Interview with Brittany Brown on her upcoming piece, "the Fluid Flow Fluidly
Lauren: How did you start working with Chicago Danztheatre?
Brittany: I had just graduated from Columbia and I was working at Café Con Leche. And Ellyzabeth comes in, she was meeting somebody, and they’re talking about a lot of dance stuff and the afterschool program and this initiative she was trying to get started for the next year. So I’m sitting there, working on my dance stuff thinking, “Who is this lady?” And then, after she was done with her meeting I introduced myself to her and after that we didn’t talk much for about a year. And then I saw a thing in Chicago Artist Resource, “Looking for solo performance.” It could be improv, it could be not improv- for this show. I submitted for it. Realized it was her. She realized it was me. And we’ve been working on stuff together ever since.
Lauren: How did you start dancing?
Brittany: I’ve been dancing my whole life. Not necessarily taking class. I started off doing competitive cheerleading, the dance portion, in the fourth grade. Then started doing different dance crews, hip hop dance crews. I was in this company called Creative Soul based out of Rodger’s Park. We used to do modern dance performances at churches, things like that. Highschool dance teams. Then I decided to pursue it professionally, I went to college for it and finally started taking technique. So I didn’t start my technical dance training until I was about nineteen. I had already had a lot of experience doing choreography and performance, which is kind of backwards from what a lot of people have. Interesting transition.
Lauren: Why do you dance?
Brittany: It’s the only way I know how to properly articulate myself. I like words and that’s cool, but I feel like I express myself most clearly through dance. It’s this weird obsession where if I’m not doing it, I find myself depressed. So I know that it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. No matter how hard of work it is or how stressful it gets at times, the feeling if I’m not doing it the feeling is worse. That’s what makes me feel good about where I am.
Lauren: What inspired the piece you are performing for the upcoming spring show?
Brittany: This piece started out as five different things before it got to what it really is. Originally I was inspired by the concept of merging my love for flow art and my love for dance?
Lauren: What is flow art?
Brittany: It is performance with object manipulation. So you could be using a hula hoop, poi or contact staff. It’s object manipulation through movement. And I’ve been really into that for the past three years, but it’s been separate from my dance life. And recently I started performing professionally and then noticing how I could incorporate it with dance. I realized I wanted to get my dancers together with the best flow artists I know and that was the initial idea. Putting the cast together.
Once I had the cast together, we were playing with seeing what happens when you layer it together. We started playing with the concept of bringing in our own visions- things that have happened to us in our life that have inspired us to become the people we have chosen to become. Meditation visions or events that happened that stimulated a thought. We started from there and then took a break and came back to it. Initially I was going to do a different dance piece that I had already produced called, “In,” a dance piece about going deeper to find the connectivity between you and other people. It’s a really beautiful piece.
I couldn’t get enough members of the cast together so I decided to use my new flow fusion piece for this show. That’s when I came up with the concept of “The Fluid Flow Fluidly” which is the name of the piece. And the way I like to do dance activism is not by making really political pieces that talk about certain subjects or showing something that’s wrong with the world, but rather shedding a little bit of light on things that I do from my personal experience to help me feel more at peace in this realm of existence. So the concept of “Flow Fluidly” is that once you achieve flow, everything in your life will fall into flow as well.
The way I broke it apart is a series of mantras. Each section of the dance has a certain word associated with it that represents a mantra that scales through the chakras. We call it the journey to flow. It starts with acceptance, that there is good and bad in this world, in everyone. If you accept who are as a human being, you can start to heal. From acceptance it goes to surrender. Surrender to the now, to the moment. Then from surrender it goes to space, which is finding that clarity. Then it goes into see something, which is really- pay attention to the nuanced details and patterns. We represent that in this extremely layered choreography of flow and dance. It’s really the pinnacle of the performance.
I had everyone in the cast write poems about what flow meant to them. What they feel when they are in a state of flow. I used that as inspiration. We developed movement together.
Lauren: What does flow mean to you?
Brittany: To me everything is water. We are made up of mostly water. Our planet is made up of water. Water is this very unique substance that has the ability to be a gas, a liquid or a solid. To me flow is water. The ability to hold form when you need to. The ability to slide through narrow passage ways when you need to. It’s mobility- not just of the body but of the mind. The ability to make subtle shifts in the moment. The ability to live your life being a witness and the witnessed at the same time.
