Ann Liv Young created a piece for students of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.
(photo credit: BAR BERMAN)
When out-of-towners come to visit Israel, we locals often prepare them for the harsher realities of daily interactions. They might get pushed while walking down the street, they might get ripped off by a cab driver or someone may budge in front of them while waiting in line to pay for something. But Brooklyn-based choreographer and performance artist Ann Liv Young isn’t bothered by these behaviors, in fact, she finds them refreshing. The renowned artist recently spent two weeks in Israel, creating a piece for students of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, which will be presented as part of Neta Pulvermacher’s Body. Dance. Site.
“Neta had asked me to come a long time ago and it didn’t work out. This time, the dates fit and I said ‘yes.’”
“I love Israel,” she says over the phone from her Bushwick apartment. “I love how people drive. I love how people walk and stand in front of you in the middle of the road. In New York, people are rude but they’re slightly aware of other people, and in Israel, people are consciously in your way. I thought there was something honest about that, I was really into that.”
Young, 37, was born in the outer banks of North Carolina. She began making work in New York City in 2004, and has steadily presented envelope-pushing performance since. Her creations Melissa is a Bitch, Mermaid Show, Elektra Cabaret and Sleeping Beauty Parts 1-3 have owned her critical acclaim, placing her in a type of elite club among New York’s avant-garde artists. She is the mother of two girls, Lovey, who is 11, and Akiko, 6.
As we speak, Young is revving up to premiere a new work, an interpretation of Antigone performed out of her home in which her two daughters may or may not appear. She has friends in from out-of-town helping her to clear a space in the shower for a live band and to set up a merchandise table in the living room. This performance is the newest in a long line of works that test the boundary between stage and personal life, often deeply blurring between the two.
FOR YOUNG, arriving to a studio in which a group of young students tentatively tried out her methods was slightly daunting. “They were very unmotivated in the beginning. They were not energized there at all. I think I was pretty tough. It was like dragging a dead weight across the floor. I told them, ‘If you don’t want to be here leave,’ and some did, ‘but if you’re going to be here then we’re going to do something,’” she says.
Though they showed resistance, Young presented her students with an ideal learning situation, one that forced them to shift their perspective and sense of agency. She refused to accept laziness, fear or ambivalence. She demanded their consideration and their creation.
Over time, the students who stuck to it got friendlier with the idea of being chucked out of their comfort zone. “I wanted to push them to create. They didn’t want to, they didn’t want to make choices, they didn’t know what they wanted,” she adds. A turning point came after several students attended a performance in Tel Aviv of Young’s titled The Sherry Show. “Sherry is a character that I play that is a Christian, inclusive, slightly racist radio show host,” she explains. “When they saw me perform it was helpful. They got pretty excited. It gave them a new perspective.”
Young incorporated the political and social tensions of the city in her creation process. She asked the group to discuss territory, land and belonging. “There was a Palestinian girl in the class and she didn’t want to talk about any of that, she just wanted to come in and dance. She didn’t want to discuss it at all. She took me out in the hall and cried and said how hard it was for her. She was super-brave and to see her get to a place where she could say how she felt to her fellow students was amazing.”
The result of Young’s meeting with these students is called Blue Bird 1. “We were doing this scene study and I said they had to give a name to their group. They were a trio that interrupts these scenes and they said ‘blue bird’ so I would call ‘blue bird 1’ to cue them. That turned into the name.”
When she looks back at the time spent in Jerusalem, Young is filled with pride, in spite of or perhaps thanks to the challenges she encountered. “I felt we did so much in two weeks. I felt had we had more time we could’ve gone even further. I enjoyed watching them go from where they started to where we landed. Seeing them go from one space to another was exciting. Seeing them push themselves. Seeing them open up and realize they have something else to give, there’s more inside of them,” she says.
Blue Bird 1 will be performed as part of Body. Dance. Site. on May 27, 28 and 29 at the Jerusalem YMCA. For more information, visit Jamd.ac.il/body_dance_site.
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