as pronounced. The tape was such an aesthetic interest to me being such a visual person and thinking about your systems and the systems that go into structuring the dance.
Maybe you could talk about the multiple iterations of the piece and how you go about refining the dance, about the different support you’ve received for the dance project and how that’s affected it, and also working with your team and what that’s been like because I know you’ve had them in different capsules of time, and gone stretches of time without being able to work with them, and so maybe just what it’s like working with people on a project to project basis instead of working with a company and if its your preference or if its by circumstance.
GK: Yeah, sure. Those are good questions. So, this is work period number three. In the first two rehearsal periods we established the world of the piece. I feel like we sort of got the lay of the land in terms of the universe of systems we’re operating in. Now I really want to try to find where the humanity of each individual performer comes through in relation to those larger systems. I want there to be sections in the piece where the system – the choreography - breaks down and the performers work improvisationally with the themes of speed and urgency, and also the flip side of those - patience, and what they means to each of us.
So we’ve worked a lot in this most recent rehearsal period literally talking out loud about how we connect to things like patience - memories from when we were younger and present time life circumstances, and improvising for long periods around those kinds of prompts. So we are developing more individual material in addition to what had come before. There’s more of an improvisational world, well a few improvisational worlds, for each performer where they’re really trying to find something in the moment of performing.
Today we were working a lot with transitions between parts. This is a big structural challenge for the piece. It’s typical for me to develop a bunch of material - like a soup - because partly I’m trying to look at the subject matter from all different perspectives: speed as it connects to economics, speed as it connects to discipline – whether it be incarceration or disciplining a child. *like these different tangents?* yeah, because I want the piece to have a spectrum of associations, but I have to say that what’s so challenging is that I become aware of time and speed when the structure of a piece is more minimal—maybe it’s one choreographic phrase that then is spun out in a million different ways like De Keersmaeker, or in music like Philip Glass or Steve Reich. It’s one phrase, and then it’s addressed really formally and what I love about that work is like that slidey way that you keep losing your bearings in time because of the repetition. So the big challenge here, which will hopefully sort itself out pretty soon, is, what can recur?
I mean right now we’ve got too much in the piece. There’s a whole lot of other stuff. *You’ve got to edit* Yeah! It’s kind of like we’re right at this moment where Joseph [Kramer] is developing sound, Christine [Shallenberg] is thinking with me about code… Anyway, so there are all these different elements that I feel like belong together but how to sort of overlap—because right now it [is] almost like beads on a necklace. We have chunk one, we have this transition that’s not worked out, and then another chunk… So part of the thing we’re really trying to focus on now is the transitions and how the continuity of one mode could really seep into the next thing.
I’m not interested in making something that’s purely formal. I’m just not. I care too much about how formal things play out in terms of the world we’re living in, and so it’s important to me that the spectrum of associations exists.
VB: Yeah that first work in progress was—I mean I think it was a commentary that it was very formal.
GK: Yeah. And it’s ok, with me… Like I think that formality belongs in the piece because systems aren’t about feelings, but I want to know what is that in contrast to…
VB: Right, you had it just in this rehearsal. There was much more breaking from that formality. You had the formal moments like the stock trader section but then even just the way that the formation broke out and Joanna’s improvisation… and after the race section, all of the bodies in duress. In that section there’s a lot more feeling. Each of you in your own way with your own kind of expressions, which is really nice to see because there are times that you all are so mechanically the same.
GK: I think it needs some of that.
VB: Do you think, will you take this work somewhere else after the storefront?
GK: I’ve been trying. I have made efforts to look into that. I don’t have plans to tour the piece. I’ve been trying to connect with presenters so that they even come to see this piece, but what I’m led to understand is that it’s kind of too late in the process of this piece. It seems like my goal has shifted to try to get presenters to come to this so in the future they would be interested *in other work* Yeah… I mean this project has been huge—it’s been the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done. I’m really excited about it and hopeful that everything will come together for this February showing, but it would be great to be able to perform it again… I wonder what it would be like to perform a finished piece, I mean just as a performer, to do it multiple times. I’ve typically worked a ton on each piece and then shown it and then poof it’s gone. And I love the process of developing, and it’s always going to be way more important to me to make new work than to tour the heck out of something that’s already cooked but still I would like to have the chance.
VB: Circling back to your team of performers…?
GK: I feel I get very attached to the people I work with and if it were up to me I would work with them forever and ever. I mean all of them. And I tried to make that happen with groups that I worked with in the past. We formed a collaborative team because we had all worked on a project that I had directed, but then we thought we were going to try to do a collaboration. That melted down within four months.
I love it when I get to work with performers over multiple projects because a huge part of what takes time in the process is really getting to know who they are, how they work, what kind of prompts they respond to. Just a huge part of it is being together in rehearsal over a period of time. The elements I typically like the most in the finished work are these little accidental things that somebody said off to the side, during a break, and then it becoming content in the work. So I have not deliberately chosen to work with a fresh group each time.
I’m asking for a huge level of commitment, and people have their own art careers, and busy lives, and many people have worked with me over many projects. This group happens to be all brand new people to me, and it’s been really different and fun to work with people who have as much training as these guys have. It’s really different.
It’s not like I thought when I started my CDF project, “I want trained dancers.” I asked a bunch of people, who weren't available, and they didn’t really want to do it. And then I offered some open workshops for people to participate in, and in the end when a couple people committed, I was like oh ok the group is going to look like this. Working with the trained dancers has had a huge impact on how systematic the piece looks like. These guys are amazing. I mean I can be struggling over figuring out the choreography and they’ll be like, “we got it.” Like they got it ten minutes ago. I’m like, “ok.”
I think it was a fair criticism of the first spring work in progress; partly it was so systematic because they just wanted to do that. *Y’all were all intoxicated by capacity for being that systematic.* (laughs). So that’s been fun, and it’s been harder actually to sort of build into the piece—all the month of November was trying to remind them over and over again the point of this is not to execute it competently, the point is to keep searching for the place where you don’t know the answer so that the improvisation can feel really, like you’re discovering something or kind of searching for something in the moment. That’s actually been really hard.
I’ve tried to work with that by giving them something that even they can’t do, and it doesn’t work to make it complex choreography. They can always get that, but other things that are literally spatially destabilizing tend to help give their bodies a quality of contingency that’s so important. So actually, I wouldn’t change anything.
There’s a different set of skills that the untrained people that I’ve worked with have… or I don’t know if it’s a different set of skills but they’re*unfettered* —yeah, yeah—and so they’re more willing to be awkward and whoever they are. I love that so much and so figuring out how to leave the door open to accident or not clamp [down], like “we’ve got it, we know it.” And still, even today, that’s a hard thing, for me too personally when I’m performing on my own, …so that’s been an interesting challenge, it’s been great.
Dancer - Joanna Furnans
Photo credit - Chen Chen Yu