By Sara Christoph for Norte Maar
For the final installment of our interviews with choreographers presented at Dance at Socrates, Norte Maar has talks with choreographer Rachel Cohen whose company has been in residence at Socrates Sculpture Park August 26-31. As the director of Racoco Productions, her multidisciplinary performances have garnered much praise for her willingness to push the division between traditional dance and performance art. She founded Racoco Productions in 2003. No doubt she will continue her explorations on the Socrates stage. Below, a quick back and forth with Norte Maar’s Sara Christoph.
Rachel Cohen: I’ve “danced” in one way or another since I was about three or four I think, although with a few longish gaps in the middle. I made up steps in my bedroom all the time, but I didn’t officially choreograph until high school; one of my teachers, Olga Baigas, let me choreograph something on the class for a spring show. Then in college I started to study it more officially at Harvard University with Claire Mallardi.
NM: How do you define/describe the movement that interests you?
RC: I’m interested in all kinds of movement, at least to watch and move along with internally. But I like it particularly when it is pushed to unusual places in response to real situations—a baseball player running and reaching to make a crazy catch; someone bent over carrying an enormous weight; someone trying to look at something in the bottom of her foot. What I’m interested in exploring is how we move when interacting with inanimate objects and materials— how my body will respond to external textures, shapes, and weights, and whether those textures, shapes, and weights can push my own body to places it wouldn’t go otherwise.
NM: I know your productions are often beautifully theatrical, involving elaborate costuming and staging. Will you bring any of that to the park at Socrates? Any initial thematic direction or ideas of where you’d like the movement to go?
RC: That’s a good question. I was thinking it might be nice at Socrates to stay simple, partly as a change (we’ve been schlepping large amounts of wood all over the city for the past year) and partly because the outdoors can really diffuse the impact of scenery and costume, and theatricality, given its ultimate vastness and the quality of the ambient sound. One possibility I’ve considered is shifting from our explorations of wood to a much more evanescent partner, wind; it will also be fun to work off of the environment there and see what develops.
NM: For the project at Socrates, you’ll be completing the week-long residency on an outdoor stage in a public park. Surely people will stop to watch your choreography. How do you think this transparency will affect the final dance? Will your approach be interactive in any way?
RC: I’m imagining the process may be more external, and the resulting movement maybe larger—a lot of what I make starts from what seems like a small, internal place. But the awareness of people watching could subtly (or not-so-subtly) make the process more performative. In terms of audience interaction, I tend to be shy about “imposing” on people. But I like the idea of inviting people to participate in some way if they are interested. This could be an interesting challenge for me.
NM: What is up next for you? Any future projects?
RC: Well we just completed a big season at Incubator Arts Project in the East Village. They presented Construct, the second part of the company’s wood/Don Quixote/delusion project TILT. Then, after Socrates, I am delighted that I have nothing on the schedule for a while and can take some time to recharge. Hopefully, the piece we work on at Socrates may take on life and turn into a larger project for the future…