Feature: Ballet / Ballet - General

Ballet - General
Inspiration #02: Interview with Tami Stronach (karma: 2)
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 2090, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Fri Apr 03, 2009 03:44 PM
Edited by webheadmaster (251) on 2009-04-03 16:10:54 Make feature, fix a few small things
Inspiration #02 The second in a series of interviews with professional dancers. Their personal stories will allow you to go behind the curtain and take a fascinating look into the world of professional dance.

Tami Stronach
Magic has always touched Tami Stronach’s life. Daughter of two noted archeologists, her life began surrounded by it. She was born in the mystical land once known as Persia. She went on to study dance and acting, and at the tender age of l1, she won the coveted role of the Childlike Empress in the classic movie The Never Ending Story. The part called for a child that could embody all aspects of perfection. She did so magnificently and made us believe that she ruled over of a fairy tale land that needed to be saved from an enemy called “the nothing.” How? By finding a human child that could give her a new name. As an adult, she went on to form her own dance company where she now uses her own magic to choreograph mesmerizing dances. The spell she casts cause critics to not so much write reviews – as pen her love letters. Just read an excerpt of what was written by veteran dance writer Eva Yaa Asantewaa in response to viewing a work entitled, “But It’s For You.” Here is an excerpt of her glowing praise: “Tami Stronach has gone straight to my heart. She has simply pushed open its door and taken up residence.” … “this wildly imaginative, poetic choreographer never hits a false note or shows us anything our jaded eyes have seen before” ... “She finds the human soul in exacting, abstract movement” ... “she finds energies and images of extraordinary, even alarming power.”

Intrigued? Me, too! Let’s find out more!

I met Tami at a local Starbucks - my favorite haunt these days! Yes, I had another apple chai! Here's what she had to say.

Q: Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you for dance.net. I’ve read your bio and I can see you have an amazing background. You dance, you act – you even sing! I would love to get into all that, but I’d like to start at the beginning and find out how you got into dance. Was it you that wanted to dance or was it a decision made for you?

A: Oh, no, it was definitely me. I saw a dance performance in Tehran, Iran, where I was born. I saw the Dying Swan solo. it was b-u-r-n-e-d into my memory. I then proceeded to perform that solo every day for two years until I was put into a ballet class.


Q: You say you were born in Tehran. How long did you actually stay there?

A: We stayed there until I was six. That was when the revolution happened – in 1979. That’s when it became dangerous for us to stay so we had to leave along with a lot of other people. My mom is Israeli so that’s when we left.

Q: And where did you go?

A: To Israel and then to England, since my father is English. Then we went to America. We sort of bounced around for a while.

Q: Now did you start taking ballet classes in America? Or did you start taking them earlier?

A: Earlier. I started at the age of six taking ballet classes in Israel, but I couldn’t follow the steps at all.

Q: Well, I empathize with you since I still can’t follow any ballet steps. What happened?

A: Well, my mom begged the teacher to let me improvise in the middle of class while everyone else did their pliés and tendus at the barre. They let me do so I did! They ended up casting me in The Wizard of Oz as the Wizard. This was for their big ballet show. The problem was I still couldn’t follow the steps, but they really liked my performance quality so they just allowed me to make up the ballet steps every night. The big ballet solo that I did every night was totally improvised. So I entered ballet through a very unorthodox door, but I loved the music so much. Obviously, I had a very flexible, not at all rigid teacher when I started at six. However, when I got to the States at age 9, I had a very, very strict teacher.

Q: And where exactly was this?

A: This was in Berkeley where we finally ended up. It was a little studio was named Valla Bovie. My teacher was a Russian dancer. She’d been part of the Bolshoi when she was younger, but she was around 80 years old by the time she was my teacher. She had these huge bunions and could barely get on her shoes. She was very commanding. At that point, something had shifted in me and I really wanted discipline so I became very, very, very disciplined. I took ballet every day and even stood at the barre and not in the center anymore!

Q: So the not being able to follow steps was really more a question of your not wanting to follow the steps as opposed to your not being able to follow the steps.

A: Yes, I just wanted to dance. I didn’t want to be restricted. I just wanted to hear the music and dance! I was lucky that I had an environment that let me do that. Plus they cast me in all these shows and just allowed me to be me. It was very, very, very nice. By the time I turned 9, I became really interested in the disciplined side of things. I was ready for it.

Q: How long did you stay at the Berkeley studio?

A: From 9 to 11. Then I switched to Berkeley Ballet and I continued with ballet until I was 14. It was then I went into Modern because my feet had just had it. I mean, they were just done!

Q: Really? At 14? Was this because you were doing a lot of pointe work?

A: Yes, I did a lot of pointe work – from the age of 9 until I was 12. Because of that, by the time I was 12, I had developed severe tendonitis.

Q: Why were you taking pointe at 9?

A: Because I was with the Russian teacher and she was doing what she had learned. Apparently what she had learned was that you put everyone on pointe at 9 and whoever had strong enough feet lasted through and continued on.

Q: Like survival of the fittest?

A: Yes, survival of the fittest! Like Darwin.

Q: So you had this whole evolution thing going on in class?

A: Yes, again that was because that was how my teacher had been trained. She was now 80, but she had been put on pointe when she was 9.

Q: Then it was actually breaking people down that weren’t going to be able to make it and getting rid of them.

A: Yes.

Q: Now that we’re on this topic, how can you tell when something a teacher is doing is dangerous or harmful to your body? There have been discussions on dance.net concerning what is proper and what is not proper training. What should students do if they feel a teacher is using methods that are injurious to them? Should parents be more involved?

A: It’s an interesting issue. The thing is that when you want to dance, you’re not going to listen to anybody. When I went to buy my toe shoes, everyone told me I was too young to buy them. They told my parents that I was too young to be doing this also. Many people told me to wait a year or two, but I felt it was such an honor to be in a pointe class. As a young dancer, you’re kind of obsessed and you really don’t understand that some injuries are going to last a long time. It’s a tough thing and I don’t know quite what to say except that it’s very important to listen to people who have experience and to not shrug them off by saying, “Well, they don’t know.” I think learning from people that have wisdom is a hard thing to do when you’re young so I don’t know quite what to say. I know that there was no one that would have been able to stop me from taking those classes since I was offered them. My recommendation would be for parents to really check out the studio and make sure that the training that their child is going to be given is in line with things like “Are their bones hard enough to be on pointe shoes?” Bones are soft when you’re younger than 12. I think it’s important for parents to pick schools with good reputations.

