Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tiffany Mills Company Welcomes Two New Dancers

In fall 2010 we welcomed two new marvelous dancers into our Company: Kevin Ho and Emily Pope-Blackman. Over the past eight months they have become interwoven into our tight-knit Company, joining vetrans Jeffrey Duval and Petra van Noort. Get to know Emily and Kevin in this short interview:

How is TMC different than the other companies you’ve worked with?
Emily: The difference of working with this company is the balanced attention given to thought, process and execution of the creative process by each individual. Each member is allowed to express freely his/her own perspective of the work in the moment. The value placed on each person’s feedback both intellectually and creatively allows the product of each rehearsal to feel rich and multi-dimensional. This impacts the work tremendously, and brings an intense sharing of information to serve the dance as a collection of many different elements into a whole. We grow together as a group as the focus of the work guides each performer to a new level of understanding of what the piece is about, and what is happening to each performer inside the work. 

Kevin: In my experience, there's something about Tiffany's work that beyond respecting you as an individual, really celebrates everyone's uniqueness as an asset to the Company. This creates an interwoven community of talented contributors that each bring a very human element to our compositions. Tiffany's commitment to personal integrity is a rare find to what can sometimes be a very competitive art-microcosmo here in New York City, driven by grants, deadlines and financial restrictions. It may sound deceptively simple, but I find it both refreshing and quite subversive (in the most positive and beautiful way), that she trusts us enough to actually be ourselves; fully ourselves both onstage and off.

Describe what it’s like to work with such a small and intimate group of people.
Emily: The group dynamic is intimate, respectful, and mature. There is an inherent sense of value between us to "see" and "hear" each other. We practice to improve these skills daily in hopes to enrich ourselves as artists, and as people. We seem to be developing a common based language not only in movement modalities, but in the dialogue sessions that happen before and after a "run" of a section of material. The key to this flow of information exchange, is Tiffany's ability as a director to be able to trust the work and the cast in an honest format. She has created a "way" of working that promotes understanding by asking questions of herself, the work, the cast, her collaborators, and the audience. Every moment is focused on helping each other along the way to find the meaning behind each movement, each phrase, and each line of text. There is a lot of room to improvise, change and rediscover moments as the piece develops a life of its own through each of us.

Kevin: The intimacy of such a small company affords us the time and energy to dive deep into the material and conduct what I call "research" into all aspects of the composition, both self-referentially on the narrative level and as a whole on the social interpersonal level.  It's a deeply investigative process that really hones in on the intentions of each and every action of each and every dancer.

How is Tiffany’s approach to contact improvisation different or similar to other approaches you’ve encountered?
Emily: Tiffany's approach is multi-layered and we "play" with many different ways of connecting by changing the focus, intent, and reason for the "connection". I appreciate the experimental nature and freedom of our "contact" exercises. It is less academic than other situations where "contact improvisation" can feel like a showing of tricks instead of expression.

Kevin: Being a Contact Improv-based dancer myself and coming out of a strict training where Improvisation was treated as a strict and practiced discipline, I find Tiffany's approach to contact an extension of that into the act of performance.  However, Tiffany's work around this elevates it to what I call "present-tense composition" where scores are tight and movements may be limited but choices and therefore possibilities, are endless.  This practice of performance-based improvisation really challenges each dancer to ascend to a certain level of "choreographer" as well as executor of movements.

We all know that dancers have many talents. What other jobs or activities are do you do? 
Emily: I am a teacher, choreographer, and sometimes also an actor and video-grapher (dance). I have lots of other hobbies or subjects of study too, like sewing, drawing, writing, music, and art in which I find self-expression through the making of things.

Kevin: In addition to dance, I'm actually also a classically trained chef specializing in Contemporary American haute cuisine.  I started my training under Chef Anita Lo at her "BarQ" concept, and then worked at her fine-dining Michelin Starred restaurant "Annisa" in downtown NY as the Garde Manger-appetizer and dessert cook.  Known for her savant-like understanding of food and respect for the ingredients, Anita Lo is the brain child behind Annisa, BarQ, and Rickshaw Dumplings, as well as multiple TV appearances on Top Chef Masters (coming in 4th out of some of the world's best Chefs) and Iron Chef America (beating out Mario Batali in battle mushrooms).  There's something about food that's akin to dancing. You could do the same steps, the same recipes, and yet each moment is still fresh. That improvisation requires presence, pathways become ever informative, and beauty is revealed through necessity. It's really very wonderfully human.

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