A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Dissection of a practice: Ana Mendez on herself

Psychic Youth, Inc. photo by Federico Nessi.

Time and time again, I’m asked the same question, “are you a performance artist or are you a choreographer?”  I hesitate to say that I am one or the other because I don’t feel like my work fits completely into either of these categories. I’d like to think that my process is fluid and can change focus at any moment without depending entirely on an applied strategy. I have never felt totally satisfied with creating choreography to be performed exactly as planned.

TRI photo by Thomas Hollingworth.

Before I began working collaboratively, my solo performances were created with landmarks. I would devise a beginning, middle and end with only an intention to guide me to these points. I always gave myself the space to lose my head – where I could feel like my body was no longer controlled by my mind, but by an energetic projection of an intention or emotion. I have referred to some performances as having been out of body experiences. In some cases losing memory of what I’d just done or experiencing violent physical reactions like throwing up. I am not always successful in getting out of my head, but that has always been my goal through these ritual dances.

Parrucca photo by Stian Roenning.

Two years ago I began working collaboratively as a member of Psychic Youth, Inc. In the collective I was able to create movement scenarios designed for untrained dancers (untrained in the modern and classical techniques of dance). They are brave visual artists and/or musicians that have unique and powerful body-voices. Some of these dancers include Federico Nessi, Aja Albertson, Marcela Loayza, Ricardo Guerrero and Rick Diaz. I find they can sometimes express through their body in a way I could never have choreographed. They are unpredictable.

TRIBUTE photo by Thomas Hollingworth.

Working with these bodies, gives my work so much more range because they will not and cannot repeat what I offer them verbatim. I urge them not to think they have to recreate what I give them, but to do what they think or remember the movement was.

TRIBTUE photo by Christy Gast.

My choreography becomes a suggested guide or a springboard for new movement. I usually give them a series of tasks or actions that, when done in a particular sequence, have no purpose.  This kind of action dance is a reference to Yvonne Rainer’s “Trio A”, which has always been a source for me to reflect on. I am always inspired by my dancer’s interpretations of these task sequences and like my solo work, I also give them the space to lose themselves. I offer them the outline and they fill in the gaps. The act of creating as they perform brings the group together. Recently, I have been creating games to play during performance so that they are not merely going through the motions, but are bringing consciousness into the work.

PSYCHIC YOUTH, INC. presents: TRI: A Living Ritual Environment. First Installment featuring Ricardo Guerrero, Ana Mendez & Federico Nessi at de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space, Miami, Florida, March 13th, 2010.

I love performances that flirt with an element of risk. I especially love performances taken out of the safe haven of a theater where everything is perversely controlled to perfection. Site-specific work such as Meg Stuart’s “Revisited” is an example of taking the escape the audience feels in the theater and rearranging it with reality. The escape catches you by surprise in “real life” rather than anticipating it as the lights lower in a theater. I also enjoy using alternative spaces because they come with their own stories, as opposed to the theater’s blank canvas. I am not a theater “hater”, but after having danced in them for so long, the blank canvas seems sterile. I have seen a handful of amazing performances that have transformed the theater’s predictable entrance and exit stage areas and have also manipulated the perspective of the audience. Chicago based theater company Plasticene’s “Come Like Shadows” is a good example of the possibilities of altering the black box, where the audience is tricked into believing they are the only ones observing the show – a second audience is later exposed on the opposite side of the performance space.

TRI photo by Thomas Hollingworth.

TRI photo by Thomas Hollingworth.

TRI photo by Thomas Hollingworth.

This confusion, between theater space and life space, between trained dancers and action dancers, confuses and influences my own blurred version of choreography and performance art. I build stories through dances and “non-dances”, crossing genres of performance through music and the relation of dance and dance space, where music is not just an audio backdrop to the drama of the dance, but is woven into the fabric of the choreography, such as in my latest performance piece “Walking Spell”, which premiered recently at Miami Art Museum[.]

This post was contributed by Ana Mendez.

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Dissection of a practice: Ana Mendez on herself