Interview with the Artist: Kent de Spain

Photo: John Bugress, Kent de Spain performing

Three, Photography: John Burgess

How do you feel the Cincinnati area has played a role in your creative process?

Cincinnati, and particularly Jeff and CDT, create an inviting atmosphere for sharing work with other dancers and with the community at large. And it is great to come to a legitimate performance space like the Aronoff to do that sharing. Alternative spaces are great, but performing works for a diverse audience helps reify your image of what a particular dance can be and can mean.

What do you feel is the most unique element to your piece?

The most unique aspect of the piece is the way we are working with real-time composition (movement improvisation). We are creating within particular structures of sound and space, but the ways the movement material and the relationships between the dancers develop changes each time we perform the piece. We are discovering something new about the dance and about ourselves each night.

What or who are the biggest influences for you on this piece?

Movement improvisation tends to live more on the edge of the dance world, but it has its pioneers and heroes — people such as Steve Paxton and Simone Forti. But in this particular piece I am trying to reign in the range of improvisational exploration to see if we can create something more like the work of more mainstream choreographers such as Paul Taylor or Mark Morris, but do it on the fly. So my influences for the piece come from both the mainstream and the margins.

How does improvisation communicate emotion and movement vs traditionally choreographed works?

There are a range of answers here, but one way of looking at it is that traditionally choreographed and rehearsed works create a kind of artistic and performance surety that can be quite different from the feel of improvisation. That surety can be comforting and exciting, but it can also lack a sense of spontaneity. Performance improvisation and real-time composition, for me, has a higher risk/reward possibility. If you paint yourself into a compositional corner, the piece can lose its way. But the risk also makes the stakes of the performance higher. You can experience the embodied creativity happening right here, right now. So the physicality of the dancing communicates in the same way in traditional or improvised composition, but the creative effort of the artists involved is more present (for good or for ill) in improvisation.

What draws you to baroque music for this specific piece? Is there a reason that you use this style for improvisation?

I respond to the music kinesthetically and emotionally. I just needed to find a structure that allowed us to interact with the sound and with each other is a fresh way. We do not move in “Baroque” ways, and there are other non-musical elements and structures at play, but we are nonetheless often moving with and through this music.

If you could describe your piece with three words what would they be?

Real-time interactive trio.

About Kent de Spain

Kent de Spain is recognized for his work as both a dance/multimedia artist and a researcher. He received his B.A. in Dance (1980) and M.A. in Choreography (1986) from U.C.L.A., and his Ed.D. in Dance Studies from Temple University (1997). He has taught and toured throughout the United States and beyond, including performances at Jacob’s Pillow and Judson Church, and has performed for a number of choreographers, including being a guest artist with the Brazilian modern dance company Grupo Tran Chan, Kei Takei and Moving Earth, Lower Left, and the dance/theater troupe Ausdruckstanz. He has been the recipient of several major awards, including the Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Choreography and an Established Choreographers Fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He also received a Performance Fellowship from the Philadelphia Repertory Development Initiative that commissioned choreographer Ralph Lemon to create an original work, So this is the hero, for he and his partner Leslie Dworkin. Most recently a Visiting Professor of  Theatre and Dance at Oberlin College, De Spain has taught master classes and workshops in the United States, Latin America, Europe, and Asia, has been a Visiting Artist/Professor in Dance at the University of Texas at Austin, Columbia College, University of Georgia, Luther College, U.C.L.A., and the University of North Carolina – Greensboro, and has been on the dance faculty at Temple University and Bryn Mawr College.

 De Spain is widely known as a researcher and master teacher of movement improvisation and contemporary choreographic practice. He has written a series of articles for Contact Quarterly examining the relationship between movement improvisation and recent scientific thought (Chaos Theory, Quantum Theory, Neuropsychology). He was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow guiding an improvisation ensemble at Ohio State University, his dissertation is still the most comprehensive academic study of improvisational process yet undertaken, and his essay, The Cutting Edge of Awareness: Reports From the Inside of Improvisation, appears in the book “Taken by Surprise.” His feature-length film on improvisation, A Moving Presence: Ruth Zaporah and Action Theater, is now available on DVD. He has presented his research on contemporary dance practice and theory at numerous international conferences and symposia, including CORD and SDHS, the “Uncommon Senses” Conference in Montreal, the “body/machine” congress in Toronto, and the Multimedia Technologies and Applications conference in Irvine, California. De Spain has also written extensively on the interface between dance and technology, and his articles, Dance and Technology: A Pas de Deux for Posthumans and Come in and Make Yourself at Home: Colonization and the Body/Technology Interface, plus his numerous conference presentations have established him as an important voice in the discourse surrounding the critical and theoretical implications of the interface between the moving human body and technology.