An interview with Jodi Lomask
Choreographer and Artistic Director, Capacitor
June, 2000
By Jill Vanoncini

(Photo by Marty Sohl)


I met with Jodi Lomask, Choreographer and Artistic Director for Capacitor, before one of her performances at the SOMArts gallery in San Francisco this spring. Jodi graduated cum laude from the dance conservatory at SUNY Purchase and has studied at The Royal Ballet Academy, Merce Cunningham Studio, Pilobolus Studio, London Contemporary Dance School and the Rotterdam Dansacademie. She performed in the Purchase Dance Corps, NMH Performance Group, and Kneejerk before founding Capacitor in 1997.

Jeremy Tressler, the composer who collaborated with Lomask on BreathTank, was visiting San Francisco and joined us. After tromping around in search of espresso, we settled down in a SOMA cafe to talk about Capacitor and their recent production, Future Species 2.

 

 

Jill: So we were talking a little on the way over about the evolution of Future Species 2... how did that start? Was there one kernel that it grew from?

Jodi: Future Species is a culmination of two years of our experimentation and production. We got fed up with doing showcases, and doing a piece here and a piece there, and not having control over the whole evening's experience. We really didn't want our work to be compromised by what came before and after it... we just felt like we wanted to create a full experience. It was the next step for our group, to take on the challenge of a longer piece.

We created an arrangement based on the piece that we'd worked with Jeremy on, BreathTank, which was a 20-minute work, and it was really the seminal piece. It set the aesthetic for Capacitor. And it was Zack's idea (Zack Bernstein, one of Capacitor's founding members), actually, to take BreathTank and to cut it in half to make it bookends for the whole evening, to have it start there with the breath, travel through all the other phases, and to end in the breath, which is this sort of the sleep/dream state... to have it return.

That was a cross-country collaborative issue, because Jeremy's over there in New York saying "What? You want to do what to my score? You want to cut my piece in half, and you actually want me to do the cutting and to send you the CD?" (she laughs). After lots of back-and-forth, Jeremy gave in and let us do it. So that was Future Species 1.

After that piece, I heard everybody's feedback, and the main criticism was that it didn't feel cohesive enough. My sister is a modern dancer, and her feeling was that starting with BreathTank was asking the audience to do a lot. It was asking the audience to drop down to a really deep place really fast, and the audience wasn't doing that... wasn't able to do that.

Afterwards, I would ask people, "What was your favorite piece? What stood out to you? What really worked, what do you remember?" And they weren't saying BreathTank. And I thought, in the past, BreathTank has been everyone's favorite. What are we doing wrong? So it made sense to me that when you're coming off the street, you've got to take people down in stages. Start with something that's high-powered and on street level, and then take them places they wouldn't otherwise go. And I feel – and the performers feel it too – like we're taking a journey with the audience each night, and that's pretty interesting. It keeps changing.

One of the things that I found really interesting about the whole show is this integration of biology, this sort of physicality – obviously, dance is physical, but there's something medical, almost clinical about certain parts of it. It's a little creepy... you're thinking of blood, and spit, and bodily fluids, and hearing this sort of wheezing sound... I'm not sure – did I hear that, or was I just feeling that? How does that fit in with your exploration of technology?

Jodi: What's really exciting to me right now, is how do humans assimilate all of this technology into their experience and still be animals? And that, yeah, we have all of these cool DSL lines and all these great graphics and web sites, and fast connections, and neon lights...

Jeremy: We operate more and more on the level of the mind, and never deal with the body.

Jodi: Yeah. So what happens to the body? How does the body cope with that technology? And where do they meet? I think that because I also do graphic design, from my personal experience, that's where a lot of that is coming from... the forgotten digestive tract, or the diaphragmatic breathing that we can totally bypass by being so visual and so cranial.

Jill: I would also say that one of the things I really liked about the show was the fact that I could go home and think about it later... think about it analytically. So, is the intellectual aspect of your work conscious? Is that...

Jeremy: That's Jodi – that's the way she is. (Jodi laughs)

Jodi: I think there's truth in that. I think that people end up creating work that they can't help but create, so if you're a cranial person… and I think I'm a cranial person... I like to analyze things and break things down, and at the same time, I really need to be a physical person to balance myself out. I'll go a little crazy if I don't work out enough – I'll go nuts because without that balance, I'm top-heavy or something. I think more than I actually should, for my health (she laughs).