Q: And maybe check out the older students in the school to see how many injuries they have and how they’re doing?

A: Absolutely.

Q: Another topic that comes up on dance.net is what to do when you want to dance, but don’t have access to a good dance school in your area. What should they do?

A: That’s a really tough one. I feel that most of the people I know that dance have found a way to dance no matter what. My suggestion would be to get on a bus and go into the next town on weekends – take once a week if you have to. Or go to a school not as good even if you just take yoga or jazz so that you stay kinetically involved with your body. You can incorporate those classes in with traveling to the good school on weekends.

Q: Back to you and your training, did you find that learning ballet came easily to you?

A: Not at all. Part of the reason I loved it so much was because it was something that I had to really work on to get right. It did not come naturally. I didn’t have natural turnout and I wasn’t particularly flexible, but I think it was a challenge – like a Rubic’s cube.

Q: I guess it just goes to show that you can’t tell. Hard work sometimes pays off more than just being naturally talented or having body naturally suited for ballet.

A: I know a lot of people that had a much more natural ability for dance than I did, and they honestly didn’t appreciate dancing. They just dropped out and fizzled out because they didn’t have the determination – all because it was too easy.

Q: We should all have that problem!

A: [laughs] No, really I have known people like that. I had a very good friend who got in the Cunningham Company midway through college – didn’t even try. And she had the most amazing developpé and extension – she had her leg all the way up to her ear and she ended up dropping out. There are so many people that would have loved to be in her position, but basically you have to be who you are and then a path will open up that’s appropriate.

Q: Now I’d like to ask you about acting. Did you take acting classes right along with your dance classes?

A: Well, I did a film when I was 11.

Q: Yes, that’s what I’m getting at – your role in The Never Ending Story. How did you getting into that film happen?

A: I was really into acting and dancing when I was little. I was taking some acting classes in San Francisco - musical theater. Someone saw me in one of those classes and invited me to audition for the film. It wasn’t on purpose – it was a fluke.

Q: It sounds like it was meant to be.

A: Yes, I guess. The woman who came and saw me act was actually a friend of my acting teacher. She was on lunch break visiting a friend when she said to me, “Why don’t you come and audition?”

Q: And you did.

A: Yes, I went, but I went grungy. I was Piglet in Winnie-the-Pooh so I went in my pig make-up and jeans and there were all these other little girls. They had these dresses, and their hair was in curls and they wore mascara. They were movie girls – girls that knew the industry and I didn’t. The director liked my acting, but he said I was too ugly for the part.

Q: This was Wolfgang Peterson?

A: Yes, Wolfgang and so the casting director – the woman – explained to him that I didn’t know how to prepare and to let me come back to another audition in LA. He said, “Alright, we’ll let her come!” My mom and I went to Macy’s and bought this hideous, lacy dress with so many ruffles. We didn’t know what was pretty and what I was supposed to wear. The casting director did my make-up and just before the audition she said, “Now don’t touch your face!” I didn’t and that audition went okay. The director said that maybe with a lot of make-up we can do this.

Q: What? He said that? What did you think about being told you weren’t pretty enough?

A: I thought it was very funny. Then there was this final audition in Germany, but they were really looking for an Asian girl so it was very hard to convince him to go with me.

Q: Now was this something in the original book? Or was this just his vision of who should play the part?

A: I think it was his concept because the girl was an Empress and in China they had Empresses so it was his vision of who should play the part, but I was chosen.

Q: By the director?

A: Yes, he had the ultimate say and I lucked out and he chose me.

Q: And so you made the movie The NeverEnding Story. What was that experience like?

A: It was amazing. It was really, really wonderful. The set was incredible – really magical. I was very, very serious about the part. I had notebooks upon notebooks on character development. What I didn’t like about it happened after the filming. It was very difficult to deal with the sort of very strange obsession people get with people in films. You’re just a person and it’s very weird to me what happens to people’s brains – that somehow this singular experience changes you and you’re absolutely not changed! You’re like everybody else and you drop food on your shirts and you step on something horrible in the street. Dealing with the social pressures was really hard for me as a kid. My parents felt very much like a fish out of water. They did not know how to handle the whole thing. We had a lot of people calling the house …

Q: Oh, no!

A: … yes, calling all day and all night. Then when I went out to do publicity tours you get mobbed and people would try to cut my hair to get a piece of it. It was strange – very, very strange. And I was 11! We really sat down and decided as a family that we just weren’t equipped to deal with this. Maybe if you’re a Hollywood family you have the tricks of the trade and know how to talk to people to disarm them and be nice and brush all that strange behavior off, but I was just really freaked out. It was bad. It sort of started backing me away from acting because I just didn’t feel I could handle that business part of it or the social/fame part of it. It was too challenging. Maybe a different kind of person would have found it fun or funny or no big deal. I can imagine a lot of different reactions to it other than mine that would probably be much healthier reactions, but that was my reaction. I was a little overwhelmed by it all. And so that’s when I really went into dancing. It was like I love acting, I love singing and I love dancing, but I don’t really think I’m cut out for acting so I turned my focus on dancing. That’s when I started dancing very seriously.

Q: I totally understand. Now you said earlier that you were 14 when you switched from ballet and went into modern. Where begin to study modern dance?

A: I studied with All-City Dance. It was an after school modern dance company. They performed at various schools. When I was in my junior year in high school, I switched to a dance company called Chore 9 in Oakland. It was a choreography company. This was the first-time I started choreographing. We all created our own shows under the direction of Ms. Kretchmer. She was wonderful. She just really encouraged you to have your own artistic voice and to discover things about movement that are interesting to you.

Q: Did you do any improv?

A: Yes, we would make phrases and show them to each other and discuss them. Say what about the phrase works and what doesn’t. Then we’d make suggestions on how to improve the phrase and if that was an improvement. It was really a wonderful laboratory of learning how to choreograph at a very young age. I was incredibly lucky to have found that situation and we were very, very serious. We’d meet almost every day after school and perform around the area on a regular basis.

