Faye Driscoll: Wow, Mom, Wow


Faye Driscoll
is a daring and thought-provoking choreographer who is currently an artist in residence at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange in NY. She has toured internationally as a dancer and has taken her choreographed shows on the road across the U.S.
Her new show, “Wow, Mom, Wow,� will make its world premiere at Dance New Amsterdam in New York City, April 26-29. Faye will also be performing the show at the Michigan Womyn’s Festival August 7-12.
I spoke with Faye over the phone. Here’s Faye…

How long have you been a choreographer?
I’ve been making work for about nine years. I danced for a company called Doug Varone and Dancers, primarily after college—I went to NYU, Tisch School for the Arts. After college I was most interested in dancing and being a dancer. I think it’s been the past three years that I’ve been really 100 percent a choreographer and not splitting my focus between performing for other people; just completely interested in making my own work.
Also having a residency at BAX has really supported me in that, and has pushed me forward, because I was always trying to piece together money to pay for space, scheduling dancers, having steady studio space. Having administrative support and production support has completely transformed what I’m able to do.

Did you know when you were in high school that you wanted to pursue dance?

Oh, yeah, from the age of 4. Both of my parents are artists. My dad was an actor and my mom was a dancer. So, I think having been around it, it definitely wasn’t discouraged which was nice. But from a very young age I was very clear about what I wanted to do. I used to dance in restaurants. Any time music was playing I was dancing.
My dad tells this story about when we were out when I was about 4. I had asked him if he could make everyone be quiet because I wanted to dance. [Laughs] I had this sense that there was this gift that I had and I needed to do it, I needed to share it.
I think a lot of people feel that way with things that they’ve been doing their whole life—that they’ve been called to do. It’s a gift and it’s a curse at the same time. It’s hard. For me, it’s so rewarding and amazing, but at the same time it’s also very challenging.

What are some of the particular challenges? You mentioned the challenges of having space and funding.

