A Choreographer Who Mingles the Ordinary and the Odd | Modern Society of USA

A Choreographer Who Mingles the Ordinary and the Odd

A Choreographer Who Mingles the Ordinary and the Odd

Vicky Shick and her nerves are no strangers. But she’s dealing with more than the usual amount of agitation with her latest work, “Next to the Sink.” She’s down one dancer. And it’s been nearly impossible to get the others in the room at the same time. Then there’s her natural state, which fluctuates between steely resilience (just watch her dance) and crippling indecision (just listen to her talk about her dance).

I “feel kind of like a turtle or a tortoise,” she said during a recent interview in which she lamented that her dances end up exploring similar territory: a community of people, usually women, whose inner life is revealed through fragility and strength. “But I just have to try to trust myself. We are inside this world that is so screwed up.”

Onstage, her dance world shows that frailty. But, she said, she’s “also interested in some kind of gentle flamboyance or glamour or passion — why not?” Ms. Shick laughed: “That’s part of an inner life, and sometimes I think you either have that or you don’t.”

Over time, Ms. Shick’s works have become more exacting as they reveal the complexity of who she is: a 67-year-old choreographer who was born in Hungary and had dreams of becoming a ballerina, but instead carved out a career in postmodern dance, performing with the esteemed choreographers Sara Rudner and Trisha Brown. With precision and strangeness, her dances celebrate the very thing she finds herself racked with: vulnerability.

In “Next to the Sink,” at Danspace Project beginning Feb. 7, Ms. Shick appears with four dancers — Jodi Bender, Jennifer Lafferty, Mina Nishimura and Jimena Paz — to create what she describes as a little village. And that sink? It’s something basic, everyday. The objects placed next to it are the opposite: idiosyncratic and wholly personal. This also relates to Ms. Shick’s aesthetic approach, a mingling of the ordinary and the odd.

Ms. Shick is drawn in her work to compulsive behavior, as well as what she called an “old-fashioned” love of movement. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said. “I’m old. I don’t feel old. I’m not 90. But 67 is a serious age. I’m interested in movement and clarity and finding a logic in the vignettes — some internal logic that works for me.”

Ms. Paz said that Ms. Shick creates and edits at the same time, which means that as a dancer, “you have to be very awake.”

“There’s never a rough draft,” Ms. Paz said. “It’s like, ‘Cut that, put that back,’ and you have to develop this skill. It’s not a narrative. It’s more like a poem.”

In “Next to the Sink,” there are moments when dancers drape over chairs and stools; they wrap shiny pieces of Mylar around their waists and wear them with such grandeur that they could be ball gowns; and they slowly pull on the fleshy part of their cheeks or press the back of hand on a forehead. With a ferocious calm, Ms. Lafferty slashes her arms back and forth in a solo that shows how emotions, in this quiet, intense landscape, simmer below the surface. It’s like watching a private world unfold before you.

“We have our restrictions and our rituals and our joys, and hopefully some goofiness,” Ms. Shick said. “But it’s like we’re confined together. I always feel like we’re Amish or Quakers in some little village where we just have our own system. It’s like, O.K. everybody — now’s the time we rub mustard in our hair!”

They’re not actually doing that. But Ms. Shick said she wants to evoke the feeling that it’s the “time of day where we have to do this thing, and we’re going to do it together.”

Creating “Next to the Sink” together was hard, though. Ms. Lafferty was injured for some of the rehearsal period, and Ms. Paz and Ms. Nishimura were commuting from other cities. Marilyn Maywald-Yahel, a longtime Shick collaborator, had to drop out of the project after four months, when her infant son became ill. (He’s on the mend.)

And it’s not as if Ms. Shick can simply set Ms. Maywald-Yahel’s material on another dancer — it’s too personal. So while Ms. Shick hasn’t changed her idea for the work or its framework, she is reconfiguring the dance to suit her current cast. The dancers are “at the heart of any piece,” she said. “It is them, whether they collaborate with the movement or not.”

She persisted and found a few dancing jobs, including one with Deborah Jowitt, the critic who started out as a choreographer and dancer. She took Ms. Shick to see a program of dances by Ms. Brown. “I wrote a letter to Trisha after seeing that show, and I was a really shy person,” Ms. Shick said. “It was like, ‘Are you ever teaching or doing work?’”

About a year later, when Ms. Shick was dancing with Ms. Rudner, she received a postcard. “It was the advertisement for a show that already happened with all that information crossed out, and it said: ‘Dear Vicky, Thank you for your letter. We are having auditions. Please come.’”

She wasn’t hired, but she made it to the final five. Three years later, she got the job. It was hard. “The coordinations and the subtlety and everything’s going in different directions and not to use too much energy and too much muscle,” she said. “But you had to be strong. And now I feel like that’s the kind of movement I love seeing and that kind of dancer with that body attitude.”

And beyond attitude, the bodies that Ms. Shick likes to work with most are female. She likes to make dances for women.

“When I’m teaching, I love when men come, but when they first walk in I’m like: Oh my God, now what?” she said. “They’re going to hate this. I know it’s a different world now. It feels old-fashioned, but even though we’re a gender-fluid society — and I believe in and I admire that — personally, in my body, I just feel I’m a woman. And that’s the one thing I don’t feel confused about.”

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