Q: And from there you went to?

A: From there I went to SUNY Purchase Dance Conservatory. I went there to get my BFA. I applied and wanted to go to Julliard, but my parents said no, you’re not to a school that costs $25,000 a year to learn a trade where you’re going to make absolutely no money. And, you know, when you’re young, you have no idea what they were talking about. I mean, I wondered why they can’t just put it on their credit cards for me? [laughter] Now I know why. And, I actually get it. So SUNY Purchase was a good alternative to Julliard. It was a good school for the fraction of the price. It was a state run school with a very serious dance department. It was very, very, very hard. We had to start at 9:00 AM and left the dance studio 10PM most nights. We’d rehearse 4 or 5 shows every semester and when I graduated we toured Taiwan and France.

Q: Oh, really? Everyone?

A: No, some of the students got to go on tour and I was lucky enough to be part of that. It was a very good and very solid dance education.

Q: I’ve already asked you if you found ballet movements easy to learn, what about modern? Did modern dance come easier to you? Were the movements more compatible to your body?

A: To be honest with you, I think I found modern dance movements a little bit easier and also because I went to choreography school so young, I was beginning to develop my own movement vocabulary. When you’re developing your own vocabulary, you’re necessarily investigating the things that feel organic to you and feel good to you. Now my poor dancers have to struggle with what’s easy for me to do. [laughter]

Q: Part of the perks of having your own company!

A: Exactly! I’m like, these moves really feel natural to me and they look at you like huh? [laughter continues] It’s a little bit like cheating.

Q: After you graduated from SUNY, what did you do?

A: After graduating, I came to New York City.

Q: And when was this?

A: 1995. When I got here, I auditioned for a bunch of different dance companies and I really thought I’d get in a big dance company and dance from 9 to 5 and have a steady paycheck. And actually, I did get into a company called Bella Lewitzky. At that time, the company was in LA and quite a well-respected company. They wanted me to sign a contract, but I was determined to be a part of the NY dance scene so I turned them down. My friends told me I was out of my mind because they were a big dance company that worked all year round. They told me I’d be sorry, but I was young and arrogant and didn’t sign. I had a couple of very sobering months after that where I didn’t get anything. I’d get down to the last few and then I’d get cut. It was very daunting time – especially the auditions. I’d look down and see the number 877 pinned to my chest and I’d think, “This is insane!” Eventually, I did get into a company called the Neta Pulvemacher Dance Company. At the time, she had a piece at The Joyce Theater and we were getting ready for that. I weaseled my way from being an understudy to being a lead in the piece.

Q: Oh, good for you!

A: Yes, it was a really wonderful experience. We were a group of tight-knit friends. And she was very open to me contributing ideas to the company – well, all of us in the company did –we all got to suggest ideas. I got to sing while with her. We worked with a group called the Jazz Passengers whose lead singer was Deborah Harry, maybe better known as Blondie. Well, Blondie couldn’t do the gig, so I got to sing Blondie’s part!

Q: Very cool.

A: Yeah, I had some really great experiences. I worked with the company for 7 years and then I had the courage to make my own work and be my own director.

Q: Now when you moved to NY, were you able to support yourself through dancing?

A: In my early 20s I was living Brooklyn in a house for $275 a month. I would walk my landlady’s dogs for her and I had a bedroom with a door that didn’t close all the way. To close the door, you had to roll your bed up. Then you’d close the door and set-up the futon and go to sleep. My priority when I was in my 20s was dancing, dancing and dancing. I was making very little money, but I was dancing all the time. I did have other jobs – one was at a pharmacy selling soaps and bubble bath. If a sample was broken, I got to take it home. That was the biggest luxury to me. I’d pick up a piece of broken soap and go, “Oh, my God, a piece of French soap!” Tears would roll down my face because I was so happy. And every day I’d get the hardboiled egg for a quarter and maybe a cup of coffee if I could afford it, but things have changed a lot since then – the economy has changed a lot. I’m worried for the next generation of dancers because I don’t think you can do that anymore. I mean, it was hard for me, but possible. I have students and when I hear the rents they’re getting charged, I don’t think it is. I mean, I was very upset that I had to be working at all. I just felt like I should be dancing all the time. It was around that time that I figured out the exercise industry was the way for me to go.

Q: Is that when you got into teaching?

A: Yes, I got a job as a stretch instructor. At a gym in the city. It was an awful job. I had to get up at 5 AM and take a train to get there at 6 AM. Of course, it was still dark out. I’d work from 6 AM to noon. Then I’d have to rush to my dance rehearsals. It was a good thing I was young because it was a long day, but then my gym got taken over by NY Sports Club. When that happened, someone approached me and told me I’d be perfect for this new program that they were trying to develop with New York City Ballet and would I like to enroll in it. I said sure so I was part of the original crew that developed it with Rebecca Metzger and Peter Frame. We had sort of a lab for two months where we’d use young dancers as guinea pigs to develop the program. After a year of graduating, I started teaching it. It was really a great way to get out of doing other things and stay working in jobs that were related to dance and what I was trying to do. Then I started teaching yoga – yoga and ballet.

Q: Were you certified in yoga?

A: Yes, I did a couple of different certification programs. One was the “It’s Yoga” Ashtanga Primary Series program in San Francisco. Then I did another one with Allison West called Yoga Union. These were in addition to my practicing yoga every day. I feel that the certifications were the paperwork aspect. For me, ballet and yoga were the best things for me to keep my body in shape for my modern dance and I still feel that way. I feel that there is something so beautiful in the architecture of a ballet class. Sometimes if you go to a modern class, the movements are so specific to the person teaching the class, for me, it’s not the best way to keep myself in shape.

Q: Yes, I agree with you. I think yoga and ballet are very complementary to one another. I used to do both and found they worked out nicely when done in combination. And with yoga, they use proprioceptive stretches which are not some new thing, but something that yoga always used for gaining flexibility – basically just tricking the body.

A: Yes, those are the two techniques that I use to stay healthy.

Q: Okay so you were with Neta Dance Company and after 7 years you decided to leave and ...

