The Dance Enthusiast Asks Anya Clarke and Mitsuko Verdery of MICHIYAYA Dance about the Premiere of “/wē/” at the 14th Street Y
April 25-28, 2019
14th Street Y
Choreography: Anya Clarke // Visual design: Mitsuko Verdery
Live Sound: slowdanger // Lighting: Alejandro Fajardo // Projection: Jess Medenbach
Tickets and more information here
Anya Clarke and Mitsuko Verdery, co-directors of MICHIYAYA Dance sat down with The Dance Enthusiast in anticipation of /wē/, their fourth full-length collaboration. Partners in life and art, the artists discuss boundaries, what inspires them, and the vividly arresting world of their upcoming premiere. Their partnership is an egalitarian one, down to the company’s namesake. MICHI is a play on Verdery’s nickname that her Japanese grandmother bestowed on her, Michan, while YAYA is taken from Clarke’s first name. These are excerpts from our conversation.
Trina Mannino for The Dance Enthusiast: How did the two of you meet?
Mitsuko Verdery: We met through taking intensives with Ronald K. Brown, Earl Mosley, and Sidra Bell. I had just gotten out of school studying visual and performance art [at Carnegie Mellon] and was also going to the Ailey School. I was a little lost, deciding what I should jump into. I didn’t know if I should audition for other people’s work or create my own. When I met Anya, she was already trying to start her own thing, and wanted to bring others into her process.
The Dance Enthusiast: What were your early conversations about collaboration like?
Anya Clarke: When we first started collaborating, it was less about talking about ideas. Rather, we’d go into the studio and play. We would improvise together and then we chat what about had just happened. We would incorporate the visual ideas that Mitsi [Mitsuko] had.
Mitsuko Verdery: One idea I had was working with bloody eggs [laughs]. Anya was curious about exploring [the five] senses, so we wove that idea with mine. That ended up being the first work we did together in 2015 called Project V (5) which was comprised of little vignettes.
The Dance Enthusiast: There’s a lot of vibrant color and a bold sense of design in the MICHIYAYA oeuvre. Who or what inspires you?
Anya Clarke: Definitely my mentors. Sidra Bell influenced my improvisational practice. Earl Mosley’s sense of rhythm. Though, he uses counts and I don’t, but I try to be mindful of rhythm and counter rhythm in my movement vocabulary.
All of the dance forms that I grew up with have inspired me — ballet, modern, and hip hop. My work is a mishmash of the forms and teachers I’ve experienced in my life.
Mitsuko Verdery: My grandma came to our show and said it was like dance expressionism. I really liked that, because I have both a dance and visual art background. My inspiration comes from both mediums. Like Anya, I’m influenced by Sidra Bell. . . I think about Akira Kurosawa — all of his films are so aesthetically beautiful.
The Dance Enthusiast: How do you develop a shared language between the two of you and your collaborators?
Anya Clarke: We have defined roles within MICHIYAYA. I create the movement and Mitsi does the contextual and visual design. That makes it easier to relay our ideas, and for the dancers to have a clear sense of who to go to when they have a question about the work. We definitely still riff on one another, but having these designated roles has worked well for us. . .
Mitsuko Verdery: It just so happens that we’re currently working with Pittsburgh-based artists, projectionist Jess Medenbach and the musicians slowdanger, Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight. For them, we’ve recorded rehearsal and sent them the footage. And they’ll send what they’re working on back to us. We’ve created a mood board of ideas and imagery for them to work off of, too.
The Dance Enthusiast: Your upcoming premiere /wē/ explores defying gender norms and transcending gender binaries. How do you embody these ideas?
Anya Clarke: My movement innately possesses both masculine and feminine qualities. I’m interested in how the dancers interpret those extremes and make their own choices of what should be considered, for example, hard or soft and fast versus slow.
Mitsuko Verdery: There’s also a bleeding between masculine and femme energy. We’re trying to see these dancers as purely bodies. Even though all of our artists identify as femme or non-binary. . . There are moments of neutrality or ambiguity and then there’s moments of more explicit gender expressivity which can be seen through movement and costuming.
The Dance Enthusiast: What does the costumes and visual world in /wē/ look like?
Anya Clarke: It’s [gender expressivity is] apparent through color in the costumes. In the first half of the work, we’re in a sort of dream state and the dancers are wearing a quote unquote feminine color. But the style of the clothes is traditionally masculine. In the second half we’re playing with reality and what people already see in everyday life where there is a blending of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ colors and the dancers are wearing a wider range of clothing.
Mitsuko Verdery: I’ve also been thinking a lot about physical spaces that can be non-gendered. The bathroom, for example, and making parts of the stage as a physical map of identity . . .
The Dance Enthusiast: How does your personal relationship influence your professional life?
Anya Clarke: I feel like there’s a separation, but we have rules that we try to stick to. One being that we have clearly defined directorial roles in the company. . . We try to not do work at home. Though we have created boundaries, it definitely still can be hard to keep our personal life from infiltrating our work.
Mitsuko Verdery: Because we’re together, I do think it creates a sense of openness in the creative process. All of our dance artists know we’re in a romantic relationship, and I think there’s an ease in knowing that.