Our first glimpse of Noémie Lafrance, renowned choreographer and modern dance powerhouse, finds her in repose on a long wooden table on the third floor of a Williamsburg loft building. Antlers adorn her head, and a minuscule woodlands scene is applied to the landscape of her right side (calf, thigh, hip).
Hold the phone. Where’s Feist? Where are the 70 dancers chasing the stage the stage in McCarren Park Pool? Are we at the Whitney Biennial?
Negative on all of the above. Though Lafrance is known for organizing large-scale, site-specific works like Descent (2001-03), performed in the stairwell of the New York City Court Building Clock Tower, and last fall’s Rapture, part of a series using Frank Gehry starchitecture as a stage, she’s now bringing choreography down to the micro level: the human body. Her new performance Home “unfolds as a surreal and sensual voyage on the body’s infinite landscapes,” inviting the audience to explore the body as a place while exploring issues of public and private space.
We’d hate to give too much away, so we’re going to play a little game called free association: magnifying glass, pregnant, Tom Waits, scented water, tea ceremony, totemic, red high heels, maid, toothbrush, demanding boss, crayon to paper, skin, flashlight, plaster casts, matryoshka dolls. It sounds off-the-wall (and it is) but suffice to say that Lafrance and collaborator Maré Hieronimus turn what could be an alienating experience into something transcendent and pure. What’s most fascinating to observe is the change in fellow audience members, from unsure and slightly ill-at-ease to applying plaster casts to a dancer’s all but nude figure. It’s a sensory as much as “sensual” experience, as well. Sight, sound (cars on wet pavement outside, the hiss of lit candles), smell, taste (oolong tea), and touch are engaged, which challenges the notion of a typical spectator-performer event.
We got on the horn with SENS production founder and woman of the hour Noémie Lafrance to pick her brain about site-specific choreography both large and small.
Flavorwire: How long have you been working on Home? Can you go through the phases of the project, from conception to realization?
Noémie Lafrance: Unusually this project has been worked on since 2006, when the idea started. We’ve worked on it on and off since we’ve had so many other large projects in the last few years. This is a different form of public art, making the body public as a site and touching on viewer’s sensitive zones. It’s a much smaller reach and concept than our usual work, with only 20-24 spectators at a time.
FW: Have the Rapture sites been finalized yet? I see you are considering the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park, Disney Concert Hall in LA, the Bilbao Guggenheim, and IAC Building in New York. What’s the update?
NL: Gehry’s building for AGO in Berlin is pretty much finalized; it’s scheduled for June 2010. The Chicago and LA sites are also looking good.
FW: What was your role in Doug Aitken’s Sleepwalkers? That was one of the most successful public art projects in my recent memory.
NL: I photographed some of the movement sections, especially towards the ending when you see all the silhouetted moments. We were hired as choreographers and dealt with the more abstract moments for the film.
FW: How many dancers are in your core troupe? Do people approach you, and how do you find collaborators that fit your site-specific aesthetic? I imagine it’s a much different experience than a flat stage.
NL: Our staff is normally a group of three; during production it’s anywhere from 12 to 100. We have a network to call on, a group of performers we’ve worked with in the past. (Agora was 75 people.) A lot of people come to us via word-of-mouth, and we also do open calls.
FW: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the creative habit (Twyla Tharp’s 2005 book comes to mind). What is your typical day? What habits have you set for yourself that help your creativity and productivity?
NL: One of the things that make my day productive is that I have to work on a schedule. We have “normal” office hours from 10 to 6, that helps. Office hours seem contradictory to the typical “artist way” but it actually helps to be productive. When you set up a rehearsal schedule things happen differently, of course, that’s when things get crazy.
FW: You were born in raised in Quebec but have lived in Brooklyn for 15 years. What are some of your favorite neighborhood spots? What do are you into, culturally?
NL: Now I live in Clinton Hill, and our office is in Williamsburg where I used to live. A lot of artists I know live here also, so Brooklyn is a very big community that way. I actually feel like there is a lack of space in Williamsburg for performance art. (Though there is something that just opened up called CPR.) There are not a lot of venues, but a lot of artists. That’s always been my concern. Even with Galapagos, which I love.
Home runs April 3 through 5 and 8 through 12 at 7:30 p.m. & 9:30 p.m. Purchase tickets here.