Intuition Is Bodily: Caitlin Adams Interviewed by Simona Blat

Integrating psychology and spirituality with choreographic practice.

Caitlin Adams METALBODY rehearsal process at Gibney Dance NYC, 2020. Photo by Sheridan Telford

Caitlin Adams, METALBODY, rehearsal process at Gibney Dance NYC, 2020. Photo by Sheridan Telford.

At the beginning of March, twenty people joined Caitlin Adams’s Therapeutic Movement Workshop: Memory Tracking and Instant Composition. For an hour we roamed the room fueled by her highly specific directions: step to the left, turn on one leg, place hands where needed, freeze. Listening and acting on instinct without judgment or control, the room buzzed with interpretive gestures. Near the end, lying on the floor with our eyes closed, Adams’s voice hovered around us. “Try to remember the moment of your birth.” Some cried. Others embraced themselves or contorted. An early memory of my father came up for the first time in my life. Somehow, our physical instincts had begun transferring to emotional instincts.

Adams is an interdisciplinary artist, choreographer, performer, and teacher. Since 2018, she has been the founder and artistic director of HEIDCO, a New York City dance company creating a continuous portrait of collective action as the tangible manifestation of its mission for social equity and participation. METALBODY is her most recent dance-theater piece. It transports audiences into a post-apocalyptic scenario in which four dancers collectively embody individual leadership to undo democratic structures.

—Simona Blat

Simona Blat You practice astrology and incorporate a knowledge of psychology into your choreography practice. How does this manifest in your work?

Caitlin Adams Making art is a spiritual practice, and one of the feelings I try to foster in the room is that we’re all creating a body together. Everyone brings their own mind, their own emotional capacity, and their own understanding of faith. People build on their own psychic abilities, and collective spirituality ends up happening. Every work ends up creating something that is specific to the work itself.

My interest in astrology is that it’s a practice of empathy. It’s important to me that there’s no judgment in the room. If anger happens, it’s coming from a place of passion. In order to have that happen, there has to be a sense of thinking beyond the room itself.

SB What are some of the challenges of welcoming spirituality into the room?

CA Historically, the dancer leaves everything at the door. They’re not allowed to bring anything but their body, which is usually quite bare. I work a lot with lineage and ancestral memory. I’m trying to flesh this trend out of the dancer. One of the challenges I face is an unlearning process. Dance is a shapeshifter, as a lot of art forms are, so the challenge is to say, Yes, you do have a voice. This can take a lot of time, because we like discipline and are taught we need it. I unleash the discipline first so we can all come together on what the standards are. That’s where collective memory comes in. It can happen that the people in the room feel they have a voice over one another. That’s what happens in politics too, so I look at political ideology a lot.

With METALBODY I wanted to understand things that have been innately part of my process, and I’ve tried to bring in this sense of spirituality. The whole thought process starts in the fingertips. In trying to understand one really specific part of their body, people need a guide. That is essentially what meditation is.

Performance view of METALBODY by Caitlin Adams at Muriel Shulman Theater, Triskelion Arts, Greenpoint, 2020. Photo by Sheridan Telford.

Performance view of METALBODY at Muriel Shulman Theater, Triskelion Arts, Greenpoint, 2020. Photo by Sheridan Telford.

SB Can you talk about starting with the fingertips?

CA One of the first things I had my collaborators do is think about the fingertips as the main source of information, to put everything we know about our brain, heart, and stomach into them. There’s so much we can learn from feeling the heat of someone’s hand. By introducing touch through this simple pathway, it becomes a game of creating a language with the other person’s hands. You have one conversation on one side, and another on the other side; how can you be in both places at once? I like to talk about the fingertips being instruments so that people get an idea of creating rhythm and pattern from there.

SB What benefit does exploring ancestral memory have over just being a great technician?

CA To be a great dancer, and a great artist, is to have the technical aspects but also be in touch with your cerebral nature and your gut. The gut is often traced to ancestry, or our intuition, which is connected to our soul lives. What differentiates the artist from the technician is when you are able to break the grammar. When someone comes from a strict dance background, it’s almost impossible to break to the side where we have nuance, where we create from.

SB Is dance a way to access ancestral memory?

CA I think the body is a way to open this up, since intuition is bodily, and having a relationship with the way your body moves and feels is another layer of perception. It’s no coincidence that yoga changes many people’s lives. If anyone is wanting to get more in touch with their psychic nature or unblock their intuition, they start with some sort of body practice.

SB Do you see your choreography as a byproduct of accomplishing this state within your dancers?

