Interview | Richard Move
The choreographer and TEDGlobal Fellow on how Martha Graham’s work sunk its claws into his mind, on choreographing for the Strangers with Candy film and much, much more.
And Isamu Noguchi, and—
—and Noguchi, and Aaron Copland—I think Appalachian Spring was one of the most important compositions of the 20th century, and that was all Martha’s idea, to use the Quaker hymn. It was first just called Ballet for Martha. She changed everything. Lighting design. Costumes. She was the first person to use stretch fabrics, all of these things that we take for granted. She developed a vocabulary that’s as complicated as classical ballet’s, which took hundreds of years to develop. She took about 25 years to develop hers. She just rocked it. She was beyond all of us. So, I like to pretend to be that brilliant and that genius in the show, [Laughs] to be that articulate, poetic, gorgeous creature. I really get off on that. [Laughs] Who doesn’t want that for themselves?
Dancers who worked with her during and after World War II began coming to the show and some were performing with me, like Merce Cunningham, et cetera, and younger artists I would present and introduce to the audience. There might be another dance legend, like Mark Morris and Lar [Lubovitch], who was on the program more than once, and Yvonne Rainer and Paul Taylor, who did a reconstruction. Just amazing, amazing people.
Have you, before or since, ever regularly imitated anyone else?
No. No one else is as interesting to me.
This distinction between imitating someone and channeling them was something I first came across seeing Joey Arias perform as Billie Holiday in the late ’90s. Were you inspired at all by performers like him, or by what Justin Bond was doing at the time?
I never thought of Justin Bond as channeling anybody, I guess because we don’t know who [Bond’s former alter ego] Kiki is.… But Joey, oh my God, Joey. To be in the same sentence as Joey as Billie Holiday is amazing. Channeling is a very strong word, a very strong term to use. It’s a little too New Age, Shirley MacLaine, golden chakra or whatever, but I will tell you that I am…not…myself when I’m onstage as her. Particularly during the dances. I am completely taken over.
How do you get there?
The process of getting ready, literally the two hours in the dressing room, is the first step. And the second step happens during the physical and vocal warm-up, and in the audience, and then I feel, like, this huge responsibility to quote her properly. I do feel like she’s sort of “there,” to make sure that she makes a good showing. It’s not me. It’s not me! I don’t know what we would call that.