Artist-in-Residence, Sydnie L. Mosley premieres her latest work Body Business on November 12th , 13th and 14th at The Performance Project. We sat down with her in order to gain deeper insight into her process, inspirations and company model.
Question 1: You are the artistic director of an amazing and multi-talented company of collaborators. I have been so impressed and pleased to witness how you function together not only artistically but on every level of making your company run. Can you talk about the "Sydnie L. Mosley Model' of sustaining what appears to be a vital, communicative and happy group of artists?
At the center of all of SLMDances' work is our core values: dreaming, activism, authenticity, individuality, community and learning. We distilled how we work into these values after growing, interactively, over the past five years, both in response to my needs as a dance maker and the needs of the dancers who I work with. When we transitioned from a project-to-project company, into working on a sustained, consistent basis, I made the decision to intentionally invest in the women of SLMDances.
Some of the ways that I invest in the dancers include: our monthly professional development series so that dancers can pursue their own personal and professional goals in a supportive environment, organizing a rotation of who teaches company class,, field trips to support one another/partner organizations' work or events around town that will add to our creative research, and we purposefully engage each other socially outside of rehearsal. I also make it a point to check in with dancers, one-on-one, at least twice a year to find out how they are feeling within the company environment, what they are interested in learning, how I'm doing as a director, and what more I can do to support them in their artistic practice.
It is a lot of work on my part as a director to do this in addition to the creative work, but it has created an environment where every person, from apprentice to Associate Director has a stake in the company's well-being, and we are all committed to its success.
Some months ago, I came across the phrase: "deep sisterhood as a tool for social change." It resonated, deeply because this is how we function as a company - we invest in one another, and we honor and celebrate each other's brilliance. During the making of The Window Sex Project, we developed a series of phrases, "I see you. I support you. I lift you up." What started as a choreographic text has evolved into a mantra, an affirmation that we embody. It is because we recognize each other, that we trust one another to move through the unknown. We are free to take risks because we know our sisters are there to catch us. Moreover, every time we share our dances we invite people into the magical space between us women.
Question 2: Your show "Body Business" premiering in a few weeks at The Performance Project 'explores, expands and re-envisions the economic practices of the dance world.' Can you please tell us your inspiration for the creation of this work? Was it a single AH HA moment? A string of events? A complicated feeling that drove you to create? All of the above?!
The idea for Body Business came about a year after I premiered my first evening length work The Window Sex Project (TWSP) in 2012. TWSP is an epic work that responds to the sexual harassment of women in public spaces, particularly in Harlem. I worked tirelessly to self-produce this work and when the run concluded I was depleted financially, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I threw my back out. I had invested my entire savings and then some. And while I had plenty to show for it professionally, I knew that if I wanted longevity in my career as a dance maker, I had to figure out a more sustainable way to do it.
I decided that I would make a dance about sustainability in the field, but in a way that implicated and charged the larger dance community to action because I knew that I was not alone in my difficulties. This work is born of the times: I entered the dance work force in 2009, the belly of the economic downturn. I served on the Dance/NYC Junior Committee, most known for its 2010 Dance Workforce Census survey which cited startling statistics, for example, many dance workers have 3-4 jobs which earn them a total of $28,000/year, and only about half of that is from dance work. In 2013, Dance New Amsterdam, a favorite downtown studio for modern dancers went bankrupt, and suddenly shut down, leaving its employees, contracted presenting artists and faithful students in a lurch.
After a lifetime of financial investment into my artistic career from my family and myself, this is the climate that I am starting my career in. I wanted to use the process of making and presenting Body Business to workshop a better way of producing dance work. I should say, that I don't think I have accomplished this better way yet, but I do think we are instigating, building on and amplifying the conversation.
Question 3: Your work engages the audience in very active and participatory ways. What do you believe the relationship between the performer and spectator is or should be? What are you trying to achieve when you ask an audience member to be an active participant in the performance experience?
The company has nicknamed me Sydnie "Dances For The People" Mosley. It's a fitting title because when I am inspired to make a work, I want to reflect the narratives of the communities that I know intimately. I want to know at all times: Where are the people? Does this work resonate with them? These are necessary questions because I am making dances for us, by us.
In practice that means that I don't believe in a fourth wall. Even in proscenium work, the audience is just as important as the action on stage. Our performances are a practice of building community with everyone in the room. If we don't take the audience into account, why should we ask them to be there to witness us in performance?
Question 4: Do you think artists have a particular civic responsibility in our society? And if so, how does this drive your own artistic practice?
I actually don't think artists have a civic responsibility. Civic engagement through the arts is my morality, but that does not mean it has to be yours; HOWEVER, I do think artists have a responsibility to recognize that the work we do moves and influences culture, has the power to perpetuate oppressive systems or change them, and because of that power we wield, we should be mindful of what and how we create.
That said, I am interested in making work specifically for the liberation for women and people of color and everyone who falls at the intersections. The civic engagement in my work is not arbitrary, but rather an imperative for my own personal survival and the survival of those communities to whom I feel the most accountable. I am dancing to claim my life.
Question 5: Tell US your main hope / goal/ takeaway upon completion of your residency with The Performance Project? Can you please answer this in three words?
BUILDING a more SUSTAINABLE dance COMMUNITY.