Q&A with Rebecca Bruno: THE BEGINNING

Rebecca Bruno, photographed by Shani Pak

Rebecca Bruno, photographed by Shani Pak

Over the last few months, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing two iterations of a dance performance by Rebecca Bruno, which both took place at Live Arts Los Angeles in front of a small group of friends and colleagues. Titled THE BEGINNING, the work seeks to engage directly with the energies generated by the people in the room, digging deep into the dancer’s sensory awareness to create a series of responses to the present moment. As Bruno writes in the announcement email: “A couple questions I am asking in this practice: What happens when the exploratory moments in a work’s nascency are performed? What, if anything, can a dancer indicate about collective energy?”

The first half of THE BEGINNING consists of a short participatory exercise led by Bruno. Audience members are asked to choose from amongst a set of essential oils provided for us. Whichever one we are most attracted to, we can apply to our bodies as needed. Properly re-tuned, we are then asked to get into pairs and walk around the studio, one after the other. The person in front leads while the person behind follows and observes the first person’s body and way of walking. After a couple of minutes, we stop and share our experience with one another. Then we switch roles and repeat.

We are then asked to sit or lie wherever we want in the studio while Bruno performs for the next half hour, which she times with a device. The performance that ensues is at times fast, and at times slow; sometimes meditative, sometimes animated. Bruno curls up on the floor and ever so slowly unfurls herself, like a budding flower; then, she leaps about the room, ducking behind curtains and playing with them. Often she will pause and draw out a movement, focusing her eyes skyward, as though remembering or grappling with something. As she moves, she is consistently spellbinding.

Intrigued by this project, I recently conducted the following brief Q&A with Bruno by email, focusing on THE BEGINNING.

Carol Cheh: What inspired you to create THE BEGINNING?

Rebecca Bruno: I have this big bank of rehearsal footage of myself working alone. Most of the videos are starting concepts, snippets of choreography, first improvisations, movement notes—my body in a process of discovery. I think making THE BEGINNING is an attempt to bring this kind of experience into performance, to get deeper into a state of continual discovery.

I’m interested in the initial moments before a dance is articulated or “set.” The moments in a dance’s nascency which set forth questions, are exploratory, spontaneous, imaginative, vast in scope and ultimately unknown. For the past year or so I turned around my studio practice in order to nurture these initial moments. I go into the studio alone without a camera and move for 40 to 60 minutes, asking my system various questions: What’s happening now? What needs to happen? What does the space need? How does this movement unfold? Where am I? These questions open up a flow of physical sensations, visual images, emotions, and multiple dimensions and I allow my system to follow the unfolding of these various states.

Rebecca Bruno at Live Arts Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Rebecca Bruno at Live Arts Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of the artist.

CC: What do you feel the work is trying to accomplish or say?

RB: It wants to bring guests into a form of kinesthetic empathy akin to what the dancer is experiencing—to quiet and focus performance space and energy in a way that is generous to the viewer and performer at the same time. Continual reorientation to the present, to the sequential unfolding of an inhalation and exhalation—if the performance is successful, I think that’s what it does.

CC: How much of the work is improvised, and how much choreographed? Does the choreography evolve over time?

RB: The first half, when I guide guests through some experiential ideas, is choreographed. The second half, when I move in the space, is improvised, or even better I think: spontaneous. During the performance, my movement evolves in response to perceived energies in the room. In a sense, the first thirty minutes have become more specific and organized and the second thirty more oriented towards the unknown.

CC: Who or what would you cite as your influences?

RB: I love what Meg Stuart says about her and Jeremy Wade’s improvisation piece at the Politics of Ecstasy dance festival. She describes how the two of them are “searching for how to explore many dimensions while moving.” I also love the way Luciana Achugar talks about her Pleasure Practice by saying she and her collaborators are “giving our bodies a voice.” Another important influence on my work is Gary Strauss. I have studied Cranial Sacral Unwinding with him since 2009 and the way he teaches concepts about holding space and journeying are undoubtedly a part of my practice and of THE BEGINNING.

CC: What are your plans for this work going into the future?

RB: I think I’m ready to take this performance into other spaces, outside of the dance studio.

In addition to THE BEGINNING, Bruno also co-created, with Michelle Jane Lee, a standout performance called Crave for REDCAT’s Spring 2014 Studio. Bruno is the mastermind behind homeLA, a well-received series of site-specific dance events developed in private homes. The next homeLA event will take place at The Brewery on August 3, 10, and 17.

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