Interview with Rachel Thorne Germond.
I started dancing in my room with the door closed to Madonna as a child at the age of 12 or 13. My family lived in Tallahassee (FL), and I did gymnastics growing up. When I went to the University of Florida I studied Psychology. I was always interested in dance, so I took my first dance class there. I fell in love with it. It was something that I always wanted to do but I had been a little scared to try.
Did you have a mentor? Someone that brought you into it and led the way for you?
No. I just kept doing it and I did a lot of different types of dance. I went to what I was attracted to. When I started graduate school I had a mentor there. I won’t call them a mentor actually - I would just call this particular individual someone who was a little bit crazier than me. This person inspired me to go out there. I guess that’s a mentor in way. I knew with this mentor that there was a certain place that I had to stop- so it wouldn’t be self-destructive.
What do you mean by "self destructive"?
Psychologically self-destructive. She was a dancer but she was also an artist. I was also more attracted to what the “artist” aspect of the relationship was. She was coming to dance from ideas. With myself having started late in dance, I think that it ultimately was a good way for me to access my physicality—through ideas first, and then into the body.
Can you elaborate on the process of starting with ideas first and then physicalizing them in the body?
The word that keeps coming up for me is imagination. For example, I’ve worked with Bebe Miller for a long time. A lot of times she will work with us in rehearsal on what she calls the dream move. The dancers will be doing something and she’ll say to us, “Oh, this is the Dream Move! You jump over here, and then do this, and then flip up, and somebody flies...”. Things that are physically impossible in a way. But the fun element was using our imaginations to figure out how to do it, how to do what was sort of impossible with the body.
This relates to me, in regards to my training, in the way that I had to progress a little more quickly than I was ready to- my body wasn’t quite there yet but my mind, as well as my imagination, was. My mind and my imagination were there to figure out how to solve a physical problem. Particularly for me, this related to the notion of “physical restraint”, or the idea of inflexibility in the body. From the idea to the process- that’s how I encapsulate it now.
Once my physicality caught up (I had better mastery of my body and technique), it felt like I started to take control because the experience was so visceral. I felt like a god. I felt like I could do anything-- like shape wind for example... magical things.
I find myself trying to balance these things now: what is new and physical for me (something I haven’t done before with my body); how something that my imagination has come up within the moment is dealt with; and figuring out how my body can accomplish this -or with somebody else’s body - or with a group of bodies.
What are you working on now, and how does it relate to this balancing act?
I’m making a piece called Whiff of Anarchy. I am interested in riots, uprisings and disturbances. I recently saw a show on TV about this and I got really into it. The experience was almost like watching the Ziegfeld Follies! This pattern of people doing things - rushing and pulling - then little fights breaking out and then erupting into other things. It piqued my imagination.
I started to look and see if there were patterns because I was seeing that some of them were really different from each other. One was at a football stadium and another was at a protest march. I started to pick out some things that seemed like consistencies- such as the way groups clustered or crowded together - spatial relationships.
What would be a good example of a trigger?
Things like certain types of music can be triggers for an uprising to occur. The other day at the beginning of rehearsal I was playing some high-energy music- rap music by Apache, a rapper whose song lyrics promote violent racially motivated hatred. I could tell that it was disorienting to some of the dancers, particularly because it was the beginning of rehearsal and they were warming up, or, entering the space. It was asking them to go along with the group. There was resistance to this and it was interesting to figure out how to locate that resistance. So in other words, it was like an investigation of how the body responds to the environment and how the body uses that uncomfortableness instead of pressing it down, suppressing it. You keep pressing it down and it wants to come up.
How many people are you working with?
Just 6. We’ve been trying to figure out how to make that a critical mass: how to make 6 feel like 600.
The press release for Third Swan from the End , refers to the importance of narrative in that work. Is that something you are also working on in this new piece?
That’s funny, when you first said the word “narrative” I thought, “I said that, really?” I’m sure I did though. I think what’s interesting for me is a body narrative. By that I mean a narrative of what somebody brings into the dance studio when they show up at your rehearsal. Or, how our history lies within our bodies. That’s what came up for me when I was researching vogueing for Third Swan.
What was interesting to me about the form of vogueing was how the history of the participants lies within their bodies as they do it. I think it relates to an African-ist aesthetic. Many of the traditional African dance moves come from the daily tasks of their lives, like tilling the earth. There is a movement/gesture that corresponds to that task, and then it becomes stylized through a dance.