A: Yes, but midway through it I started to want to act again, but it’d been a really long time since I’d acted, but I got the itch. I thought, “Oh, how am I going to do this now because it’d been so long?” but I got into a theater company called The Flying Machine and they were really wonderful. It was just an incredible experience. When I acted with them, it overlapped with my time with Neta and when I started my own company. I was with them for 7 years as well. I guess I do everything for 7 years!

Q: Interesting you should say that because this interview is going to take 7 years to complete!

A: [laughter] Yeah, well I hope not! [more laughter] but The Flying Machine was a physical theater company. They all trained in Paris at the Jacques Le coq. He actually started in fencing and then went onto explore all sorts of other physical techniques like neutral mask. They did some clown work and it was a whole world of approaching acting from the body rather than from the emotional framework. The whole ideal is that you end up in a state where you’re in an emotional framework, but rather than conjure emotions, you put your body in a sad shape and then you feel sad. Or you put your body in a happy shape and you feel happy. It’s sort of a technique that tricks the emotions into feeling certain ways through having the body mimic certain positions. It seemed really related to dancing – it was a very organic transition. It was a blast. We toured all over the U.S. and then we started to get kind of big – we were represented by the same management company that represented Yo-Yo Ma, we filled bigger 500-seat houses and were starting to make money – when they disbanded. That was kind of sad, but it was okay. It had been with them for 7 years … [laughter]

Q: Well, there you go!!!

A: Yeah, so I was ready anyway! Then I decided to really focus my attention on my company.

Q: When did you actually start your company?

A: I started my company in 2000. When I danced with Neta’s company until about 2001, I was already sort of pulling out and not doing all of her repertory. I was working with my own company in 2000 and simultaneously worked with The Flying Machine until 2007.

Q: And how did you find people for your company? Did you use friends, or advertise? Or did you hold auditions?

A: I hardly ever hold auditions. I’ve always worked with my friends or people from school. If I saw someone in a show that I thought was really fantastic, I would approach them and say, “I would really like to work with you. Would you like to come to a rehearsal and see if you fit?” This last year, I did hold an audition for one show. It was very, very strange. I just don’t know how I feel about auditions. I don’t necessary think you can learn enough about a person in such a short period of time. I tend to work on a project for six or seven months so it’s a deep and intensive process. It’s pretty hard to work with me because I tend to stick to people I know.

Q: It sounds like you need more of an intern.

A: Yes, exactly. I feel the way to test out new dancers is to do a small project and work with them for a month. You can learn from that process who’s a good fit and who isn’t.

Q: It sounds like personality plays a big part in your decision. If you had the chance to choose a genius – someone like Nureyev – to be in company, but they were really, really difficult to work with, would you pick them anyway?

A: I would say that in the past, I was willing to work with someone that was a genius even if they were really difficult as a person because I was in a phase in my life where I just wanted to learn so badly that that was my highest priority. I would say now [laughs], the quality of my life is an issue for me and it’s been a pleasure to learn that there actually are really talented people who are also really nice. I look for those now! I definitely did put up with a lot of crazy people just so I could be around talent when I was younger, but I’m less inclined to do that at this point in my life.

Q: What was the first piece you created for your company?

A: The first piece I did was a solo for myself and it was called Two-Inch Pedestal. Then I had a gig in Springfield that I got. I did a little solo up there. After that, I did a piece called Touch Wood for 7 dancers that was presented at the Cunnigham Studio. And then I did a big production of The Little Prince that toured to different schools. It had one-half of a genuine plane wing in it so a part of a broken wing was actually part of the set! I had a lot of energy when I was young and I hauled this part of a plane from school to school. [laughter]

Q: Wow!

A: Yeah, and it had a really big cast – it was crazy and actually my company is shrinking in these economic times. I’m also discovering that I just want to work with fewer people and go a little deeper. On top of that, I want to tour. We have some opportunities to go abroad to Europe and it just doesn’t make sense to make these big pieces if it isn’t practical. There has been this slow and sad practicalizing of myself. I had these big pieces when I was in my 20s and now that I’m in my 30s I’m reining it in and making works that are tourable. That means 3 people – tops!

Q: I’d like to talk a bit about how you choose the subjects for the works you create. I was reading in your press kit about a work called The Maid and the Marmalade. It concerns a passionate red letter arriving at work and affecting the lives of two workers in an office – an Editor and a Maid. The Editor begins arriving at work wearing his pajamas and the Maid starts dozing. They no longer can do their work and their lives begin unraveling. It’s just such an interesting idea.

A: I think that the reason I’m attracted to dance – and art – is because it’s the place where the emotional life is more important than the practical life on some level. It’s a sacred space where your inner world is valued and I think most of my work – and most of the reason I’m a dancer – is I want to be in environments and make environments that give people permission to express that part of themselves. In various ways, all my work ties to the fact that forces in society conspire to shut people down and take away their ability to feel. Then as life becomes harder and harder, it becomes scarier to feel because feelings are big and hard. I think emotions are like your ballet muscles. They’re like your plies or tendus, if you don’t practice them, you become less good at it and less good at engaging with other people. It’s not something you learn and not something that in society, we spend a lot of time thinking about. I feel like that piece is a story version of what I’m describing. It’s sort of saying that there’s a lot of fear in allowing your emotional world to be really full and big. There’s that constant fear that you’ll lose your equilibrium and you won’t be able to be in charge of yourself and function well. That was what this office worker was – a shut down guy who was so terrified of emotions. He did sort of lose it a little because he didn’t have a lot of practice at it. The end of the piece ends darkly. He decides to tear up the red letter because it’s too much for him. It’s interfering with his work.

Q: That was the way I was interpreting it when I was reading about it. I think at work, you’re almost penalized for emotions.

A: Yes.

Q: If you show emotions at work, you’re almost called into the equivalent of the Dean’s office. You immediately get in trouble and have to explain your bad behavior.

