A Reprint from GUIDEPOST
30 December 1988
By Bonnie Rosenstock
Jennifer Muller, of the long flowing hair and the even longer legs was in Madrid this summer for the Dance Festival with her company, the Works.* At the end of their three night program, Bonnie Rosenstock went along to talk to her about her life, loves and Works.
When did you start dancing and choreographing?
I began taking movement classes at three at a creative school for children after regular school hours. My first teacher was Norma Liss who I owe a lot to. She got our imaginations working, so that I always thought of dance as something you created for yourself. At age 8 I started ballet, and at 10 I went to the Julliard Preparatory School and studied with Alfred Devine. My mother says my first choreography was when I was 5, called “Running away from Indians.” I remember it had a lot of crawling in it. When I saw that black square that was the audience, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. So I’ve been dancing and choreographing my whole life. Since I was always very shy, dance became the means of expressing myself.
Seeing you dance, you don’t appear all shy!
Well, that is on stage. I remember being at a dinner after a performance and everyone was talking about “Jennifer Muller and her wonderful dancing” and no one knew I was sitting right there. I was too shy to say a word.
When did you change from ballet to modern?
I always studied modern at the same time. Even though I studied with Anthony Tudor for 11 years, and he was one of the biggest influences in my life, I always considered myself a Graham dancer.
How did it feel to be dancing professionally at age 15?
I was the youngest dancer in Pearl Lang’s company and I had to work with people older than myself. We travelled a lot. I remember the first Far Eastern tour we did. It changed my life. I was exposed to a lot of different people at an early age, which made me more flexible, and gave me an appreciation for different cultures. I’ve always loved the road.
What was different about dancing with Pearl Lang, Jose Limon and Louis Falco
Pearls’ dances were related to society. Jose’s were about relaxation and stretch. His characters were more humanistic, noble and heroic. Louis and I were really contemporary – he was only three years older than I. We were good friends as well as dance partners. His dances were about contemporary people, not larger-than-life heroes. I was choreographing there and got training running a company before I had my own. Louis was very open, gregarious, and I was still very shy. We were a good balance. But more importantly, what I learned and appreciated about all three of them, as well as about Martha Graham and Anthony Tudor, was their total commitment, all-out dancing sense and passion. They understood and expressed the voluptuousness of dancing.
Do you prefer dancing or choreographing?
I’ve always done both. Right now I’m passing out of dancing. I don’t have the time, running the company, and I’m approaching that age. But it doesn’t bother me not to dance. Choreography is harder for me, more obsessive, internal, but O enjoy tremendously.
How do you begin to choreograph, where do you start?
First comes the idea. I make copious notes on the structure, then I can let go of it, see where it goes, make choices. What the original idea comes from is the creative process, the unconscious. I always know what the title is. Sometimes, years later when I see the piece, I can say, “Oh, yes, that’s what was going on in my life,” although at the time I didn’t realize it. I often choreograph in silence because I feel the piece grows from inside. The first two weeks are vocabulary finding, whether it’s fluid, not fluid, partnering, not partnering, and I make the style appropriate for the piece. But I can’t do the movement until I do it on the individual. I use the strengths of the people I’m working with. Although I may ask them what they think, I always listen to my internal voice and my intuition as to what I think feels right.
What is the relationship between the dance and the music?
Music and dance are like a marriage of two busy people. They work and create individually and come together once in a while. I prefer living, working contemporary composers. I very seldom consider classical music because it speaks to another time. I sometimes use original music, for example, “Interrupted River” (1987) was a lose collaboration between Yoko Ono (music), Keith Haring (scenery) and myself. With the composer, we talk about structure. Ideally, I dance a little, he writes a little, but that doesn’t happen often. Keith Jarrett (“In Tandem”, 1986) wanted to see the piece before composing the music. “Occasional Encounters” is my most musical piece because I chose the music first. It’s dedicated to Anthony Tudor.
Do you always have a story, a theme in mind or work with abstract ideas?
I’m always interested in seeing the human being communicating emotions. Whether you intend or not, you’re always communicating something, even it it’s expressing an absence of communication among people. “City” (1988) is not a story, but about the energy of the city, but it communicates those images and energy. “Speeds” (1974) expresses a contrast of velocity but ther’s still something emotional. In “Interrupted Rivers” I was interested in what starts violence and explored those ideas. “Darkness and Light” (1988) is the polarity between two extremes. “Couches” which is a part of it explores two states of mind, neither of which is balanced, the superego and the the id, and the audience is asked to mediate between the two. But essentially we dance, and work very strong technically, for the purpose of communication and expression with theatrical elements. We dance about relationships, about right now. My mother has a degree in theater and has directed a lot of community theater and my father is a TV director. I think that’s why my work is theatrical.
You choreograph about relationships which are problematic, “occasional”, violent and ambivalent. How do they reflect your views and experiences?
I feel these are hard times, so it’s partly intentional. It’s not a time of the spirit, but a time of calculation, although the company and I get along well and I have a good relationship with the man I live with.
What would you like to see yourself doing in the future?
I’d like to bring back dialogue, but not just bring it back, but to make it mean something. I’d like to make dance for video, do more theater projects. I can’t really say, because it’s ongoing process.
Featured image from the Battery Dance Festival 2016, Jennifer Muller The Works by Stgeven Pisano, CC BY2.0