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Nicole Wolcott On The Insidious Absurdity of Airports & Presenting "Luggage Lost" At Triskelion Arts

Nicole Wolcott On The Insidious Absurdity of Airports & Presenting "Luggage Lost" At Triskelion Arts

Published on October 25, 2019
Photo credit: Whitney Browne

On Friday and Saturday, November 1-2, 2019 @ 8pm, swing by Triskelion Arts to see Nicole Wolcott's first ensemble work in seven years. Luggage Lost is an evening of dance theater and a highly collaborative process with a group of heavy hitter performers including Laura Peterson, Troy Ogilvie, Jack Blackmon, Amanda Krische, and Justin Lynch. 

"The dancers have always been as important to me as the dance," comments Wolcott. " I don't disseminate movement to them; I am more interested in seeing how they fill a scene I create with their unique choice making. And as usual I am using materials to create a dream like world, so they also must navigate a sea of Samsonite Luggage.  We are having a blast (except for me figuring out how to have 25 pieces of Samsonite Luggage in my personal life)."

Sammi Lim. for The Dance Enthusiast: I believe our last story on you was a review of Keigwin + Company’s Places Please! in 2017. What have things been like since founding your own company The Well.Wolcott?

Nicole Wolcott: Like everyone in this field I negotiate a number of simultaneous tracks in my artistic career.  My relationship with Larry Keigwin is one of them, and the through line of my artistic life here in New York City.  We are 'partners in crime' who are always creating together.  For the most part, the work Larry and I create together is set to music and counts and employs minimal improvisation. Whereas the work I am doing with The Well allows me to dive more into my interest in the use of improvisation as a devise in process and performance.

The Well, this new production company, is an exciting addition to my artistic life and a long time coming. It is an idea and a pronouncement of a way of creating dances that I have been homing in on for seven years in solo form with sound designer and collaborator Omar Zubair and am now transferring to an ensemble. I have a specific interest in the flux between the body being an abstract kinetic form in space and an amalgam of qualities and experiences that comprise a human identity—an individual who has history, expression, a sense of humor.  So my work is derived from the artists I work with.

I wanted to find a language that helps our audience understand this approach and value the performers’ contribution, so it made sense to call this company 'The Well.' I devise improvisational 'questions' in the form of theatrical circumstance and situation that compel these artists to practice consistent choice making in gross terms, but the details may still be fluid.  They are exercising a kind of exquisite listening in performance to navigate each scene, so the performance is hyper live.  As a producer and director I sheppard our creations from incubation to performance.  In this development process the roles of dancer and choreographer find nearly equal influence on the final work. Because each ensemble member has agreed to reveal their own individual histories and share their personal movement aesthetic, they themselves become crucial to the performance. The WELL includes performers Jack Blackmon, Amanda Krische, Justin Lynch, Troy Ogilvie, Laura Peterson and Sound designer/performer Omar Zubair.

Perhaps I deviated from your pointed question of "What has it been like?" It has been great and harrowing.  I have been learning so much and loving everything about it, except scheduling.  When one works with such heavy hitter artists it is like herding cats to get them all in the room at the same time.  They are busy! This is hardly unique to me.  It is the state of contemporary dance making.  This challenge is definitely a change from working in solo form. 

Photo credit: Whitney Browne

The Dance Enthusiast: I discovered from The Mind, Explained on Netflix that most of our dreams are staged in familiar surroundings. Likewise, your dances often unfold in dreamlike imitations of the spaces we inhabit. What can we expect of the set design in Luggage Lost?

Wolcott: : The set in Luggage Lost is created with 25 pieces of Samsonite Luggage.  As with PaperPieces, where I used newspaper as set, prop and costume, these suitcases transform from walls, to weapons, to dance partners.  They are a collective burden that is literal and metaphorical. 

The way we use them highlights the insidious absurdity of airports and our faith in a system that can neuter us with potentially dangerous consequences. Most often it just feels benign, boring, and infuriating.  It is a place that isn't even  recognized as a 'place' by any country in the world.  This is why Edward Snowden couldn’t be extradited from an airport. We all have a shared experience of airports and I am mining for an empathetic exchange with the audience that invites both pathos and comedy.

The Dance Enthusiast: From tornadoes of newspapers to Samsonite suitcases, props make up a big part of your work. Did the luggage manufacturer provide sponsorship? 25 bags couldn’t have come cheap!