Jill: (to Jeremy) And are you the same way?

Jodi: He's pretty cranial.

Jeremy: I'm always oscillating back and forth between trying to analyze everything and feeling... feeling everything in the body...

Jodi: His most recent vigorous yoga practice...

Jeremy: Yeah, right, it's made me extremely conscious of my body; it's made me aware of the fact that my mental processes are directly influenced by my body, that my emotions are somehow contained in my muscles... like doing a really deep stretch, and having emotions come out of it, like laughing, or starting to cry. It's a really interesting experience. I've heard dancers talk about that before, but it wasn't in my direct experience until recently.

Jill: I was also thinking of the introduction to Future Species 2 where that woman in the white dress leads the audience through breathing and a sort of visualization exercise...

Jodi: That's actually something I've always done in my company classes with the dancers, and I've had other teachers do the same kind of thing – deep relaxation exercises before a class starts. I've often gone to see shows and wished somebody would do that. Just say "OK, you've parked your car. You've gotten your ticket, now you're here." So when the show starts, I'm ready for it. Usually, half the show's over and then I go "Oh yeah. OK. Hello. Where am I?" And then I start to pay attention. So I think that grows out of a desire to really craft the audience experience, rather than just say "Look at us! Look at us! Look at us!"

Jill: What are the other ways you do that in the piece?

Jodi: A lot of choices as far as order and pacing. I mainly focus on what would excite me at this moment, or what would really surprise me... it's really intuitive. At the end of BreathTank, when the UC Men's Choral comes up and starts singing... that feeling of putting the audience through something that intense, and that chaotic, and that stressful, then to give them something so soft and pure and simple as a sigh of relief. Things like that, choices like that – thinking about what the through-line of the entire evening feels like. And of course, always ending with a fun piece at the end for dessert, you know? Something that makes everyone feel good that they made it through the journey... they should get something nice.

Jeremy: I think... that a beautiful form – and beautiful is kind of a tricky word – but a form that is meaningful, and can be integrated into one's own experience, is... I think that if you look at dance, at music and movies and film, that if you look through all the arts, or books even, you find universals... universal aspects to the things that make them great. And I think that the talent in it – I've talked about this a little with Jodi – the talent is that you recognize what those universal aspects are, when you're the artist trying to create.

But your ego is the problem, it's all these filters you have in your mind that get in the way of it and destroy it. I think what I'm saying is that creating a great form is not necessarily the magic. Certainly there are all sorts of new innovations and tricks that you can use to go about delivering that form and fleshing it out, but the important thing is being able to carry through with the form so that it really comes out.

Jodi and I are talking about doing another collaboration on a dance piece. With "BreathTank", Jodi ended up giving me finished choreography, and I worked with that.

Jill: And was that easier?

Jeremy: In some ways it's easier because a lot of choices have been made already. It's more like being a graphic designer, in that someone comes to you with a template, and your creative task is in developing it, fleshing it out. They give you a skeleton and you model it. So in that way, it was easier, because the form was set. The form was the duration of the piece, and there were obvious textural changes going on.

Jodi: I even sent you a spreadsheet, right? Saying "30 seconds of this... transition..."

Jeremy: Well, I asked you to do that, I said "Give me exact times."

Jodi: I sat there with a stopwatch, "OK, Zack's solo..." It was very linear, very "Tick, tick, tick."

Jeremy: So, in that way, the form was done, and I didn't have to take responsibility for it. That's where it gets tricky, as soon as I have to take responsibility for the form, then I'll think well, what if this section were a minute longer? And how does the choreographer know that having an aerialist going off at this point is really the best thing to do? It's making all of those little decisions, feeling like you're responsible for the outcome, and if you think of it in terms of the possibility for failure, and judge yourself harshly, then you tend to slow the creative process down.

Jill: One of the things that you talk about in the program for Future Species 2 is using technology as a way to create a less racially divided society. And of course, here in the Bay Area, with all of these new IPOs and stock prices going through the roof, the idea of a society divided by economic class comes to my mind. So how does that work?