A: I feel that in a lot of places in our lives we’re penalized for showing emotions. A lot of my work and a lot of the reason I dance is it’s a space where you’re actually rewarded for being interested in that side of life and creating environments where people can come and be shown how to break from life and go into that space where they’re able to reflect. In class, too, I think it’s really, really important because your body is a storehouse for your emotions. When you move, you’re connecting parts of yourself that stiffen unless they’re moved. It’s esoteric and hard to talk about and that’s the other reason I like dance, because you can’t really talk about it because it’s not in words, it’s in the body! [laughter]

Q: I do understand what you’re saying. In any esoteric system, you need to incorporate all sides of yourself. And I hear many, many people saying dance is a spiritual experience. It’s its own language. Do you feel that dance is spiritual?

A: Yes, absolutely. My mom’s Jewish and my dad is Christian. I didn’t grow up in a religious household and so, for me, the discipline of dance and the practice of it every day – that’s a ritual. To me celebrating your body and celebrating the fact that you’re alive is a daily practice, which is spiritual.

Q: Like yoga. You’re supposed to practice it every day.

A: It is like yoga. I feel that both dance and yoga are grounded in being grateful for the body and that both are a discipline. I feel that in many ways, that’s the role religion plays for many people as well. I would definitely say that for me it is a spiritual practice. Other things come into play in dance also – like metaphors. I think the metaphor is a really important way for us to try to make sense of the world. Metaphors allow us to create concrete images that capture our experience of things. Otherwise the world can be chaotic and that’s why art and dance are important to me – Well with dance there is so much—there is the visceral feeling, the moving part, the wordless void between material and immaterial realities AND the world of metaphor.

Q: Since dance is tied into our spiritual side, do you think it’s why children have such a hard time expressing why they want to dance and why it means so much for them to take dance class?

A: Kids love to dance. You look at a kid, they’re always dancing. They’re dancing up the streets. They’re dancing waiting for a bus. It’s kind of sad in a way. It’s kind of the same thing as we discussed with emotions and kids are very emotional. They’re happy, they’re sad and there’s something that happens when we socialize ourselves. We learn as adults to say [keeping body still – face expressionless], “Oh, I’m so happy.”[becomes animated again] Well, gee, I wouldn’t be able to tell by the fact that you’re just sitting there and smiling! We just make everything so small and shut our body’s natural reactions down to things. I think dance is secretly holding onto those natural reactions. When kids are happy they just go crazy [spreads arms out wide] jumping up and down and twirling. If they’re sad [pounds fist onto table and collapses head onto forearm] they cover their face up and pound their fist into the floor. They’re really physical and adults lose that connection to their emotions and their physicality. I feel what dance does is to create a bridge back to those natural childlike, organic connection to those part of ourselves.

Q: I did see one of your performances. You performed a work called But It’s For You. You were just so beautiful and the quality of your movement was really lovely. The whole performance was really amazing and again, the piece went back to people connecting their emotions. The entire range of what we go through in some relationships was amazingly displayed and represented. Like the baggage we carry with us even though we don’t need or want it anymore. Even how we learn to maneuver carrying it while doing our own thing. And without a doubt, you had the best escalation of a fight that I’ve ever seen portrayed!

A: [laughter] You’re talking about the lemonade part?

Q: Yes, could you talk about that a little. It was a fight that starts over nothing, but because it’s wedded to a bigger issue, it isn’t nothing.

[Note: The fight scene starts with the woman dancing a long, arduous solo. The man then enters with a little table, a pitcher or water, a glass, a knife and lemons. He sits down and pours a little bit of water into a glass. The woman joins him. He uses the knife to slice the lemon and squeezes some lemon juice into the glass. He offers it to her. She drinks it greedily and very happily. She smiles and pushes the glass back towards him. It wasn’t enough to quench her thirst so she asks for more through this gesture. From there, the fight escalates. Rather than give her more, he spills the water onto the floor. She gets down and starts licking it off the floor. He takes her and begins mopping up the floor with her. She lays on her side in almost a fetal position – her hair and garment soaking up the liquid – until it’s over. He leaves and comes back with more towels than she could ever possibly use and a new dress to replace the one he ruined.]


A: Well, the reason I love modern dance or just dance in general so much because this could happen in a ballet as well – is that there is a central idea that is strong enough so that it can be interpreted in slightly different ways by different people. They all connect it back to their own personal lives. It allows something of themselves to reach out and fuse with the piece and create a meaning that’s specific to them. Like for you, it was about how the piece started about nothing and I love that interpretation because it’s right, but it’s not necessarily what I was thinking about. I feel that the seed of it is a clear enough of an idea to connect to that piece so that it becomes personal and relevant. That’s what I’m really interested in – creating enough space around the metaphors that are on stage so that it invites a personal connection and that it’s not so vague that there isn’t a strong idea to be specific. For me, the vignette was about something slightly different. I said to Darrin, “You know sometimes I feel that in relationships, it’s people wanting the other person to need them in order to feel comfortable that they won’t leave.” I said, “What if we make her do this really long solo and we totally exhaust her to the point that she’s really thirsty. Now you’re the guy with the water, but you don’t want her to leave you so you’re just going to offer her one drop. And she’s dying! She’s so thirsty, but you’re only going to give her one drop! You’re going to be very measured because if you gave her a whole glass, she’d be satiated and walk away.” It’s the fear of not being needed and so then you become really stingy in love you give or in the support you give.

Q: Control?

A: Well, it could be a control issue. It just seemed like a funny vignette to me to be – representative to me of a lot of things. We tried it and originally the vignette was funny. We showed it to a test group – some friends that came over – everyone laughed during that section. They thought it was very comedic. Then somebody said to me, “What if you went dark with this material. What if you didn’t worry so much about the audience’s feelings and making everyone feel comfortable? What if you took the fight to the extreme?” I thought about that and wondered how would I make it extreme? Then it all ended up that he spills the water on the floor and then decides to wipe the floor up with her.

Q: And you did make the audience feel uncomfortable. There was this smattering of nervous laughter, but then it was like … no. It was funny, but at the same time it’s not really funny.

A: Right, it was really dark. It was an interesting thing. I also feel there’s a bunch of layers to it.

Q: Yes!

A: I feel like part of it is that – going back to emotions –we often times think of emotions as a liquid that spills and is uncontainable and has a danger to it. We need to put it in a glass and it needs to stay at a certain level and not overflow or else bad things will happen. How can you contain those things? There’s something about that exchange where civility breaks down and emotions take over and things get very messy. My dancer’s father thought he was trying to get her drunk. {laughter} You just can’t account for what people will see in it and I kept wondering what he’d been doing as a young man! It’s funny what I intend and what people see because there’s no words and so he felt very nervous for the woman. He felt the man was trying to push a drink on her when I was intending a situation where she was asking for a drink of water.

