New York choreographer Wendy Perron has nothing against being popular. But she admits to having some interior drive that forces her to create intense, quasi-dramatic works that both skew and unsettle audience perceptions. As a result, she fears that she may have "indirectly undercut" her potential fame.
"If I made a piece that was universally liked," Perron says, "but (it) didn't have some deep-seated element of strangeness, I would consider myself a failure."
Although still in her mid-30s, Perron has a 15-year-old reputation in the New York City performance art scene for being a "hybrid choreographer"--an artist who includes narrative and video elements in her pieces in order to blend the playful with the analytic.
"Some critics rag on what they call my performance pizazz," says the fast-talking, sharp-witted Perron, "although I tend to think that my quirky movement vocabulary cancels out those intended effects, that so-called flashiness." Her program at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions on Nov. 5-7 will contain examples of both the flashy Perron and the disorienting one.
In "Arena," for example, Perron offers what she calls "a hefty dose of strangeness."
She isn't just referring to what critics call her eccentric movement style or the "otherworldly Eastern atmosphere and emotional values," which she says characterizes "Arena." Perron is also bringing a flock of pigeons onto the stage--with a net separating the pigeons from the audience.
"When I first did the piece at Jacob's Pillow this summer, we made the mistake of using fan-tailed pigeons which were beautiful, but too slow," she says.
But now, however, L.A.-based performance artist Jacob Guiterrez hikes up what Perron calls the "ante of unpredictability" by bringing his racing pigeons to LACE.
"The pigeons provide me with an absolutely logical line to my other work," Perron comments, referring to her "Standard Deviation," a piece combining the virtuosity of classically trained dancers like herself and the actions of people with no history as movers.
"These people were (like) the birds," she explains. "I couldn't control them; I couldn't lay movement on them. They broke any pattern of slickness."
Still, if Perron calls herself a choreographer, why resort to other media to convey what she insists is most crucial to her work: the evocation of emotion? Can't pure dance expression be strange enough?
"In some ways it's not enough and in some ways it's too much," she answers. "I can think of music and dance until the sun falls off the edge of the Earth. But I have to shape a dance that's true to me. I have to ask myself: Just how much movement invention does one dance really need?"
For her, the answer lies in "studying how to make a dance that's whole." Opting not to "use more than is necessary," Perron turns to tools once thought of as intrinsically antithetical to movement--the vocabulary of spoken language--to invest her dances with what Perron calls "cumulative power."
She points to a piece she calls her most "legible": her "Divertissement" (also to be seen on the LACE program along with a solo performance by Van Tieghem).
This movement and narrative duet between her and Van Tieghem, remained in the audience's memory, Perron says, due to the dialogue of an argumentative New York couple with Bronx accents. To her, the movement idiom congealed with the help of the spoken one.
"Choreography is not only about abstract movement . . . but the delineation of a moment of life which can accommodate other mediums and which forces you to ask whether 'pure' movement exists," Perron says. She speaks with the authority of a dancer who studied with Trisha Brown, was the choreographic consultant for Laurie Anderson's film "Home of the Brave" and writes extensively on dance and performance.
"Look, I know damn well I'm not the first person to use text in dance or the first person to use video. If you're consciously trying to be post-modern or whatever, you're lost."
If anything, Perron admits that she's been accused of making "movement that people saw as introverted." Regardless of her interest in narrative, Perron eschews meaning to the point of being what she calls "oblique."
And she readily admits that the "push and pull" she feels "between show biz and art," has not always proved entirely fruitful for career advancement.
"I remember David White (executive director of New York's prestigious Dance Theater Workshop) once telling me that 'the reason you're having trouble with your career is that nobody can say exactly who you are and exactly what you do. Look at Molissa Fenley. People know who she is.' "
But Perron argues that if she's going to make anything clearer to her audience--"and I have nothing against that," she adds--it must come from her own artistic growth.
"I never made any kind of a splash (as a choreographer)," she says with a little laugh. "Of course, that's been disappointing. Everybody wanted me to be big and lyrical and I was feeling inward.
"Perhaps I'm lucky in that I was never really loved. Sure, I'd like to have more work and better audiences. But in the meantime, it's so incredibly interesting for me to see my pieces change, to see how I've created these different atmospheres."