It’s the ability to be still and calm enough to observe what is happening around you and not always trying to manipulate what is happening around you. Being able to see those passage ways, where your path is going and guiding it rather than forcing it.
In the past- I’m super perfectionist about my work- in the past I have been so stressed out about getting things to be exactly as I see them in my head. Making up an entire dance before I come to rehearsal and then setting it on the people and I don’t work like that anymore. There’s a lot to be said about energy people provide in the space and getting into that zone in the moment. Letting different moments come to you. That’s how it relates to my creative process. The majority of the songs used in the sound score just were random songs. I didn’t think, “This song for this section. This song for this section.” It’s just during the rehearsal process I would be very connected and pick a song and it would happen to be perfect.
Lauren: How do you think your piece fits together with the other pieces being performed?
Brittany: I don’t know much about the other pieces. I do know Lisa, we went to college together. I do know her style of choreography. I think it’s going to be very different from what I’m bringing. I’m more of a spectacle choreographer.
Spectacle dance is more for the, “Ah!” moments and the visual stimulation of the piece and less about the content. Content being the overarching thing that the audience is supposed to get. For me, if you leave my show feeling happy and pleased, then I did my job. If you just so happened to get those subtle moments of content that were in there, then good for you. But it’s more about the enjoyment of the piece for me. I know Lisa and really, really good contextual choreographer. Her work I’ve seen in the past has been predominantly modern dance. My piece is a little bit more contemporary. It’s got some other influences.
Lauren: How would you describe the difference between contemporary and modern?
Brittany: Modern, to me, is more internal movement. Very weighted. In performance it seems to be very pedestrian sometimes. Especially post-modern dance. Whereas contemporary, to me, is more about creating those striking visual lines. Really going with the music. Even then, the word contemporary, I use it because I don’t have a better word. It’s definitely not the contemporary you see on So You Think You Can Dance. I just use that term because it’s so many different forms. All my dancers come from different backgrounds. One of my dancers is really modern. Another one of my dancers is modern with a lot of African influences. So her movement is very rhythmic. And I have a dancer who is a contemporary dancer with a lot of hip hop influence. So her dancing is very percussive, staccato a lot of sharp edges to her movement.
My movement is a mixture of modern a little bit of ballet, liquid which has a lot to do with sequential movement and undulation. I am inspired by tribal dance, like belly dancing. I’m inspired a lot by visual art. That’s what I was first. I look to sacred geometry a lot for my movement. I develop it through looking at images of sacred geometry. I don’t know if that’s exactly contemporary. I’m not a dance scholar, so I’m really just waiting for somebody else to make up a better word!
Lauren: What is sacred geometry?
Brittany: It is the math of the universe. It is the geometry that is in a tree. It is the geometry that holds the nectar of existence together. There are certain patterns you find in everything, like the flower of life or Metatron’s cube, which is all the platonic solids put together. The platonic solids are circle, hexagon, triangle, square. They’re all layered in this one beautiful shape.
Lauren: What do you want the audience to take away from this performance?
Brittany: Just inspiration. I want people to see this show, see how we are dancing- how we’re manipulating these objects. To say, “Wow! I want to see more of that.” or “Wow! I want to try that. I wonder if I could do that?” I want people to walk away with these mantras. To feel like, “Maybe if I try these things I could flow.” I want people to walk away wanting to flow in some area of their life.
The Wasteland- An Interview with Ellyzabeth Adler
By Lauren Nelson, http://www.artofthedancechicago.wordpress.org
Lauren: What inspired “The Wasteland” dance piece?
Ellyzabeth: Well, I started reading The Wasteland when I was in undergrad. I was taking a poetry class. I was reading it, listening to it in class, analyzing it and I started thinking, “Wow! This is actually written like a Shakespearean drama. It’s in five parts.” I’ve loved poetry my whole life. Poetry is the essence of language communication and I feel dance is the essence of communication. So to me, when you use poetry and you bring it to life through movement, through dance or through spoken work, it’s just the essence of communication. It’s down to what are you are really trying to say. So as I started analyzing the poem in school, I just really fell in love with it.
Lauren: What did you love about it?
