We opened Sixty at the Danspace Project on Nov 13, 9 days after the Presidential election, in a celebratory mood because Obama had won. The most thrilling part was finally bringing in our last collaborator: the audience always changes the work in profound and important ways. We were lucky to have fantastic, responsive audiences for the entire two-week run.

Performing the piece was a great pleasure. At the same time, I was already missing the rehearsal process. That’s always a challenge for me, and it was particularly so with this piece because the cast was so remarkable – fabulous dancers diverse in many ways, connected to me and to each other in many different ways, everyone equally committed to the project. The time we spent together in the studio was rich and fulfilling. Even in the excitement of opening, it was a little sad to be at the end of the twenty-month process of making the piece.

With the Danspace show behind us, we’re now gearing up to face what is certain to be a difficult year. We, like virtually all other small organizations, are being hit by this economic downturn faster and harder than any crisis in memory. All of us in the dance community are wondering, when will this end and where will we land? We don’t have the answers yet but are holding on tight while figuring out how to, as our new Board Chair puts it, “keep the wheels on the bus.” (There’s still time to help, by the way – and we need all the help we can get. You can donate by clicking HERE.)

With the New Year comes a round of new projects. We are about to begin workshops for women in a transitional housing residence and adult ESOL students at Turning Point in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. We’ll also start work on a new performance project to premiere in 2010. I’m looking forward to writing more about that soon.

Sixty now feels like a coherent whole.  Over the last few weeks I was able to bring the whole cast of twenty people together for the first time. It was really thrilling to finally see in front of me what I’d been imagining for many months. The mix of dancers who have worked in the field for many years and others who are new to it and to New York produces a wonderful energy when we are all together. 


This project already has a history. I find myself thinking about the beginning of working on it in the spring of 2007. I am deeply immersed in the creation of the piece, and simultaneously observing its creation. We have woven, overlaid, and repeated movement ideas, mirroring the merging of thoughts and memories that is the subject of Sixty. I see again that what you wind up with has everything to do with how you get there.


Despite our intense focus on finishing Sixty, the current economic crisis and the damage it will cause to artists and arts organizations is a presence we can’t ignore. The election looms. It’s exciting to witness this extraordinary moment in history. Our performances take place Nov 13-15 and 20-22, the two weeks between the election and Thanksgiving. I am hopeful that we will have something to be thankful for – Obama in the White House –  and that our performances will be a celebration of our future.


Please join us for Sixty at the Danspace Project.

I felt excited and a little nervous coming back to Sixty after some time away to work on another project – like seeing someone you care about after a separation. Will they look different to you? Will you still like them? Whatever self-doubt was lurking peaked at that moment before I revisited Sixty.

One of the good things that happens with time away is that things have a chance to ripen. Though the dancers had not been working on Sixty, their bodies were absorbing the material. When we returned to it, they seemed more rooted in the piece. This allowed us to move on to another level of work – creating a whole out of the parts, and refining the movement and the physical and emotional intention of the piece.

Sixty was inspired by my sixtieth birthday. I brought many other people into the process of creating it with the intention of making Sixty about something bigger than myself. I think I have succeeded in doing that. Now I wonder how people will respond to the work that has emerged, which is not in any literal way about aging or being sixty. The piece is made up of images that overlap and repeat in different contexts, mirroring the way our experiences mix and overlap in our minds as we get older and have a longer perspective.

Clint Ramos, set and costume designer, and I are in that wonderful, precarious-feeling place where we heap too many ideas on the table then figure out which to toss and which to keep. I always come back to thinking less is more. It is sometimes hard to make sure that you don’t stay wedded to ideas that really need to go.

Please join us for the premiere of Sixty at Danspace Project November 13-15 and 20-22, 8:30pm, 131 E 10th Street.

We had to put Sixty on hold for a while in order to focus on creating 311, a piece commissioned by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council for Sitelines 2008. 311 was made to be performed outside the Municipal Building, near the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. I chose that site because of the stunning architecture of the building and the rotunda that you enter when you emerge from the subway.
In a visit to the site in June I discovered that a construction project had been started in the rotunda. There was chain link fence wrapped with ugly green plastic right in the middle of that beautiful space. The rotunda was out as a site for our piece.

