EXCLUSIVE: Benjamin Gillespie + Karen Bernard

Body of Water/Body of Sex

Rhubarb intern Benjamin Gillespie talks to New York City Dancer and New Dance Alliance Artistic Director Karen Bernard about Ouette | o’et.

BG: What was it about the swimming pool that struck you so that you wanted to create a piece about its protagonist?

KB: I was more struck by the protagonist — I related to her. I was on a residency in Italy and had taken some movies with me for evening entertainment. The protagonist is also on her own residency in the French country side to work on a book. I related to her to her up tightness and the unfolding of her sexual desires and finally empowerment. A body of water is also a metaphor for sexuality and possible fear — The pool is at the heart of the story.

BG: How and where do space and sexual desire converge for you in the piece–do you look for strong contrasts here? Is this related to your long background in space being affiliated with performance, even as a child?

KB: I never thought about it this way — are you sure you aren’t a therapist? The spaces were a vehicle to create suspenseful ambiance — having different spaces allows me to create different physical expression. I imagine also that the spaces could have a feeling of claustrophobia — adding to the air of suspense. But you are giving me something to think about because I did not set out know what this was about. I was inspired by the movie and it has been through making the piece that I am finding myself in it.

BG: Technology and performance–do you often search for quotidian gestures in your pieces?

KB: I am drawn to finding natural movements that are heightened by timing and repetition and [these movements] can often begin to look abstract. I often also go for cliché gestures and stylized dance movements and do the same thing.

BG: Do you have a specific fantasy that you explore as ‘Karen’ in the piece, as opposed to your channeling of the film’s character?

KB: The performance is in the end personal: I see my own emotional landscape parallel to the protagonist …

BG: Where does dance meet theatre meet film for you? Elements from all of these areas converge in your piece it seems–Do you feel more comfortable under the rubric of “performance” as opposed to being defined by disciplinary boundaries?

KB: My goal is to have all three elements work together — like a four star meal. It is so difficult to categorize yourself. I seem to change depending on what presenter, residency, or grant that I apply for. I actually like being in the dance discipline so that I can challenge all the ballerinas. One of the videos has me sitting at a pool. When I first set this up, I set up a blue yoga mat to give an illusion that I was sitting by the pool. Soon after I was in a residency at White Oak that had an outdoor pool [and] voila: hence [came] the pool video. In the next version, which you have not seen (that will be presented at Rhubarb) I have video images of religious artifacts. This was inspired in a residency in Bogliasco, Italy. I found a small gallery underneath the St. Lorenzo Church. When I first came upon it, I did not have my video camera with me. I had decided to take a break about seeing things through the lens of a camera. But I was really intrigued by the shadows and macabre beauty of these artifacts so I went back the next day. I was allowed to video but the gallery was about to close for three hours. I quickly videoed as much as I could but knew I had to go back and I did. Most of the time I was in this cavernous space — alone — I already felt I was in performance — so theatrical.

Ouette | o’et runs Feb 24-28, 9:30pm, The Chamber. For more information about Karen Bernard’s work and company visit New Dance Alliance