Ellyzabeth: It has all these different, beautiful layers. You bring in all these elements of spirituality and references to Catholicism, to Judaism, to Hinduism to mythology. He also brings in all these different languages to get his point across. There are these wonderful parts in it from when he went to a bar and he used to overhear peoples’ conversations. There are these little snippets inside. It’s somebody telling a story.
Then he has all these beautiful descriptions. I personally love looking at inner beauty and what I call decaying, dark beauty. He’s talking about and describing Europe and the world after World War I. All these falling towers: Vienna, Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria, London. All these major cities that just fell apart through bombing in World War I. Yet he somehow finds beauty in that. He talks about seeing these beautiful chapels and churches that were half destroyed, but they are still beautiful because a stained glass window might still be standing amongst the rubble. It starts with:
“April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”
He says April is the cruelest month because it is springtime. It’s supposed to be hopeful. What happens if you still feel sadness? Whereas wintertime, like this winter we’re in right now, we can all be grumpy, miserable. In the springtime we’re supposed to be happy. What if we’re not? His poem goes through all these ebbs and flows. In the end, he’s really talking about hope and humanity. And if we find connection with each other, then our society can continue.
He wrote this after World War I, after he’d gone through depression himself, seen his wife go through depression and other anxiety issues. But he says that there is still hope. He ends with the Sanskrit: “Shantih, Shantih, Shantih,” which means passing peace. Peace passed to me, peace given to you. And I just think it’s such a beautiful poem.
In grad school, I went to grad school at UIC. I had to do a directing and movement project and I fell upon The Wasteland again. I did the very first section which is the burial of the dead. I adapted it for three people. I did it for this class project and everybody just loved it, they just thought, “Wow! It’s different, it’s amazing.”
So two years later, in 2001, I really wanted to do something longer than ten minutes, which is what I had been doing for festivals. I was working in a dance studio at the time and the owner said, “Why don’t you do the piece here? We have the space.” So I did an adaptation of it and it was, gosh, over months that it took to work on it. I did it with a cast of four and we found all the different voices in there. There’s a part about Tiresias who is half man, half woman. It comes from mythology. And I have two men and two women in it. The four characters, even though they are all individuals, they are all alike at the same time. So we mirror each other with different characteristics. And what that means is that we are all in humanity a collective soul. And that we need to work together and share in each other’s experiences. But when we are separated in this wasteland, and gridlocked in our own fears, then we disconnect. That is when we fall apart. Which is what happened in World War I and World War II. One of the last parts of the poem is, “We think of the key, each in his prison. Thinking of the key.” And what that last little section is talking about is how we are all locked in our own little rooms. The key is humanity- that love, hope. That’s what turns the key to finding our own higher sense of enlightenment. So that is where the inspirations come from.
Lauren: What do you think the wasteland is?
Ellyzabeth: I think the wasteland is desolation. Any time you have loss of hope. The wasteland is any time you find something is just without hope and without love. Sometimes, you might say, that’s just because everything falls apart. But sometimes things need to fall apart with our lives, our community structures, or whatever, to rebuild them.
From an emotional point of view, sometimes the wasteland is we get hurt by people or things happen and we don’t want to connect anymore. And that becomes a sense of loss of hope. And then you’re stuck in the wasteland, in negativity. But when you can start to connect with human beings and look at the beauty of humanity and understand that life, like everything, has a cycle. And one of the big visual themes of The Wasteland is the wheel. It comes up in a couple different parts, like a tarot card reading. Phlebas the Phoenician who’s a sailor says, “Oh you who turn the wheel and look to windward, consider Phlebas who was once as tall as you. “ What the wheel is is the wheel of life. A constant turning around. And so, life constantly is repeating itself. And we all are a part of the circle.
Lauren: What do you want the audience to come away with from this piece?
Ellyzabeth: I think there’s a couple of different levels on that one. One level is the artistic level of the poem. And the historical point. It’s a hundred years since World War I and that’s a long time. One of the reasons Elliot wrote the poem is so we won’t forget history. Because the moment we forget history, we forget our past, we don’t know where we are going. If you don’t have something to build off of, you don’t know where you are going.
I think also, from an artistic point of view, the poem is so rich. People for years have been trying to understand, “What does this poem mean?” So you have a cast of four bringing this poem to life, explaining the various parts of it. Because with it being poetry, which is the essence of language, it isn’t fully written sentences. There are couplets. Here we’re talking about this, here we’re talking about that. We try to bring it all together.
