Learning Library Segments
Ariel Dance TheatrePrimary Use of Medium: Live Dance Theatre
Interviewer: Donna Wetegrove
Interview Location This interview process takes place with Andrea Ariel in her office with the lights off and ceiling fan on. It is a late summer rainy Texas afternoon with the sun finally showing itself after the much needed rain. There is an awareness of passing traffic on the wet pavement outside the large street-front facing window. The pace of the day is peaceful.
Interview Date: 9.5.01
Writer: Jenny Turney
What Type Of Artist Do You See Yourself As?
Andrea describes herself as "adventurous, a gypsy kind of spirit." She's also the kind of person that gets asked to do things knowing that she usually says yes.
Andrea Ariel, founder and general director of Ariel Dance Theatre might be described by some as a choreographer, to others a dancer and to her son a mother. However, upon meeting her it's very apparent that there is a lot more to this energy filled person. She was a dance student, a teacher, an administrative assistant, a painter and now a visual theater artist.
Andrea says that as a young child she has memories of creating imaginary scenes and putting on shows in her garage. Her desire to be an artist was not obvious at that time, but looking back she always had that interest. It wasn't until she left Chicago for California where her spark was ignited and through many years and a lot of experience later landed where she is today.
How Did You Personally Get Here?
Her beginning came from dance in a really pure sense. She worked in social services and decided she needed a change and started taking classes locally and then it all started. Originally from the Chicago area, she moved to California, got married, had a child and started educating herself in dance. She took classes at the Junior College ranging from theater and dance to math and archaeology. It was a place for her to explore new avenues and it led her to focus on dance. She moved to Santa Cruz and attended the University of California and received her B.A. in Theater Arts with an emphasis in dance. Here she realized that dance had always been a part of her life even back to her childhood days of putting on performances in her garage. She attributes her educational opportunities to being "fearless." As a young mother she had to work hard to save money to go to school, not to mention support herself. She utilized loans and grants to get her through her education and relied on the advice and encouragement of her many teachers. It also took years of discipline to pick herself up when she fell and keep on going.
Trusting and letting go through the years allowed Andrea to discover that "there's something always visual there, something more multi-disciplinary than just dance." Although she says that it starts from a core place. And that always brings her "back to the work," eliminating the critic and ridding herself of the ego ultimately gets rid of all that.
"I was sort of fearless, thank goodness. I think being a naïve person, having that childlike naïveness is a good quality … sometimes I think if we get too intellectual too early, it's harder. It's harder to pull that stuff away."
It was also a lot of hard work, determination and the willingness to open herself to new ideas and possibilities that allowed her to get to where she is. It was a long road filled with many interesting twists and turns that definitely shaped her.
Where Does Your Inspiration Come From?
Andrea describes that ultimately she has to first go inside and find the movement. She starts somewhere with movement that's springing from an organic, intuitive place and allows that material to grow. And once the material grows, she has learned to trust this and then the material is true to the idea as she discovered it.
George Coats heavily inspired her during her time at the University of California. She came in contact with his work on a class field trip to San Francisco. She describes his show as such: "this show had opera, singing, theater, film, live music. It had a really highly raked stage…and they used film on the body as texture from the side." Here, she feels, is where that seed was planted that what she was interested in was something very big that incorporated many elements.
Teaching also gave her inspiration, if not added confidence. Teaching early on allowed her to have to make decisions and figure out what came naturally to her and to show that to others.
One teacher, Betty Walburg, taught her that she needed to find a way to take those ideas within her and find a way to let them become what they needed to be. That way she would not worry about showing her ideas. So she shifted her whole process, and, to this day is where she starts to begin her creating.
How Would You Describe Your Work?
"I would say it's movement based theater that is very clearly springing from the movement of the dance. And I like the work to always encompass athletic movement that is also very technically developed. I like to use dance technique. I like to use that virtuoustic level that comes with being trained as a dancer. My work is very environmental. I often create an environment for the work to exist in that includes the video, the film, the set, the live music, as well as the movement. In that sense, there's a theatricality to the work that is always present. Sometimes obviously so and then sometimes very subtle. But I think it's very environmental and very multi-disciplinary. Definitely movement based."
Why Do You Personally Like The Medium?
In her words it's said best, "It's a curse. You dance too much it hurts, you stop dancing it hurts. I think it ties back into that part where you don't have a choice. I am a very physical energy. That's what I celebrate about being human. It's that part of humanness that I was born to explore the most---that physical part."
Does The Music, Stage Set And Costumes Dictate The Choreography Or Does Your Ideas For Choreography Dictate How The Other Components Are Used?
"I think that each artistic form for the most part springs off of the movement or the idea essence and often is built around what you see with the movement. I think in a lot of ways I still have that purity of movement. If this dance cannot exist all by itself in an empty space and communicate the idea, then I'm not accomplishing what I need. It's not that those other things are frivolous, they're part of expanding the environment, but I think the environment begins inside. So it's the inner environment coming through as movement and creating that essence that can stand on it's own.
What Brings Your Medium To Life?
Andrea confidently confirms that athletic movements, dance technique, live musicians, actors, film and video and the environment surrounding all of these aspects are key.
What "Tools" Are Required In Your Process?
