Editors' pick

Wally Cardona and Jennifer Lacey


Editorial Review

A moving collaboration of dancers, non-dancers
By Lisa Traiger
Friday, April 6, 2012

"There will be a swan, a prince, a robot, sexual behavior and two chairs. Sometimes all at once," New York choreographer Wally Cardona is fond of saying about "Tool Is Loot," his project with French choreographer Jennifer Lacey. Their serio-comic work, which will be performed at Dance Place this weekend, combines movement non sequiturs, sundry found elements and a few wry surprises.

The evening-length piece, elements of which were performed last year by Cardona, has truly been a collaborative process. An ocean apart, Cardona and Lacey brought in experts from fields outside of dance to participate in the choreography. Cardona, working in the United States, and Lacey, working in Paris, met with an architect, a medical supply salesman, a sommelier, a film editor, an astrophysicist and a community organizer, among others. The rules were simple: Both Cardona and Lacey were to create what they called an "empty solo," to which the guests contributed ideas.

"It was a conceit to make the working possible," Lacey explained via e-mail from Paris. "My criteria was to not pursue meaning or coherence as I usually would, and to have enough available to present to the [participants] so we could work on it."

Dance Place and other presenters each selected a non-dance expert to work in the studio with one of the choreographers for five days, and the resulting piece was presented at the end of the week. Cardona and Lacey each did eight studio sessions, which Cardona called "interventions." Neither expected their non-dancing collaborators to dance, though some occasionally moved and gestured.

At Dance Place last year, Cardona's collaborator was Silas Grant, a Ward 5 ANC commissioner who spent five evenings in the studio with Cardona after working all day at AARP. "I don't really always understand the inner workings of dance," Grant said. "Watching Wally work gave me a higher appreciation of the preparation that it takes. At first it just seemed like he was just moving around, but when we worked together to coordinate the moves, I began to understand what the movement could mean."

Grant and Cardona's partnership became about the distinctions between public and private persona. As a community leader in the Brookland neighborhood, Grant knows well that a trip to the grocery store might mean an encounter with a constituent. "Most of us have a personal life and a professional life," he said. "Sometimes we can explain both, sometimes we can't, but there are always adjustments we make."

Grant said he has no idea what to expect in this year's showing because the choreographers have since extrapolated material from more non-dance experts. The two also received input from composer Jonathan Bepler and lighting designer Thomas Dunn. The title of the piece, Cardona said, "came because we hoped we would find new tools with which to make something."

Grant hasn't signed up for a dance class yet, but he has a newfound respect for the sometimes adventurous, sometimes tedious process of making art.

Would he do it again? "I most definitely would."