I think money is a big challenge. I feel pretty lucky that I’ve had a sort of steady following that’s building. I’ve mostly gotten work from people seeing my work and then being asked to do more. I haven’t gotten a lot of things through applying to things. I’m at that stage now where I’m trying to push to the next level. That for me is very challenging. Especially having to wear so many hats. You have to be an administrator. You have to have a business mind. You have to be a good writer. You have to schedule people. And be an artist trying to delve into the depths of the creative process. All of that you have to handle, but it also frees you from going into an abyss at times. But then you also have to be able to be very organized. So, there’s just not enough hours in the day to do things that you have to do and on top of that you also have to have another job. It’s not like that’s paying for everything. Mostly everyone I know has something else that they do. For me it’s teaching.
So, I think that’s it—the exhaustion; trying to hold all those balls in the air. If I could just focus on making the work, it would still be hard but it would also be a lot easier. [Laughs]
You describe your “Wow, Mom, Wow� show that is premiering at Dance New Amsterdam April 26-29 as “an evening of heartbreak, belly laughs and butt talk� that asks the questions of, “Who am I?� “Who are you?� and “What are we doing here?� Can you talk more about this?
There’s definitely a theme of riding the line of heartbreak and laughter. There’s a lot of humor in my work but for me it always has a darker edge to it. It rides the line of the deep pain from being alive, being human, and trying to connect to other people. For me it’s often an edge—that feeling of laughing and getting opened up and getting stabbed in the heart at the same time. I try to ride that line a lot. So, that’s sort of the heartbreak and the belly laughs.
And the butt talk—there’s just a lot of butts, ass grabbery—there’s a lot of sexuality in my work. I feel it’s sexy in a different way. It’s sexy in itself. The piece begins with a long line of ten women in a row and they’re all on their hands and knees and their butts are facing the audience. There’s this long butt dance that goes on. It sort of goes on to the point of absurdity. It could be sexy, but then it becomes bizarre. Like when you look at something or when you say a word over and over to the point when it just sort of loses its meaning. You’re just looking at those butts for so long that you’re like, what are they?
The questions—I’ve actually been studying a lot of Buddhism these past few years. I think that that’s sort of seeping into the work and not in an obvious way at all. The questions of what it means to be a human being. The dancers are dancing to “Am I really a person? Or am I just a body, a brain?� They’re dancing to a song that is speaking to questions of what it means to be alive.
Even the title, “Wow, Mom, Wow,� depending on your perspective, things can completely shift and who you are completely shifts depending on how you’re looking at it, or who’s looking at, or who you’re with. So, it’s sort of riding that line of perspective and the fine line between everyday experience and fantastical experience.
The title, “Wow� flipped over is “Mom.� So, I think it plays with ideas of perspective. It feels like this constant human quest for connection to something bigger than us, understanding ourselves in some way, and looking for Mommy in other people. Looking for who we are in other people.
From the reviews I’ve read of your shows, the recurring themes or emotions expressed in your shows seem to be vulnerability, alarm, loss of control, and dark comedy. Is that your intention or is that what people see your work as being?
Definitely vulnerability is something that I am often interested in working with, and alarm. I think that the work that I make isn’t predictable. Even the movement, there’s a lot of momentum thwarted. There’s not a sense of relief in the movement, it’s very choppy and there’s a sense of things being cut off before they’re able to complete themselves. And even transitions between parts of the work, it can seem kind of choppy or sudden. I think there’s the purpose also of speaking to a different kind of intelligence, an intuitive. And making work so that when things are juxtaposed they sit next to each other in ways that are unexpected but make this deep internal logic. Somehow they speak to something deeper because they don’t make sense.
The comedy, yeah, that’s definitely something that has been there since my first solo that I made. It’s funny because I remember the first solo that I made was actually my coming out solo in a lot of ways. It was just dealing with sexuality, understanding who I am, and it was just dark for me, like I was in heartbreak and confusion and then in it I’m like, “OK, I’m going to go into this darkness and deal with it.â€? But really it ended up being very funny and I think that for me when I go into darkness, I can never really go there or take it too seriously. Humor is kind of a way of dealing with the darkness, understanding the darkness, or distancing from it. I also think that if you look at anything that is really dark or sad, you can end up getting to something funny in it. For me I just can’t get heavy without getting good comedy—it all has its edge. Even if you look at people who really suffer a lot or have been through a lot in their life—or funny people—it’s a way to deal with their oppression, to get through. I think it has the ability to open people up and sort of hit certain nerves and truths because you’re opened up to humor.
I think that that was unintentional in the beginning. I was like, “No, this is really serious. Why are people laughing?� [Laughs] Now I’m like, “Oh, yeah, this is what I do. This is what really interests me.�
So, those are apt descriptions.
Your show “Lez Side Story� was described as being playful with its own unique moral conclusion. What were your intentions in remaking the original “West Side Story�?
I did that with my collaborator Hedia Maron. We had this idea to make a dancing, film, musical where it was lesbians who were tough and doing gang battles. We had lots of different ways we were going to do it and we finally just settled on the structure of “West Side Story� since it’s such a good structure, it’s such a great classic. If you watch the classic now, you look at the gangs, they seem kind of gay—they have pastel colors on. When I was in junior high in L.A., there were a lot of gangs in the school that I went to. At one point they brought in all the gangs; we had an assembly and they made us all watch “West Side Story.� [Laughs] L.A. kids, to them it seemed so feeble and gay or whatever.
For me, the musical theater side of [“West Side Story�] was already sort of gay. And then we wanted to do the lesbian take on it, and just have fun and a lot of people together. Like have girls being tough and fighting; we thought it was going to be really fun.
The two gangs are played by the same cast so basically the main character falls in love with herself. It’s got a metaphor in it of self-love and self-hate and internalized homophobia and getting into why are we killing each other when we’re just killing ourselves. And people really did kill themselves because she was playing her lover in it. So, we were playing into deeper issues. It was fun, arty, and a good excuse to get a lot of people together.
In 50 years, what kind of choreographer would you like to be remembered as being?
The word rebellious comes to mind. Honest. Dangerous. And bringing people close to their own mortality. I would have also really liked to have had a lot of fun.
Do you have any advice for young choreographers or choreographers to be?
Trust yourself. And two, to really cultivate what interests you and not be afraid to ask questions. Make the dances that you want to see. Make things that you’re not seeing that you want to see. Get a good business partner to help you; somebody who is really good at business and marketing that is true to their beliefs. And start learning young.

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