Meg Wolfe, New Faithful Disco, Bootleg Theater, September 13–15, 2014: Q&A with the Artist
I’ve only seen two dance works by Meg Wolfe, and that’s a shame, because based on those two works, she is easily one of the most intriguing dancer/choreographers working in Los Angeles today. The first was a short solo piece titled calling it something else for now (2012), in which she made dazzling use of a cloud-like costume created by Pat Payne while moving to a hypnotic soundtrack by Aaron Drake. The second was a recent work-in-progress called New Faithful Disco, which Wolfe performed with taisha paggett and Rae Shao-Lan.
Like the earlier work, Disco had an engaging soundtrack, composed by Maria de los Angeles Esteves. This one varied more in mood and tempo, with some slower passages and some driving dance beats. Costumes and props also played a significant role and seemed to carry a lot of symbolism. There was a collection of old-fashioned tape recorders at stage right that were fiddled with at the beginning and the end. There was a small pile of loose dirt and sticks at stage left that seemed to serve as a setting for private encounters.
The three-person dynamic can be an awkward one, and Wolfe’s choreography played on that dynamic. Each dancer took turns executing solos, sometimes exuberant ones, while the other two engaged one another, sometimes passionately. The first half was more quiet and meditative, while the second half broke into disco glamour. At one point, the three dancers all donned gold antler head pieces and regarded one another. I wasn’t quite sure what it was all about, but to me there were suggestions of queer community dynamics, sexuality, nostalgia, and group behavior. It all built to a satisfying and energetic finish.
To get more insight into what I’d experienced, I interviewed Meg by email this past week.
Carol Cheh: Can you talk about the title? It’s really intriguing and seems to conjure contradictory impulses.
Meg Wolfe: Serendipity. New Faithful Disco as a title started out as a joke, but it stuck—probably because of those contradictory impulses. We started working on this piece in rural Northern California, on Rae’s land. Gregory Barnett (who made the set/costumes) and I took a day off and went on a road trip to the Russian River, and we drove by the Old Faithful geyser. It was a surprise to come across it; in my mind, it was maybe in Utah or Colorado? Also on that trip, we got fixated on a radio channel that played only disco tunes. I like the idea of Disco as metaphor for the larger world. Faithful is not a word I use much, but there sure is some toxic “faith” running rampant in the world, so maybe there’s something to look at and offer up by bringing our bodies to the dance floor. And New? Is anything?
CC: You call this a “work in progress” and a “preview performance.” Can you tell us about where you would like to go with it, or how you envision it being completed?
MW: We put this together in a very condensed rehearsal period, so it will be good to step back, see what we’ve got, and play some more. Mostly I want to clarify and finesse what’s there: amp some things up, tone some things down. Some sections that are improvised might get more meticulously set, some set things might become more flexible. So we have a good skeleton now to play with. I imagine extending this by maybe 10 more minutes, or maybe adding a second section or companion piece. I would like this piece to get out beyond Los Angeles, so now begins the process of seeking venues for presentation, financial support, writing grant proposals, carving out time in everyone’s busy lives to work on it more.
CC: Props played a significant role in this performance. The cassette players seemed like time pieces and memory holders, which went with the retro disco theme. The antler head pieces were wild and seemed to come out of nowhere, but I’m guessing they were a reference to sexuality and flamboyance, as well as a consideration of group/community dynamics. Can you share your thoughts behind these and other props?
MW: I like your read on this! Yes! I like the sound of the cassette players rewinding, the time it takes, that you have to wait. I wanted a mobile sound source for that section. With the headpieces (Greg’s work), during rehearsal one day we started singing along to the Pixies song “Caribou.” And a few days later, we saw a herd of elk. They are just so magically beautiful and startling, we wanted to be them. And of course that is utterly ridiculous. We decided obvious was okay. Also I like that it is the male elk who have antlers, so we were playing with gender, too. And the golden hay and bleached out flowers are the drought.
CC: What were the inspirations for creating this piece? Were there particular issues you were seeking to explore, or particular influences you were working with?
MW: I started out with some vague ideas and a desire to work with Rae again (who relocated north a few years ago) and with taisha, who was still living in Chicago (thankfully she’s back in L.A. now!). I work intuitively. Something about listening, about connection across distance. What we send out, what we bring with us. Something about bridging between rural and urban environments… I was looking at bats and echolocation, vibration and internal sensation as a map. We wound up at disco, go figure. So I guess our bodies are the bridge, how we are in our bodies. Where we meet with our differences and similarities; where dances are generated, transferred, translated; remembered but unrepeated.
Earlier this year, I went to visit Rae in Lake County. Long story, but they wanted to try and develop a residency and permaculture farm there, and I needed to get out of town. The Show Box L.A. gang (me, my partner Lorrie Snyder, Greg Barnett, and George Lugg) traveled there in early June and together with Rae we built an outdoor dance floor to work on. Greg, Rae, and I lived out there for about two more weeks dancing together. It got blazingly hot. There was no plumbing. Greg was covered in mosquito bites, I developed some serious heat rash—it was just kind of a mess. We stuck it out for a while but when it reached 106 degrees and the vultures were circling overhead, we reached our limit and said fuck it, this isn’t going to work. We headed for the ocean, then back home to L.A.
That trip was where this piece started. Inspiration sometimes comes when things all fall apart. Disco is an accumulation and dispersion of bodies, effort, and hope in the form of a dance.
CC: Finally, can you talk about your collaborative process with taisha and Rae?
MW: I’ve worked with taisha and Rae before, but not together. I feel so blessed working with them, they are both such brilliant movers. I love their different energies, presence, and ways of moving. I like to improvise, with no particular goals, quite a bit before pulling things together, just to see what’s there. For this piece, though, we had a short amount of time to work together in the same place. I had about ten days in June with Rae and Greg up north, where we started throwing ideas around. I had one week in July with taisha and Rae together. I videotaped every improvisation session. I worked alone with Cuca on the sound score, and she had the score sketched out when we all met up again in late August.
We had three weeks together up to the performances here (fortunately we had support for our rehearsals with space at REDCAT and a Hothouse residency at UCLA). I scoured the video from June and July, pulled bits from different improvisations, and taisha and Rae did the incredibly tedious work of reconstructing those improvisations for their solos move for move, so the movement is coming from them. And we continued improvising to build from those. I needed to work fast, make fast decisions, which was a good challenge. This one was very much, “let’s make a dance, let’s set things.” I can’t wait to get back to work on it.