Q: That is funny!

A: You have to let go of what people are going to read into it.

Q: The girl that was dancing...

A: Lindsey Dietz Marchant. She’s extraordinary

Q: She really is. I just loved her facial expressions during the performance. Like when he handed her that glass, she had this smile! She just was so happy! It was just perfect and I really noticed that quality in her – the ability to suit her facial expressions to what was going on inside. It was what made it so hard to watch him mop the floor with her. There was such a sadness in her face and body.

A: It’s really important for me in the work that I’m doing I think because of my prior experience in acting that the theatrical side of the dancing be as authentic as the dancing. I mean, we work a lot on intention and motivation. I approach the dancing very much like a director would approach an acting scene. I think that’s a little bit unusual in how I choose to direct dance.

Q: In ballet, there’s mime where a certain gesture means a certain thing. It seems you’re creating these gestures and meanings when you choreograph a work. You’re inventing a language so I understand the need for you to have dancers stay with you because it is a process to learn a new language.

A: Yes, usually the movement comes first. Then we sort of break things down into a language we understand. There were a lot of adjustments and fidgety little movements inside of the vocabulary for this couple. Particularly for Lindsey, that was more the case. Lindsey would finish a movement and kind of woosh [moves back and forth a bit] until she finds the end of the movement. It became kind of a metaphor. My grandmother was like that. She could never just sit – she was always moving her shoulders. She could never settle into a situation – she was always a little bit uncomfortable. You just wanted to say, “It’s okay!” Or someone’s leg is always moving up and down. We wanted to infuse her movement quality with the inability to ever settle. There’s a kind of character. It’s not a character in the way a play would have a character, but it’s a character in terms of having physical rules that you have to obey. Like that person is unable to finish any movement and is constantly adjusting so coming up with a set of physical characteristics define the individual on stage. And Darrin Wright ...

Q: Who is also wonderful!

A: Yes, he is amazing. We were sort of obsessed with his character offering things and withholding other things-- trying to define the boundary of what is too much and what is too little. He had these very linear movements with his arms [begins moving arm in straight lines up and down and to the side] creating these individual borders—and then breaking those. That clarified his character – and again when I say character, I don’t mean he’s 40 and an accountant – I mean, his movement proclivities creating a sense of who he is--physical movements that define him. That’s sort of the way I feel that theater has integrated its way into my dance life. I’m interested in the attaching physical qualities to each dancer — or at least each section of a dance. In the same way that people have set behaviors that make them who they are in the real world, I make physical rules for the dancers and watch for the meaning that emerges from different choices. In each dance the physical investigations change.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration? I’ve asked about the subjects, but I don’t think I asked you about where the inspiration comes from.

A: I never know. I love being in the studio and usually I never know what a dance is about until a year later. I sort of figure it out along the way, but a year later I find out what it was really about. I definitely use it to make sense of the things I experience in my life, but I wouldn’t say it’s autobiographical per se. It’s an amalgamation of stories that I’ve accumulated or stories from friends or things that I’ve watched in other people. It’s a way of trying to make sense of all the things I’m seeing and feeling.

Q: So for you, it all starts in a studio.

A: Yes, I start in the studio usually just doing movements and usually having no idea what it is other than a phrase that feels good. The piece I’m making now – I just started and want to develop it for next year. It’s called Me and Not Me.

Q: Can you tell us a little about what it’s about?

A: I got really interested in this idea of boundaries in the But It’s For You piece starting with the Darrin’s character. He was always trying to create new boundaries in the air and then would break them by stepping through them or by giving her things. I got into thinking of what would be a further expression of that. The idea further developed in a conversation I had with my mom actually. She had been reading a book about taboos and one aspect that really stuck with me had to do with the fact that hair on your head is lovely – but in your food it’s gross. Your fingernails while they’re part of your body are you and they’re wonderful, but as soon as you take a fingernail clipping and you put it right here [indicates on the counter where they serve food], it suddenly becomes horrific to even look at. It instantly is contaminating and uncomfortable, but we all have them on our hands. And all of us have saliva in our mouth, but if I was to spit out my saliva into a glass and drink it, you’d be schieved out, I’d be schieved out. From there, I started thinking about the strange way the body does this thing in that this is self, but the second you detach a piece of yourself from yourself and put it next to you, it’s disturbing and something different. Obviously, it probably has something to do with the fact that it relates to death and disintegration. It reminds us of how fragile we are. When all these parts are connected to us, it feels like us, but when they’re detached from us, we realize how we’re just this organic compound that can break down at any minute and it’s disconcerting. And so, I just got really interested in that aspect of the body and I felt that that was a good subject for a dance because dance is stories told through the body. I got really interested in the idea of what is self and what is not self. We’re going to explore that topic for the next year.

Q: And you’ll be using the same two dancers that you used in But It’s For You?

A: No, I will be working with Lindsey, but I’m probably going to be using Carl because I developed a piece, Yes, No, Maybe two years ago that actually has ideas that I feel are related to this idea and so, I’m going to fuse that 20-minute piece with the new 20-minute piece I just made and combine the whole thing into a new piece. It’ll be a trio for me and Lindsey and for Carl Rogers, who I’ve worked with in the other piece. Although I love Darrin, I’m back to keeping it to three people for touring.

Q: Anything else?

A: Yes, I’m doing another project that I’ve been commissioned to do at Joe’s Pub by DanceNow with a beat boxer, who’s Egyptian and who has a mother that is a Russian Jew. He has a really interesting background...

Q: Yes, he does!

A: So we’re going to do a piece where he does beat boxing layered with Arabic and Jewish melodies—like a sound history. I am excited about discovering what movement vocabulary will emerge from this collaboration. I know I want to focus on rhythm. I am really interested in exploring the different sounds the body can make in a modern dance framework. It’s still forming …

Q: Where do you want this all to take you? If you could put yourself in an ideal situation, where would you want it to lead you?

