Q&A with Lori Teague >>

Dancing to the ways of water

By Emma Yarbrough | Emory Report | Sep. 24, 2012

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“Bend,” Lori Teague’s dance-for-camera installation exploring our relationship to water, premieres Sept. 27. Photo by Mark Teague.

Lori Teague, choreographer and head of the Emory Dance Program, has felt a strong connection to the water for most of her life. Inspired by the 2011-2012 Arts at Emory "Water" programming, Teague meditated on the theme of water in her recent creative endeavors, producing various dance pieces on the subject including "Vessel," "Women and Water" and "Question to ask a river, or a creek." 

On Sept. 27, Teague returns to this motif with "Bend," a dance-for-camera video installation about the human relationship to water.  

Teague shares insights with Arts at Emory about her personal relationship to water, changes to her creative process, and new additions to the Emory Dance Program’s season offerings:  

You collaborated with seven movement artists and your husband Mark Teague to create the filmed choreographic moments in "Bend," many of which take place in water. Tell us more about the process of creating the piece while dealing with various, unpredictable elements.  

In these environments of water I have had less control of my physical world, in terms of balance, inertia and comfort. I experienced moments that offered a unique momentum that was exciting to ride out. As a choreographer, I have probably attempted more things, exploring the territory that we were in. That said, I also had less time to shape the ideas due to lighting, temperature and weather. I have to create and live in the moment, literally. The performances are singular and unrecoverable. I feel I have refined my skills as an improvisational performer and my skills communicating the intention to others so that they can live in the moment too.  

Creating collaboratively with each of the movement artists—Juana Farfan, Camille Jackson, Kim Kleiber, Dana Lupton, Tara Shepard Myers and Natasha Nyanin—in the waters of the Toccoa River and Lake Oconee was extraordinary. I posed questions or situations for them to explore in the water. They really invested. It was a "converging of rivers" or water stories that will form a body of water on Sept. 27. What I discovered about Mark and me is this: the process of a videographer and choreographer are quite different, because the needs are different. We have both yielded, listened and trusted while trying to meet each others’ needs. These moments were also unpredictable because of the water’s temperature or weather. The unknown created tension, but the clarity of our intention helped us move forward.  

"Bend" incorporates dance for camera, on-camera interviews and also has a companion photographic exhibit. Is this your first project incorporating so many different media? How have all of the various forms of expression affected your creative process?  

Actually, no, Mark and I collaborated when I was in graduate school. I was researching recurring dreams and making the work in site-specific venues. Mark created photos that captured the common themes of recurring dreams. I am sure his body of work has always influenced my work. To me his eye lives in a classical form, with extraordinary abstract imagery as the subject matter. This is the first time I have ever created dance for the camera. I have learned a lot about framing a moment. What works in the studio does not always work on camera. It just is a different medium. The diverse sites we used directed our choices. The conversations and stories from others directed our choices. The water directed our choices.

For this piece, you collected peoples’ stories and experiences relating to water. What is your personal connection to water?  

Early in my life I played a lot in it. Then I developed a respect for it. I am drawn to its sound, its patterning and rhythm, and its enormous range of qualities—pools, currents, tides, dew, rain. There is a paradox of control that parallels the way I ride out moments in my daily life. I choose to release into things, to yield or adapt to the greater idea in the space. I like to follow a pathway by trusting the flow of momentum. I follow and sense things that I cannot really control. When I am in water I feel like my body can go anywhere and that sense of accessibility is empowering. My practical side says, "Water is just incredibly useful." But the poetry of water is more symbolic to me. Water’s flow can change structure, can dissolve tension and transforms emotion. These are ideas that I am always wanting to access in my life.  

This season, the Emory dance program is introducing some new programming, including "Opening the Space" celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, during which faculty members will teach open classes in the Dance Studio. Where did the idea for "Opening the Space" come from?

Well, as many things happen at our dance faculty meetings, it was collaborative. George Staib was interested in teaching some community classes. Greg Catellier already teaches on Saturdays. I already lead contact improvisation jams and Anna Leo and Sally Radell teach somatic practices for the community too. So we wanted to create something similar to the Dance in Progress that we initiated last fall and we too wanted to celebrate the Schwartz Center. The center has truly given us so much more presence and opportunity. I referenced our title from the inaugural dance concert, which was "Opening the Space." When I said it out loud, it all fell into place. It also feels great to include Blake Beckham’s talk about "Threshold," to open the space for one of our extraordinary alumnae.