Friday, August 21, 2015

Interview with L1-resident Benjamin Jarrett (USA) by Zita Sándor

"I aim at transforming myself in the process"
interview with L1-resident Benjamin Jarrett (USA) by Zita Sándor

Benjamin Jarrett is a dancer, creator, teacher, father, husband and feminist. As a resident artist of L1 Association, he premiers his piece SPRING CLEANING at L1danceFest 2015 on the 16th of September at Bakelit M.A.C. In this short but dense solo, he is directly challenging his own social values, revealing a part of his psychological landscape – regarding both gender and sexuality –, with the aim of fundamentally transforming himself in the process.

In 2014, you performed a solo during L1danceFest choreographed by Márta Ladjánszki, titled UNTITLED – a meditation in one act. We already know some information about you thanks to last year’s questionnaire. How did you meet Márta and the L1 Association?
I met Márta during the SzólóDuó Festival 2009 hosted by MOHA (then MMS). We'd both been invited to teach workshop during the festival, and I took her sessions.  She later came to a workshop I was teaching at the same space and thus began our professional friendship. For the next 5 years we would run into each other – almost always Zsolt Varga (musician, composer, chairman of L1 Association), was there too –, at the airport or at some venue, or online, and exchange words, thoughts; and I always made sure to see her performances if I was in Budapest. Finally I was no longer just visiting Budapest but living there, so approached Márta and Zsolt about an idea for a solo. After some open workshop sessions she decided to take my proposition and create a solo on me. Since then I also collaborated and performed with Zsolt on a project of mine.

This year you became a resident artist of the L1 Association, however you were working mainly in the U.S. Can you describe us your relation to the L1 Association? How could L1 help you in your creation process, how does your cooperation work?
After working together from 2013 to 2014, Márta offered me the chance to be an L1 resident for this year. Since Márta is one of the most level-headed, creative, accepting and honest people I've ever met, she's been a joy to have as support while I've gone through my own creative struggles here in the U.S. Having said this, I need to admit I feel I was too busy with my life in the U.S. to truly reap the full benefits of a residency in Hungary. I’m glad that I will still have 4 more months to go, after my return in September!

You have an insight into the Hungarian/Central European and the West coast United States dance scene. What kind of structural, strategic differences do you see between these? Can this knowledge help you to build your career?
Both places are full of challenges to an artist needing to make work. The San Francisco Bay Area is a huge scene with such a variety of teachers and styles and dance cultures that one can get overwhelmed and/or spread thin. On the other hand, living there is extremely expensive, and since no state or governmental arts funding exists, artists have to work a lot in order to just barely scrape by, and often, very often, are exhausted. In Budapest, the dance scene is smaller, but therefore more concentrated. From my perspective, the commitment level of dancers and performing artists is much stronger, and generally creative work is given more weight, more importance (the same in Serbia where I also lived for 3-plus years).

You present yourself saying you are among others “father, husband, feminist”. In SPRING CLEANING, at one point you appear in women’s dress and we can hear a fragment from Disney’s Snow White. It seems, cross-gender and cross-cultural observations and experiences are important in your work. Can you describe how these are inspiring you?
Through this piece I am directly challenging my own social values, and I aim at transforming myself in the process. Using instances of my social and sexual imprinting, I’m working in order to gain a measure of freedom from my inhibitions that keep me from following my intuitions. For example: I'm often afraid to comfort someone for fear that they don't want my touch. Or afraid to compliment someone for fear they will take my words the wrong way. The intention behind this is to become more compassionate, more understanding of other people's pain, their fears and desires. 

Your new choreography titled SPRING CLEANING will premier at L1danceFest. It will be a ritual transformation, as you told us, you wanted to 'clean out your closet’ by using as many of your old ideas as possible, connecting and shaping them. Did the cleaning succeed? Do you feel relieved?
Originally I just wanted to try some ideas that I'd collected over the years. These were mainly simple ideas I kept coming back to, because I'd never tried them. So, initially this piece was my version of a long-over-due tidying up. However, what I discovered in the process was that most of those ideas didn't work. But a whole piece emerged out of the process, which is challenging me fundamentally. I still have a long way to go with this.

What would you underline or highlight in your new performance? What do you think, what is the most important feature of your new solo?
This solo is short but dense with resources. I'm revealing a part of my psychological landscape, pertaining to both gender and sexuality. Also, I'm singing, something I haven't done publicly since I was a boy; and singing alone, to an intimately close audience.

What kind of new inspirations do you have now? What are your plans for the rest of the year?

I had the good fortune to participate in a workshop co-taught by Sara Shelton Mann and Guillermo Gomez Peña, which opened me up dramatically; and which offered me a whole new language and tool box to approach my art. During the coming year I plan to continue working with the material gathered for Spring Cleaning to grow it into a full-length piece. For the L1danceFest2015, it had to be kept to 20 minutes, and doing so has been a strong tool for me in consolidating what actions I take in answering the questions I'm asking.  

(KÖM by L1 Association)

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