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Words and image by Lauren Wark
Short film by Jennifer Tarrazi-Scully and Jeff Roll
Jennifer Tarrazi-Scully has meandered her way in and out of the Dance, Movement and Arts world her whole life. She has traveled the world in Off-Broadway shows, taught in higher education and found her voice again as "Dancer With An Attitude" writing theater reviews for The Backstage Beat. Her TBB reviews caught the attention of the Dance Critics Association and their 2011 Emerging Writer Award. She has brought her movement expertise to the world of animation and film. Today she is honored to bring a lifetime of experience into making dance happen with CORE Performance Co., and is "over the moon" to be amidst a reinvention and renaissance as a filmmaker and video installation artist.
Quail Bell's Lauren Wark asked Jennifer seven questions about her dance career. Here's what she had to say:
1. Where in your dance education did you decide modern dance and abstract narratives rather than those of traditional Ballet and lyrical theatre were for you?
When I was young, like a lot of dancers, I studied the requisite Ballet and Jazz, and found
myself really taking to the technique. I enjoyed the challenge of finding my placement, lines,
flexibility and strength. Stylistically, however, I knew I needed something different at a very
young age. I started performing semi-professionally with a modern company at 15.
2. You danced professionally before proceeding to teaching dance. Can you explain this transition and how teaching became a dream rather than Broadway?
I have found myself following the opportunities that have come my way. Performing and teaching are really complimentary schedules to keep. After I graduated from school I stayed in Greensboro, North Carolina to dance with The Gamble/Van Dyke dance company and was able to make my income teaching with the High Point Ballet. In New York City, early on, when I was waiting tables, I supplemented my income with teaching children on the Upper East Side and performing with a bunch of pick-up companies, like Michael Foley's ensemble, the Donna Goffredo Co. and the straight Jacket Dance Co. In the summers, I would teach intensives at the North Carolina Governor's School East with my great friend and colleague Stephen K. Stone. Both schedules were flexible enough I could run away from the city and work on film shoots every few months with director Michael Pope on the indie film NeoVoxer. This all lead into performing full-time for director Diane Paulus in The Donkey Show. Once I was ready to leave the city, the transition into higher ed was a pretty seamless. So to answer your original question, teaching and performing really have always coexisted for me. They supported each other and kind of made each other possible.
3. What does teaching offer you artistically?
Teaching is another learning experience. It gives me the opportunity to really articulate what it is the body is doing or needs to do. I love to get into the nitty-gritty and the challenge of
deconstructing movement so that dancers of all levels and ages (3-65) can understand the
fundamentals of good technique. Class is playtime, too, from a technical standpoint to a creative point of view. It's a great place to put together movement vocabulary and phrases and try them out. As a lot of my former students would attest to, it can be the lab portion of your creative process. (Right, guys?)
4. Talk some more about Neo Voxer and also the film Warming Up to Play. What were the films' messages and how did these dance films communicate those messages?
That is interesting you have picked two very different projects that happened at very different
times and stages of life for me. NeoVoxer is an epic project I participated in while I was dancing professionally in New York. It is a full-length, silent, Post-Apocalyptic themed story with three central characters that is intended to be performed with a live orchestra. I believe director Michael Pope and I worked really well together. He was looking for a new language to speak with a performer who understood abstraction and is willing to take some risks. I loved being given that opportunity to create my own way of interpreting his incredibly dense ideas. As far as film goes, I have always been fascinated with film—the idea of performing but not doing it live and actually having a tangible product to share with many audiences is something that has always driven me.
Warming Up to Play is a very small project of mine I created with my youngest daughter last
spring for a Fieldwork workshop I was taking. It was a way for me to play, on a small scale, with my equipment, get peer feedback from a group of extraordinary artists, and to just do a creative project with one of my favorite people on the planet. Why do I use dance? Because I was born a dancer and it is the lens through which I look at the world.
5. Do you think modern dance is inaccessible to the general public or has it become more accessible by both means of narrative and form?
I definitely think Modern Dance is more accessible [than it used to be]. The more modern choreographers collaborate with other artists like musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers the more different audiences are exposed and have the opportunity to develop an eye. I also think social media and television have helped a great deal to give a broader audience a frame of reference and a context for dance. I'm always throwing the excerpts and snibbits of choreography that cross my path into the ether-web and always get appreciative feedback from non-dancers.
All dance can be narrative or abstract. That is just a matter of taste. I think people need more exposure to develop an opinion about what speaks to them more. Hip Hop and Ballet can both be incredibly abstract 'movement for movement sake'; modern choreography and choreographers can tell an elegant story. I think a talented choreographer can be skilled at both.
Despite all this, I don't think dance is mainstream. I would love to see audiences and ticket sales grow. I think—no, I know—people are still more willing to drop over $50 in a movie theater, for a music concert, or sporting event before they even think about $20 for a dance performance. I don't think it's because people don't like dance, I think it's because they just don't think about it. So in my lifetime, I want to see the average Joe and Sally not only thinking about dance but actually considering it an acceptable date night activity.
6. How do your thoughts manifest themselves into choreography? Are the first impressions audio, visual, or are they immediate physical ticks?
These are great questions. You will get my entire Manifesto in one interview! I am a movement oriented person and my inspiration tends to comes in a visual form. Often I start with an idea and put together a group of dancers. Sometimes I'll go ahead and come into the studio with phrases and we start manipulating right away or, like in my most recent collaboration with Jeff Roll, I will give them something to think about and we will develop a vocabulary together. In our film Wallpapers, we worked with dysfunctional behaviors. I wanted to look at habits we don't really understand or have control over yet. Plus the cyclical nature of relationships is intriguing to me.
I love music, but when I am creating a piece it is important that the music not dictate the movement. So I generally start with the choreography. Then when the two art forms engage, they do in such a way that is unexpected and new. I don't fall into patterns this way. I feel lucky to have been able to roll Wallpapers into another collaboration I've been talking about for a long time with a composer Christopher Thurston. We rehearsed with a piece of music whose tempo and instrumentation I liked, but it was a movie score and would not do for our final product. So I sent Christopher a virtual story board of rehearsal footage; he then composed the score. After Jeff shot the actual footage, Dustin Glasco and I edited the film in a much different order than I initially put together. Wallpapers ended up being much fresher than if I had picked a piece of music and choreographed to it. I think we were all surprised and delighted by the final product.
7. What do you have yet to achieve in your career that you would like to?
I have everything to achieve. I grew up in the studio, I became a woman on stage, and I want to grow old making beautiful multimedia movement pieces, which hopefully film will be an important part of. There are no beginnings and ends. It's all one process for me. I just want to keep on moving forwards, stay on track, keep making work and developing strong collaborative relationships. I've realized how important it is for me to stay artfully engaged in order to live up to my potential, be happy, and be good for the ones around me.
Wallpapers premiered at the James River Filmmakers Forum in Richmond, Virginia on November 8th. It has also been screened at Dans Kamera in Instanbul, among other venues, and will be shown at Decatur Dance on Screen on April 10th, 2015. Wallpapers is now available on Vimeo for your viewing pleasure, as well:
#Real #JenniferTarraziScully #JeffRoll #ModernDance #DanceFilm #ChoreographedFilms #DanceOnFilm #DanceOnVideo
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