What happens to McKnight fellows after their fellowship? For starters, a handful of our choreographer fellows have gone on to complete MANCC (Maggie Allessee National Center for Choreography) residencies. Chris Yon (2011 McKnight Choreographer Fellow) recently completed his MANCC residency. He went down there to work on an evening length duet entitled The Very Unlikeliness (I’m Going to KILL You!), which he’s been working on with his wife and dancer Taryn Griggs. He invited a group of artists to join them in this process of finishing this work, including Dan Hurlin as a dramaturg, archival librarian Sara Smith as costume and set maker/designer, Angharad Davies as stand-in dancer for Yon, and filmmaker/photographer David Bagnall. I chatted with Yon over the phone recently to find out what he discovered during his residency, and to talk about the process of creating this piece.
Why go to MANCC in the first place? Well, as Yon says about his work prior to the residency with his wife Taryn, “It started to feel like, if we were a band, those were our radio songs. I wanted to make the other half of the album, more of a novelty, experimental track. So that’s what I went there to do. Complete the show.” Completing that show meant spending an eight-day residency with his wife and these other collaborators. For the five days that the collaboraters were all there, they worked all day long: rehearsal in the morning, break for lunch, and then rehearsal in the afternoon. The day wrapped up with dinner together as a group. “A lot was sparked around the dinner table,” Yon said.
“For me, with this MANCC opportunity, its to do things that you can’t normally do. And for me that was to assemble these people in one room.” Typically, Yon and Griggs work by themselves, so for Yon, “it was great not only to have these other people contribute to the final project, but to have a community for a week was really nice and stimulating.” Yon says having the others there helped to shape the thinking around the piece, in addition to the dance itself. “It gave me lots to think about outside of the studio, to chew on in my brain,” he says.
The resources MANCC provided also proved irreplaceable for Yon. “Being isolated, and having unlimited space, is a really profound thing,” he says. He was blown away by the kindness of the staff, and the way he could play around in the different studios, which Yon described as “a big toy.” One example of the staff’s friendly attitude was when Yon discovered a long-forgotten record collection. The staff tracked down a record player for him, and he was able to take a few of the records and make tracks for his work from the collection. However, Yon does wish he had more time. As he says, at the end of the week, “I realized, oh, now what I would do with the second week.”
Looking back, what has he thought about the experience? “I didn’t anticipate that on the first day, I would be overcome with tears of joy, but I was so embarrassed that I didn’t want to let any one know. Going to something like that, it’s like when you’re middle aged man who went off to a rock and roll camp for a weekend.” This feeling of elation followed a lot of pressure leading up to the residency at such a high profile location. “Once you’re down there, you’re in this weird dance-Mount Olympus, a place on misty mountain top, up in the studio. You do your best not to anger the gods,” he says, chuckling.
I asked him what it was like choreographing a piece that he would be dancing in eventually. He says it was a “recovery expedition, making this process, making it on someone else […] it makes it more challenging as a performer.” He said he was able to make his stand-in dancer do something he might normally not have done as the dancer in the piece. “I don’t have to think I’ll do that, it’s a kind of trickery, to have to learn it from someone else.”
Yon likens the aesthetic look of the piece that set designer Sarah is working on to the black and white films of Guy Maddin, who uses old technology to make his movies look as though they were made long ago, that they “look like it’s been played in different theaters all over, looks weathered and well-worn.” He wants that to come across in the “dancing couple, with that silver-screen etherealness, the density of what we’re doing. And not that we look old or tired,” he said laughing.
For now, Yon is still sifting through the aftermath of ideas from the MANCC residency. He’ll continue to work with the out-of-state collaborators via skype and e-communication. The Very Unlikeliness (I’m Going to KILL You!) is scheduled to run at La Mama E.T.C. (NYC) on June 13-15, and at Bryant Lake Bowl (here in Minneapolis) on June 21, 22, 23, 29, and 30.
*Photo Credit: Chris Cameron