It is from these kinds of realities that artistic choices are often made. I shifted my focus to the area just outside the rotunda where people would be congregating to eat lunch and enter or leave the subway and the Municipal Building. I wanted pedestrian traffic to be moving in and out of the dance, making passers-by an integral part of the work.

You can see photos and video excerpts of 311 on our website and our Facebook page.

The Muni Bldg is the center of NYC government. Over the last year, the presidential campaign has brought a new level of attention to government, civic engagement and the idea of change. I wanted to take this opportunity to look at the idea of engagement and change at the local level. What do New Yorkers want from local government? Are we getting it? How would we like things to be different? My hope was that by putting this dance in this setting, we would stimulate viewers’ imaginations and inspire them to see their world differently.

At each performance someone with a microphone interviewed people in the audience and passers by about their thoughts on local government and services. This provided the sound score for the piece. Some themes emerged – many people talked about the need for more affordable housing and many lamented the gentrification that has forced long time residents to leave their neighborhoods. One woman suggested the city provide free housing for artists. A lot of people are eagerly awaiting the Second Avenue subway. Someone who lives in Queens and works in the Muni Building suggested that the city could generate a lot of income and encourage cleaner neighborhoods by enforcing sanitation laws like having a lid on your garbage can and maintaining the sidewalk in front of your house.

We performed slightly different versions of 311 outside the County Office Building in Kingston, NY and outside the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, NY. In Saratoga, the Muni Building’s fabulous columns were replaced by stately trees, and the circular part of the dance took place in a circular garden. In Kingston, property taxes were the subject of heated commentary.

We will resume rehearsals of Sixty at the end of August. Being away from it has given me space to think about it, dream about it, and envision how all the pieces will fit together. Conversations with Clint Ramos who will design the set and costumes have inspired lots of ideas and images. I’m looking forward to jumping back into it.

Click here to visit Risa’s website.

As I work with the dancers on creating Sixty, I’m constantly reminded how fortunate I am to have such incredible talent in the studio with me. I wrote last month about a dilemma we faced with a section that involved Paul taking photographs of Eun Jung. Nothing we tried removed the sense that Paul was a voyeur. The other day in rehearsal, Eun Jung made the simple suggestion of turning the duet around, so that Paul faced downstage and Eun Jung faced upstage. It completely changed it. It made Paul the protagonist in the duet. We can see him clearly while Eun Jung is facing upstage away from the audience most of the time. I think we’ve finally solved it.

We showed this new version of that duet at the Ailey Studios on June 3rd. One of the new sections we showed alongside it is working titled “Anagram/Fairytale,” and is based on an ingenious challenge sent to me by my nephew and his wife, two incredible young people. They started with my name, which they turned into as many anagrams as they could. Then they went to a thesaurus and found synonyms for the anagrams. They each took the list of synonyms and wrote a story. They took the two stories and combined them into one. Finally, they illustrated the combined story. It was an intricate puzzle that both dazzled and challenged me. How could I make a dance that mirrored that process?

To create “Anagram/Fairytale,” we began by assigning movements for each letter in our names, and spelling them out. We worked that vocabulary into a unison section where the vowels repeat often, giving it a certain rhythm. Then each dancer made a list of anagrams from the whole 12 letters, wrote a very short story using those words, and made a solo based on the story. We worked together to weave those stories into a series of duets. The movement that emerged was zany and quirky – very much like a fairy tale.

We had a wonderfully generous audience at the Ailey showing. One man approached me afterwards and declared, “this is why I live in New York!” The access to audience members like him, and the others that came that night, made me remember why I continue to make work in New York. Each time I show Sixty in process, I find new insight and challenges through the eyes of audience members. I’m very much enjoying the dialogue.

Click here to visit Risa’s website.