A: I just want to keep making the work I’ve been making. I feel very privileged to have made the work I’m made so far and I’m very worried about the economy and what it’ll mean for the company. I think if we’re just fortunate to be commissioned every year by a mid-size venue so we don’t have to pay for the space or the advertising, it’ll be fine. Right now I have the commission from Joe’s Pub, but I’m still looking around for a venue for the work I’m developing – Me and Not Me – the piece I discussed earlier. That’s what I’m doing right now. Looking around and calling up all the people I know and begging. That’s all I want. To just keep being able to what I’m been doing. Making work that is interesting and working with artists of a really high caliber.

Q: Do you have an idol or someone that you fashion yourself after?

A: I do. Her name is Susan Marshall and she’s a very successful modern dance choreographer. Darrin dances for her. She is by all accounts where I want to be in dance. Absolutely hands down. The quality of her work is just so uniquely phenomenal and very, very human. That is what attracts me to other artists. I like work that is aesthetic and very, very ‘considered’ visually, but also not cold.

Q: Yes, I think that gets into having artistry and expressing emotions and not just being a technical wiz.

A: Yes.

Q: Otherwise you’re just cold ... like an android. Although now that I’m thinking about it, an android probably could dance really, really well!

A: I’ll bet they could. [laughter] Now I have to look for an android! Do you know where I can find one?

Q: [shyly raises hand]

A: Um... [laughter continues]

Q: On an unrelated topic, I’d like to ask you if you have any dance stories that you’d like to share?

A: Doing The Wizard of Oz was funny. All of the adult dancers had to adjust themselves to me every night because they never knew where I’d be on stage. All these beautiful ballerinas having to run around and asking if someone could just control this little thing on the stage.

Q: [laughter]

A: There was another funny thing that happened when I was in Neta’s company. We had this rehearsal where all these funders and backers came – all these really important people. There was this one part where I had to stand and fall backwards – and remain stiff as a board. My dance partner would catch me before I hit the floor and scoop me up. We were doing the dance and there were these lily pads taped down to the floor in a circle because there were parts of the dance that we had to do in the circle. So I’m dancing with Jeremy and these important people are watching and I fall backwards and I’m going backwards thinking, “Boy, he’s taking a really long time!” And I keep going backwards thinking, “Man, he must really be milking this move and making it really dangerous for all these people watching!” [laughter] So I keep going back and it’s taking a really, really long time and before I knew it, I ended up crashing onto the floor. I hit the back of my head and actually had the wind knocked out of me. I look up at Jeremy and he’s staring at the lily pads because they’re taped down in a slightly different position on the floor. And then I saw that my choreographer’s face was completely ashen. I heard her scream, “Keep going!” I got up and just did the performance. It’s that dancer thing that you just keep going, but every night after that, when we got to that part, I’d sort of look back and check that he was coming! And by the 20th performance, he was beginning to beg me to please trust him and not look back! I’d still did it though. I’d just squint and take a peek.

Q: The funders must have been gone crazy with the funding money! They must have been shoveling it out!

A: Yeah, sure! [laughter] I’m sure we got some money out of that! They were like look at that! She just dived backwards to the floor! Wow! Then there was another time, we were in Eastern Europe where we did a piece 5 Beds, Children of the Dream. It was about my choreographer’s experience growing up on a kibbutz. The piece was about socialism and she had a lot of mixed feelings about what had happened to her so at one point we sang the socialist national anthem. It’s what the Russians made the people sing after they invaded all these countries, So we were in Poland – right after the Russians had just left, We didn’t speak a word of Polish and we were doing the piece. We got to that point in the piece and we started singing the Communist National anthem. The whole theater started booing us and throwing things because they thought we were supporting the Russians!

Q: Oh, my God! That must have been scary!

A: We had to stay after the show and explain the story and that the story was about her experiences and we weren’t supporting in any way what had just happened to them or their country.

Q: It’s interesting though about socialism or totalitarian regimes. It leads us right back into suppressing emotions because that’s the first thing they strip people of. The right to have emotions and express themselves.

A: And ironically, sometimes arts flourish because people become so desperate to express themselves.

Q: That’s true. It’s like if you’re too happy ...

A: Yes, you’re happy and saying, “Whee, you can do whatever you want to, but then why aren’t you! [laughter]

Q: Exactly! Well, I thank you so much for the interview and for taking time out of your very busy schedule to speak to the members of dance.net. I’m sure they appreciate it as much as I do. I’d also like to just really encourage people to go out and see you dance because you really are lovely and so very talented.

A: Thank you!

Q: It’s true. And your choreography is wonderful. Your ideas are so well expressed and everything makes sense. It was just such an enjoyable evening and I hope you continue doing what you do.

A: Oh, I will continue to create works and I would encourage anyone else that wants to create to do so. It’s important because we need different voices and to give yourself permission to be part of that. If you want to make work – make it.




To learn even more about Tami Stronach or contact her for booking engagements, please visit her website at tamistronach.com. If you’d like to see some of her performances, here is a link to YouTube where some of her videos are posted. www.youtube.com . . .

9 Replies to Inspiration #02: Interview with Tami Stronach

re: Inspiration 02: Interview with Tami Stronach
By pasdeblake Comments: 285, member since Mon Nov 17, 2008
On Fri Apr 03, 2009 04:27 PM
OH MY GOSH
Nycsylph, I've said this before sort of jokingly because of the good advice you give here on DDN, but now I really am, officially, you're BIGGEST FAN :P
I LOVE the Neverending Story! When I was younger, when everyone else wanted to be a Disney Princess, I wanted to be the Childlike Empress! I STILL wish I was her :P

And its amazing to now learn that she's a dancer/choreographer/yogi! Wow! Thanks soooo much!
re: Inspiration 02: Interview with Tami Stronach
By imadancer2member has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 2400, member since Wed Nov 30, 2005
On Fri Apr 03, 2009 10:36 PM
OH WOW! That was amazing! I love these interviews and man, this must have took a while!

