"Iwas at a point in my life when I wanted a sofa," says choreographer Bebe Miller, reflecting on why she moved out of Brooklyn and into Columbus, Ohio, five years ago. Couch-lust is also why her company has not performed in Washington since 1998. Miller returns Wednesday with a world premiere called "Landing/Place," in performance through Friday at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.
Through most of her extensive career, Miller lived her life largely on the road, touring with her highly regarded company when not rehearsing or performing in New York. She has created works for ballet and modern dance companies, and has taken her work to three continents. But with the drop in funding the arts world faced after the terrorist attacks four years ago today, Miller found she had to travel more often as a solo choreographer to scrape together the commissioning fees that kept her company alive. And that meant "coming back to a smaller and smaller place in deeper Brooklyn," she says. She began longing for settledness, and for room to stretch out.
So when Ohio State University, where she had been a visiting artist, called to offer her a professorship, she took it. "I love that there's no line at the post office," Miller says, speaking by phone from her three-bedroom house with a yard.
She says she'll never get used to living in a conservative state, where "showing up as an independent black woman artist is differently seen and valued than it is in New York." But the advantages of being a salaried professor are huge, she says. She has access to resources she could not have dreamed of before.
For "Landing/Place" she collaborated with Ohio State's Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. The new work was three years in the making -- a luxury of time Miller never would have had outside academia -- and explores the idea of what it means to feel out of place, and what makes us feel at home. Miller uses motion-capture technology -- similar to what was used to create the animation in the film "The Polar Express" -- to discover, in her words, "new movement choices." She also incorporates video projections to create what she calls "a thick look of visual energy."
Most important, however, she has dancers, some of whom had been in her Brooklyn-based company, others who are new, all of whom gathered this summer to bring "Landing/Place" to life. And they represent the ultimate affirmation for the artist who feared that leaving New York and her peers in the dance community there would deaden her creativity.
"I was really nervous about going into academia -- am I going to lose my artist standing? Will I lose touch with my work? Will I want to make anything?" Happily, for Miller and for us, she discovered that none of that is true. She got the sofa, and lost the suffering.