We showed several new sections of Sixty at DTW on March 20. I was particularly interested in people’s reaction to a duet that we’re working on for Paul and Eun Jung. The duet is in three parts. The first is loosely based on one of the duets in Heatwave, another section of Sixty. It’s an intimate duet with close, complex partnering. In the last part, Paul dances alone. In the middle section Paul has a camera and takes pictures as Eun Jung moves through an ordinary day with familiar gestures like washing her face, pulling on her pants, pouring coffee. The dilemma is how to make a man taking pictures of a woman look something other than predatory. It turns out to be difficult to do no matter what your intention is. In this case my intention was that the picture taking be an attempt to remember Eun Jung. My own idea of what I was after blinded me to seeing it how others might see it. In the first version Paul stayed on the periphery of the stage with the camera. When the other dancers said it looked like he was stalking her I was shocked. When an audience member said the camera objectified Eun Jung and she found it disturbing, I was completely surprised. So we’ve experimented with different ways of connecting Paul and Eun Jung through the camera. I don’t think we’ve solved this yet.

Another new section that we’ve added is an excerpt from Plain Crossing, made in 1977. Last summer the dancers saw the piece on video and wanted to learn it. We decided we could do an excerpt of it as part of Sixty. The dancers learned it from the video. I’ve added another layer – as the dancers are dancing, I talk about some of the things that were happening in the world the year the piece was made. I also go in and out of the dancing with them. I love being back inside that piece after so many years.

One of the ideas I received for Sixty is an elegant and witty creation that begins with an anagram and develops into words, their synonyms, two separate stories made from the synonyms, one story with the ideas of both merged, and ends with a drawing based on the story. We’re working with the structure of this amazing process. We started with a set of letters from the dancers’ names, made words, each dancer wrote a story with their words – they are zany and full of wonderful images – then made a short dance based on his or her story. Now we’re using these solos to build duets and trios.

It always amazes me how no matter what you start with, anything that any of us creates is informed by the particulars of who we are and everything that we’ve ever thought, felt, or experienced. That’s what makes dancing and choreography both thrilling and terrifying – we are always revealing ourselves.

Click here to visit Risa’s website.

As I continued to sort through the responses to my request for ideas on which to base a dance, I was led to Salamone Rossi, a prolific Italian composer, by Laurie Uprichard and Phil Sandstrom. They suggested I make a dance to Jewish music from the 1600s. Rossi’s music is gorgeous and, like other early music, has a tricky rhythmic structure that isn’t apparent until you try counting it or moving to it. We started with the movement of bending and bowing. What’s in a bow? What are you saying when you bow to another person? Four dancers face each other in a square to begin. I imagine this growing into a set of three or four squares, with twelve or sixteen dancers performing this section.

Scott Johnson, who composed the score for Resist/Surrender, sent me a detailed description of a solo he envisioned for me. He said it came to him after seeing a Meredith Monk performance, which made him think about the span of a dancer’s life. He imagined me seated with my upper body reclining and only my four limbs moving. I explored this with the dancers and it evolved into an idea we call Limb Quartets that will appear in the piece three times. The first time it appears, all the dancers are seated on chairs facing the audience. They set each other’s limbs moving in a complicated version of the kids’ game of patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. It is gripping to watch each dancer struggle to keep his or her four limbs moving completely differently. It takes enormous concentration. Inevitably each one starts to laugh, then finds the focus again. The dancers look so vulnerable. This section will return in a slightly different way as a duet and as a solo. Elise said she sees it as a comment on choreography which, though often collaborative, is ultimately not democratic.

Last summer when we were working in upstate New York I showed the dancers a videotape I had recently found o f Plain Crossing, a piece I made in 1977. It was danced by four women, including me, at Trisha Brown’s loft on Broadway. The next year we did at Washington Square Church (which has been turned into condos). Then we did a version of it in the Sculpture Garden of MOMA. As I watched the video, my muscles remembered how certain movements felt. The dancers loved it and said they wanted it to be the idea they contributed to Sixty. They’ve learned a section from the video. So here I am, thirty years later, and I’m getting to clean up a piece I made as a much younger person. How often do we wish for that chance in other aspects of our lives! I like watching six foot tall Luke do my part (I’ve always wished I was a few inches taller).

I’m about to start working on a duet for Paul and Eun Jung. I look forward to telling you more about it soon.

Click here to visit Risa’s website.

Sixty is growing. We’ve now performed The Long Haul and Heatwave several times. At our last showing at the 92nd Street Y on Nov 30, Vicky Shick and I performed a revised version of Reading Aloud, a trio for the two of us and a book. Audience feedback from these showings has been very helpful. After showing Reading Aloud for the first time in October, I knew it needed work. After showing a revised version at the Y, I felt I was on the right track.