I think that’s what happens in vogueing - but not in a “This is what’s going on” [didactic] way. A gesture like this [Darrell flicks his wrist] represents something that says “No” to somebody, but done by a man with a history of being an effeminate man who takes on strong women, it can become a sort of dance.
When I first saw that gesture, I could see the form there. And that’s what I was doing myself when I did it - the form. As I started to look deeper I found that there was an intention going on with that particular movement, which then got me really interested in that intention behind all the movements in vogueing.
I’m still trying, I think, to uncover that. It keeps morphing into other things. Intentions change also depending on what year it is with vogueing forms. I think the intention used to be in passing as a man or woman. The reality of the physicality was about that. That’s what you were judged on at the Balls.
With the new generation of vogueing that’s come up, it’s about how you attack the movement. The severity with which you use your body is what is emphasized. The body is almost used like a weapon.
There are these moves called “Falls” and “Dips”, where the dancers slam down onto the ground. It’s not about a graceful fall and release (in modern dance terms), instead it’s really about the impact of the movement and ultimately making the audience feel that impact.
When I was investigating this movement I was thinking about how it relates to the environment as a whole and beyond that, the world as a whole: where people put things on their bodies and blow themselves up in order to make an impact. I was thinking how this current trend in vogueing might relate to what is going on in the world with suicide bombers, etcetera. Things like this were what I was interested in figuring out when I was studying vogueing.
Do you identify as a Queer artist? Is there something about your work that you would recognize/acknowledge as defining it to be representative of Queerness?
When I think of the word “Queer”, it makes my head tilt a little off to the side. It connotes being a little off. I think my perspective is like that a lot. Not necessarily in the content of my work, but the queerness is in my perspective. The look, or gaze of what I’m gazing at, seems a little off-center.
I’ve heard other gay choreographers refer to having been interested in dance at first because they saw it as a type of subversive language.
Yes, I can definitely relate to that. I think it was also a way for me to go deeply into areas that I might not have gone into on my own - by making dances about them. I felt I had the permission to go there because I was making a dance as a piece of art. With vogueing, I felt that I was able to access a type of femininity within myself. Both the researching and the making of a dance about vogueing gave me the permission to investigate my own femininity in a deeper way that I might have felt uncomfortable with otherwise. I felt there was something that was proactive in exploring that, taking it as far as I could.
This particular form, vogueing, worked for me. It was different than being a drag queen. There was something about not being disguised, but still having this very feminine edge that interested me. You are encouraged to celebrate that energy in yourself. I wonder what that energy is and I am still pondering it. The energy of gender transgression in gay black males is what is cultivated and celebrated in vogueing.
A place you can explore through embodying sexual stereotypes?
I think it is more abstract than that. As I get more involved in my process of making work, I realize that it relates more to my initial encounter with my friend/mentor in graduate school in understanding that she was a little crazier than I was but still wanting to touch whatever that was. I knew that I had to have certain parameters for myself so that I wouldn’t go over the edge.
At the vogueing Balls, the energy of battling would often erupt into fights, because it’s tempting something. If I think about it too much then I pull back. When I am trying to organize it, I do need to pull back and look at it and see what’s going on. When you’re in the midst of performing it you can’t pull back. You are in the fire of it and you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen. How close can you get? There’s something about that that I feel allows me to push further, which is interesting. The surface of it isn’t so clear, but it is permeable.
Darrell has performed in the United States and abroad with a variety of companies such as Bebe Miller, Urban Bush Women, Ronald K. Brown, Min Tanaka, Ralph Lemon and KOKUMA Dance Theater.He has collaborated with choreographers (Angie Hauser, Jeremy Wade, Onye Ozuzu), writer (Cheryl Boyce-Taylor), musicians (Jessie Mano, Brian Schuler) and designer (Mawish Syed) in dance films, documentations and interactive multimedia installations. In addition to his collaborative work he continues to work in solo forms.Along with performing, Darrell has taught workshops and master classes in dance technique and compositional processes throughout the United States, South Africa, United Kingdom and South Korea. Darrell is presently a full-time faculty member at the Dance Center of Columbia College in Chicago. Find out more at his website: http://thirdswan.com