“What we’re interested in doing with “Crossing the Line” is ensuring that people can engage with the work in an unexpected way,” Simon Dove, co-curator of “Crossing the Line” tells The Huffington Post in an interview. “So that art or performance work isn’t something that happens in these discreet, closed off spaces like theaters...where you need to book two months ahead, plan babysitters, know if you’re free that evening, all that stuff, [but] where art becomes part of the everyday experience that you have as you’re going about your day to day activity in the city. And that’s a much bigger agenda that we all share.”
Getting "the work" to exist outside the confines of the theater is always a challenge. Taking art into people's homes, onto the streets, and outside of traditional venues is one way to get the message across, and "Crossing the Line" is taking cues. The project is to foster a living interaction with art -- an expanded space of engagement that not only widens the arena of performance, but holds up a mirror to ourselves and our society. Grandiose? Perhaps, but why not dream big?
The French Institute Alliance Française's (FIAF) 6th annual “Crossing the Line” festival is four weeks of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary works, talks, and performances throughout New York City. There are three commissioned productions to look out for: Bill Frisell’s Close Your Eyes, the English-language production of Pascal Rambert’s Love’s End, and co-commissioned DD Dorvillier’s Danze Permanente. The festival has sponsored residencies for three artists, Gerald Kurdian, Joris Lacoste, and Pascal Rambert, to assist in developing their work. Additionally, Peter Sellars and Congolese dancer and choreographer Faustin Linyekula will discuss the power of “arts as an agent for social and political change,” David Levine’s Habit will play at the Essex Street Market, and director Lotte van den Berg will perform a site-specific spontaneous piece in Times Square.
We sat down in conversation with this year’s three curators, where we discussed the challenges of doing a festival of this scope, why “experimental” as an adjective for describing work just doesn’t work and just what the metaphor of ‘crossing the line’ evokes.
Huffington Post: Can you tell us a bit about the history of the festival?
Lili Chopra: When I came on board there had just been a renovation and the desire for the organization was to be much more present in the New York cultural landscape. So I proposed for them to do this festival in the fall and really look at emerging art forms, multi-disciplinary forms.
Simon Dove: The strange frameworks within which work was being presented in New York seemed to mitigate against the possibility to bring new voices and new artists, especially from abroad. You know, as conditions became more and more difficult financially and the US border control got tighter and tighter, that started to put a lot of people off for bringing international work and we felt it was crucial that some of the really important ideas that were being generated by artists around the world could have a platform in New York.
So ‘Crossing the Line’ offered that possibility. And I think the other thing was, an increasing amount of work now is really the hybridized, it draws on a whole range of different disciplines because its not really about the discipline anymore it’s about the intention of the work, or the idea that the art is seeking to present and that needs then of course a different set of context or a different set of circumstances to present it in the optimum way... We use the city really as our platform. As our stage.
HP: What are the challenges of organizing a festival of this scope?
Gideon Lester: I think the difficulties are the reason to do it in a way. And the most challenging, the projects where we have to get the most creative are those that are site-specific. And in a way, almost everything that we do in the festival is site-specific. We’re the opposite of a festival that says, “We have a dance slot to fill, and a theater slot to fill” and it’s going to play in such and such venue, and such and such number of people are going to come. It’s remarkably difficult to do site-specific work in New York City. Probably harder than almost anywhere in the world.
Simon Dove: More difficult than making a movie?
Gideon Lester: I think so. Those apparent difficulties, are actually the reason to do it. Because you have to be constantly creative. I think that the greatest challenge is keeping it fresh. We’ve already started planning next year and the year after, and none of us has had enough time to really explore what’s out there.
HP: How do you find the performers?
Gideon Lester: There’s no formula. We all travel a lot, just as part of our lives, and we’re always listening for good ideas. The moment it gets formulaic, it’s done.
Simon Dove: It’s a case of being very proactive in seeing things, but constantly being aware of what else is happening and what other possibilities are emerging.
HP: Are there themes?
Simon Dove: Fundamentally, I’m completely against themes.
Lili Chopra: Because it goes back to the notion of the same ways in which we have a specific venue and the artist needs to fit our agenda. [Themes] really counter the ways we think about the festival to start with.
Simon Dove: It proposes to an audience a way of looking at something, which is sort of narrow. And what’s important for us, is that people can engage with the complexity of a project. And especially the way an artist is articulting many levels of feeling -- perspective, emotion, ways of thinking...it’s important for us that the audience come to that with a kind of openness as much as audiences do. But we find a way that we can help an audience connect with the breadth of a project, not just say, this is about identity. Because it is, but then it’s about many more things.
That’s why it’s "Crossing the Line" because it’s not just about disciplines, it’s about extending people's boundaries in all kinds of ways.
HP: What does the metaphor of “crossing the line” evoke for you guys?
Lili Chopra: It may be ultimately not wanting to cross any line. It’s this notion...geographically, a conceptual notion, the artistic notion...[I'm] not sure if it’s crossing, if it’s pushing, if it's just never drawing a line.
Simon Dove: Crossing the line out.
Gideon Lester: “Crossing the Line” is about questioning and exploring the relationship between the artist and the city. And the artist and audiences...There’s somethiing very local about "Crossing the Line," it’s really about a relationship with New York City -- with the people of New York City and the landscape, with the ecology, with the architecture, and so in order for that to be true, all of the work has to become very porous, it has to let the city into it.
HP: How do you see the arc of performance? And what do you envision for the future of live performance and festivals like this?
Simon Dove: What we want to be focussing on a lot more is looking at socially engaged practice, and that’s a principle of working in relationship to your public, your community. However you define that.
Gideon Lester: ...I think festivals HAVE to reflect the present moment, Simon already said that, but one of the reasons that I think we really needs artists is that I think they help us to see the reality of the world at the moment. In clear ways. So we have to tune...the festival so it can best represent the work of these artists that we find interesting and I think occasionally to nudge them.
As far as the great arc of performance...I think that we are at a time where so many of these categories are just breaking down. I mean where performance art doesn’t mean what it meant 10 years ago at all. And that fact that a choreographer is performing in the Whitney Biennial and is winning the prize for the Biennial, and the fact that you take a show like Habit and you can’t say whether it’s an installation or a play, whether it’s visual art or whether it’s performance. Because it’s ALL of those things. There’s a kind of collapse of categories that makes it a very, very exciting time to be working in the arts because everything is up for grabs.
I think we’re at a moment of great flux, and it happened over a long period of time but it also seems to have reached a great period of acceleration over the past year. When nobody knows what the future looks like...Choreographers are performing in art museums, what does that mean? About what’s going to be happening in two or three years time?
We don’t know.
Simon Dove: But that’s the good thing.
Gideon Lester: But that’s what’s exciting.
"Crossing the Line" runs from September 14 through October 14 in New York City. It is curated by Lili Chopra (artistic director of FIAF); Simon Dove (director of the Herberger Institute of Dance at Arizona State University); and Gideon Lester (director of Theater programs at Bard College, theater and dance curator for the Fisher Center at Bard College and director of Live Arts Bard). Find tickets and more information here.