BWW Interviews: Marisa Gruneberg

By: Feb. 17, 2015

White Road Dance Media, a contemporary dance company based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, will premiere Marisa Gruneberg's 12th full-length contemporary dance work, Neon Brave, at Triskelion Arts in Brooklyn on February 19, 2015. GoPro cameras will be attached to dancers, i.e. the audience will see "what the dancers see" via projections, including the nude soloist, for a different type of audience immersion. A quartet of women investigate life's challenges, becoming alternately entangled and inter-reliant, empowered and individualized.

Marisa sat down with Broadway World to talk about her company, her inspiration, and what we can look forward to from this young NYC-based multidisciplinary artist.

Q. When did you first begin to study dance?

A. I owe my mom big time for getting me into dance at a very early age. I was two, I think, in a place called Pascagoula, MS. I started out with whatever ballet looks like for two year olds. I continued to study primarily classical ballet until I was 15 or so, when I took my first modern dance class in Charleston SC. It blew my mind, dancing so freely with no shoes on.

The second more hidden part of this question, for me personally, might be when did you start directing? From a really early age, like five, I would gather all the neighborhood kids together and direct them in overly elaborate dance theatre productions I had designed that our parents were cool enough to endure. Movement, scripts, set, programs, tickets, music - the whole nine yards.

Q. Any influences such as teachers, parents?

A. The biggest influence on my dance making, besides my mom, who always encouraged imagination, was one of my college professors at the University of Southern Mississippi, Patti McConnell. Patti was this amazing, graceful, knowledgeable being, and an excellent choreographer. She taught me how to truly dedicate myself to the craft and helped me find things in myself I did not yet know were there. My second major influence was Mark Dendy, whose composition class I took at the Bates Dance Festival when I was still in college. Mark impressed upon me the value of both well-researched work and deep processing in choreography.

Q. What did you major in when you were in college?

A. I attended the Honors College at USM as a Presidential Scholar, which gave me the awesome opportunity to double major both in dance performance & choreography and in English Literature. As a kid who spent a lot of time alone in her own head daydreaming, I'd always been a big reader, and so studying literature was a pretty natural step. As for studying dance, for m e it was more the choreographic side of it that had me hooked from very early on. I made so many dance works in college! Lots of bad ones, a handful of okay ones, maybe one decent work. I was just obsessed with learning my craft to the best of my ability. I still am.

Q. When did you first decide to make the move to New York?

A. I saw this city for the first time when I was 19 and on my way to Bates Dance Festival in Maine. I was making the trip with some really good friends, and I had a fake ID. I remember us going out on the LES and just getting swept up in the wild energy of the city, so unlike anything I'd experienced before. Not a new story, but it felt like I was home - not my deep heart home, the south, but the home I was meant to live and create work in. I moved to NYC a few months after I graduated college, in 2003. I was what-21 or 22. I knew nothing.

Q. As a choreographer, what do you look for in dancers, music, etc.?

A. In my performers, I look for, above all, a willingness to try, to dedicate and excavate, and go deep in the process with me. I'm looking for fellow dreamers. That's number one. Then ferocity, magnetism, athleticism, a kind of sweet explosiveness, and that super important it factor, the magic. Technique is getting more distant from me now, and slowly becoming something I'm not sure I can define accurately anymore. I do know that I like dynamically ranged, talented bodies of all sizes in motion. I'm as in love with the movement a particular performer can do successfully as I am with the way she seems to shift the negative space around her. I'm speaking in the feminine pronoun here. I also primarily use women in my work, not as a conscious choice always, but definitely in my last two pieces. Women's bodies astound me. They're capable of shaking the earth. The four women who perform NEON BRAVE are my absolute dream team, they're stunning.

In a music maker or sound designer, I look for a collaborator that understands me, that gets where I'm going with my work, and vice versa. Currently I have two absolutely awesome guys that I work with, Justin Sherburn and Chad Raines. They're both active touring musicians in different bands. Music is their number one love, the way movement is mine. They are brilliant dudes, I'm super lucky.

Q. You're also a dance film enthusiast. How did that come about?

A. Not just an enthusiast - I've also tried to make a few of my own! It came about because film and dance are such similar mediums to me - there's a vital image to frame, a body moving in time and space, and ultimately some sort of driving concept and/or story to tell. Film, to me, is a generally more accessible form than dance- accessible meaning, if you ask most regular folks the last few films they saw, they'll probably go on and on; try the same question on them with dance, maybe there's not so much for them to say. I also love the idea of preserving-performance: being the fleeting and changing entity versus film as a thing that can repeat itself exactly and stay placed in time.

Q. How did you first get involved with White road Dance Media?

A. white Road Dance Media was founded in 2002 with Ashley Singletary, my best friend from school. We did our first full self-produced evening at WAX in Brooklyn. I think we were 22 or 23. In those early years, the shows were made up of several smaller 10-20 minute pieces, with each of us contributing our own work. When Ash and I went our separate ways artistically in 2006, I kept creating with wrDM and began to grow my work into the evening-length format. I'm actually trying to make a new 12-15 minute piece now for a Pentacle show in Boston, and it's amazing how the long form has taken over my brain! Short works might be harder!

Q. Do you find it easier making dances being part of a group or do you prefer freelancing.

A. As the Director of my own company, I've always worked project to project--most small NYC-based dance companies do this.

Q. Any favorite venues in New York?

A. Triskelion Arts, which has produced me for the past eight years, still feels like my home space, and I'm excited to see what kind of possibilities their new space will bring.

Recently I've really enjoyed having my work performed at both Dixon Place and Abrons Arts Center. I have a huge crush on Abrons-and I love the Underground Theater. It's like a magical terrarium for dance, really cool. And at Dixon Place they have some amazing capabilities with projectors. Since I'm using video projection in my new work, NEON BRAVE, this is something that really pricks my ears up.

Q.What can we expect from you in the future?

A. I'm premiering a new live dance work, NEON BRAVE, on Feb. 19. One feature of the production will be our use of GoPro cameras on dancers. Projections unique to each of the four performers will allow the audience to feel like they're existing and participating in the performers' environment. The footage from the GoPro cameras will offer a different type of audience immersion, unique to this production.

A few other ideas and projects: as part of my research process for NEON BRAVE, I wanted to do something that edged me on a little and also made me really excited, so I'm going to climb the suspension cables of the GWB up to the tower with a GoPro camera strapped on me. Not to worry, I'm doing this the legit way. I've been in touch with the people who give permission for this kind of thing and it's looking good so far, I'll just have to wait for winter conditions to pass, so it's safe to go up with experienced bridge personnel.

Once NEON BRAVE's run is over, I'll be working with an editor on the now-completed draft of my first attempt at a young adult novel, True North. In late April, wrDM has a new piece, The Lion and the Bull, premiering as part of a Pentacle Gallery show in Boston MA. And in the fall, starting with a residency at Silo/DanceNOW, I'll begin researching and framing my next full-length live dance piece, a multimedia adaptation of TS Eliot's The Wasteland.

Photograph: Marisa@rockpaper