Photo: Erin Baiano
Choreographer Brian Brooks on his movement language, penchant for speed and the Dallas debut of his dance group, Brian Brooks Moving Company, presented by TITAS.
Dallas — Many successful choreographers’ careers have started with a simple question. For Brian Brooks it was how to convey the emotions and experiences of running a marathon through the use of movement. By investigating the elements of running such as pace, duration and the feelings of inspiration and achievement commonly associated with the activity, Brooks has created a movement language that is fast-paced, compelling and uniquely human.
Originally from Hingham, Mass., Brooks moved to New York City in 1994. He started his dance group, Brian Brooks Moving Company, in 2002, which has performed in venues throughout the United States, South Korea and Europe. While this is the company’s first time in Dallas (presented by TITAS), it is not their first show in Texas. The company has performed in Austin and San Antonio during previous seasons. The company has also enjoyed repeat engagements at Dance Theater Workshop, Wesleyan University, North Carolina State University, SUMMERDANCE Santa Barbara and Alfred University.
As a dancer Brooks has performed with choreographers Eun-Me Ahn, Christopher Williams and Elizabeth Streb for whom he has also worked as a rehearsal coach and technique instructor. His most recent honor was an award from the National Dance Project supporting the development and performance tour of his work, BIG CITY (2012). Brooks has been on the Dance Department faculty of both Princeton University and Rutgers University-Mason Gross School of the Arts. He has also been an Adjunct Associate Professor of Dance at Barnard College of Columbia University and a guest artist at the University of Maryland, Illinois State University and Rutgers University, among others.
TheaterJones asks Brian Brooks about his distinct movement style, the creation of his signature solo, I’m Going To Explode, and the diverse program he has put together for his company’s first appearance in Dallas. The Brian Brooks Moving Company makes it Dallas debut Nov. 21-22 at the Dallas City Performance Hall, part of TITAS’ 2014-15 season.
TheaterJones: How are you feeling about your company’s Dallas debut this weekend?
Brian Brooks: I am really excited to bring our show to Dallas. We have performed in San Antonio and Austin. Not exactly Dallas, but my artistic work in Texas has started growing and I can’t wait to present to audiences here in town. I have a group of eight dancers that I am bringing with me and two of them are actually Booker T. Washington HSPVA alums. I have these two performing in some of my newest dance works so it will be a nice homecoming for them.
What would you say distinguishes your work from other New York-based contemporary choreographers?
One of the things I am distinctly known for in contemporary dance circles is speed. We have five different pieces on the program and they are some of my favorites. Two are newer pieces, but most of them have been performed at different venues around the country. I think the variety and the breadth of the works in this collection is exciting and one of the things that stands out is my penchant for fast-paced movement. Three of the works are larger company works and I make very complex partnering sequences in them. The dancers’ joke that they can’t rehearse any of the material without everyone in the company there because they rely so heavily on interacting, touching, grabbing, catching, pushing, pulling into all the other company members several times a second. Without all the bodies there you can’t really practice the material. So, there’s an intricacy in my group work and a speed to it that is very distinct. I am also very interested in trying to expose effort in dance. So, rather than mask it I created an aesthetic that really pronounces the effort. I think it brings the effort and the intent of all the performers to your focus.
Do these qualities reflect your own personality?
I think I’m a fast-moving kind of guy. I like to have many projects, like many of us do, going on at one time. I also like being very active. You know, I struggled for years in both my classical and modern dance training with the question of what dance really means. For me, part of it is just my personality and I think the show represents the many different aspects of my interests and my being. I have also dedicated my life to creating dances that I find compelling and the things that keep my attention often are moving very quickly. So, I create work that moves at rapid fire speed to keep your attention and to move through movement at a pace that is similar to the wings of a hummingbird or the speed of an Amtrak train. It’s like the poetics of movement I suppose. Part of it is who I am, but a lot of it is also trying to craft movement situations that are compelling within themselves and then it provides meaning from that. There’s a lot of metaphors in my work. There’s a lot of visual imagery. It’s not story driven, but it definitely is interpersonal. It’s about community and the kinetic and physical relationships that we experience all the time.
Your solo, I’m Going To Explode, has been a signature piece in your repertoire for many years. What makes the work so appealing to mass audiences?
I do occasionally call it my signature solo because I have had it now for seven years. This is the longest I have done a piece so far and I am the only one who has performed it. I actually made it in this tiny little space in New York. This was just a really introspective, creative period for me. I usually focus my attention on my company so, it was unusual for me to focus my time on a solo. It was a turning point for me as a choreographer and over the last seven years it has become a work that people automatically associate with me.
I had a costume designer that I have worked with before create the suit that I wear. Like most of my pieces I started with the choreography and then went back and read the piece. Once I grasped the physics and physicality of what’s going on than I constructed these movement sequences that resemble a tidal wave of motion. Then I match the movement with different music and find ways to heighten the different themes that are coming through. Regarding the solo, it is quite convulsive and violent and then I paired with a song that is hilarious. The contrast of those two things together lightened the piece and made it really self-aware and tongue in cheek. And I feel the suit really humanized the work.
You have been performing your solo for seven years. How has time affected the way you perform the piece?
I like aging. Every time I perform the solo it’s like revisiting this physical practice that is similar to going to yoga. I am still doing the same positions and the same breathing pattern, but through this process I can reflect on what has changed in my body over the years. And the more time passes the more interesting that piece becomes to me. I have had offers from people who want to buy it, but I am not ready to give it to anyone just yet. I still have a lot of mileage left.
How do you balance your role as choreographer and performer?
A lot has changed within the last three years of my career. I am working full time as a choreographer now and touring most of the year. That change has been really astounding to me. But this is the time that I have also been having more trouble being in the work and making the work. So, in this show I perform two pieces. One is my solo and the other is the duet excerpt from my work Motor. I am very dedicated to performing. Doing something very deep and personal like my solo and having that be a work that people are interested in seeing is really reaffirming to me. It made me realize where to keep my focus when making new work.
Tell me about the newer works in the program, Division and Torrent?
You will be some of the first audiences to see these new works and I am very excited about presenting them. These pieces came out of intense work with the dancers over a period of months where we felt like we discovered a movement language. The form you will see in my pieces pulls a lot of influences together. You might see hints of line, shape, form and interaction that may remind you of other choreographers, but they kind of come-and-go and get bent as they need to be. Intricacy and partnerships are at the fore-front of these pieces. The teamwork is unbelievable. I have a nice group of dances right now and it’s special to watch them getting better at working together.
Division and Torrent share some similarities such as the way I make groups dependent on one another. So, the construction of the group works follow that co-dependency and cause and effect mentality. There’s also no traditional gender spilt in my work. In a lot of these pieces I have the women partnering the women and the men partnering the men so the action shifts your understanding of the relationship.
Torrent is to Max Richter’s recomposed score of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. You can’t recognize the Four Seasons in the piece. He used it as source material and literally cut it all up and selected which parts he wanted to use. So, the phrases and melodies are cut down and used very intelligently. It’s for the eight dancers in the company and it closes the show. It’s very fluid and momentous. It really sweeps you away. Division has an original score by Jerome Begin that is very different from Torrent. It’s not melodic at all. He’s taken the sound recording of the movement in the dance and has added in keys and chords. He has really orchestrated physical action. I feel that the variety in the program allows you to keep looking at things differently as the evening goes.
This Q&A was originally published on TheaterJones.com.