Lauren Bakst catches up with choreographer and performer Michelle Boulé during a rehearsal for her latest work, Hello, I need you.
Many know Michelle Boulé for her enigmatic, charged, and complex performances in the works of choreographers such as Miguel Gutierrez, John Jasperse, and Deborah Hay. However, Michelle is also a creator in her own right. Her latest work, Hello, I need you, created and performed in collaboration with Lindsay Clark, has been developed as a part of Dance & Process, curated by Yasuko Yokoshi at The Kitchen—an extended group process of sharing work and receiving structured feedback. Hello, I need you unearths a relationship to experience through the performance of both mundane action and illustrious movement—producing moments of hollow sadness and awkward joy. The piece leaves me hyper-aware of not only Boulé and Clark’s relationships to the world around them, but also my own. Boulé’s choreography illuminates the tension between seemingly nonsensical objects, movements, and ideas—drawing energetic lines of connectivity that coil, expand, and vibrate throughout the space. Her devotion and openness to the wisdom of the body reveals itself through her choice making in both her work and our conversation as we discuss choreography as collection, text as texture, and the necessities of the moment.
Lauren Bakst Does the piece have a title?
Michelle Boulé It’s called, Hello, I need you.
LB I was curious about the title because I was interested in how you’re using language within the piece. The different texts Lindsay reads feel almost like sound bytes from these different places.
MB I was interested in text as a texture, and I was interested in dialogue. Just when I’ve been reading, I’ve been collecting things that seem like they fit in the vein of what is kind of an ambiguous piece. Today I added a thing from this interview the Wooster Group did with Marina Abramovi? where she talks about making bread, and that became one of the sound bytes Lindsay reads. I wanted these texts to give it a little bit of context, but it’s also so vast it can become anything. And in a different way it becomes a texture. But yesterday everything was sort of too serious, so that’s why we added in this one today.
LB There is a sense of lightness within the piece. You guys are laughing a lot in rehearsal, and then there’s also the laughter that appears in the sound.
MB There is, and I think that developed—well, I think it’s a part of who I am—but it developed as a dynamic with Lindsay because I didn’t really know her and we ended up laughing a lot in our time together. I just knew she was an amazing dancer and performer and super articulate, and for lack of a better word, expressive with her body, and that was something I was drawn to. Being in the very beginning of making work, I’m starting to already realize what some of my tropes are, and the lightness might be one of them. The laughing is something we’re trying to figure out because it feels like it’s definitely important. In some ways it’s an entry point, and it’s also a part of this thing of informal vs. formal that I’m playing with. I did think I was going to start with something that was quite formal. I’m interested in form, because I don’t really know much about it.
LB What are some of the other things—you mentioned form—that you’re interested in?
MB I’m interested very much in a body experience. I think it’s really hard to make dance where you have to dance. I spend so much time with the body, and it’s really esoteric information in some ways. We get to this place, I think as dancers, where we feel like the body is everything, and for us, it really is. It’s such an expansive place. It’s endless and it’s super informative. So yeah, I believe in the body. I believe in the experience of the body, and I believe in seeing the body in person, and why that is necessary today. You know, I watched this interview with Cathy Horyn who’s a fashion critic for the New York Times. She interviews Alber Elbaz, the head of the Lanvin house, and he says this great thing about how he wanted to make something in black, and his team said, Well black doesn’t look good on the screen, and he was like, But black looks good on the body. Am I making this for the screen, or am I making this for someone to wear? It makes me think about reality. . .[against] and along with presentation. There was something nice about how he was dealing with the reality and purpose of his work rather than the artifice of representation. And maybe now I’m realizing that this piece is more so just the necessity of having this other person in the space, and the ways that we attempt to connect to each other, to connect to what we’re doing ourselves, a sort of messiness and awkwardness around that, and that being OK. I just feel like there needs to be a looseness around it, and all I can think of right now is a tight ass. (laughter_) I can’t have a tight ass around this piece. It’s like this music or something (_a samba beat plays in the background). It’s a sort of looseness. I think structure is so incredible and I think I’m still trying to understand what my sense of form is. It’s been so awesome to just be doing this with Yasuko, and the other artists involved, and Lindsay—to get to be in this space where I can be a creator. Something is shifting there, since my last BOMB interview.
LB Going back to the body, how are you generating and shaping movement? I was noticing while watching that my attention was being drawn a lot to space, not just the space around you, but the space inside of your body also.
MB We did so much improvising. There was definitely an interest in architecture and the architected body, and that was a way I was looking at form. So there were a lot of improvisations around that, and then some of those, like what we call “touch me duet,” turned into the duet where Lindsay ends up on top of me. I like that because we just started cracking up when that actually happened in rehearsal. We also each did a twenty minute improv directed by the other person only using these words and phrases:
SENSUAL (SELF) DESTRUCTION
IT BEGINS AND IT ENDS
IT ONLY STAYS IN THE MIDDLE
IMAGINARY HISTORICAL IMPRINT
UNPLANNED AIMLESS WANDERING
When I look at these words now, I see how they have somehow made their way into the piece. We did so many improvisations, and then I just looked at them and chose stuff. I feel like I was skimming the surface and then I became the collector, dipping my fishing net in at different places. We did look at The Artist’s Body (2000), that performance art book, and I do feel curious about our relationship to the body as dancers, and the performance art or visual art relationship to the body, which for me can be more about product or object. There was one day when we were looking at Jeff Koons’s work and Lindsay made this little short solo with the Jeff Koons body. Looking at these bodies where these people—I can’t even remember who the artists are now—but putting nails in themselves, stuffing themselves with whatever, and that sort of relationship to the body—
LB —It’s often a static body, or not static, but a body that’s not really moving through space.
