It’s not a stretch to imagine the work of dance company zoe | juniper in a gallery or museum. For an early version of A Crack in Everything in 2011 by choreographer Zoe Scofield and visual artist Juniper Shuey, certain moments looked like portraits, said Seattle Met arts editor Laura Dannen. They played with contrast: light and shadow, or monochrome projections on a giant scrim while dancers tethered to blood red thread crisscrossed the stage. “One of the things I think about a lot as a choreographer is this idea of physical artifact and how dance is so ephemeral and time-based,” Scofield told me. “I feel like there is something sort of left in space… So how could we crystallize that or solidify that and make [that] tangible?”
As part of the cross-disciplinary exhibit Mw [Moment Magnitude] at Frye Art Museum, zoe | juniper will rehearse a performance study in the museum’s great hall for four days—the second part of a larger work-in-progress, No One to Witness—exploring this idea of “detritus in space.” For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Zoe Scofield about staging dance in visual art spaces, the scientific mind, and how to effectively “waste time” in Seattle.
What exactly will you be working on at the Frye?
For this duet I made with Raja Kelly for the NW New Works Festival in June at On the Boards, we worked with casting parts of our body and then sort of leaving these shells, these remnants, in the space. And I really liked that a lot. This idea of sort of reframing form and showing the body in another way: leaving it in space and then allowing the audience to sort of fill in what happened to create this shell, in a sense... There’s something about the ability to have more time and more of an intimate viewing experience.
So for the Frye process, we wanted to take that further and have somebody casting parts of the dancers’ bodies as we’re rehearsing and as we’re moving and creating the piece. And then these forms would get left in space. We’ll also be building video on top of that so there’s a possibility of the video, at times, filling in those forms, juxtaposing the forms, completing them. The idea is that the viewers can watch all of it, see all of it, and that you would have your own sort of trajectory as a viewer …. You could watch it being made, but it would also be very interesting to see it not being made and see what’s left behind and sort of create your own experience. It’s almost like presupposing memories.
There seem to be this trend of more dance pieces coming into museum spaces. How do you feel about that juxtaposition?
A lot of people are talking about that quite a bit recently, and there does seem to be this sort of bizarre kind of contention around it. I hope that, from the visual art perspective, dance is allowed to have the full value that it has and it doesn’t become a tool to then be discarded after the newness or fadness of it is gone. That it is given its own full place and weight in the canon, in the larger scope of art in general.
For my own personal artistic trajectory and interests, regardless of trends or the larger cultural ecology, I’m really interested in installation spaces and the constructs of what happens [there]. That by being outside of this comfort zone and being in a whole new set of constructs, it really teaches me a lot about how to better make stage performances.
How has Seattle shaped your art?
It had never really been a possibility to choreograph when I was in these companies in these other cities [Toronto, Boston, etc.]. And out here that seemed like that’s what everybody did. I remember being told by Juniper, “You should just make your own work if you want to dance.” Because other companies here weren’t really biting. So what Seattle offered was resources. It was the ability to do that as a nobody. We were just very fortunate in kind of hooking into On the Boards from the start.
It’s a very different experience making work in New York than it is here. It’s a crazy city and everybody has a million jobs. Rehearsal is so tight. There’s not that affordability of time and the ability to kind of “waste time” and have sort of unedited exploration and play, which I think really happens in Seattle. And I think you see that in general in a lot of the work made here, for better or for worse.
If you weren’t a performing artist, what other career might you have pursued?
Maybe a genetic biologist or a social anthropologist. I love biology. I love genetics. I love animals, so maybe a zoologist. Part of me has this very scientific brain. Even though I make work that’s not seemingly scientific, to me it’s very scientific. I dunno, I just always got all A’s in biology, and sciences, and social anthropology, and sociology. I just think people are fascinating. It just comes very easy to me. I don’t think it’s that far off from making art actually. I mean, I could never be a banker. [Laughs]
zoe | juniper at Mw [Moment Magnitude]
Nov 6–10, Frye Art Museum, free