Great job!
~Madison
re: Inspiration 02: Interview with Tami Stronach
By glitterfairyPremium member Comments: 12135, member since Tue Oct 01, 2002
On Sat Apr 04, 2009 09:29 AM
I'm really intrigued by a lot of the things she had to say and where she comes from mentally. Amazing stuff! Thanks so much for doing the interview. I have certainly been enlightened and hope others are as well.
re: Inspiration #02: Interview with Tami Stronach
By toroandbruinmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 3627, member since Fri Oct 10, 2008
On Sat Apr 04, 2009 07:18 PM
What an interesting, creative life Tami Stronach has had already -- and it's obvious there's lots more to come!

Thanks, nycsylph for writing these interviews for us.
re: Inspiration #02: Interview with Tami Stronach
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 2090, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Sun Apr 05, 2009 08:25 AM
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, for all your comments!!! I totally enjoyed the time spent with Ms. Stronach!!! She is an absolute delight!!!

pasdeblake -

Nycsylph, I've said this before sort of jokingly because of the good advice you give here on DDN, but now I really am, officially, you're BIGGEST FAN


WHAT?!!!! You were joking about that????!!!!!! I took it to heart!!!!

I'm glad I've now captured you as a fan with this interview!!

Madison -

OH WOW! That was amazing! I love these interviews and man, this must have took a while![/q[

You know, not for nothing, but you are the sweetest little girl!!! Please stay like this and you'll have the world at your feet!!!

And yes, it was quite a lot of work, but well worth it. Being around people like Ms. Stronach help. They're running on an extra cylinder!!! These successful creative people have lots and lots of energy and drive! You sort of catch fire just sitting next to them!!!

glitterfairy -

I'm really intrigued by a lot of the things she had to say and where she comes from mentally. Amazing stuff! Thanks so much for doing the interview. I have certainly been enlightened and hope others are as well.


Yes, I'm intrigued also! I connected to her on a lot of levels and wanted to go off on tangents and ask more in-depth questions about some of the concepts she was talking about!!! If I did that, the interview really would have lasted 7 years!!!

I love what she had to say and many, many things can be used to enhance an individual's performance!

toroandbruin

What an interesting, creative life Tami Stronach has had already -- and it's obvious there's lots more to come!

Thanks, nycsylph for writing these interviews for us.


Thank you! It's a labor of love, that's for sure!

As long as the members enjoy these types of interviews, I will go out and try to get these creative types to sit down long enough to interview them!!!

As I said, I loved interviewing Ms. Stronach - as I did talking with Stas'. It's personally very exciting to get to ask them a whole host of questions and pick their brains on performance, life and what it takes to succeed!!!

Thanks again!!!
re: Inspiration #02: Interview with Tami Stronach
By smileywomanmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 11032, member since Sat Sep 17, 2005
On Sun Apr 05, 2009 11:22 AM
First, karma! Your interviews are amazingly, thought-provoking.

Second, I LOVED The Never Ending Story and still watch it to this day (my copy of the movie is very old).

This statement is quite profound and priceless to me:

I think that the reason I’m attracted to dance – and art – is because it’s the place where the emotional life is more important than the practical life on some level. It’s a sacred space where your inner world is valued and I think most of my work – and most of the reason I’m a dancer – is I want to be in environments and make environments that give people permission to express that part of themselves. In various ways, all my work ties to the fact that forces in society conspire to shut people down and take away their ability to feel. Then as life becomes harder and harder, it becomes scarier to feel because feelings are big and hard. I think emotions are like your ballet muscles. They’re like your plies or tendus, if you don’t practice them, you become less good at it and less good at engaging with other people. It’s not something you learn and not something that in society, we spend a lot of time thinking about. I feel like that piece is a story version of what I’m describing. It’s sort of saying that there’s a lot of fear in allowing your emotional world to be really full and big. There’s that constant fear that you’ll lose your equilibrium and you won’t be able to be in charge of yourself and function well.
re: Inspiration #02: Interview with Tami Stronach
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 2090, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Sun Apr 05, 2009 11:54 AM
smileywoman wrote:

First, karma! Your interviews are amazingly, thought-provoking.

Second, I LOVED The Never Ending Story and still watch it to this day (my copy of the movie is very old).

This statement is quite profound and priceless to me:

I think that the reason I’m attracted to dance – and art – is because it’s the place where the emotional life is more important than the practical life on some level. It’s a sacred space where your inner world is valued and I think most of my work – and most of the reason I’m a dancer – is I want to be in environments and make environments that give people permission to express that part of themselves. In various ways, all my work ties to the fact that forces in society conspire to shut people down and take away their ability to feel. Then as life becomes harder and harder, it becomes scarier to feel because feelings are big and hard. I think emotions are like your ballet muscles. They’re like your plies or tendus, if you don’t practice them, you become less good at it and less good at engaging with other people. It’s not something you learn and not something that in society, we spend a lot of time thinking about. I feel like that piece is a story version of what I’m describing. It’s sort of saying that there’s a lot of fear in allowing your emotional world to be really full and big. There’s that constant fear that you’ll lose your equilibrium and you won’t be able to be in charge of yourself and function well.


Smileywoman -

Thank you so much for my karma!!! I promise [raises hand to take an oath] to always use it wisely and for the greater good!!!

I very much appreciate your comments. Yes, that quote is something special. Our emotional life is not valued very often and yet it's what pulls us toward a life in dance and the arts. I mean, is there any reason other we love them that makes us work this hard to create beauty? I think it's because they all us to express this side of ourselves.

After reading this through again, and thinking about what was said, I'm going to try to respect my own emotions before. I often blast myself for being too emotional. I'm going to just respect what I feel from now on and I think the rest will take care of itself!

Thank you again, beautiful Maria!!!

XOXOXOXOXOXXOXOXXO
Love you much!!!
re: Inspiration #02: Interview with Tami Stronach
By emtanze Comments: 106, member since Sun Apr 05, 2009
On Thu Apr 23, 2009 03:53 PM
Thank you so much for this interview! What a gift to the DDN community!
re: Inspiration #02: Interview with Tami Stronach
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 2090, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Fri Apr 24, 2009 12:09 PM
emtanze wrote:

Thank you so much for this interview! What a gift to the DDN community!


emtanze -

Wow!!! That's quite a compliment!!!

Thank you ever so much for saying this. All I can say is that I'm working very hard to find people that are interesting and have something to say!!!

Thank you again!!!

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