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THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST ASKS: Jody Oberfelder's "Life Traveler" Takes a Special Field Trip to Philadelphia and London

THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST ASKS: Jody Oberfelder's "Life Traveler" Takes a Special Field Trip to Philadelphia and London
Sammi Sowerby / Follow on Instagram

By Sammi Sowerby / Follow on Instagram
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Published on September 29, 2021
Photo courtesy of Jody Oberfelder

Catch the Choreographer in Philadelphia on October 2 and London on October 24, 2021

Jody Oberfelder Projects will be taking a special field trip with Life Traveler in both Philadelphia and London. On Saturday, October 2nd, JOP will perform Life Traveler as part of the Philly Fringe Festival. On Saturday, October 24th, Life Traveler will be presented as part of the Tsitsit Fringe Festival. More about the performances:

Sammi Sowerby on behalf of The Dance Enthusiast: Where will our readers find you at this time of writing?

Jody Oberfelder, Artistic Director of Jody Oberfelder Projects: I’m at my kitchen table in New York City, taking in that it’s fall, and there’s a buzz in the air reminiscent of going back to school. It’s back to performances and going out. Thank god for vaccinations.

A dancer wearing a pale pink and mustard sweater and brown pants does a deep lunge while holding vintage suitcases in each hand. Photo © Paula Court.

The Dance Enthusiast: How exciting to be touring again! What are some essentials TSA always finds in your carry-on baggage?

Jody Oberfelder: Haha. That’s a good one. After several confiscations and a very patient TSA staff member helping me to squeeze expensive hair product into a smaller container, I've finally gotten it down. My cosmetics bag with mini everything is ready to go. I know everyone recommends traveling with a palette of neutral clothes, such as black, white or grey, but I like color and patterns. And options. So I tend to bring what makes me happy. I get bogged down with shoewear. Doc Martins, sneakers, sandals if it's the summer, and perhaps something dressy.  I have a great little black dress that folds up to nothing. Actually I've been rolling clothes more often. Costumes and props need another bag.

Because Life Traveler involves traveling with vintage suitcases, I pack my clothes for this tour in the said suitcases. After running to catch a train in London with my arms about to come out of their sockets, I figured out the rolling trolley trick. Why did it take so long to invent suitcases with wheels?

The Dance Enthusiast: Suitcases act as significant props in Life Traveler. What's the symbolism? 

Jody Oberfelder: We carry all stuff of our lives around with us — our bodies are containers for our lives.  The suitcase, dangling from our hand, adds a weight to our movement through time.  We cover topics of 
traveling to flee
the cessation of travel during Covid

A suitcase from another era (most of the prop suitcases were either given to me or sourced on eBay) distinguishes us visually.  Whether we are walking, dancing or stoping to sit, we are traveling in life, through life.

Jody Oberfelder standing on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge Pedestrian Walkway with one hand holding back her hair. She is wearing overalls, bright red-orange shoes, highlighter yellow socks and sunglasses. Photo courtesy of Jody Oberfelder.

The Dance Enthusiast: So Life Traveler isn’t merely about traveling in the literal sense. Care to expand more?

Jody Oberfelder: Our mind travels. Our body travels. We travel through our lives. We look back; we look ahead. There is movement everywhere.  In the piece, each participant or audience member has a one-on-one interaction with a performer. The action is to literally walk across a bridge. There is conversation, both physically and intellectually. The dancers have a score that is not exactly a script, but a jumping off point. The side-by-side action of walking over a bridge with someone is profound. We go to a new place, literally and also metaphorically.  There is a visual aspect of the piece — there are these dancers performing — but it’s not in a show off way, rather, a more embodied presence that is rarified.  A range of inventive wild moves to contemplative stillnesses are possible.

The thrust of the work is embodiment: of ideas, of physicality and of place.  Everybody has a life and everybody travels through it. Hence the title Life Traveler.  Even if the audience member is not a dancer, a footstep can be perceived as participating in the world, of making strides, and a mark in history. Leaving an imprint.

The Dance Enthusiast: Venue-wise, why was Life Traveler created to be performed at bridges? 

Jody Oberfelder: I love that bridges have a beginning and an end, like life. The precursor to this piece, On the Move Shortly, took place at St. Pancras Train Station in London. This venue was great because people were actually traveling somewhere. We found the best part was when we led an audience member up an escalator for a one-on-one interaction.  This lead to Life Traveler. Plus, I just LOVE bridges. They are all different from each other. They afford a view, wind, natural crossings. They go OVER something. You can look out, look down. I choose pedestrian bridges for obvious reasons.  There is an old covered bridge in Philly that was very tempting, but I’m sticking with this one really long bridge with dancers staggered along it. 

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge Pedestrian Walkway. Photo courtesy of Jody Oberfelder.

The Dance Enthusiast: The best travelers are flexible; similarly, Life Traveler must possess a certain level of fluidity seeing as the venue is different each time, from Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Bridge to London’s Millennium Bridge.

Jody Oberfelder: I totally agree with you. We cannot plan every detail of our lives. I'm for adventurous living. It helps to have a direction and a place to show up, but to live and be alive?  That’s what this piece is really about.  

Jody Oberfelder Projects.  Photo © Paula Court.

The Dance Enthusiast: Save for yourself and Maya Orchin, the cast is mostly different for both upcoming performances in October. What does each performer bring to the table?

Jody Oberfelder: I seek dancers who are versatile, layered, rich movers, and stimulating collaborators.  Each person in Life Traveler brings their whole self.  It's kind of scary not to hide behind technique and virtuosity, but I know these dancers will go beyond and ground the piece in authenticity.  Christopher Matthews and I have worked together since 2000. Andrew Sanger was recommended to me by Biba Bell. They both live in the UK now.  And the US cast is fabulous; they are Mark Willis, Daniel Morimoto and Vanessa Knouse.

The “training” for this piece is not about only traveling or walking moves,  but to personally embody the piece by constantly investigating, being curious about where each conversation will go.  With a few prompts in their back pocket to get things going, it's then up to the dancer to make the piece their own.  The idea is to travel somewhere new — across a bridge.

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