Choreographer Alexandra Beller brought her 14 month old son Ivo into a dance rehearsal and the above situation occurred. The video went viral within a matter of days. Two and a half years later Beller and her company Alexandra Beller/Dances have a new show premiering at LaMama. milkdreams, inspired by little Ivo, "strips the performers of their veneers of ego, agenda, and shame, laying bare their need, their contentment, and the authenticity of their present moment. Both the process of creating the work, and the work itself, attempt to sift from the body the habits, inhibitions, and presentations of the trained dancer, and to recover a physicality motivated entirely by sensation, desire, joy, curiosity, and, ultimately, love."
What is your philosophy on dance and how do you activate that when you choreograph?
AB: I believe that dance is the most immediate form of communication, and also the most honest. I believe the body cannot lie. I believe that, since the witnesses of the dance are living inside the same material (a body) as the art, there is a direct link of understanding that bypasses the brain. The enteric nervous system, the 100 million neurons that are in the GUT, rather than the brain, are a way for the body to understand a body, and experience the dance without going through a cortical process.
The way this relates to my process is that I often set up invitations for things to happen in the room, without really trying to set them up, or create them, and then allow myself to experience the event bodily, making decisions only when my body responds dramatically. So, I set up structures that I can watch, and when something incredible happens, my body lights up, or gets sad, or electrifies, and I know that this is a moment to keep.
What came first, the video of Ivo or the concept for milkdreams? How has one informed the other?
AB: The concept came first, which is why I brought Ivo to rehearsal. The vitality of the video could not have surprised me more, but did help to realize that my visceral reaction to the material had some validation in a larger community. I actually started making milkdreams as an antidote to my other work, which I was still making at the time. But I was also so sick of myself, and everything that I knew, and I felt like I needed to clean the slate and start over, as if I knew nothing about making a dance. Ultimately, of course, I have used all my skills in making this work, but I did abandon them for a while during the process...
Tell us about the process! In what way are you working?
AB: At first, we had these sessions with Ivo in the studio where we would just follow his dance, but videotaping them too. Then we had about a year of just learning, in crazy meticulous detail, every movement. It usually took about 4 hours to get about 30 seconds sketched out. Later, when we went back to that 30 seconds, we'd realize how much we'd missed, and it would take another 4 hours to get that 30 seconds to a better place. Each phrase went through many passes of learning, and even now I feel like we could probably keep going forever, because it is so foreign to us, there is no end to the learning we could do from this material. That was both invigorating and overwhelmingly daunting, and at times (for me), debilitating.
Then I started crafting and cutting and splicing, and working the material architecturally. relationships and ideas about desire started to emerge from the architectural choices, so I started following those threads. Eventually, I needed them to touch. They had expressed their desire long enough that they seemed to have earned one another, and contact. We started building partnering material off of the baby dances, starting to come more into our own bodies, still in instinct and soft shell, but with more equilibrium, individuality, and fulfillment of relationship.
What did you most like to do as a kid? At what age did you start dancing?
AB: I liked to make up stories, draw pictures, play characters. I had this thing I used to do almost every day. For about an hour after watching Little House on the Prairie, I used to pretend to be Mary Ingalls, after she'd become blind. I wouldn't close my eyes, though. I'd just walk around my house, using my hands to feel for furniture, not moving my eyes, and "acting" blind, for no audience (I was alone in the house). I think I knew the actress wasn't blind and I was fascinated by the ability to communicate something through the body and make it feel believable. I've asked myself for years why I never closed my eyes to experience sightlessness. The only thing I can think of is that I was practicing the communication of meaning. I was around 10/11 years old, which was the same age I started dancing.
I follow your social media posts and your kids say some seriously inspirational things. Can you give us a few quotes to live by from them?
AB: "So, how about some swimming classes?" Lucas: "No, I don't need them. I know how to swim." "Well, you are doing great in the water, but you don't actually know how to swim honey." "Yes I do. I just can't do it yet."
"Mommy, I'll just say it. If you get it, you get it. I can't MAKE you understand." Lucas
Lucas: Mom, I have two pieces of good news. First: I found that toy I was looking for. Second: there's no bad news.
"Mom, go ahead, get up this hill! It's the last chance for your legs to really LIVE!"
"Mom, why don't you stop being busy and take a pause. You can do that."
"Lucas, do you understand?" "Yes... But I don't want to."