I think from an emotional point of view, a feelings point of view, a visceral point of view, what I want the audience to take away is a sense of hope- that just because there is despair in the wasteland doesn’t mean that there isn’t still beauty, isn’t still hope.
Lauren: What does hope mean to you?
Ellyzabeth: Hope is knowing that you can get through things. It is knowing that there are times of struggle, that you can use that time as something to learn from. A time friends or family step up to say, “I’ve got you. I support your decision. I’m here to help you.” That, to me, is a sense of hope. Trying to find a moment of growth. Because so many times we, as human beings, get stuck in complaisance. Things start to fall apart and we fight so hard to keep it the same way. But maybe things fall apart because it’s not supposed to be that way. And it’s a challenge for us to work through something.
Lauren: What is different doing the piece this time?
Ellyzabeth: Besides myself having wisdom and knowledge and a whole heck of a lot more of artistic experiences and personal life experiences, I think those things are really big.
Lauren: How do those affect it?
Ellyzabeth: I look at the poem differently, a little bit. There’s things in The Wasteland that I didn’t- I don’t want to say I didn’t catch it the first time- but I understand it more. I understand what it’s like to have your husband have an affair. I understand the feeling of isolation a little bit more. Those things are different.
With my artistic experience, learning to create more movement. Also just really coming and defining what dance theater is. This piece really simultaneously blends together acting, physical theater and dance.
Lauren: What is dance theater?
Ellyzabeth: That’s a good question. Rudolph Van Laban who started and really coined the term dance theater said dance theater is uniting of all art media to create a radical change in human kind. So that’s what dance theater is to me. So what that means is, we are a multi-disciplinary arts performance ensemble. What’s really great about the performance we do is sometimes it’s the perfect blend of all the different art forms. Sometimes our work might have more acting in response to some visual art, and I think that’s the really great thing about the style and work we do. We don’t limit ourselves as long as it’s mixing the different mediums together. Our slogan is “Performance with a purpose.” Because we want people to come in and see our work and to take away something. We don’t want to give answers to people, we just want people to have questions. Because in the Socratic method of teaching, you teach your students by asking questions and having them find the answers. So whether it’s our arts education programs or performance work, that’s how we teach. That’s how we create change. People need to ask themselves questions. And only by them finding their own answers can they evolve to the next level of their humanity.
Lauren: Is there a purpose beyond the questions for you, beyond this production of The Wasteland?
Ellyzabeth: I think about our body of work and what we do and it has various themes to it. Whether it’s a piece about women and body issues. It’s, “Where did this come from?” Our next piece we’re doing is unraveling veterans which is about, “What’s going on with these veterans when they come home? How did what they experience while they were fighting affect them? And how has it changed them?” And it’s about creating empathy. Because I feel that when people see something on stage, they can empathize with people. So when you have a question in your head- “How does this affect me? I’m not sure how or why.” - you can empathize with people. And I think one of the big things that our country as a whole lacks is empathy. Because if we had empathy, it wouldn’t have taken this long to get universal health care. We wouldn’t be cutting food benefits, if we had more empathy for each other. As opposed to, “No, I’m going to live in my little gated community.” Because everything that we do affects each other. And that’s part of the Wasteland. The way Chicago Danztheater, the way I set it up is in a circle. Everybody has their own important role in it to make the wheel, the circle more forward. If somebody doesn’t do their job, we can’t do that.
A lot of these things, it’s about getting people to ask questions about what we’re doing. I love this term, “radical change in human kind,” and I don’t know if we’re radical, whatever you want to call radical, I just know that when people come to see our work, it does impact them. People do feel changed. People who don’t normally come to see dance say, “Oh, I really like this. I might go check a dance concert out.” People who see dance theater stuff and say, “Oh, there’s a lot more theater in this.” And I don’t expect everyone to like what we do. I’m totally fine with that. Because if everybody liked what you do, you wouldn’t have any place to go. What I do try to do is bring in new audiences all the time. Getting people to ask questions. Just present art in a different way.
Lauren: How has dancing changed for you over the years?