Jodi: Art is a reflection of culture; that's what I think. Sometimes it can guide culture in a certain direction, but most of the time, artists create portraits of the culture that's around them. I think the most pertinent issues facing culture right now are becoming technological issues, if they aren't already.

As technology becomes more and more of a force and a presence in human experience, people are going to make up... people already are creating their own histories and ethnicities. In the US, even if you're full breed of anything at this time, you're being affected by the cultures that are right next door, so there are all of these hybrids, as I see it, cultural hybrids. I think that's very interesting, just on an ethnic level and a cultural level, there are all these crossovers, but I think what is becoming the more serious challenge for human culture is the presence of technology.

And as that takes the forefront, Filipino this, Asian-American that... that stuff is looking less and less significant to me these days than say, 10 years ago. Not that it's not significant – I mean, everyone will always have their cultural associations and issues in the background, but it's getting watered down, just because everyone's being affected by one another. And I think that technology issues are ever more present in our lives, they're getting closer to us.

Jill: And does that invasion of technology change the way...

Jodi: Humans relate? It changes the way humans relate to their bodies, to each other, and aesthetically... I like playing around with that. I like images of crawling into it. It's not going to go anywhere, there's a lot of modern dancers that say, "Oh, computers are very bad, you're alienating your bodies, where's the human soul and the human form in today's society? Technology is very bad." Give it up, you know? It's here. Crawl inside that monitor. Wear the shit. Put the pixels around your head, you know? Cause it's not going anywhere. I mean, it's going somewhere... it's becoming more and more present. It's just not going away. I think that's my reaction to anything that is that present.

Jeremy: I think you do have a closer mental proximity to someone in Germany, or someone in Hawaii, or someone in India, with the presence of technology. Because you can fly there in 16 hours if you want to go to India, or if you want to exchange a few lines, you can get on the Internet. Certainly you can get in touch with more people through technology.

Jill: Do you think you would have been able to do your collaboration on BreathTank without technology?

Jody: Noooooo!

Jeremy: Good point (he laughs). That's the only reason we were able to make any sort of reasonable schedule across the country is that we were able to send the information... well, some of it was mail...

Jodi: But most of it was email.

Jeremy: And I ended up sending a file that Jodi got the next day. It was useful in that regard.

Jill: It mentions on the Capacitor web site that you've done a lot of performances in clubs, you did a show at Burning Man. What's that like, compared to doing a piece on a stage?

Jodi: When I first came out here, it was with the intention of starting a performance group. I started training when I was really little, you know, 3 years old, and I've always been in the theater. I came out here, and I was very bored with the theater. Only old people go to the theater... you know, where's my generation? They're not going to the theater. The theater is dead... so, if the audience isn't going to the theater, then I have to go to the audience.

The whole first year, we only performed at clubs and special events. Our first show was at 1015 Folsom, and then this warehouse space in Oakland. We just performed in tons of random spaces, we really were not in the theater loop at all. But then, we got a little frustrated with that, because people who were organizing the events didn't have any history in the theater and they didn't have any real desire to accommodate us technically. It was OK if we weren't going to make a lot of money, but we at least wanted to have a nice surface, and a few lights, and that wasn't happening. We were producing good work, and we wanted it to be seen.

We started with a full evening in our own studio, an intimate warehouse space. We started with BreathTank, then with Connectivity and Voltage, going into the theaters in showcases. We got sick of showcases – there were the same people in the audience at each one. So we thought, let's do our own show, and see if we can reach out to the audience and have control over the performance, and not have to depend on club owners and event planners to accommodate us. That's been interesting. People from the dance world show up and say, "Wow, I don't see the same people I saw at that other performance." So I don't know exactly who our audience is, but we're somehow able to reach a new audience, and we're very pleased with that. It's fairly diverse, and interesting, and it's been a great experience connecting with the audience each night. I feel like the performers and the audience have been sharing an experience, rather than us having an experience and the audience being the voyeurs, watching us.

 

Capacitor regularly posts their performance dates and other information about the company on their web site at http://www.capacitor.org. You can also sign up for their mailing list at http://www.capacitor.org/contact.htm, or email info@capacitor.org for more information.

Join Jodi and others in the following related discussions in our forum:

Edited by Azlan Ezaddin


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