MB It’s not moving through space. It’s a different kind of statement. It feels visual and very representational and symbolic in a certain kind of way. It is a very alive body, but I guess right now I’m dealing with a body in a more traditional theatrical setting . . . on a stage. In watching and doing performance, I was curious about what type of performative body was interesting to me—what does it hold, present, offer? You asked about our relationship to space—let me think. I’m really interested in the energies of a space, the energies of my home. If I could and have the time and money, I would go study Feng shui and space clearing. I don’t feel like we’re necessarily internalizing space in this piece. What we’re doing in that one score is suntanning. (laughter) That’s all it was and it was just like Lindsay’s lamp is here, my lamp is here. It seems like the piece has become this construction of very tiny elements and the process of trying to craft them into some kind of coherence. We were also looking at those videos of Ian Curtis, the guy from Joy Division dancing. It’s just like Woah, look at what is happening with this body, all that is contained in this body. It just feels really important for me to pay attention to that—physically, energetically, sexually. I just feel like it really gets turned off for people, and then it’s like there’s this whole missing piece. Here I am again romanticizing the body, but it’s what we’re dealing with, and I want to keep dealing with it. I want to keep dealing with it until I’m 90-plus like Anna Halprin.
LB The word collecting has come up a bit and it’s interesting for me to think about choreography as a process of collecting. It reminds me of this book aka (2010) by the artist Roni Horn, which is a series of non-chronological photographs of the artist throughout her life. They’re just kind of eerie and interesting, and Dave Hickey talks about how the process of her collecting these images, and the way she puts them together actually reveals more about her interior self in that moment of making than if she were to say I am this, or I am that. It’s like this idea that if I collected all of these artifacts that were important to me and arranged them in a particular way, that might actually reveal more about myself than anything I could linguistically think or self proclaim.
MB It’s like the way that meaning sort of evaporates out of something. Evaporate is not the right word, because it doesn’t disappear, but it just arises out of the components, while still having a sense of mystery. Hearing you say that makes me wonder about my own process of collecting and how these things come together now. It does feel like what I’m doing is very random in some ways. But that was also one of my interests, that something arises out of the mundane.
LB I was thinking today about when you spray the water at each other in the piece and this phrase came to my mind, an invitation to experience. That somehow the water is this entry point for you to have the experience of what you call the “slow architecture duet” that follows, but also an entry point for me to have an experience with you.
MB Yeah, I don’t know where that came from, but I’m really glad that it came. I’ve been attracted to the illogic of certain people’s work and how that has its own kind of poetry. I think it’s a beautiful thing that artists do, putting things that don’t make sense next to each other, because then we get to see them differently. I am spending a lot of time in my imagination about the piece, which is both a good and a bad thing, because a lot of stuff doesn’t get realized in your imagination, but it gives this space for little things to bubble up too.
LB What feels necessary to you right now?
MB I think enjoyment feels necessary to me. This practice of making has given me another sense of perspective, another place of stepping out of something. I guess it’s not so scary as it used to be. That feels so basic, but I’m such a beginner in this. It’s helped me fine tune another meter of gauging experience. It’s made me really clear about what I want because you have to make decisions. Choreography is about making decisions. And then I think about working with Deborah Hay. We might ask her a question before doing a run of the piece or performing it, and she would say, Well yeah, it’s like this . . . more or less. She’s a pro at the fuzzy space. And I’m sure she knows very well that’s the decision she’s made, to be fuzzy. To not make a decision is a very clear decision. Revealing is also important right now. It’s like that moment where the heat rises up, and it’s like Woah, OK, this is actually something real. We’ve had so much operating by chance in this piece, so then how to create a structure that keeps that alive, rather than starts to kill the experience, has been a recent challenge. And yeah, how to connect. I don’t want to make work that exists inside a vacuum. It also feels like trying to remember when I used to make dances in grade school for the talent show. There was not too much thought around it. There was a real trusting of Yes, this is it, and No, this is not it_, and that trusting can get lost inside a space of analysis. I’ve been reading about John Cage saying that for years, and I think I’m finally beginning to understand that in my life and in my work—how the mind gets in the way. Even the healing or energy work that I’ve done, it’s really about finding the physical intelligence of the body. The mind is amazing, but it creates things that are not always there, which is its beauty as well. But yeah, that’s why I stopped going to therapy. (_laughter)
Michelle Boulé will present Hello, I need you at The Kitchen as a part of Dance & Process on December 22nd and 23rd.
Lauren Bakst is a Brooklyn based dance artist and writer.