An Interview with improvisor, choreographer, Yvonne Meier

Meeting Yvonne Meier, our first guest in Spring Studio Series and guest artist in the making of Spring Dance Concert, was overwhelmingly fresh and stimulating.


Nhi Cao (NC): “Durch Nacht und Nebel”, what does it mean?

Yvonne Meier (YM): It means “Through Night and Fog”, a saying in German. For me, basically, you have to travel through these foggy night-ly, somber subjects. There are many subjects, and a lot of which is about my body, how I see my body, different ways I want to see my body. But then there are also subjects of having children, what the children are doing, etc. There are subjects about the wolf, transformation into a wolf, transformation into getting painted black and painting with a giant paint brush. There’s a subject about shaving a fur coat, and then coming out of the fur coat and being covered in a thousand band-aids, and naked.


NC: The invitation to “Durch Nacht und Nebel” was introduced with the tagline: “Need a laugh? Come check out Yvonne Meier next week.” What does this say about your performance?

YM: It has a big sense of humor. It’s somber and it’s funny.


NC: How do you make that possible, somber and funny at the same time?

YM: I don’t know. There’s just a sense of humor about everything. The shaking dance with the band-aids is kind of funny; it’s kind of shocking but also funny because it’s so blatant.


NC: Do you choreograph or do you dance also?

YM: Somebody will perform it for me. The performance, “Durch Natch und Nebel”, was the last dance I did. I used to be a dancer, but then I have big knee injuries, so I had to stop dancing and start choreographing for other people mainly.


NC: What inspired you to come up with the idea for this particular work?

YM: I think it came from different ends of it. One part was the visual arts, like I had visual ideas. One part was how I feel about my body, how I feel how it looks. And I put the two together. I imagined situations. A lot of it had to do with doing authentic movement. It’s a movement technique and you deal a lot with inner impulses. You can’t perform it; it’s not to be performed and recreated. It’s a technique you work with your partner; you move with your eyes closed the whole time and you move with your inner impulses. And the inner impulses can be from various subjects. It can be physical, emotional, the sound you hear, memories… You keep moving for a certain time, and then you talk about it with your partner.


NC: How can you recreate what you experience and bring them back to the work?

YM: You don’t really recreate. I think it gives you a way to look at your body in a creative way. I come from two ends. I come from releasing work in dance, which gives you a body and also how the body supposed looks, and the body alone. In authentic movement, I can deal with muscles’ impulses, emotional impulses. You feel where you are at, the physical injuries.


NC: What do you find is the most challenging and interesting in the making of this work as well as performing it?

YM: It’s definitely very tough to perform because you’re going through all these life hardships. Each costume is a hardship. It’s like you have a pile of gravel and you have to go through the gravels and dig in the gravels, so it’s hard on the body. You have a suit made of babies, 800 babies glued on the suit, and you have to roll on the floor, or you get painted till you’re totall black and you rip the band-aids off, and you paint with your body. So I think the hardships are really in performance. It’s really tough to do. It’s making ideas work, visual ideas, emotional ideas and making them actually happen with the props. That’s the problem. You’d have to put a thousand band-aids on a body; that’s like 2 hours, and then the paint comes on to the band-aids, and taking off takes another 2 hours. And 80 pounds of gravels. So making it actually happen, I think is the hardest thing.


NC: What is the connection between you and the dancer that is performing this work for you?

YM: She was helping me to make it, the piece, so she’s close to the work. She performed it before, and she used to be a student of mine many many many years ago. She wanted to be in my work, and that happened. She was first my assistant, and she only works with me on this performance. It’s been about two year. We were working maybe half a year on the performance and doing the performance, and her doing it again, and now we’re just re-visiting. She’s also going to be in my future piece, in the fall.


NC: I think when you give something to the work, and it’s the other way also—the work does something to you…

YM: Exactly.


NC: So I’m curious, what has the work done to you and the other dancer in previous performances?

YM: The work is like an experience, going through it will change you. So each phrase is going through it like you have such a deep experience, it will change you, physically changed, emotionally changed. I mean it’s an experience, for the audience, too. Something you have to experience, you can’t not step away and watch from far away. There is a lot of performance arts which I am close to. The less I can dance myself, the more I go into performance arts.


NC: Before it was brought to Harper Joy Theater, where else have you performed this work?

YM: We did it on two different occasions in New York and a part of it with the band-aids, the beginning and another part of it with the fur coat was performed in Zurich, Switzerland. It was outside and it was raining (laugh). It was raining, perfect.


NC: How different was it between performing in New York and Switzerland?

YM: It was so fresh in Switzerland. It was outside, and it was raining with all these strange people around. Maybe that was really intense with all these people putting band-aids on me and everything; trying it out the first time was intense. I knew it was going to be intense being naked with thousand of band-aids on, and the rain, but I didn’t know how intense it was going to be. When I did it in New York, it’s just the fact that the piece was so large it was almost impossible to do. It grew so much from the beginning scene, as just part of it, and then it kept going on and on (laugh).




NC: How did you come to accept the invitation to the Spring Dance Concert?

YM: Renée (Archibald) asked me. She saw me performing “Durch Nacht und Nebel” in New York. I was like OK that would be nice to do a group work.


NC: What is your involvement with the Spring Dance Concert specifically?

YM: I just met with the students yesterday. I think what’s gonna happen is that there is going to be a lot of improvisation. I’m gonna have a microphone, and I’m gonna give them the scores that they will be improvising with on stage. So they will have to listen to what I say and then they will all do it; I will share with the audience so they know what the score is.


NC: Will you have rehearsals?

YM: Yes. I think we’re gonna do a lot with the scores, slowly getting into it and learn about it. And then some of them will be surprises.


NC: How did you come up with the scores, the whole idea?

YM: I came to the scores, the rules of how to move, with releasing technique and authentic movement together. I was working personally in the studio with the scores from my body. And when I stopped dancing, I started to think how to make people move like how I want them to move. So I started using these scores for my dancers, to get what I wanted. But when I found that nobody was knowing the scores (because there’s a wall between the audience and the performers) and they didn’t like it, so I wanted to share what the score is, and the audience can look at it in a different way.


NC: What do you think about working with students and Whitman, and what are the challenges?

YM: Well, at first I was a little worried that they don’t have a lot of ready access to improvisation. I don’t know how much improvisation they had done because it takes a lot of practice. It’s the hardest. Well, because you have to make art in the moment. You have to make choices, creative choices, and that takes a lot of practice. But yesterday I met them (the students), and they were doing great. In Europe, a lot of the time I worked with people who have done it a lot and they’re very experienced dancers. So it will be a little different, the scores will be a little simpler. I’ll have to see. Well, first of all, I tell them what to do. It could be something like grasshopper has a picnic and dies a long and painful death. That’s not what we’re gonna do today (laugh). It could be this, or it could be what we’re gonna today: your spine gets possessed by crazy rhythms, and your limbs gets flying through the space. It could be things that are physical like that. It could be tripping; tripping and adding a beautiful combination. It comes from all ends.


NC: What are you hoping to give the audience and also the students that are under your instruction?

YM: I think it’s gonna be highly entertaining. There’s going to be a lot of humor in it. Usually, the scores are funny because they are impossible. So it’s always fun to watch somebody try doing them because it’s impossible and everybody knows it’s impossible.
NC: This is one of the best interviews I’ve ever had. Thank you!