Ellyzabeth: My body- different! Over the last thirteen years I’ve had double foot surgery, pins in my feet. My leg doesn’t go up as high. I was hit by a car. So yeah, my body has changed. I don’t naturally weigh 120 libs. I’m okay with that. That has changed. I probably actually am now healthier and a better dancer and performer at thirty nine than I was when I as twenty nine or twenty five or twenty six. A lot of that has to do with self-confidence, knowing who you are and being grounded in your body. Having to work through double foot surgery and having pins in my feet, that was like two years of my life of leaving how to walk differently, getting used to having your feet not broken.
Lauren: Was that from the car accident?
Ellyzabeth: That was from point shoes and breaking my little toes on stage. My car accident happened, I was in my car, somebody hit my car, I got out of my car and got hit again. It was a double whammy of a day. But I couldn’t dance or anything for a year of my life. I still have bulging discs in the top and lower of my spine. You know, so as a result my legs just don’t go up as high anymore. But I’m okay with that. It doesn’t mean that I’m not a good dancer, a good performer or actress. It’s just my body is changing. That’s the other thing- acceptance. It’s like the Wasteland. We need to stop fighting that death is inevitable and the moment we can accept where we are in our own life, that’s when life gets better. That was a big theme I did in my last work with Rumi’s poetry.
Lauren: Has that changed the way that you dance or see dance too? The way that you experience it?
Ellyzabeth: It’s definitely changed the way that I dance. There’s stuff that, the right side of my body can do better than the left side of my body for instance. Balance is, I’ve had to re-learn how to balance. That took a while. As far as seeing dance, what it does is it makes me, and actually any type of performance, I watch the human body a bit differently. You go, oh, that person’s moving this a little bit differently. I also think having to go through those two traumatic experiences with my body it has actually made me a better teacher. Because I can see within kids with different physical needs how to teach them differently.
There is this stigma about people that they think they have to be perfect to dance. That’s not true. You have to learn to love it, there’s lots of stuff you can do. There’s a lot of places to go take ballet, jazz, whatever, you don’t have to be a professional dancer. I think one of my greatest moments is when I see somebody who is not a professional dancer take class and enjoy it. You know, that I think is amazing and awesome.
Ellyzabeth: Anything else you want to say about The Wasteland, dance?
I think this production in particular of the wasteland, because of the combination of the three other performers who are working with me in this piece, because I am performing in it. The four of us really work well together, so much so that we can just sense each other, read each other’s minds. I think it has this amazing blend of dance, acting, physical theater. I’m saying a monologue upside down on somebody else’s shoulders. I think if people came to see The Wasteland, they would understand this epic poem a little bit better. But they would also be moved. It’s going to be a really great show. I’m excited for it.
The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Adler gently joins artistic forces, even to the point of making the exposed-brick walls of the space speak with a wizened sense of melancholy.
"I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest-- I too awaited the expected guest." T.S. Eliot
The first danztheatre piece I ever create outside of college was an adaptation of T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland. I fell in love with the poem in undergrad at Roosevelt University. Reading it the first time, I felt it read like a Shakespearean drama. After graduating grad school, I was eager to start working on a full length evening theatre piece, but what? I thought back to The Wasteland and this was it. I was calling me. The first workshop production was in 2001 and then in 2002, restaged the adaption along with an installation piece, Death's Dream Kingdom (also based on Eliot's work). From there, we toured The Wasteland in Chicago and in Canada. I've always wanted to restate and work the piece and now, 13 years ago, here we are.
Technology has changed. I've changed. The themes of The Wasteland have not changed. When I first did the piece, we had a slide projector and very minimal lights. Now, we are using a video projector, original illustrations from David Sarallo and our lighting is still minimal but illuminating.
T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, will be restaged and revisited with a cast of four illuminating “the lost generation” of post-WWI European society and the human soul’s search for redemption using Adler’s unique style of danztheatre that blends together dance, theatre, music and video imagery into a visceral theatre experience.
Written in a stream of consciousness, it seeks out what humans are looking for, a constant connection in life. Once we accept our future, there is an inner calming that happens to our soul.
The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Adler gently joins artistic forces, even to the point of making the exposed-brick walls of the space speak with a wizened sense of melancholy. When the shadows of the four ensemble members unobtrusively get superimposed on, say an image of a dead tree facing a treacherous sea…conveys in a tactile, aesthetically gorgeous way, the mystical power of fragmented moments weaving through our minds.”
Get your tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/606715
$15 in advance (includes the performance of Still Small Voices)