Sunday, February 15, 2009

Walk by Dances: Leslie Scates on Installation Dancing at the Spacetaker Synergy Gala

Dance Source Houston: What attracted you to working with Spacetaker?

Leslie Scates: Spacetaker consistently supports fringe and emerging artists. Founder David Brown continues to challenge us all to work where our hearts are. I am drawn to work with Spacetaker because I will be allowed to stretch my performance paradigm with an educated and up for anything audience.

DSH: Has your previous work with “Drive by Dances” morphed into walk by dances with martini in hand?

LS: Dances in situ allow an audience to self-edit a performance. Working inside a 360 degree perspective calls me to craft movement without dictated spatial orientations. Tiffany Couser and I are planning new versions of Drive By Dancing based on work we did this last year for camera near the Brazos River south of Houston. I am constantly distracted by roadside locations that holler out to me: “Hey! Dance in me!”

DSH: I have this memory of taking a walk in the woods (with a busload of others) at Blackwood Land Institute and running into you doing your Amish/Samurai thing. It was an odd feeling, as if I had entered a dance already in motion. You seem to enjoy playing with that boundary between performer and audience.

LS: I enjoyed the Blackwood Dances we created because I was working with Drive By Dancing at that time, and it was a natural sideways move to get dancing in the country. Place and Site profoundly expand / layers the context in which our choreography is created/absorbed/experienced. “Found theater” is everywhere. Places and sites energize and fuel my dancing brain. Happening onto a dance is a happy accident, a shooting star, like seeing a wild animal in its habitat. There is an immediate sense of interrupting something, which physically involves a viewer, demanding presence in the dance moment. No barrier between performance and viewer. We create a choreographic climate by being in a specific habitat, inviting dance and audience to create together out in the world.

DSH: I love the term “choreographic climate” and I plan to steal it soon, thanks. Audiences are so used to plopping their butts down and watching. I will be curious how you actually give permission for audiences to come and go. I, for one, will be attending to that. Perhaps our coming and going will be part of the dance. Where's the fun and challenge of performing in non-traditional venues?

LS: Working with fresh attack is always exciting. Fitting into an unknown space accesses adaptation skills human beings possess. The challenge is designing a dance that works to make use of all idiosyncratic features of a given space.

DSH: You seem to be living up to the title I bestowed on you in Dance Spirit magazine, Houston's reigning queen of Improv. How's that crown feel and tell us about your recent studies in that direction?

LS: When you named me “The Queen,” I thought immediately: Queens are overthrown or beheaded, and new rulers make up new rules. I reinvented myself to myself a few years ago when I retrained myself as an improviser. I study composition deeply by creating it in the moment with ensemble work and my solo movement world remains deeply affected by my work with Nina Martin, Lower Left, and improvisers from Colorado, New York, Seattle, Mexico, Europe and Texas.

DSH: I wasn't thinking of a coup d’état to the improv castle at all. It was a title of honor for all your serious study in improvisation.

LS: I have improvised with several local dance companies, numerous students and Houston dancers, sharing improvisation techniques that others have thoughtfully shared with me. I continue to work as a choreographer by performing/studying improvisation. I find giant satisfaction in performing improvisations with giving, risk-taking dancers that have a deep capacity for concentration and a loose grip on ego. Although, we would not move around in public if there were no ego involved. I like an audience and the chemical exchange that interaction provides. Adrenaline junkies never die. I want to work with people who can ignore the drive/worry /entertain a crowd and dig deep in performance, which can be truly entertaining, hilarious, and powerfully physical.

DSH: I know you work with very specific scores, and for you improvisation is not just making it up on the spot. Not everybody reading this knows what a score is, so can you give us an idea of some of the scores you will be working with for the gala?

LS: Jordan Fuchs and I will be improvising to music and silence. We have practiced contact Improvisation together at several workshops in the last two years. We set up a couple of big images to work with and then go. We will structure ourselves with a time limit. We don’t dance “to” the music we use, we dance “to” each other. We build movement vocabulary and phrasing on the spot. A score is a map for an improvisation. It’s how we know what to stay focused on so we don’t do a lot of wasted flailing around. Jordan and I bounce off each other’s movements and bodies. I think there may be chairs involved.

DSH: Tell us about your cohort this time around.

LS: Jordan Fuchs is on the faculty at Texas Woman’s University. Jordan teaches contact improvisation and contemporary dance at TWU. We are hosting a contact improvisation jam at American College Dance Festival this March at Texas A&M. I am elevated through my work with Jordan up to now, and I expect I will continue to grow as I work with him. This is our first public performance together.

DSH: Give us a crash course in Scates watching. Will it be OK to talk, sip fine wine, and be part of the dance?

LS: Notice the space. Notice the bodies in the space. Notice the sounds in the space. Let details be the dance. Let there be a story or leave narrative out of the dance. Watch for movement you like. Watch for moments that make sense. Enjoy your cocktail. Like what you like and allow your senses to be a guide to viewing. Keep breathing. Your contribution of vision and observance are gratefully accepted. Drink all you want and feel free to talk while in the dancing space.

What else is coming down the road?

LS: I am performing with Teresa Chapman in her DiverseWorks residency "The Convenient Woman" first two weekends in April. I am performing February 24,25 in NYC with Lower Left. I am going to March2Marfa in March and studying with Deborah Hay and performing with the March2Marfa lab participants on March 28 in Marfa, Texas and performing with Rice Dance Theatre on April 17 and 18 at Hamman Hall at Rice.

DSH: Any last words of wisdom from the making it up as you go road?

LS: The make it up as you go road has shifting speed limits and fuel in the form of sweat. Hitch hikers and drivers share giving rides. I like to drive my vehicle all over the road, in the air, and use a seatbelt when situations require restraint and discipline. I am finding substance and sparkling content in the work I am engaging in, spontaneously creating in performance and in life. The make it up as you go road fits me and I am thankful to have found support for my efforts to please myself with dance making. I am glad I work with artists that are creating and sustaining the technique of improvisation. Nina Martin calls it a performance language. I am immersed in a culture that feeds me and solicits / elicits the best dancing I have in my bodybrain.

DSH: Forget the “queen label,” you are more the Jack Kerouac of the dance improv world.

Leslie Scates performs as part of Synergy, the fifth annual Spacetaker Gala on Saturday, February 21, 7-11pm, at Winter Street Studios. Call 713-868-1839 or visit

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.