Close Up: Dance Heginbotham

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October has arrived and with it brings Dance Heginbotham’s Joyce debut.  Performances include three New York premieres, each performed with live music: Angels’ Share, Diamond (a solo for Kristen Foote), and Easy Win. Performances are Saturday, October 10 at 8 pm, and Sunday, October 11 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm.

This summer Easy Win had its US premiere at the Vail International Dance Festival. Alastair Macualay of The New York Times writes “[Easy Win’s] compositional fun and good-humored naturalness are increasingly potent… Easy Win is a dance I’m keen to see again.” Set to original music composed and performed by Ethan Iverson, Easy Win deconstructs the form of a ballet class to reveal a stunning suite of dances.  We got the chance to ask Mr. Heginbotham a few questions about the origins of his company, and his longtime friendship and collaboration with Mr. Iverson.

Dance Heginbotham is comprised of a core ensemble of dancers. Can you tell me about why working with a consistent ensemble is important to you?
I made a few pieces that involved the same people, and Dance Heginbotham just happened in a very organic way. Initially, it was people with whom I danced at Mark Morris, who had been supplementary dancers in the company.  And then I also met some people through a college commission at SUNY Purchase.  And what happened there is I kept meeting all of these fabulous dancers who were just graduating college. And I would hire them.  And with a few rare exceptions, it’s those people who I am still working with today. People who work together consistently get into a groove that then becomes unspoken.  They connect with each other psychically.  And that is very, very attractive to me.  It allows you to dig deeper into the work because you’re not always starting from zero.  The next time you work with them you can start from five, and then ten.

To return to your work with Mark Morris, I know that you and composer, Ethan Iverson (of jazz trio, The Bad Plus) both worked with that company.  What initiated your collaboration on Easy Win?
Ethan saw Dance Heginbotham’s evening length piece, Dark Theatre, at BAM- a piece which involved a lot of solo piano. And he came up to me right after the show, and said, “I have this idea for a piece that I think would be perfect for your dance company. You and I have spent so much time together in the ballet studio, and I would like to write music that is related to that time period.”

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So it began with this idea of dance class…
A lot happens in ballet class.  First of all, there is the psychological element of returning to that practice every single day in order to make yourself better.  But then there’s also the power dynamic between the teacher and the students.  And then the role of the accompanist is extremely important, though that person is kind of on the outskirts.  Though that was not the case with Mark Morris because Mark wanted everyone in the room to be participating as thoroughly as possible.

I also wanted to ask you about the piece’s title, Easy Win. Because as you are talking to me about the idea of dance class- it seems almost like the antithesis of an “easy win”.  It is a challenging course that doesn’t necessarily leave an opening for a feeling of victory.
So that title came from that first night that Ethan approached me after the show at BAM. He said, “We should do this.  I know what this piece is going to be like, and your company will be so good doing it, it’s an easy win!”

So the title relates more to the process of creating the piece than the content.
Exactly. The piece doesn’t look like a ballet class. Ethan and I took the structure of a ballet class- barre, across the floor, turning, jumping- and used that for a structure for what has become a suite of dances, each accompanied by an original piece.  And he’s playing them himself, live.  We had always envisioned that Ethan would be visible, but not necessarily on stage.  But when we premiered the piece at Vail- it became a necessity that he play on stage.  And then it turned out that he imbued the piece with this character that we loved so now we’re going to make sure that whenever possible he is front and center.  He’s very present.

What’s up next for Dance Heginbotham?
Well, after we finish at the Joyce, we go straight into touring in Laos, the Phillipines, and Indonesia as cultural ambassadors with DanceMotion USA.  And we’re working on our newest piece which will be a collaboration with fabulous visual artist and author, Maira Kalman (illustrator for covers of The New Yorker, the 2005 edition of Elements of Style, and Michael Pollan’s Food Rules).  She will be designing the visual elements of the piece.  Maira will also be performing in the piece which will be very cool.

Purchase tickets to The Joyce performances here.

Founded in 2011, Dance Heginbotham has been celebrated for its vibrant athleticism, humor, and theatricality, as well as its commitment to collaboration.  Led by Artistic Director, John Heginbotham, the company has been presented by Baryshnikov Arts Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carolina Performing Arts, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others.  You can learn more about Dance Heginbotham here.

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