When she moved to LA from NYC two years ago, dancer and choreographer Jennie MaryTai Liu was ready to be part of the exhilarating LA performance scene. Her piece at LAX, ACTRESS FURY, is co-presented with Show Box LA, and follows an actress in a dressing room as she grapples with her desire for glory. It incorporates text and narrative from three distinct characters – the mythic warrior Ajax, the dancer Vaslay Nijinsky, and the abstract painter Bridget Riley. By tapping into these three highly ambitious figures, Liu lets “dramatic threads unfurl through dance to reveal an anti-strategy about being female and an artist in the wake of third wave feminism.” She co-created the piece with performers Hannah Heller and Alexa Weir, and together they are Grand Lady Dance House.
Why did you move from NYC to LA?
I was tired of schlepping around New York everyday out of the year, moving from rehearsal to rehearsal to menial job, hauling props and computers and tupperwares of food. I was beginning to feel trapped in the mindset that NYC is the only place in which it is possible to be a working performing artist. I basically stopped envisioning my future there. I was attracted to LA for the same reasons everyone is and has been forever – the light, the mountains, the space to build art and life, and a less saturated cultural market to experiment and create real community within. The typical thing people say is that compared to NY, LA has less cultural infrastructure like venues, grants, places to rehearse, and so although life is easier here, you have to work harder to make anything happen. You have to create what you want to see in LA. I think that’s true of NY but there is a longer history of people creating spaces, companies, and festivals like LAX, and so it’s harder to get close to the source and it’s easy to be absorbed in the vast history. Since moving here I’ve been lucky and persistent enough to get my body and my work close to many of the people making things emerge here, maybe not for the first time ever, but for the first time in a while, perhaps. People’s efforts stand more prominently in relief.
Does your piece incorporate text? What is your relationship between writing and dance?
By nature my collaborators and I are pretty chatty, and with ACTRESS FURY we tried to tap into the culture of our rehearsal room by not stopping talking throughout the entirety of our piece. I try not to write a word though— all the text is stolen from some source and then manipulated in some way to suit our needs. Using words we are able to bulldoze our way through a lot of dense theatrical content, but the meaning we’re trying to make lies in the shifting between textual worlds. Our strategy for moving through language is dance-like. It is important to me that people listen to the words— there is story, but there is not a story. The audience member who will enjoy the piece most will love words and hearing them, but will have the capacity to experience them as texture, rather than truth.
Tell us about Ajax, Nijinsky, and Bridget Riley — why them?
Ajax, the great mythic warrior; Nijinsky, the first international ballet star both dealt with shame and insanity, which is essentially the cracking open of the ego. This interplay between self love and self loathing; knowing who you are yet being totally selfless, is central to the pursuit of acting, which is the vehicle through which we’re exploring the nature of existing in the world. Bridget Riley was one of the first female abstract painters who created painstakingly detailed images that look like they’re from another planet. All three of these characters are super-human-creators dealing with their base humanity, although Bridget Riley is the only one who stays sane and diligent, and is because of this our totem and godmother.
Jennie MaryTai Liu’s work has been seen in New York at Dance Theater Workshop, The Ontological-Hysteric Theater, HERE Arts Center, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, and The Bushwick Starr. She has shown small works at PS 122, Movement Research at the Judson Memorial Church, the American Dance Festival through Hollins University, the 41st Congress on Research on Dance, as well as internationally in Vienna, France, and in her native Hong Kong.
She has been awarded residencies from the Bogliasco Foundation, Yaddo Arts Colony, The Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and received grants from the Multi-Arts Project Fund and the Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Program. She was a resident artist at HERE Arts Center (2009-2010), and at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange (2009-2010).
As a performer, she has had the pleasure of working with Big Dance Theater, Faye Driscoll Dance Group, Nellie Tinder, Witness Relocation Company, and Cathy Weis Projects. She has collaborated with director/filmmaker Simon Liu on multiple projects including ‘Ditchwork’, which won ‘Best Experimental Short’ at the New Jersey International Film Festival, and which will screen at various festivals nationally and internationally throughout 2012-13.
Her first short dance-film ‘Scout Hut’ screened at Chez Bushwick Presents at the Center for Performance Research in May 2012. She continues to make short video works alongside researching her next live performance, which will premiere at The Bushwick Starr in the spring of 2014.
She trained in theater as an undergraduate at the Experimental Theater Wing at NYU, and received her MFA in Dance from Hollins University.
interview by Will Arbery
portrait by Amanda Jane Shank
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