Arts and Culture

Laura Ann Samuelson Wants to Complicate What a Solo Dance Is

Laura Ann Samuelson performs at the Boulder International Fringe Festival
Jun Akiyama
Laura Ann Samuelson performs at the Boulder International Fringe Festival
This weekend Boulder’s award-winning experimental dance organization Hoarded Stuff Performance is presenting the world premiere of practicing, both choreographed and performed by Laura Ann Samuelson.
A teacher and heartily supported choreographer whose work has been shown all over the United States and Europe, Samuelson is the three-time winner of the Encore! Performance Award at the Boulder International Fringe Festival.

Samuelson's pieces involve miming, body awareness and interacting with objects. In one performance, she duct-tapes a massive paper structure to her body, creating a sound by thrashing around with the object, and eventually ends the piece by driving off in her car with all of the paper attached to her body while audience members look on.

 caught up with Samuelson to talk about her new work, and how practicing will stretch the viewer's definition of reality.

Westword: What was your inspiration for this performance?

Laura Ann Samuelson: I have been thinking a lot lately about how I relate to ideas when making new work. There is a kind of shape-shifting that takes place where the process of making requires me to orient and disorient what I think my work is about. Working in dance has required me to really wrestle with this, maybe because it asks us to re-prioritize action in relationship to language. I started working on this solo, really interested in zeroing in on the dynamic between things that conjure feelings of meaning and meaninglessness, and how the accumulation and breakdown of patterns and logics within a piece shape the content. When I began working, this curiosity was really in the back of my mind. As I get further into my process, I am realizing that practicing is dealing with how to organize around a void — around something that has no center. Where does meaning come from in this scenario? That's the "zoomed out" view.  My friend and extraordinary writer Bhanu Kapil talks about "the void" in her work, as well. I think I got the idea from her.

Why did you choose to perform this work solo?

All of my work deals with relationships, and I notice that more than ever when I work solo. The relationships between myself and the space, the objects in the space, the architecture and the audience are almost magnified in solo work. This piece is no exception. Also, the space is covered with cardboard cutouts of people, so it feels like a solo that is posing as a large ensemble piece. Or maybe it is a large ensemble piece posing as a solo. I think I'm trying to complicate what a solo is. 

Where and how do you take breaks from the dance world that inform your work (things that are not dance-related)?

I write and read and watch movies and take walks and spend time with those I love, and call my congressman and work with other body-based somatic practices and teach and work. I am always mining the relationship between artistic processes and the process of living.
click to enlarge Laura Ann Samuelson will perform practicing at the Boulder Creative Collective February 23 to 25. - LAURA ANN SAMUELSON
Laura Ann Samuelson will perform practicing at the Boulder Creative Collective February 23 to 25.
Laura Ann Samuelson
You mention that you envision Colorado as a place where the "citizenry is activated." How do you think this piece explores that?

I think that art trains people to tune into new ways of perceiving, which in turn changes how we engage ourselves in all spheres of life. I try to make new work that allows people to feel creative agency in how they cultivate and compose their engagement with their communities. Hopefully this work does that.

Since you are mining the relationship between the artistic process and the process of living, do you blend yourself as an individual person and artist, or do you separate the two?

I don't feel much of a divide between being an artist and being a person in the world. For me, making my work is about setting up a certain kind of space/time zone to tune into a different way of perceiving. I try to bring this into my own life in small ways. Also, when I am making or performing my work, I try to start from what is already available or already present around and within me. I think this would be much harder if I was attempting to separate my art life from the rest of my life.

Do you still feel drawn to work that doesn't activate folks? Or do you ever make that type of art yourself anymore?

I feel like all work, even work I don't like so much, has the capacity to alter us, because in my mind, it's impossible to make something without initiating or presenting a worldview. The artist may not be aware of the perspective they are offering, but there is always something there. I think that act of people coming together to witness and take part in something together is something that culturally happens less and less, so I don't take that space for granted. I am more concerned with creating a context where the audience is able to slip into a different way of perceiving things, and then it's theirs to connect to their own experience.

Practicing runs at the Boulder Creative Collective in Boulder from Thursday, February 23, through Saturday, February 25, then moves to Buntport Theater from March 2 through March 4.  Tickets are $10 to $15 and can be purchased here.