Monday, September 23, 2013

The Question... Gregory Selinger on Body Slam

An Escape From Thinking... Nope
by Estelle Rosen

Gregory "Krypto" Selinger's physical feats and eclectic style have made him a staple of the breaking scene for over a decade. His explorations of the largely unexplored possibilities of bboy vocabulary continue with exponential velocity. In 2008, he was invited to Brussels by Wim Vandekybus to train and dance with Ultima Vez in research for a new creation, and lived in Los Angeles with breakdance legend Jacob ‘Kujo’ Lyons. He has performed in numerous Cirque du Soleil projects, and has shared stages with music artists such as The Roots, K-Os, and The Flaming Lips. In 2009, Gregory choreographed Still Milking the New Sacred Cow under the mentorship of Victor Quijada, Artistic Director of Rubberbandance, and presented at Place-des-Arts. Since 2009, he interpreted for Solid State Breakdance's Breakdance for Solo Cello, a unique fusion with Bach’s intimate Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, highlighting  beauty and fluidity of the breakdance body. His duet ‘Vague’, co-created with Gélymar Sanchez, won the Studio 303 Flexi-Prix in 2010. His solo creation A Piece of: My Heart (Breaking), has been critically acclaimed, and has been presented in Quebec, Ontario, Germany, and Mexico. In January 2011, The Montreal Mirror selected him for their annual Noisemakers edition, recommending that Montrealers follow this emerging artist. He is the founder of Body Slam, an interdisciplinary improvisation collective which began at the Montreal Fringe Festival in 2011. Body Slam won two Fringe awards, before going on to perform in the 2011 Les Escales Improbables festival.    

CHARPO: Your press release indicates Body Slam is an interdisciplinary exploration into  human nature. Tall order! Tell us how you go about making this happen, and how has it changed since its beginning in 2011?

SELINGER: Thanks for asking. For me, this idea of “exploring human nature” through performance, is one of the only reasons why I think that preparing a show is actually worthwhile. It takes so much time and effort to organize, promote, practice, and even just to show up and perform, that I really want to give and to gain something profound when I perform; I rarely feel satisfied by simply entertaining, these days. People often talk about dance as being so wonderful because it’s a kind of escape from thinking; I don’t really think that this is true. At least it’s not the whole truth. 

There are the more obvious connections between dance and thought. Dance gives us something to think about; to talk about. In Body Slam, we’re a collective of dancers, poets, and musicians, where the poets and musicians can help us dancers to figure out our thoughts; to help us find the words which put our dance into context and to inspire us with reason to move. But our dance can inspire thoughts, too. When I dance, I might inspire thoughts from the poets and musicians on stage with us. When I dance, I might inspire thoughts from the audience. But when I dance, what I know for sure is that I’m going to inspire myself to think differently; this is unavoidable. When you lift a partner on stage, you’re basically giving them a hug, but with an added adrenaline rush: you’re holding the person tightly, because you don’t want to drop them, and there might be the excitement from knowing that you’re doing something that looks amazing. To give another example, when I was younger, and even more shy than I am now, I would find that I would have an easier time talking to people at a party after I’d danced. Of course, part of that has to do with dancing in front of people being a sort of ice-breaker, but I found that even to go off and breakdance in a corner, it would charge me up, and I’d be much more ready for a conversation.

I think that in terms of “interdisciplinary exploration” and “exploration into human nature”, Body Slam has become much better since beginning in 2011. At first we were much more ‘multidisciplinary’, rather than ‘interdisciplinary’, meaning that the artists which were part of Body Slam’s early days were really great at one artistic discipline, and they would pretty much only stick to what they do best. A lot of the artists that I’ve been working with seem to be getting more comfortable at breaking out of the box that they’ve crafted for themselves. It can actually get boring to watch people be amazing for an hour; it’s nice to see artists step out of their comfort zones for a few moments, and to see where this can take them. 

I honestly wonder about my claim that “Body Slam is an interdisciplinary exploration into human nature.” You called it a “tall order!” To continue with the analogy of a menu: it might not always be the main course; but it’s the most flavourful item on the plate for me. Body Slam is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. When Jerry Maguire came out, they would show commercials with all of the, “You had me at hello,” love scenes during the commercial breaks for soap operas. Then they would show all of the scenes of the movie’s big, epic sport moments during the commercials for televised sports. And both were true. “Exploration into human nature” is one perspective on what Body Slam is. We get pretty silly, too, which can be a nice change, but I’m personally more interested in questioning myself on stage, often literally, putting the brakes on my breakdance, and questioning myself aloud. 

Body Slam is a collective improvisation, with many different artists with unique personalities, so I can never really know for sure in which direction we’re going to go. But I think that it’s also important that as Body Slam is developing, a lot of the artists who are really actively involved with the project share my interest in wondering about performance art, phenomenology, the big questions surrounding life & death; difficult questions. When Body Slam first started, I really wanted to believe that it was completely okay to work with performers who weren’t at all interested in any of these same things that I was interested in; as long as they were really good at doing the one thing that they do. I thought it would be interesting and fun for the performances if, while some artists take the performance very seriously, others who didn’t share these interests at all, would just want to have a party on stage. This kind of co-existence didn’t seem to be working out, as I had hoped it would. Either the hedonistic performers would seem like clowns or jerks for constantly interrupting the deep exploration, or the more serious performers would seem pretentious and incredibly bitter, and become clowns, themselves, for ruining the party. 

What’s great about Body Slam’s core group of artists right now, compared to when we first started, is that even though we all have different priorities about what’s best about dance, music, and poetry, most of us have been around each other long enough to know how to really engage with where the other person is coming from. Instead of completely breaking up the other performer’s flow on stage, we’re now much more likely to be able to find and bring out the profound ideas from another person’s ridiculousness. And when an amazing performer craves to just dance or play or sing for the fun of it, in the middle of something serious, they often have a fair reason to do it. As with dance, speech and music, serious inquiry and play can get pretty interesting when they fuse on stage. I think that I’m getting better at having fun on stage; at trying not to get too caught up in separating thinking and working, from having fun.

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