Cori Olinghouse speaks with Thomas DeFrantz about “voix de ville”
February 3, 2011
MIT Professor of Theater Arts Thomas DeFrantz speaks with New York choreographer Cori Olinghouse. Cori discusses VOIX DE VILLE, which premieres at Danspace Project February 3-5 as part of Platform 2011: Body Madness – Absurdity & Wit, curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor.
Interview date: January 4, 2011
Thomas: It’d be really terrific if we could start talking about your pathway to the new work that you’re engaged in now. Especially in terms of coming from a strong performance background with Trisha Brown, to the vaudeville and the eccentric dance that you are working with now. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Cori: Yeah, absolutely. So I had danced with Trisha Brown from 2002 to 2006 and I actually left the company with a pretty bad knee injury. It was a very difficult time in my life; my father passed away from a severe case of alcoholism and also my partner, at the time, and I had broken up. It became an extremely pivotal time in my life and I could see that humor, joy and transformation were really necessary in my art-making practices. I began to look at other forms of movement. I think that there was something inside of me looking to explore humor, anger, pain and pleasure in movement. In my exploration of other forms, I began to study a lot of different artists. I began to study the old silent clowns: Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, as well as Grock, Max Wall and other eccentric dancers. I also started to study voguing with Archie Burnett and Benny Ninja, from the House of Ninja. I was also really moved to see various performers from the underground such as Kim Aviance, Princess Xtravaganza, and a woman I danced with in Bill Irwin’s work, Ephrat Asherie.
Around this time there were two powerful teachers and mentors that were a part of my journey. The first person that I had begun to work with was Bill Irwin. I had been moved so deeply, and still am, by his ability to shapeshift, create illusion, and by the sheer magic of his work. After working with Bill, I also started to study voguing with Archie Burnett, grandfather of the House of Ninja. Right away I could recognize that he is a master at what he does. I was very moved by the way he approached his students and began to fall in love with voguing. During this five year time span since leaving Trisha Brown’s company, I had been going through a very deep journey of my own; starting to breakdown my own dancing identity and seeing if it’s possible to go from a postmodern understanding of the body to a different kind of understanding that incorporates a deeper sense of identity and expression. That’s where it brings me today. And this process, that I’ve begun, feels very much like a life-long process that I’m very much in the beginning of.
Thomas: There’s this wonderful strand in your narrative. You were looking for joy in a certain kind of way, or certainly a release that re-tooling your discipline, or re-tooling your technique, helped you access somehow. Is it something that you experience physically in these other forms? Or was it just as much a part of your emotional creative sensibility that you were looking to shift?
Cori: Well, I think that there was something in me emotionally that was looking very deeply for joy. It was a very important need that felt related to my survival as a person. But as an artist, the body was my point of entry because it is where my expertise and background are. This was the base where I began to unravel myself, and also unravel my understanding of all the movement languages that began to interest me. It was through this process of working with the body that I began to look at a deeper form of expression. But part of this was looking at the structuring principals and the composing elements and patterns that are inherent in these forms. And as an improviser, I was taking some of those principals back into my creative work.
Read the full interview here