Wolcott: I wish I got a discount.  I have what I think of as a junk shop down the street from me.  The owner is a hoarder, so doesn’t seem to be incentivized to sell.  He absolutely does not negotiate and his prices are erratic.  You could buy a broken plate at this place for real money.  Well, he had a ton of these suitcases stacked up.  Silly me I thought I would get them for nothing, so he could clear some space.  No. He charged me $25 for each.  And almost without exception they had mold in them because they were sitting under leaking pipes.  I had to clean all of them.  He wouldn’t budge on the price and he definitely had me.

Photo credit: Whitney Browne

The Dance Enthusiast: What do each and every one of your dancers bring to the table? Some must be more acclimated to freestyling, I imagine. What about  Jack Blackmon, for instance, who  also dances for Sleep No More

Wolcott: All of these dancers are acclimated to freestyling—it is one of the reasons I find them so valuable. I initially asked them to join me for an evening-length improvisation performance for Triskelion’s Never Before Never Again festival held in January.  We had a ball in the process and the performance was a great success. Because of that and my interest in a collaborative process based in improvisation, it made sense to ask them to be a part of the The Well and create  Luggage Lost together.  Almost all of them are choreographers in their own right and compelling performers sought after by many other choreographers. Each of them are distinct treasures I feel as though I collected.  Although that sounds diabolical somehow.

Jack Blackmon I met as a student of mine years ago at NYU.  I never forgot his talent and just kept waiting for the right opportunity to ask him to join me.

 Amanda Krische I saw perform at Joe’s Pub and was blown away by her stage presence and charisma.  And of course her movement style is so distinct and compelling. 

Troy Ogilvie I first met when she was a student at Juilliard where she stood out among many great artists.  I don’t think that there is a single person who has seen Troy perform that hasn’t been absolutely wowed by her.  Currently we both teach improvisation at The Joffery School and found our interests are aligned.  So, I was thrilled when she was interested in playing with me.

Justin Lynch I have known for more than 10 years.  He was my student once upon a time and has helped me workshop my process for years, helping me to get to this point of creating Luggage Lost. His presence is so unique and his movement so beautiful there was no question I would ask him.

Laura Peterson has been a colleague and a friend for years.  She is a choreographer of note and I actually never conceived of asking her to dance with us.  Her movement aesthetic is rooted in formalism.  She does not have anyone touch on stage and there is never even an idea of talking. She was assisting me with Luggage Lost when one day she went in for an absent dancer and made choices that were so brilliant she ended up with her own solo where she is yelling for at least three minutes without pause. AND she has to touch other people. Miracle.

Finally my lighting designer and collaborator Omar Zubair is also performing live with us. Omar and I have been creating and performing together for 10 years.  He is brilliant and he is necessary.  For this particular piece, his years of working with the Wooster Group have been invaluable in helping us devise an absurdist piece of dance theater.  They are all high caliber dancers and performers distinct from each other, which is their collective value for me.  

Nicole Wolcott. Photo credit: Whitney Browne

To close, here’s a quick-fire set of travel-related questions:

The Dance Enthusiast: (I’m sure you saw this one coming) Ever lost any luggage while traveling?

Wolcott: Yep.  On my way to Okinawa to see my sister stationed in the military. Of course I didn’t get it back until I was home again. I also got to the San Fransisco airport and was told that I didn’t have a flight to Okinawa and my parents had to go on without me.

The Dance Enthusiast: How do you choose to while away the hours on long flights?

Wolcott: I go straight to Hudson News to buy a magazine, a newspaper and a book.  I get so excited about the time to read.  Then I watch movies back-to-back and carry around a magazine, a newspaper, a book and guilt.

Nicole Wolcott. Photo credit: credit Yin-Chu Wu

The Dance Enthusiast: Ever been bumped up to first or business class?

Wolcott: I got put in first class on a flight out of Helena, Montana.  It was at 6am in January. Twenty below. The plane had sat on the tarmac all night, so  it was like sitting in a refrigerator.  The coffee machine was frozen and all they had to offer for food was cold cereal.  Because we were first class we got the privilege of boarding first then sitting next to the open door while everyone else loaded.  It was fantastic.

The Dance Enthusiast: What are some essentials you absolutely need to travel with?

Wolcott: Earphones and dramamine.

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