CA One of the most special and difficult things about dance is that it’s time-based. Every performance has its own life. There is this body that we made, on a mythological level, and now it’s full-grown, and we’re going to let it see the stage. The stage is a whole new environment on which it has to function. We have to figure out, in real time, with eyes on it, how it’s going to get from point A to point B, how it’s going to travel from beginning to end. To make something a perfect replica is impossible; it’s not going to happen, because what happens on the stage gives it a whole other level of maturity.

SB So, do we never see the same METALBODY performance?

CA When you look at the individual parts, there are some that are in unison every single time. We work for hours on details. I’m obsessed with nuance and being sure that we take care of people’s nuances. METALBODY has parts that are choreographed almost militantly, which gets at the title. Improvisation is worked in through transitions, but they’re more like opportunities for recalibration so as to be sure the bodies on stage are still aware they have the ability to change. Improvisational moments are for leadership to come into play and for the dancers to feel the support of the group.

Performance view of METALBODY by Caitlin Adams at Muriel Shulman Theater, Triskelion Arts, Greenpoint, 2020. Photo by Sheridan Telford.

Performance view of METALBODY at Muriel Shulman Theater, Triskelion Arts, Greenpoint, 2020. Photo by Sheridan Telford.

SBMETALBODY begins with you offering the dancers directions to get them into a certain state of mind. Why did you include this?

CA People love to watch the body move, but they have very little language for it. I did a lecture demonstration of the opening once, and it felt like I was in a sports arena; people were so excited to be included. I thought, How can I do this on stage in a way that people feel they’re invited in? Fifty percent of the intention is for the audience, and fifty percent is also, fuck the audience. It’s a meditation to get into sensing as one body, like a conduit into the work. It’s also an opportunity to invite the audience to release judgment and realize they too have fingertips and could stand on stage with these performers, touch fingertips with them, and do exactly what I’m saying. It takes listening, really. The beginning is the most complicated part, and it means so much to me.

SB Halfway through the performance, one of the dancers shouted “faster” to the group. What happened in that moment?

CA I didn’t expect it, but I was so proud of them for remembering that that’s what’s actually being asked. If they’re falling away from their strength as a group, anyone can make the call.

SB Are other external elements, such as light and sound, just as intuitive in your work?

CA I often have images of light at the beginning of a work. I do work with many lighting designers. I sometimes feel so bad, because I already know what I want to see. And sound is my greatest obsession. Hearing is my favorite sense, and music is being built alongside the work, always. But I work often with no music in the room.

For METALBODY, I wanted the composer, Zack Vidal, to feel like he was making something for a particular world, and for the music and dance to be contrasting. For a year and a half, he sent me these long pieces, and I would send back edits. He is really a noise musician, which is what I love about his work.

The light became a representation and an extension of the dancers’ voices. Let’s get rid of light they have no control over and put it in their own hands. I had each person talk about how they’d like to be lit in their solos. It was about what visually worked, the performer’s desires, and their desires in the moment.

SB Your titles have an acute poetic quality. Do you find any similarity between dance and poetry?

CA Some of the best dancers are also incredible poets. They both deal with the crevice of language, going between reality and fantasy. Titles are everything to me. METALBODY came from thinking about unbreakable material. A metal body has a great sensory-level experience; it’s an industrial color and kind of scary. The title being all caps and one word is to feel this sense of oneness and strength, an army of bodies.

Performance view of METALBODY by Caitlin Adams at Muriel Shulman Theater, Triskelion Arts, Greenpoint, 2020. Photo by Sheridan Telford.

Performance view of METALBODY at Muriel Shulman Theater, Triskelion Arts, Greenpoint, 2020. Photo by Sheridan Telford.

SB What does “social equity” mean for you?

CA This idea comes out of second-wave feminism. There are five properties that make a truly structureless, leaderless space. One of them is participation and sharing of resources. I am thinking about political ideologies and how to form a space that feels like a political act. We’re in a studio secluded from the world. Our job is to be an extension of the world, a mirror, voice, and underbelly. That everyone is able to bring all their identities—cultural, social, sexual, political—into the room, this is social equity.

SB You’re creating a mini-utopian world within the world.

CA And we can feel the abstraction of life in the room.

SB Do you think that dance is a political act?

CA The body can articulate in ways beyond anything else. It’s difficult to answer this question, because we cannot always articulate the power of the body. I think this is when dance and movement become political. When it touches so deeply that it seems impossible to name.

Caitlin Adams/HEIDCO will be performing live via Zoom for the The Arts On Site Performance Party on June 6 at 8:00 PM ET. The Zoom link will open at 7:45 PM. 

Simona Blat is a poet, writer, and editor. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches at New York University.

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