When I asked Seán Curran what excited him the most about his company’s upcoming performance at the Ferst Center for the Arts on March 23, he spoke without hesitating: It is the second part of the program, his piece Left Exit: Faith, Doubt and Reason. The work, like the choreographer, asks a lot of questions, and investigates the topic up to and including atheism. Inspired by Astra Taylor’s documentary, Examined Life, and using recorded texts which the filmmaker “generously gave me permission to use,” the piece was well-received by the New York Times, whose critic said, “Unbelievably, it actually works!” That short sentence gives you an idea of how difficult it is to integrate the many elements Curran uses in his work, and how successful he is at overcoming such obstacles. The piece explores the big questions about faith and will touch at the heart or mind of each audience member. I love art that inspires thought.
“I’m a short-piece guy,” he smiles, explaining how he can take the ideas in a full-length documentary and condense them into half a concert, using the vocabulary of movement juxtaposed with the spoken word. He is effusive about Left Exit, which was first commissioned by the University of Notre Dame (a surprise, given the subject of the piece). Jerome Begin contributes to the musical score, and Curran finds it appropriate that Begin’s musical group is called the Left Hand Pass Ensemble. The dancers are already in the stage space as the audience is returning from intermission. They personify a variety of faiths including a nun, a Buddhist monk, an Amish woman, a Muslim, and a Hasidic Jew; these religious figures are performing movement based on a T’ai Chi sequence. “It’s an adagio,” Curran says, using the term that describes slow, sustained, connected dance movement. He says the piece incorporates a post-modern approach with a formal, geometrical use of space reminiscent of Balanchine, and includes a device he describes as “10 beginnings, like a video reset… which were later strung together into a 40-second movement phrase.” Typical of Curran’s work, the dancers collaborate with him in creating the final choreography. In addition to the 10 beginnings in Left Exit, he also gave the dancers a movement phrase to craft, which he then incorporated into the dance. He likes having the dancers solve movement problems. He collaborates in other ways as well, pointing to the contributions of lighting designer Joe Doran, whom he describes as “painterly in the way he uses light.”
The concert will open with a piece called Social Discourse. Curran calls it “contemporary urban folk dance. We’re the folks doing it; you’re the folks watching it,” he laughs. He says his father enrolled him in everything Irish as a child: Irish music, Irish language, and Irish stepdance. He clarifies that the audience will never confuse the movement with Irish stepdancing, but he considers it to be “an abstract visual type of a language.” Imagine using movement to describe life in the heart of a major city—think center of Atlanta. The work is set to the music of Thom Yorke, lead vocalist for Radiohead. Curran’s work is definitely eclectic.
In addition, the performance will include Hard Bargain, a work commissioned by a Los Angeles-based company called Xenon. It was “a very specific challenge,” says Curran. He was asked to make a men’s piece, which was set on four “robust, athletic, virtuosic dancers.” Curran describes it as a “diplomatic dance” about agreeing to disagree. Remember that he said he asks a lot of questions? Curran has since explored what happens when he substitutes a woman for one of the men to investigate the ramifications of gender in the work.
Seán Curran has directed his company for 15 years. He describes the performers as a “highly skilled, fluid group of dancers,” and says he is proud of the level of dance they present. He says he wants the audience to be “dazzled by the dancers” so they find themselves leaning forward in their seats, adding that he creates “sweaty, athletic dance. I am a maximalist,” he states confidently.
Asked what he is most interested in as a choreographer, Curran had his six points ready: He wants to respond to music, invent movement, utilize a sense of play, “tickle the eye as music tickles the ear,” be a poet with movement, and be clever. He is as articulate with words as he is with movement. He hopes the audience will see not only the dance, but themselves, as if they are looking in a mirror. Seán Curran teaches full time at New York University. He tells his choreography students, “You don’t want the audience to get ahead of you.” No fear.\; the audience will be racing to keep up.
Seán Curran will wrap up a month in the ARTech Residency program with this concert at the Ferst Center for the Arts on the Georgia Tech University campus March 23 at 8:00 pm. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.ferstcenter.gatech.edu/plugins/shows/index.php?id=507 or call 404-894-9600.