THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST ASKS: Andrea Miller & Mimi Lien on Animating Lincoln Center Campus as Part of Restart Stages
Catch “You Are Here,” a Sculpture, Sound & Performance Installation from July 14-31
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts presents You Are Here (World Premiere), a public sculpture, sound, and live performance installation conceived by Andrea Miller, award-winning choreographer and artistic director of movement-based production company GALLIM, and features sculptures by award-winning set designer Mimi Lien. The commission is supported by the Arnhold Dance Innovation Fund (ADIF) and will be presented as part of Restart Stages, beginning July 14, 2021. Find out more.
Sammi Lim for The Dance Enthusiast: Hey, Andrea. I think the last time The Dance Enthusiast sought you out was to discuss “To Create A World” before its premiere at The Joyce Theater in 2019. This month, dance enthusiasts will be immersed in another one of your ‘worlds’ titled “You Are Here.” Do you think of your dancers as 'living sculptures'?
Andrea Miller: It's less that I see dancers as sculpture, and more that they are participating in art as a transcendent state, drenched in symbolism, form and elusiveness. I feel that performance and embodiment is a unique space, even if just by a sliver it is a move from conventional life. The alchemy of performance and art can create this delicate shift through which you can remove yourself from the logic, conventions, and pace of the world around us and find yourself purposely ever-so-slightly in the current of another space in a foreign language you’ve never heard and yet you can understand. In that distance you become immersed in inquiry and universal empathetic action.
The Dance Enthusiast: Hi, Mimi. Tell us about the literal sculptures you’ve created for You Are Here. What materials did you manipulate? Are they distinct from or replicas of one another? If so, what is the general expression they wear? Or were they specifically informed by the individuals who contributed audio portraits?
Mimi Lien: Which raw materials would be used for the sculptures was one of the biggest questions I had going into this process. I wondered at first whether they should be more neutral and let the audio portraits hold the space, or whether they should be more figurative and imbued with personhood. In the end, after I listened to some of the interviews with portraited individuals, I was convinced that the sculptures needed to be distinct individual objects, and made from found clothing — shirts, pants, dresses, jackets — each with its own pattern and shape and form. They ride the line between actual human, non-human, and the idea of the human body. And though they are informed by the portraited individuals, each sculpture does not represent a specific person — rather, together they are a distillation of this group of people as humans; their expressions range from whimsy to joy to balance to solace.
The Dance Enthusiast: In your own words, what is a sound garden?
Mimi Lien: To me, a garden is a space where all of your senses are stimulated and you move through this space in an exploratory way. You choose your path in response to the colors, the scents, whatever catches your eye. A sound garden is a space of exploration, but you are primarily responding to and being led by what you hear, and what you are drawn to hearing more of, and the sounds or words that you hear affect your body in an immediate and visceral way.
The Dance Enthusiast: How did everyone's moving parts come together?
Andrea Miller: A lot of the process with Mimi Lien (production design), Justin Hicks (sound artist), Iyvon Edebiri (dramaturge) and Lynsey Peisinger (co-director) involved going through the steps that we were going to ask the Portrait Performers to go through: to process our stories, share what this year has been for us, and find where that shared space and different stories live together. It's been about making sure that we've gone through the creative process as if we were the participants, then going into our own creative spaces. During our times of individual creation we kept returning to each other; bringing those experiences back together and seeing the piece grow into its own thing beyond what any of us had originally imagined. That is in big part thanks to the Portrait Performers who are bringing life into the work.
Mimi Lien: Our collective process on this piece has involved a lot of talking about what kind of experience we are trying to create for the audience, as well as how we shape the content with the Portrait Performers: how will an audience move through space? How do we talk about how we experienced this past year? What moves us now?
The Dance Enthusiast: The Portrait Performers, as you call them, have quite a responsibility on their shoulders: to convey personal stories shared by New Yorkers.
Andrea Miller: The audience receives a lot of information from the Portrait Performers, so the dancers are providing time and space for us to process and move through those stories. I hope they'll feel like they are helping to provide what's needed in the moment just after hearing someone’s story. The dance portion has its own quality and I hope it lends breath to the piece.
"You Are Here" rehearsal photo courtesy of Lincoln Center
The Dance Enthusiast: Is there a particular audio portrait that touches you?
Andrea Miller: They are really all necessary to the work. They all enter into different corners of a very unimaginable year.
Nevertheless, the one that I have asked to be a part of every single night is Valarie, who was a nurse and has been working in the ICU taking care of Covid patients for over a year and a half, and every patient who came in initially didn't survive. She had no idea how to protect herself and yet she took care of them. She still went in every day knowing how dangerous it was. I find her very brave and inspiring and it's such an important part of this pandemic to know the stories of the people who cared and got us through it by working on the frontline in the most urgent and dangerous spaces.
Mimi Lien: All of the portraits are such incredible encapsulations of the way we experienced this year, and the way we move through the world, but I will say that I was very affected by the way Gabriela Torres describes bifurcation of self, that there are two versions of her — one American, one Mexican; one who is optimistic, one who is cautious, et cetera. Also, I have to admit that when I heard Han Dae Soo’s portrait, his crazy laughter was completely infectious and I just found myself laughing out loud.
The Dance Enthusiast: How will “You Are Here” change the way we look at Lincoln Center?
Mimi Lien: I love how the piece brings the presence (both physical and emotional) and stories of so many disparate people into the space of Lincoln Center’s campus. Even though about half of the portraits are of people who currently work at one of the Lincoln Center constituent organizations, one would never have had the opportunity to meet them and hear their stories in this way. I hope that the sculptures will bring a whimsical human presence to the austere architectural environment, and serve as a physical imprint of all the people involved in this project.