Janusphere Dance Company Artistic Director Darion Smith is hard at work in the studio developing a new work, tentatively titled AMP. In AMP, Darion explores the nature of voice and the relationship between voice and dance to communicate with and experience the world around us.
We sat down with Darion to talk about the new work, its purpose and the process of bringing it to life.
What inspired you to work with the human voice in a dance piece?
I’ve been working with the voice including both my own voice, man-made sound effects and voice-overs, as well as the voices of Janusphere Dance Company dancers in various works. And recently, I have been working with students from the University of Oregon Dance Department.
I first worked with the voice in dance during my days as a student with Kay Fulton at the Santa Barbara City College in California and then shortly after that at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, Germany. During my time with Ms. Fulton she used the voice in class to help us become more aware of the movement, become less self-conscious, and develop our own unique artistic voices. At the Folkwang, my professors and visiting guest artists would use the voice in their teaching, exercises, workshops, and choreography. The Folkwang is known for its tradition in Tanztheater, in which the voice is commonly used in live performance.
In some of my more recent choreography, I have used the human voice in A Dancer’s Life and I have wanted to explore the human voice further. This is spurring me to create my newest work.
How do you feel voice and movement connect? By exploring one, what more can we learn about the other?
Whenever I've watched strangers, friends, or family members converse I’ve noticed their use of gestures to help communicate with each other.
The human voice and movement are ways of amplifying what we express or experience. Tennis players often make loud whaling sounds as they strike the ball, in a way that appears to catalyze the force they exert on the ball. The same goes for some martial artists, vocalization appears to give their actions more force and focus.
I believe combining dance with the human voice teaches us another way of experiencing movement. At the same time, movement helps color what we are trying communicate through the human voice. There is a ton of research that can be done and more to be learned when these two actions are used in combination.
Do you feel this new piece comments on the interdisciplinary nature of art? If so, in what way, and why is that important?
By juxtaposing movement and gesture with spoken text, AMP is another example of how art uses different ways of experiencing life simultaneously through multiple lenses. We are all looking for powerful experiences and new ways to look at the world. I certainly am.
It’s important to me to have different viewpoints in my work as I try to find out what are the dimensions of the human experience. I’m less interested in one singular view of what life is. I want to see and experience many perspectives.
In talking about dialogue on stage, and dialogue through choreography, what role do you feel the audience plays in the overall experience of a dance piece and in its development?
The relationship and dialogue between choreographers, directors, performing artists and audience members is a fascinating topic that could be discussed at great length. I believe that society plays a large role in the work artists create and choose to develop because that’s the dialogue. It is mostly about the human experience because that’s our world.
I believe every audience member comes to the theater or wherever a performance is happening with some kind of idea of what they are going to experience based on their previous experiences with dance. This expectation also shapes the dialogue between audience and performance.
Does AMP explore everyday lives? What does exploring the daily activities of individuals teach us about each other and about our shared experiences?
Choreography and workshopping AMP is a fun and revealing experience that includes finding new ways to experience dance and the human voice, and it pulls back the weil on what the expectations and perceptions I have about someone else's role and experiences in society is.
What are you working on in the studio now to help bring AMP to life?
With the overarching structure in mind, my assistant Jimee Banks and I have created phrases of movement and spoken text. Now we will be busy distilling and organizing what we have into a unified dance work.
This process involves discussion about what we want to focus on in each section of the piece. Each time we go through the sequences of the piece we check what felt real, what needs work, and what needs to be scrapped.
The essential piece of the process is defining what we want to feel physically and emotionally. AMP is becoming more real and I am excited to let go of myself as I know it and to embody this new idea entirely.