This section is based on a wonderful story I received from Carol Mullins about her 20th birthday. She talked her mother into letting her have the family car and drove with her best friend from Virginia, where they lived, to North Carolina. They went to Thomas Wolfe’s grave, sat beside it and read aloud to each other from Look Homeward Angel. I found it such a touching and evocative image. I love the youthful fervor that runs through that book, as well as through Carol’s story. It’s a pleasure for me to do this section with Vicky, a friend of many years. Though we don’t actually read aloud from the book, in this little dance, the book connects us.

We also showed Sixty Beginnings for the first time. Vicky and Deborah Glaser, another old dance friend, gave me a great challenge: make a dance with 60 beginnings. There are so many ways to think about this. What is a beginning anyway? And when does a beginning end? We experimented with lots of ideas in the studio and wound up with a dance of at least 60 beginnings.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with playwright/composer Ellen Maddow of Talking Band fame several times. For Sixty, Ellen gave me one of the songs on her Betty and the Blenders album that she did in the eighties. In Red Bikini, she sings a list of things she’s thinking – things she wants, wonders about, fears. As I listened to it I thought, oh – that’s the inside of Ellen’s head. Funny, it sounds just like mine! This section is a rush of movement for all five dancers and me. Working on it reminded me why, in recent years, I’ve danced less in my own work. It’s so hard to be in it, see it, and shape it. It’s hard for me to believe that when I first started making dances, I was always in everything. From this vantage point, I don’t know how I did that.

A few ideas are waiting in the wings – a dance based on Jewish music from the 1600s, a dream about the Jerusalem sky, and a complex anagram that evolves into a short story. The structure of the anagram interests me. How can we use it to make a dance? I’m also working on a suggestion to make a set of “limb quartets,” which turns out to be a quartet of quartets: four dancers onstage, each dancer performing a solo “quartet” with their four limbs.

We’ll be doing another showing at the Y on Feb 29. I hope you can join us!

Click here to visit Risa’s website.

I feel like I’m sitting at the top of a mountain with a 360 degree view that lets me see my life from every angle – back, forward and around. I have found that when you travel a road, especially by foot or bike, the same road looks very different when you turn around and come back. I imagine being on that mountaintop or walking on that road with people who have been important in my life – remembering the past, savoring the present, and dreaming the future. We’ll all remember, see and dream different things, but also the same things in different ways.

These ideas inspired me to send out sixty letters to friends, family, and colleagues asking for an idea for a dance. I will use fifteen or twenty of these ideas to create three- to four-minute sections of a sixty-minute dance. More than one idea might be overlaid in one section. I have fantastic dancers working with me – Elise Knudson, Eun Jung Gonzalez, Paul Singh, Luke Gutgsell and Gabriel Forestieri. There will be some guest performers too.

We’ll continue building this piece over the winter and spring and will present the finished work next fall. During the year we’ll show sections of the piece as works-in-progress at several different venues (see schedule of upcoming events). I’ll also keep this page of our website current with news, pictures and video clips of the piece as it develops. Hope you can join us and watch it grow.

There are photos from a showing on Oct 2 at The Flea Theater. We showed four sections. The first, The Long Haul, is based on a phrase in a letter sent to me by a former dancer. Heatwave is based on the popular sixties hit that has always been a favorite of mine. My children sent me the CD along with the printed lyrics. I was struck by the over-the-top drama of teen romance and realized that in the realm of romance, we never stop being teens. Reading Aloud, a trio for me, Vicky Shick, and a book, is based on a story sent by a friend. She and her best friend spent her 20th birthday sitting at the grave of Thomas Wolfe reading aloud from Look Homeward Angel. Then there’s Still, a solo for me that combines movement from the three previous sections.

We’re currently working on two new sections: an instruction I received to make a dance with sixty beginnings, and a big, dense section with Ellen Maddow’s touching, funny song, Red Bikini. I hope to have both of these ready for our showing at the 92nd St Y on Nov 30. Check back for more Sixty news soon.

Click here to visit Risa’s website.