"Phases of movement, stillness, communication, extraction and ideas, not to mention a lot of patience and determination" as Andrea has proved over the years.
Please Summarize Ariel Dance Theater's Entire Process For Each Production.
Each step for her has always been adding another element of multi-disciplinary aspects to her work that began when she learned to plant a seed. Then she finds other artists who take that and go their own direction, and suddenly it is more than just about her—it becomes, the idea, the concept, the essential element. The essence of the work doesn't really get ruined by her letting go. "As I plant the seed and let go, I let other art forms all blossom."
As Andrea answers this question her ideas are spinning for an upcoming show in December 2001 and she starts going through the motions of her process by mentioning the composer and singer she wants to work with. She stops however, and takes the time to go back and explain that first she, "creates an empty space inside of myself that asks, what is this new work that I am going to make? What is this going to be about? I just sort of let that be and it's almost like a little incubator". Other times she explains she just starts to move, not knowing what the movement is about. She's learned to trust the movement. She describes movement as an entity that is intuitively connected to that process without her consciousness being there. The empty space lets something spring up, and as things spring up, she grabs onto that and plays with it. Then she starts to have something tangible. She likes the idea that there is some sort of concept or word or sensation or emotion out there. Something that has a dynamic quality to it and at the same time a raw movement. When the raw movement comes out, she lets her work with her dancers evolve. After that there is an understanding and she builds on that understanding and ultimately has a finished work.
Do You Recommend What You Do As A Career Choice? … Why?
"You've got to love it, you've got to have passion for it beyond any thing else, because if you don't, you'll never get there."
Andrea explains that if you have the passion and the spark to pursue it, then definitely. "I think if you feel a spark towards wanting to dance and perform movement, put yourself in as many opportunities to find out and you'll know," as Andrea has learned through her own experience.
Andrea does not want to give false hopes to those interested that it's not a difficult career—it is and it's not a high-paying career at that. Most dancers do a different job as their main source of income and then they are also dancers in a company.
What Tips Might You Have For Someone New To The Medium? … How Best To Develop Their Interest?
In her words it's said best, "You've got to love it, you've got to want to dance. If you want to dance, then, you've got to do it … and then the way to do it is to dance as much as you can. Look for the opportunities—grab them."
Andrea also suggests that those interested should find classes to take and just start taking them. She feels that one needs to be in a place where you are doing it with other people and learning the vocabulary and studying because there are so many directions one can go with dance, whether it's a practical dance therapy, a dance education route or an artistic route.
They recycle their works as the company evolves into new works.
Andrea points out that her type of art, her performances, never really run long enough for people or the dancers to get tired of them. She's been asked by one fan why she doesn't go back and repeat past performance, although she says that it is rare for her to go back and do just that.
However, Andrea plans take the four evening length pieces she has which are " Proto," "No Exit," "Reflex," and "Seven Rooms to the Soul, " and go back and rework them. She said, "they are screaming for me to go back and develop the music, develop the work…" Andrea wants to create some 20-minute pieces, as opposed to evening length pieces that typically are an hour in length. She then wants to enter these 20-minitue pieces in competitions and festivals. Traditionally she lends herself to the longer pieces because she feels that's her direction, but those aren't conducive to competitions and festivals.
Where Do You See Ariel Dance Theatre's Creativity Evolving?
Back to the seed of George Coats, she has a dream to create a commission of work where she would start developing a huge piece over a course of 3 to 6 months or even a year. From there she would want to tour it with the artists, dancers, etc. outside of her Austin, Texas home base.
Andrea added, "I think that's how I learned. I went into school programs with people who knew how to do that and I was helping. Then I worked in offices and did the tedious administrative tasks. I was able to take dance workshops while I helped sell ads for the program. I got to take classes for free."
Depending on the focus whether it's the business side, the technical side or as a dancer or as a teacher there are opportunities to create an intern program for somebody who is really committed. Call 512-458-4258 if you are interested.
"My goal has been to take what is my artistic process, who the artists are that I am working with and incorporate that into the community programs I create."
Andrea created a program called "The Self-Portrait" project. It aims to utilize the cubist art movement as a means to support the survival and/or renewal of the creative individual. Participants are guided to create self-portrait artwork based on the cubist approach using a two-dimensional painting. A guided movement exploration of the various aspects of these paintings through creative exercises in physical expression create a "group-collage movement painting." Some of the many goals of "The Self-Portrait" project is to introduce and/or expand an understanding of abstract art and the cubist movement, an understanding of the art form of dance/movement and performance and to provide an opportunity for experiencing a new consciousness of themselves and their possibilities. By working with directors of a facility or school and a series of classes taught by Andrea, those participating will achieve their goals for the project. At the end, participants will have completed a self-portrait painting and experienced dance group work. And, hopefully, will have learned about themselves in the process.
Ariel Dance Theatre is active in the community locally and while on tour. It offers workshops, residencies and special projects. Past programs include work with the Texas Commission on the Arts, Artist-in-Education Roster and after school programs focusing on at-risk-youth. Ongoing lecture demonstrations and onsite performances also help keep the Theatre active in the Austin community, not to mention corporate and private business residencies programs and partnerships.
P.O. Box 27338
Austin, Texas 78704
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