Of Collaboration: Two Perspectives: One Performance; Part 1

By Amy Lewis

September 1, 2009, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

I first started collaborating with composer Bill Wolter in 2005, attempting to get out of the composer/choreographer dichotomy and into a place where we were using each other’s ideas and aesthetics. We began by discussing my ideas for a dance, in detail: floor patterns, phrases, number of sections, arc, etc. Bill had ideas of his own, concepts he wanted to see explored, which I disregarded as irrelevant to what I had already created. He wrote the music according to my wishes, I made my dance. In the end, our ill-fated collaboration became more of a commission though I didn’t have any money, and Bill, forever easy-going and dedicated to the art of composing, wanted to work on it anyway.

When I began researching and developing ideas for a 2009 work, I knew I wanted Bill to work with but following a different process than we had donein the past. However, I did what I had done before: came to him with a very specific idea of what I wanted. Not only did I have ideas, I had maps—three dance maps based on compositions he had previously written. In these maps, musical notes correspond to body parts, key to each body parts relation to one another, and meter to right/left patterns. I was (and am) excited about the potential of these maps, the movement they might foster for myself and other choreographers. Dance is ephemeral, after all, but the maps survive as a record of what happened, however simplified (we’re not talking Labanotation), and exist for records, reconstructions, or fodder for new material.

Unfortunately these maps have nothing to do with Bill, other than that they stem from his compositions. His creative desire is to change the mental state of the viewer, bringing them out of their everyday experience and into something trance-like. I wish to engage the audience’s intellect and provide them with something to examine after the show has ended. In our conversations, Bill looks for performance possibilities outside of just-plain-music-set-to-dance whereas I’m primarily interested in creating dance with maps and systems, which, in its final form, has the outward appearance of just-plain-music-set-to-dance.

I realized early in the making of, our current work, Cartography of the Synchronous Telemtrist the different processes Bill and I were using were serving our interests in completely different concepts. Bill enjoys working with people, and using rehearsal to play and improvise. He told me once that he’s not so into scores, that he likes working directly with musicians. I on the other hand, work best at my desk at home, imagining and planning, making rhythmic choices, drawing floor patterns, creating maps. I take a fully transcribed dance into rehearsal and revise it according to the bodies I have. Bill thinks what I do is somewhat dry, and I think his ideas are wild and impossible to realize.

But I insist, this time, on collaboration; which means that I have come to consider our future piece to be partly about our differences. I have given up trying to conform Bill’s ideas to mine or trying to fit my ideas inside his. We are making two separate works that will somehow come together into one single, evening-length piece. Not a shared show featuring two different artists, but one piece bridging two very different concepts. It may be that we don’t know what we’re doing, and we certainly don’t know how we are going to get to a final synergistic work, but we are respectfully listening and compromising, while maintaining our autonomy.

Our conversations are important to me; I record them, and plan to use parts of them as a textual component to the dance. Bill disregards our conversations, calling them mundane, preferring to talk about altered states of reality. His thoughts lead him to imagine Neanderthals at the piano or his co-workers playing an obscure pun-driven game called Bro-Ball. I want him to explore and perform his pieces, but I want it to work within my work, my systematic, map-driven, formal, un-weird, dry work.

I insist that our conversations about making this piece are the backbone to forming our disparate ideas into one collaborative whole. I don’t know what the backbone is for Bill or if he is even searching for one. I don’t know if he sees us reaching our goal of creating a holistic work, or if he even cares that we come to that place. In other words, we may not even have the same objective or purpose. We have not found a common aesthetic, or even a common concept, but I do think we are collaborating.


Amy Lewis has been presenting choreography in the Bay Area since 2005 after graduating from Mills College with an MFA in dance. Lewis began choreographing as an individual artist, showing work at Jon Sims Center for the Arts, CounterPULSE, Shotwell Studios (Women’s Work), and Project Artaud Theater (West Wave Dance Festival, 2006). In 2007, she founded Push Up Something Hidden, presenting the first season at Dance Mission Theater, as well as performing in the DUMBO Dance Festival, 2007, at the John Ryan Theater in Brooklyn, NY. Last year, Lewis created How Many..?, performed at YBCA Theater, for the West Wave Dance Festival, 2008. Lewis’ most ambitious project to date, an interactive multi-media performance event involving sculpture, data-driven movement, audience participation, and live music, entitled Hate Log, premiered in October, 2008, at CELLspace. Lewis has been the reciepient of both 2006 and 2008 grant from the Zellerbach Family Foundation.

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