Interview: Art DeXo
by Andrew Alexander
|DeXdance: Abraham Jarrell, Jessica Whelan, Kristin Henry, and Kristin Dexnis in front|
Dance shows stand out at the Fringe, because there aren’t usually a lot of them. At this year’s fringe, there is just one show which is strictly a dance piece: Art Dexo, by DeXdance, a New York company founded in 2003 by Kristin Dexnis. After seeing their show on Sunday, the cast sat down and talked to me about their show.
Asking them about their company, I quickly learn that the heart and soul of the company is Kristin Dexnis. “It’s evolved over the years,” says Kristin, who originally formed the company with friends she had trained with at the Ailey school in New York. “It’s a matter of meeting people and liking them, and knowing that I can work with them. Once they’re there, we do different things: fringe is one of them.”
The other dancers in the company – Jessica, Abraham, and another Kristin – caught Kristin’s eye, having worked with her previously on other projects. While we chat, Abraham massages Kristin’s leg, working out a kink: later, Kristin will be working on Abraham’s arm. Abraham has had arm troubles, which affected their opening night performance. However, when I saw the show, the lifts didn’t seem to be a problem for anyone.
“We rehearsed intensely in New Jersey before we left, we’ve been together all day, every day,” says Kristin. “It was a very good experience to rehearse eight hours a day for seven days straight, because we have become super-close. The energy onstage is definitely an effect of that.” Indeed, the four dancers move confidently through the stage of Academic Hall. Their show is a collection of different pieces: a few group dances, and a solo performance for each. When they do dance as an ensemble, the dance is sometimes in tandem, sometimes completely separate. Contemporary, to be sure, and never without enthusiasm.
While this isn’t the first time DexDance has partaken in a fringe festival, it’s the first time they’ve come to Canada. The company started fringing in 2007, at the Orlando International Fringe festival (they’ve been three times now), has also gone to the Boulder Fringe, and is now expanding to the Ottawa and Windsor fringes this year. “How I got involved in fringes in the first place,” recalls Kristin, “I was always a dancer in high school, when I was younger – when I went to college, I decided to stop. And then I found theatre. That’s how I learned about fringes in general. And then I decided to go back to dance. So years later, when I found out about the fringe circuit, how it works, I wanted to do that. I never really felt on the outside. Especially going to Orlando three years in a row… I have friends there, it’s awesome. Last fringe, we did a collaboration with a company down there. Through that connection, we went to Boulder.”
I ask Kristin to describe the show for me. “It’s five separate pieces, separate ideas. The first one (“Curious George’s Culinary Zone”) started off being about the music, because it sounds kinda like a video game. Generally, I like to do things that are completely homegrown, because I like everything to be completely original and connected to me. And then we just had fun and expanded on it. For [Kristin Henry]’s solo at the very end of it, I wrote down a narrative and said, make movement based on this narrative, and then we’ll play with it. I want this movement here, faster, slower, repeat this, upside down, on your head, whatever. And she’ll do it, because she’s wonderful.”
For a piece called Loops, the basis for the movement was also found in music. “I met that musician,” says Kristin, “Noel Walsh, at a festival in Maine called the Frantasia festival. [Loops] came about because I wanted to use his music in particular. I had a physics textbook, and I literally took words from it and made gestures. That’s where the raw movement came from. It ended up being about being trapped in this box.” Kristen Henry pipes in to prod why the pieces features a particular moment – the dancers create a box out of blue masking tape and proceed to dance within it. “We were performing it in this teeny tiny art gallery in the Bronx – essentially a living room. In rehearsal, I was saying, we can’t go beyond this area. I’m going to bring tape. It ended up being a part of the piece. From there it just kind of expanded. I wanted a solo at the beginning and a solo at the end, to show the difference, having freedom, use of space, to being confined, to going to freedom again – but having been confined, how are you different.”
While some of the pieces are well established, and “locked in”, some of them are very recent and are still evolving. For Abraham, the tour started on the right foot because one of the pieces, Underbrush, had a successful premiere performance just before they left New York to come to Ottawa. “Before we came here, we got to premiere Underbrush for other artists to get some feedback. It was very exciting because we all learned that piece in a very brief amount of time, and we also got to perform in a unique venue, a restaurant. It was very interesting getting feedback from the artists, them actually understanding what the piece was about, what the cape and the birds represented, it really set this off on the right foot.”
So where do the pieces come from? “It’s in my brain,” says Kristin Dexnis. “I tell everybody, and sometimes I say help, sometimes I say this is how it’s gotta be. Most of the time I love their suggestions and four heads are better than one.” Is there any disagreement? Kirstin Henry relates: “Kristin and I, I feel like we have a similar style of movement. But we’re different people, different artists, so there are some things that she’ll ask me to do sometimes that push my comfort zone. But that’s the great thing about working with another artist, it pushes you to be a better artist.”
So then, who pushes Kristin’s boundaries? It seems she’s equally demanding of herself. “Every piece that I do has to be completely different from the last, and a step up. Looking at my work over the years, I think it has definitely improved. As far as challenging myself… it’s a self-motivation thing. I’m not going to stop any time soon.”
Art DeXo continues at the Academic Hall with shows on Tuesday the 22nd (8pm), Thursday the 24th (8pm), Saturday the 26th (12:30pm) and Sunday the 27th (6:30pm).